junior tennis

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Bradenton 11-year-old Wins USTA 12s Nationals, Longines Future Tennis Aces and Trip to the French Open

Adam Neff wins

WEEHAWKEN, NJ: April 16, 2013 – Eleven-year-old Adam Neff of Bradenton, Fla., won the fourth annual Longines Future Tennis Aces – On the Road to the French Open U.S. qualifying tournament on Friday, April 12, at the USTA Boys’ & Girls’ 12s National Spring Championships presented by Longines, hosted by the City of Delray Beach. Neff defeated top-seeded Brandon Nakashima of San Diego, Ca, 6-1, 6-4 in the championship match and will represent the United States when he competes against finalists from 15 countries around the world at the global event in Paris, France during the first week of the French Open.

The USTA Boys’ & Girls’ 12s National Spring Championships presented by Longines, hosted by the City of Delray Beach served as the U.S. qualifier for Longines Future Tennis Aces with the winner of the Boys 12s singles division earning a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Paris to play against qualifiers from 15 other nations. In addition to winning an all-expense-paid trip and the opportunity to play tennis in the center of Paris, Adam will compete to receive financing for his tennis equipment until his 16th birthday, courtesy of Longines.

Neff, who will turn 12 on May 30, competed against 128 other top-ranked U.S. players in the week-long USTA-sanctioned event. En route to the title Neff was nearly flawless and never dropped a set to any of his competitors.

Full results from the U.S. finals of the 2013 Longines Future Tennis Aces tournament can be found at: http://tennislink.usta.com/tournaments/TournamentHome/Tournament.aspx?T=121633

Last year, Rachel Lim of Briarcliff Manor, N.Y., won the Longines Future Tennis Aces all-girls event and the trip to Paris, where she fell to the top-seeded Russian national champion in the first round of play.

Longines is the proud Official Partner and Timekeeper of the French Open at Roland-Garros since 2007. Longines Future Tennis Aces – On the Road to the French Open is part of Longines’ global commitment to support and develop tennis’ superstars of tomorrow. All the players who qualify for the tournament will have the opportunity to visit the red-clay courts of Roland Garros and attend a French Open match.

Countries participating in Future Tennis Aces program include Australia, China, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Italia, Japan, Mexico, Poland, Russia, Singapore, Spain, Switzerland, Taiwan, United Kingdom and the U.S.

Marathon Man Gage Brymer Wins Boys’ 46th Annual ASICS Easter Bowl

Gage Brymer: Dave Kenas / ASICS Easter Bowl

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. (April 14, 2013) – Just because he won four of his six ASICS Easter Bowl matches after dropping the first set — and five total three-setters — doesn’t mean that Gage Brymer enjoys playing in them.

“No, I don’t really like them,” was Brymer’s response to a question posed by USTA First Vice President Katrina Adams, who was handling Tennis Channel on-court commentating duties following the unseeded Brymer’s 3-6, 6-4, 6-1, win over Luca Corinteli in the Boy’s 18s ITF singles final on the final day of the 46th annual event that took place for the first time at the Sunrise Country Club.

Adams called Brymer the “Marathon Man”, who later added in his post-match media interviews: “I wish I could get it done it two sets every match. It’s been quite a week, quite a grind.”

For the third straight year the boys’ 18s ITF singles was won by a UCLA Bruin recruit as Marcos Giron (2011), Mackenzie McDonald (2012) and now Brymer have captured the coveted title. It’s a junior title their coach Billy Martin, who many regard as one of the best junior players of all-time, never won.

“I don’t think it’s that I’m getting warmed up because I feel good when I go on the court and I’m hitting good,” Brymer said. “I think the other guy just really comes out pumped up and it takes a little bit of time to get into the match. It’s funny because this is the first tournament where it’s been the case. It’s not that I’m known for losing the first set. It’s just been this week. It’s not too disheartening now when I lose the first set because I know I can come back.

“I can’t put my finger on it. I guess it’s a good thing because I’ll never count myself out in the second set.”

Corinteli, the No. 3 seeded player from Alexandria, Va., who trains at the Junior Tennis Champions Center in College Park, Md., played a solid first set and used his big serve to take the early lead. “Maybe I thought in my head I really wouldn’t face any adversity and that it’s kind of going to go as smooth as it has the first set and a half,” he said. “But tennis is never like that and this has happened to me before. A couple of times you pass by it and think you’ve overcome it and then it happens again. You never really know what to expect in this sport because I was in cruise control and then a couple different points go his way and it’s a different match.”

