Losing the first set proved to be the proper formula for a pair of USTA Northern California players to upset top-seeded players and win coveted Adidas Easter Bowl titles.
Jenson Brooksby, 17, and Katie Volynets, 16, both took home USTA Gold Balls in dramatic comeback fashion after dropping the first set on Easter Sunday on the final day of play at the 51st Annual USTA Spring Nationals at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.
Needing a USTA wild card to get into the tournament, the unseeded Brooksby of Carmichael, Calif., held on to beat top-seeded and ITF world-ranked No. 11 Tristan Boyer of Altadena, Calif., 5-7, 6-4, 6-3, while Volynets of Walnut Creek, Calif., rallied to upset 15-year-old Noel of Summit, N.J., 4-6, 6-3, 6-1.
“It sounds great,” said Brooksby of being called an Easter Bowl champion, also thanking the USTA for giving him his wild card. “It was a lot of hard matches to do, but it feels amazing.”
After Brooksby fought off a stubborn Boyer to win the second set, the toll of playing his fourth straight three-set match caught up to Boyer, who needed more than the allotted two minutes of rest before the start of the third set.
Boyer got his water, changed his shirt and sat and when chair umpire John Bramlett signaled for play to resume, Boyer remained seated in his chair, finally being assessed a point penalty and the third set began with Brooksby serving leading 15-love.
“I was feeling tired, of course. It had been a tough two sets. I had to prepare my drinks and change shirts and I knew I wouldn’t have enough time. I didn’t really care about the point. I knew the break would be worth it to me.”
Boyer said he took a warning on Saturday before starting the third set.
“I knew he was trying to stall and I was just trying to take advantage of that and move him around,” Brooksby said, adding his strategy was to keep Boyer off the baseline and moving side to side.
The extra time didn’t help Boyer, as Brooksby quickly raced out to 5-0 lead in the third set. But Boyer wouldn’t quit and broke Brooksy for 5-2, and held serve for 5-3 before Brooksby settled himself and was able to pull out the service game and the Easter Bowl title and his second career USTA gold ball having won the 12s Hardcourts five years ago.
“I thought I had that,” Brooksby said shaking his head. “He’s a fighter and never gives up and I somehow pulled it out. Kudos to him. He’s a fighter.”
Boyer moves on to the Carson ITF Spring Internationals this week played at StubHub Center, while Brooksby will play the Open division at the storied Ojai Tournament at the end of the month. His next junior tournament will be the USTA Hardcourt Nationals at Kalamazoo where a US Open main-draw wild card goes to the winner.
“For sure, this is an incredible moment,” Brooksby said. “I’m not playing many junior so I made the most of this one.”
Volynets is also headed to Carson, trying to gain some valuable ITF world-ranking points that could get her into her first French Open and Wimbledon junior tournaments. The US Open Junior quarterfinalist last year, Volynets said that would be a dream come true, just like winning the Easter Bowl.
“I feel glad that I was able to tie up all the things I’ve been working on at the start of the year,” Volynets said. “From past experiences I know she never gives up so I had to keep my focus and just not give up.”
Volynets was watched by her coach Richard Tompkins and Max Taylor from Tompkins Academy.
“I was super nervous in the match, but you live and you learn,” Noel said. “I didn’t come out swinging like I should have and didn’t have the energy and she came out composed, which I couldn’t do. She got the best of me and I wasn’t able to focus on the most important thing, the match itself.”
Down 5-3 in the second set, Noel kept fighting for the break, but was unable to convert on her fourth break-point try. “I kept winning the deuce point to try and get the break and get back on serve, but I kept hitting the same return, and I didn’t adjust,” she said. “And I didn’t change anything in the third.”
In the Boys’ ITF singles final to follow the girls, unseeded wild-card entry Jenson Brooksby of Carmichael, Calif., will oppose Tristan Boyer, the top-seeded player from Altadena, Calif. Brooksby beat Siem Woldeab of La Mesa, Calif., 6-1, 6-3, while Boyer had to come back to beat Cannon Kingsley of Northport, N.Y., 4-6, 6-4, 6-3.