Brymer also won the ASICS Easter Bowl in 2011 in the boys’ 16s. “I don’t like getting second place,” he said. “I feel like once I get to the final I’m there to win it. A couple of weeks ago at the Claremont ITF I got second and that was my first second in a while. I really can’t remember the last time I got second place. I just hate it. I can’t stand going all that way and losing.”

Brymer said he got a little nervous up 5-0 and then 5-1 in the final set. “It’s definitely an incredibly tough place to be up 5-0, 5-1, 5-2. Some people say, you’re up by so much and you’ve got nothing to lose and you’ve got nothing to be worried about, but I don’t think that’s the case at all. It’s much harder to get up 5-0 and close it out then to get up 5-0.

Brymer doesn’t have much time to rest before he returns to play for his high school team, University High in Irvine, on Tuesday. Then it’s off to play the 113th Ojai Valley Championships Boys’ CIF Interscholastic division April 25-28. This year, Brymer is trying to be the first player since Bobby Riggs to win three straight high school titles at The Ojai since Bobby Riggs did it from 1934-36 playing for Franklin High School in Los Angeles.

Two 14-year-olds battled for the Girls’ 16s singles title as last year’s ASICS Easter Bowl finalist CiCi Bellis, the No. 8-seeded player from Atherton, Calif., defeated No. 7 Caroline Dolehide of Hinsdale, Ill., 6-4, 6-1.

“I thought about it a little bit before the match,” Bellis said of her finals loss last year. “It was pretty disappointing. I didn’t want to think about that before the match.”

Dolehide got down two breaks early in the match, but was able to come back and had game point at 4-all before Bellis was able close out the first set, 6-4.

“I missed a little bit too much to stay in the match,” Dolehide said. “I didn’t feel tired but I felt like I had to pick it up to stay with her. All her balls were going pretty deep.”

Dolehide said she wasn’t nervous playing in the final, just “excited.”

Dolehide later teamed with partner Brienne Minor to win the gold ball in doubles to go along with her singles silver as the pair beat Emma Higuchi and Rebecca Weissmann, 1-6, 6-4, 6-2

In the Boys’ 16s final, top-seeded Sameer Kumar of Carmel, Ind., won his second straight USTA Supernational with a 6-0, 6-0 win over Kalman Boyd of Rancho Santa Fe, Calif.

“I just couldn’t hang with him,” Boyd said. “He was so fresh and mentally tough and I just got too tired after every point. I was just dead and trying to recover. I never played on Stadium and I never played in front of a crowd all week. So I think that was a factor. I’m already looking forward to my next tournament.”

Kumar said he and his coach actually hit on Stadium court late Saturday night just to get a feel for it. “We wanted to see how the conditions were,” said Kumar, who won the 16s Winternationals to start the year. “Today was tough, but obviously the scoreline doesn’t seem so. I played very well today.”

Not even paired together until the day before the tournament, Jordi Arconada and Spencer Papa beat JC Aragone and Mackenzie McDonald, 6-1, 7-5 to win the Boys’ 18s doubles.

Weekend ASICS Easter Bowl sightings: USTA First Vice President Katrina Adams, USTA Director of Coaching Jose Higueras and former Wimbledon quarterfinalist Kathy May Fritz.

The 18s singles draws can be found here: http://tennislink.usta.com/Tournaments/TournamentHome/Tournament.aspx?T=122977

For 16s and 14s go to TennisLink here: http://tennislink.usta.com/Tournaments/TournamentHome/Tournament.aspx?T=122896

To keep up with all the ASICS Easter Bowl news, visit the website at www.easterbowl.com and check out the tournament on Facebook and Twitter @EasterBowl. For more in

Sunday’s Scores
Boys’ 18s Singles (Final)
Gage Brymer, Irvine, CA def. Luca Corinteli (3), Alexandria, VA 3-6, 6-4, 6-1

Boys’ 18s Doubles (Final)
Jordi Arconada / Spencer Papa (2) def. JC Aragone / M. Mackenzie. McDonald (4) 6-1, 7-5

Boys’ 16s Singles (Final)
Sameer Kumar (1), Carmel, IN def. Kalman Boyd (17), Rancho Santa Fe, CA 6-0, 6-0

Boys’ 16 Singles (Playoff)
Taylor Fritz (3) Rancho Santa Fe, CA def. Emil Reinberg (17) Atlanta, GA 6-3, 6-4

Girls’ 16s Singles (Final)
Catherine Bellis (8), Atherton, CA def. Caroline Dolehide (7), Hinsdale, IL 6-4, 6-1

Girls’ 16 Singles (Playoff)
Emma Higuchi (4) Los Angeles, CA def. Hanna Chang Fontana, CA 6-4; 6-4

Girls’ 16 Doubles (Final)
Caroline Dolehide / Brienne Minor (1) def. Emma Higuchi / Rebecca Weissmann (3) 1-6, 6-4, 6-2

Girls’ 16 Doubles (Playoff)
Jessie Aney / Alexis Nelson (6) def. Jada Hart / Stephanie Hazell 4-6, 6-2, 6-4

Mayo Hibi Captures ASICS Easter Bowl

Mayo Hibi (Dave Kenas / ASICS Easter Bowl)

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. (April 13, 2013) – Mayo Hibi completed the ITF Carson-ASICS Easter Bowl double on Saturday, concluding a dominating two weeks of tennis with a 6-3, 6-2 victory over Tornado Ali Black.

“I surprised myself that I was able to pull off the Easter Bowl after winning Carson,” said Hibi, who joins Krista Hardebeck (2010) and Melanie Oudin (2008) as recent players who have managed the feat. “I was pretty tired coming into the tournament and wasn’t sure how my body was going to hold up.”

Irvine’s Hibi, who lost in the doubles semifinals on Friday, dropped just 14 games total in her six singles match wins during the tournament.

Hibi said her game has really improved since she started working with former WTA player Debbie Graham, who won on hand to witness the victory.

“I think I’ve improved in a lot of areas,” Hibi said. “I still have a lot of things to work on, but I have really improved.”

She admitted to being “really, really nervous” at the start of the match and that the reality of being in the final got to her. “It’s not like a normal match. You don’t have you bag because the ball runners are carrying them, it was hot and the 14s match went really long. At first I didn’t feel like I was into the match and got down in the first set.”

But Hibi was able to come back, using her consistent slice backhand to keep Black off balance for most of the match.

“I thought I could have come into the match more prepared,” Black said. “I was really exhausted from my last two matches. I’m just happy I was able to do better this year after last year (losing in the first round).”

Hibi will next play USTA Pro Circuit events on the clay in North Carolina and Florida. She also has some celebrating to do. “I haven’t celebrated my birthday yet,” she said of turning 17 last week in Carson. “I think my mom will bake me a cake and we’ll have some ice cream.”

Jaeda Daniel, the No. 3 seed from Port Charlotte, Fla., will also be celebrating with some ice cream following her comeback win in the girls’ 14s final for her first USTA gold ball as she outlasted Ashley Lahey, the No. 11 seed from Hawthorne, Calif., 3-6, 6-4, 6-1.

“That was definitely the toughest match of the tournament for me,” Daniel said, adding that she would go out to dinner with her mom on Saturday night and then to Cold Stone for ice cream.

Connor Hance of Torrance, Calif., overcame a match point in the boys’ 14s final to defeat top-seeded John McNally of Cincinnati, 4-6, 7-6 (3), 6-4. It was the second singles gold ball for Hance, who previously won the Clay Court National 12s.

“I’ve been up match point before like that and lost,” Hance said. “You are just like so happy thinking you’re going to win and then then you get really tight. That happened to me at the Eddie Herr.”

Serving for the match at 6-5 in the second set, McNally double faulted on match point to make it deuce and then Hance reeled off two more points to force the tiebreak.

“In the tiebreak I was just saying get your first serve in,” Hance said. “I didn’t get them all in but I think getting most of them was the difference in the match.”

McNally was distraught after the match, but handled himself well despite the disappointment and said tennis is a lot about ups and downs and how you deal with it. “You really can’t really live like that,” he said of pondering missed opportunities. “Crap happens. That’s what my papa tells me. You’re going to have matches where you come back from match points and matches that you lose up a match point. That’s just tennis. I do look back on that match point. I’m not going to lie. On match point I just got a little bit tight.”

McNally said he looks forward to playing Hance again. “It’s like Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal,” he said. “You see them and Djokovic have great matches just like we do. Of course I look forward to playing all the top kids at this high level. It’s the juniors so I don’t really have anything to lose. I’m really looking forward to playing Connor again and getting some revenge.”

Hance said he was excited to be listed among the USTA Spring National winners for the rest of his life. “I’m pretty excited. My names is like going to be in the program. Forever.”

Top-seeded Sameer Kumar came back in his boys’ 16s semifinals to defeat Taylor Fritz, breaking Fritz who was serving for the match in the third set at 5-4. He faces Kalman Boyd on Sunday in the final championship match of the day.

“I’m excited to be in the final,” Kumar said. “I won the Winter nationals earlier in the year and that gave me a lot of confidence.”