In the Girls’ ITF Doubles final, top-seeded Caty McNally and Hailey Baptiste beat Savannah Broadus and Kylie Collins, 6-0, 6-0, in 53 minutes. In the Boys’ ITF Doubles final, No. 2 Trey Hilderbrand and Govind Nanda downed the unseeded team of Christian Alshon and Tyler Zink, 6-3, 3-6, 10-7.
No stranger to being extended to three sets all week, top-seeded Keshav Chopra did all he could to keep from going the distance in the boys’ 16s final.
Up a set, but down 5-6 in the second set, Chopra fought back to force a tiebreaker against No. 2-seeded Max McKennon Newport Beach, Calif., recording a 7-5, 7-6 (4) victory for his third straight USTA Super Nationals win as he won both the singles and doubles at the USTA Winternationals in Florida to start the year.
Later in the day, Chopra lost his bid for his fourth straight gold ball this year as he and partner Coy Simon fell to fellow USTA Southern players Welsh Hotard and Benjamin Koch in the Boys’ 16s doubles final, 6-3, 6-3.
Chopra, 16, was taken to three sets three time this week, including the first round, a third-set tiebreaker in the third round and again in the semifinals on Friday. “When he hit that last backhand long to end the match, I was pretty relieved,” said Chopra, who trains at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., and lost in the second round last year at the Easter Bowl.
“It’s pretty surprising,” said Chopra, who lost in the first round last week at the Newport Beach ITF, of winning the title. “I didn’t feel like I was prepared for the ITF, so I wanted to get here early and get used to the courts and get acclimated to the conditions.”
Chopra and McKennon were playing for the first time. McKennon said he got sick on the drive over to the Garden for the 9 a.m. match, but made no excuses afterward.
“I wasn’t feeling nerves, but I had my normal breakfast and felt horrible in the car over here and threw it up in the parking lot. But that’s no excuse. It didn’t affect me that much. He played great. He outplayed me.”
McKennon, 15 who does online school through Laurel Springs, took a medical timeout at the end of the first set and had the trainer massage both hips which were tightening on him.
McKennon is coached by former ATP World Tour pro Carsten Ball, who recalled some past Easter Bowl memories with 40-year Easter Bowl veteran official Marylynn Baker after the match, including playing doubles with Michael Venus, and beating Tim Smyczek. Ball played in the 2005 Easter Bowl 18s final and, like McKennon, was the No. 2 see who fell in the final to current U.S. Davis Cup player Sam Querrey.
Similar to Chopra, Girls’ 16s champion Anessa Lee of San Marino, Calif., also surprised herself in going all the way and earning the coveted USTA gold ball and title. The No. 11-seeded Lee beat unseeded India Houghton of Belvedere Tiburon, Calif., 6-2, 6-3.
“I just wanted to live up to my seeding and get to the Round of 16,” said Lee, who was watched by family and friends and her private coach Kal Moranon. “I was down in my first match 4-0 in the first set. I was thinking, ‘God, I’m going to lose in the first round.’ ”
Lee, 16, basked in the glory of her title afterward and said playing with ball kids and having her match live streamed with a commentator is something she could get used to. “This is my first media interview,” she said as she began her post-match press conference. “I don’t know what to say. At first, the ball kids threw me off, but after a few games I got into it.”
Lee said she was looking forward to making the two-hour drive home as she just got her California driving learner’s permit.
Houghton shocked the No. 1-seeded player earlier in the tournament. She said she was nervous at the start of the match, but she settled down winning the first game of the second set and holding a 3-2 lead before Lee stepped on the gas.
“I knew after beating the No. 1 seed I couldn’t get too happy,” she Houghton, who recently turned 16 and trains Tompkins Academy in Northern California. “She played really aggressive. Every time my ball would la little bit short she would really attack it and would hardly miss. I was impressed by that.
Harsh Parikh of Tucson, Ariz., picked up the Boys’ 16s bronze ball with his, 6-4, 7-5, win over Logan Zapp of Fleming Island, Fla.