In the boys’ 18s final, Irvine’s Gage Brymer will face University of Virginia recruit Luca Corinteli. A UCLA recruit, Brymer is unseeded and has won four of his five matches in three setters.

Saturday ASICS Easter Bowl sightings: former USTA President Franklin Johnson, Tennis Channel commentator and former ATP player Vince Spadea, former ATP player Chico Hagey and former WTA player Debbie Graham.

The full 18s singles results and draws can be found here: http://tennislink.usta.com/Tournaments/TournamentHome/Tournament.aspx?T=122977

For 16s and 14s go to TennisLink here: http://tennislink.usta.com/Tournaments/TournamentHome/Tournament.aspx?T=122896

To keep up with all the ASICS Easter Bowl news, visit the website at www.easterbowl.com and check out the tournament on Facebook and Twitter @EasterBowl. For more information on ASICS, check out: www.ASICSAmerica.com and follow on Twitter @ASICSAmerica.

Previewing Sunday’s main-draw singles matches.

10 AM – Girls’ 16 Singles Final
Catherine Bellis vs. Caroline Dolehide

· Catherine is from Atherton in Northern California and is the No. 8 seeded at the ASICS Easter Bowl.
· She beat the top-seeded player in the 16s on Friday and the No. 4 seed yesterday in the semifinals.
· Catherine was a finalist in the 14s division at the ASICS Easter Bowl last year.

· Caroline is 14 years old and the No. 7 seed and from Hinsdale, Illinois.
· She is coming off a great Carson event where she made the semifinals in the 16s.
· Her sister Courtney currently plays for the UCLA Bruins.

12:00 PM – Boys’ 18 Singles Final
Gage Brymer vs. Luca Corinteli

· Gage is from Irvine and is unseeded here this week and has won four of his five matches in three sets.
· Gage won the 16s Division at the ASICS Easter Bowl in 2011.
· He will play for UCLA in the fall.

· Luca trains with the Junior Tennis Champions Center in College Park, Maryland.
· Luca is the No. 3 seeded player and playing in his first ASICS Easter Bowl final.
· He will play next year for the University of Virginia.

2 PM – Boys’ 16s Singles Final
Sameer Kumar vs. Kalman Boyd

· Sameer is the top-seeded player in the Boys’ 16s and is from Carmel, Indiana.
· He won the Winternationals back in January.
· Sameer is from the same hometown as ATP pro Rajeev Ram’s and the two share the same coach.

· Kalam is unseeded and from Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., and currently training at Advantage Tennis Academy in Irvine.
· On Friday, Kalman beat the No. 2 seed dropping just one game.

ASICS Easter Bowl: Girls’ 18s Finals and Boys’ 18s Semis Set

Mayo Hibi (Photo credit: Neal Trousdale)

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. (April 12, 2013) – Mayo Hibi has had quite an impressive run in her return to junior tennis over the past two weeks.

The Irvine 17-year-old is just one win away from taking the impressive back-to-back ITF double of winning Carson and the ASICS Easter Bowl as she takes on 14-year-old Tornado Ali Black in the Girls’ 18s final on Saturday at the 46th annual event taking place at the Sunrise Country Club.

Hibi, who has played just ITF Pro Circuit Futures events this year, has had just one day off over the past 12 days. Only Melanie Oudin (2008) and Krista Hardebeck (2010) have been able to pull off the Carson-Easter Bowl double.

“Yeah, I’m pretty tired,” said Hibi, who had another convincing win on Friday over 13-year-old Michaela Gordon of Los Altos Hills, Calif., 6-2, 6-0. Later in the day she fell in the doubles semifinals with Brooke Austin.

Hibi and Black have played just once before last summer in the quarterfinals of an ITF $10,000 Futures event at Hilton Head, S.C., with Hibi dropping just one game. Hibi said Black didn’t play her best match and expects a tough final on Saturday.

“I’m sure she’s going to be ready to go,” Hibi said.

Black fell down 3-1 in the first set for the second consecutive match, but was able to battle back against a tough player in Louisa Chirico in a match that was just short of three hours as the No. 6-seed recorded a tense 7-6 (5), 7-6 (5) win.

Unseeded Gage Brymer of Irvine continued his impressive run advancing to the semifinals in the Boys’ 18s division. He next meets Martin Redlicki, the No. 5-seed from Boca Raton, Fla. Redlicki upset defending champion and No. 2 seeded Mackenzie McDonald of Piedmont, Calif., in three sets, 6-2, 3-6, 6-2. In the other half of the draw, No. 3 Luca Corinteli takes on top-seeded Noah Rubin.

In the boys’ 14s final on Saturday, the seedings held almost perfect as No. 1 John McNally of Cincinnati beat No. 5 Nathan Perrone of Mount Laurel, N.J., and No. 2 Connor Hance toppled No. 3 Zeke Clark of Tulsa, Okla., also in straight sets setting up a finals matchup on Saturday between the top two seeds.

McNally is aware he would be in some impressive company if he could pull out the win in the final Saturday. “I haven’t look back at the past winners in the 14s,” he said. “I just know how prestigious a tournament this is.”

Aaron Krickstein, Justin Gimelstob and Donald Young are past 14s ASICS Easter Bowl winners.

McNally and Hance have never played each other, but did square off in a doubles match on Thursday won by Hance and his partner.

“I learned he had a gigantic forehand,” Hance said. “I have a plan, I think.”

Hance and Clark had some extremely long rallies. “The average rally was like 20 shots,” Hance said. “I was just trying to keep it deep. He doesn’t give you a lot of balls to put away. He’s a great player and I had to do a lot to keep him off balance and to throw him off. It’s hard to pass him because he’s so fast. I was just grinding with him.

“There were lots of breaks in the second set. It was just break, break, break. It’s hard to serve when you’re having 40-ball rallies because you lose your legs.”

Ashley Lahey continued what she called her “breakthrough” tournament, advancing to the final for the first time in a Supernational event. Her and her mother moved to the South Bay from Colorado a year ago to be closer to the USTA Training Center – West where she trains with best friend Ryan Peus, who she beat on Friday, 6-2, 6-2.

“I practice with Ryan every day,” the No. 11 seeded Lahey said. “We are best friends. We are inseparable. It’s tough to play your best friend but eventually you get over that barrier. Hopefully I can play one more good match.”

Her finals opponent is No. 3 Jaeda Daniel of Port Charlotte, Fla. She beat Alexa Graham of Garden City, N.Y. 7-6 (4), 2-6, 6-1.

“It feels great to be in the final,” said Daniel, who trains part of the year near her hometown of Philadelphia. “It’s been a long tournament.”

Sightings on Thursday and Friday: Former ATP pros Tim Mayotte, Eliot Teltscher and former NCAA women’s singles champion Beth Herr Bellamy.

The full 18s singles results and draws can be found here: http://tennislink.usta.com/Tournaments/TournamentHome/Tournament.aspx?T=122977

For 16s and 14s go to TennisLink here: http://tennislink.usta.com/Tournaments/TournamentHome/Tournament.aspx?T=122896

To keep up with all the ASICS Easter Bowl news, visit the website at www.easterbowl.com and check out the tournament on Facebook and Twitter @EasterBowl. For more information on ASICS, check out: www.ASICSAmerica.com and follow on Twitter @ASICSAmerica.

ASICS Easter Bowl: 13-year-old Ryan Peus Wins Wearing Signed Roger Federer “Lucky Hat”

13-year-old Ryan Peus (L) and 15-year-old Michael Mmoh

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. (April 11, 2013) – Future UCLA teammates and fellow Californians Mackenzie McDonald and Gage Brymer recorded convincing straight-set victories on Thursday in the Boys’ 18s division on Day 5 of the 46th annual ASICS Easter Bowl being played at the Sunrise Country Club.

The No. 2-seeded McDonald of Piedmont, Calif., beat No. 15-seeded Dennis Uspensky of Atlantic Beach, N.Y., 6-3, 6-1, and the unseeded Brymer of Irvine, Calif., got past Henrik Wiersholm, the No. 14-seed from Kirkland, Wash., 6-2, 7-5, as both now move on to Friday’s quarterfinals.

The defending champion and former boys’ 14s champion McDonald is looking to become the first back-to-back boys’ 18s winner at the ASICS Easter since 1971-72.

“I feel like Palm Springs brings out the best in my game,” said McDonald, who played in warm 85-degree, but ideal conditions. “I feel like just going out there and playing. I want to stay in the present and not think about the past and just get through each point and each match.”

McDonald, 17, next meets Martin Redlicki, the No. 5-seed from Boca Raton, Fla., while Brymer will face Michael Mmoh, the No. 8-seed from Temple Hills, Md.

In the upset of the day, 13-year-old Ryan Peus of Carpinteria, Calif., beat 12-year-old and No. 1-seeded Claire Liu of Thousand Oaks, Calif., in the girls’ 14s quarterfinals, 6-2, 6-3. The two are training partners at the USTA Training Center – West in Carson, Calif.