Twins from Saint Helena, Calif., Maribella and Allura Zamarripa captured the 16s Doubles title as they beat Amanda Chan (Pasadena, Calif.) and Chidimma Okpara (Bronxville, N.Y.), 6-4, 6-4. In the Girls’ 16s third-fourth place match, Hibah Shaikh of Teaneck, N.J. won the bronze with a 6-4, 6-0 victory over Chidimma Okpara of Bronxville, N.Y.
On Thursday, the young juniors took center stage and shined Thursday as the Boys’ and Girls’ 14- and 12-and-under championships were decided.
Having the experience of making the Girls’ 12s final last year, Eleana Yu of Mason, Ohio, said she only had to fight a moderate case of nerves as the No. 3 seed won the Girls’ 14s USTA gold ball and her first Adidas Easter Bowl national title with a 6-1, 6-0 win over No. 7-seeded Sophia Williams of Charleston, S.C.
“Having been in the final before really did help,” said the 13-year-old Yu. “I did feel a little nervous at the start, but once I found my rhythm it was fine and I just felt really confident. I think my opponent was more nervous, but the match was definitely closer than the score indicated.”
Yu started playing tennis at age 6, and plans to tour around Southern California for the Easter weekend and visit her brother, who is a student at Cal Tech. “I don’t know yet how I’m going to celebrate,” she said. “I’m just so glad I got the opportunity to come back and win the Easter Bowl.”
Reese Brantmeier, the top-seeded player from Whitewater, Wisc., captured the third-place USTA bronze ball with a 6-0, 6-3 win over Alexandra Torre, the No. 2 seed from Brentwood, Tenn. In the Girls’ 14s doubles final, the Atlanta pairing of Ann Guerry and Kate Sharabura beat the California team of Anushka Khune (Palo Alto, Calif.) and Tomi Main (Seaside, Calif.), 6-2, 7-5.
In a battle of top-seeded players in the Girls’ 12s final, No. 2 Clervie Ngounoue of Washington, D.C., took out No. 1 Stephanie Yakoff of Fort Lee, N.J., 6-3, 6-2. No. 8 Elizabeth Dunac (University Park, Md.) won her first USTA bronze ball.
Ngounoue and Yakoff later teamed to win the Easter Bowl Girls’ 12s doubles title.
“I felt the pressure,” said the 11-year-old Ngounoue, who has split four previous matches in the past with Yakoff. “I knew my game plan and how I had to play Stephanie. I knew I had to be consistent to beat her and to keep my patience.”
Ngounoue’s father is her coach and the two train at Sports Fit, a tennis club in Bowie, Md.
Bruno Kuzuhara, the No. 10 seed from Coconut Creek, Fla., defeated top-seeded Samir Banerjee of Basking Ridge, N.J., 3-6, 6-4, 6-2, to win the Boys’ 14s title. No. 6 Evan Wen of Morristown, N.J., took home the USTA bronze ball.
“It was a great experience and I’m so excited to win the Easter Bowl,” the 13-year-old Kuzuhara said. “To see that such great players like [Frances] Tiafoe and [Jack] Sock have won it is so cool.”
Playing in just his second Easter Bowl and first final, Kuzuhara said he battled the nerves and that was the reason for his slow start. “I wasn’t able to execute from the start,” he said. “But I just tried to relax and stuck to my game plan, which was to look for the short balls and come in and attack.”
He added: “I love the Easter Bowl. It’s such a fun tournament and being at Indian Wells is incredible.”
In the Boys’ 12s final, Rudy Quan, the No. 2 seed from Roseville, Calif., beat No. 10 Raghav Jangbahadur of Palo Alto, Calif., 6-1, 6-4, in a Northern California battle. In the Boys’ 12s playoff for the USTA bronze ball, Alexander Frusina of Conroe, Texas, beat Meecah Bigun of College Park, Md., 6-1, 7-5.
In the Boys’ 12s doubles final, Nicholas Mangiapane (Davidson, N.C.) and Andrew Salu, the top-seeded team from Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., won the gold ball.