Peus was elated after the match, advancing to her first 14s semifinal of a USTA Nationals. “It was a good win for me,” she said. “We’ve played like eight times and it always goes three sets. I was just a lot more aggressive and I felt like I had nothing to lose today. She was tight the entire match and the she had all the pressure on her.”

Peus wore her sweat-stained Roger Federer hat with three signatures on the bill of the cap belonging to R-Fed, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal. “It’s my lucky hat,” she said, adding she got all the signatures at the nearby BNP Paribas Open just down the road in Indian Wells.

A 13- and 14-year-old both advanced to the semifinals of the girls’ 18s as unseeded Michaela Gordon, 13, of Los Altos Hills, Calif., beat Raquel Pedraza of Claremont, Calif., 6-3, 6-3, and No. 6-seeded Tornado Ali Black, 14, upset No. 2 Marika Akkerman in a nearly three-hour marathon, 6-4, 3-6, 6-4.

Serving for the match at 5-4, Black was called for a time violation up 30-love but was able to close it out. “I got down 3-1 in the first set and was thinking, ‘she can’t keep this level up,’ ” said Black, who recently left training with the USTA and has began working with the L’Academie de Tennis Academy in Boynton Beach, Fla.

Louisa Chirico, 16, of Harrison, N.Y., and Mayo Hibi, 17, of Irvine, Calif., are the other semifinalists and both have WTA rankings with Chirico at No. 427 and Hibi at No. 368 in the world. Hibi had no problems with last year’s 18s finalist Brooke Austin, 6-0, 6-2.

The full 18s singles results and draws can be found here: http://tennislink.usta.com/Tournaments/TournamentHome/Tournament.aspx?T=122977
For 16s and 14s go to TennisLink here: http://tennislink.usta.com/Tournaments/TournamentHome/Tournament.aspx?T=122896

To keep up with all the ASICS Easter Bowl news, visit the website at www.easterbowl.com and check out the tournament on Facebook and Twitter @EasterBowl. For more information on ASICS, check out: www.ASICSAmerica.com and follow on Twitter @ASICSAmerica.

Junior Tennis: ASICS Easter Bowl Begins

Junior player Mackenzie McDonald looking for a title repeat (Credit: Bob Kenas / Easter Bowl)

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. (April 6, 2013) – UCLA recruit Mackenzie McDonald will attempt to become the first boys’ 18s back-to-back winner since Grey King in 1971-72 as the 46th annual ASICS Easter Bowl, the nation’s elite junior tennis tournament, begins on Sunday.

The ASICS Easter Bowl will be played for the first time at the Sunrise Country Club just down the road from its former home in Rancho Mirage, Calif. The ASICS Easter Bowl is a USTA National Spring Championships in boys’ and girls’ 14s and 16s and an International Tennis Federation Grade 1 level tournament in the 18s.

McDonald is also attempting to become a three-time winner of the event, having previously won the boys’ 14s in 2009. In recent years, Donald Young did the same, winning the 14s and then the boys’ 18s twice in 2004 and 2006. Other past winners of the 18s title include Sam Querrey, Michael Russel and Robby Ginepri on the boys’ side and Taylor Townsend, Christina McHale, and Melanie Oudin on the girls’ side.

Once again this year, the winner of the boys’ and girls’ 18s this year will receive a wild card into the main draw at the US Open Juniors and a USTA Pro Circuit Futures event.

ASICS America is a popular athletic footwear, apparel and accessories company headquartered in Irvine, Calif., ASICS has made a huge leap with its involvement into tennis by offering award-winning tennis footwear and apparel, launching a collection of tennis rackets, and sponsoring some of the top professional tennis athletes in the world such as WTA former No. 1 Samantha Stosur of Australia. The U.S. ASICS tennis team features former Easter Bowl standouts Steve Johnson and Irina Falconi, both currently making huge waves on the national and international stages.

Laurel Springs School, an accredited, online private school, has signed on as a major sponsor of the event and like ASICS will be on-site all week during the tournament. On Monday night, Laurel Springs will host an informational gathering and Coaches Seminar as Laurel Springs School founder Marilyn Mosley Gordanier will be on hand to answer questions and share information about Laurel Springs. The event begins at 5 p.m. at the Sunrise Country Club. Coaching legends Larry Stefanki (John McEnroe, Marcelo Rios and Andy Roddick) and USC men’s coach Peter Smith will entertain questions. More than 60 Easter Bowl players attend Laurel Springs.

Here are the top three seeded players in each division:

Boys’ 18s: Noah Rubin (Rockville Centre, N.Y.); Stefan Kozlov (Pembroke Pines, Fla.); Mackenzie McDonald (Piedmont, Calif.)

Girls’ 18s: Jamie Loeb (Ossing, N.Y.); Louisa Chirico (Westchester, N.Y.), Marika Akkerman (Toronto, Canada)

Boys’ 16s: Sameer Kumar (Carmel, Ind.); Kyle Seelig (Hatfield, Pa.); Taylor Fritz (Rancho Santa Fe, Calif.)

Girls’ 16s: Francesca Dilorenzo (New Albany, Ohio); Ena Shibahara (Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif.); Meredith Xepoleas (Huntington Beach, Calif.)

Boys’ 14s: John McNally (Cincinnati); Connor Hance (Torrance, Calif.); Zeke Clark (Tulsa, Okla.)

Girls’ 14s: Claire Liu (Thousand Oaks, Calif.); Kelly Chen (Cerritos, Calif.); Jaeda Daniel (Port Charlotte, Fla.).

Another significant change at this year’s ASICS Easter Bowl is that Lornie Kuhle has taken over as tournament chairman, seeking to continue a tradition started in 1968 by New Yorker and tournament founder Seena Hamilton.

First played in 1968, the ASICS Easter Bowl has been noted not only for the hospitality given to players and parents, but for its far-reaching media exposure and for keeping all the game’s important issues in public view.

Sponsors include ASICS America, Laurel Springs School, Advantage Tennis Academy and the Southern California Tennis Association.

To keep up with all the ASICS Easter Bowl news, visit the website at www.easterbowl.com and check out the tournament on Facebook and Twitter @EasterBowl. For more information on ASICS, check out: www.ASICSAmerica.com and follow on Twitter @ASICSAmerica.

Lauren Smyczek: Growing up with ATP tennis player and brother, Tim

Alec, Lauren and Tim Smyczek (L to R)

Lauren Smyczek is the newest contributor to Tennis Grandstand, and the younger sister of current ATP pro, Tim Smyczek who is playing at the Australian Open this week. You can follow her on Twitter @LaurenSmyczek where she talks tennis, fashion and life.

By Lauren Smyczek

For years, the Smyczek children, Alec, Tim and I, left the house at five in the morning for my older brothers’ tennis practice before school. I usually ate a donut on the couch while they hustled, but on a good day I would serve a bucket of balls or hit against the wall.

Growing up in Wisconsin, we didn’t take family vacations because most weekends were spent training or road-tripping to various USTA tournaments. Consequently, most of my earliest memories take place on or near a tennis court.

Tim, now 25 and three years my elder, excelled through the junior circuit and currently plays on the ATP Tour, reaching his career-high ranking of 125 just this week. He is in Melbourne for the Australian Open and just defeated Ivo Karlovic to reach the second round – a feat our entire family is very proud of.

So, what was it like growing up with a brother who would go on to play professional tennis on the ATP tour?

The training and travel were grueling, intense and challenging, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Jealousy never entered the picture in our family. If you knew Tim at all or had ever seen him pick up a racquet, you saw how much he loved tennis. Seeing how he literally never wanted to put his racquet down as a kid, you couldn’t help but want him to succeed.

I, however, had a very different experience with the sport from my brother. Early on, I just never felt the love and commitment Tim felt for tennis, so it began to be more of a burden than anything. It wasn’t until my college years that I realized just how much tennis meant to me.

By the time I was in middle school, Tim had already started traveling to tournaments and training with his coach almost every weekend. By that point, it was pretty clear to me that I couldn’t force the tennis thing anymore — my heart was elsewhere.

Around age 11 or 12, I realized that I enjoyed wearing the tennis skirts and cool shoes more than actually competing. Unlike Tim, I didn’t have that fight in me once I stepped on the court. He had won the state championship as a freshman and thus decided to begin playing tournaments rather than participating on the school team. As a result and due to my own work ethic, I put a lot of pressure on myself to excel as well, but this made tennis difficult for me to enjoy at times.

Then one day, I finally realized that I didn’t have to do absolutely everything that my older brothers did — so I ventured into doing theater to explore other activities. My tennis-driven family was not into theater much so their initial failure to understand why I would choose acting and singing over working harder at tennis for a shot at a college scholarship didn’t surprise me. However, being a close-knit family, they quickly supported my decision.

Rather than running away from a sport I had been surrounded with all my life, I decided to keep up with it in high school in order to be a better-rounded student. It may not have been my favorite high school experience but I believe I got through those years of playing and training thanks in part to my wonderful teammates, fantastic coaches, and other diversions in the form of multiple high school musical performances.

When I headed off to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a transformation I wasn’t expecting occurred.

Once I left high school, a huge weight had been lifted in regards to tennis. The sport became something I now chose to pursue. Whether it was growing up in a tennis family, or playing alongside someone as successful as my brother, I was always my own worst enemy growing up when I didn’t perform how I wanted to on court. All of a sudden in college, my desire to play was rekindled when the pressures drifted away and I began enjoying it more than I ever anticipated.

I arranged hitting time with friends because I wanted to get better and to have fun with it. For me, finally being able to enjoy playing tennis was all about perspective. I got involved with the club tennis team at UW and loved it so much that I started running it my sophomore year. I had such a great experience my freshman year that I almost felt it a responsibility to give back and try to provide the same caliber of experience for the new players. I met so many wonderful people and have such fond memories from the club team.

Tennis now means more to me than my 12-year-old self could ever comprehend. And here’s the cliché, though very true: it is a healthy pastime I’ll treasure for the rest of my life.

From all those years on court as a kid, to my involvement during my early adulthood, I can firmly say that playing tennis has helped form me into the person I am. And what’s more, the sport allows us to create an instant, universal bond with others.

And what can be more enjoyable than stepping on court with your family and friends for a fun hit? Nothing, I say.

Donna Vekic: All grown up and searching for her tennis destiny

Donna Vekic en route to her first WTA Tour final in Uzbekistan.

By David Kane

Sometimes on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tennis Tour, fans find that their favorite rising stars really grow up fast. One minute, they’re teenagers struggling to qualify for major tournaments; the next, they’re making tour finals in countries like Uzbekistan and you’re left wondering where the time went.

Such is the case for the young 16-year-old Croatian, Donna Vekic. If you have never heard of her, fear not. Although she has competed on the junior circuit, the descriptors “prodigy” or “junior champion” are withheld because, to be fair, her junior results have been quite middling in a division where success and failure is simply foreshadowing.

Before this summer, I had only known of Vekic in passing as the player against whom controversial fireball Yulia Putintseva had audibly and turbulently fought back at during the 2011 Junior Wimbledon.

Despite Vekic’s relative anonymity, when I posited to my twitter followers which players I should be on the lookout for during the US Open qualies, many were quick to point me towards the promising talent.

When I got to Court 6, I could see why; the tall blonde in the flowing Nike dress cut an impressive figure for a 16-year-old. While most of the top junior girls look like girls, Vekic already looked the part of a woman looking to break through on the woman’s tour. More importantly, she played like a woman; with a big serve and equally ferocious groundstrokes, this ready-for-primetime player looked decidedly out of place on such a small outer court.

Unseeded in qualifying, the Croat had a good week in Flushing before her age and inexperience reared at a most unfortunate time; two games from the US Open main draw, Vekic wilted in the New York heat and veteran Edina Gallovits-Hall took care of the rest, winning the last 10 games and making the youngster look out of place all over again.

What could have been a disappointing end became that crucially aforementioned foreshadowing when she arrived in Tashkent a week later, again as a qualifier. In seven matches, she only dropped one set, and claimed decisive victories against No. 4 seed Magdelena Rybarikova and No. 6 seed Bojana Jovanovski en route to her first WTA tour final. Despite losing to Caroline Wozniacki’s US Open conqueror Irina Camelia Begu at week’s end, Donna Vekic had arrived, in fairly emphatic style given the dearth of prior results pointing to said arrival. It just over one year, Vekic has risen over 700 ranking spots and hit a career-high No. 121 this past Monday.

Given how past players have made the junior to WTA transition over the last few years, Vekic’s run has many scratching their heads. Junior results aren’t a fluke; a look at the last 10 US Open girls’ singles champions reads like a “Who’s Who” of the WTA (both today and tomorrow). Her talent cannot be denied, and the main (albeit bizarre) question that seems to be at hand is how Vekic’s WTA-friendly game failed to translate in the junior ranks.

One need only look to the Williams sisters for the answer; the two had abstained entirely from junior tournaments and their father had been heavily criticized at the time for doing so. Venus turned pro the year Meilin Tu won the girls’ US Open, and Tara Snyder the next when Serena entered the pro ranks. With that perspective, suddenly an aberration looks like destiny.

Follow Donna Vekic on Facebook or Twitter for her WTA Tour updates!

American junior Samantha Crawford charges to her first Slam title at U.S. Open

Samantha Crawford during her title win at the US Open

By David Kane, Special for Tennis Grandstand

Tennis has a way of giving its fans an eerie sense of symmetry.

Why else would I find myself watching Samantha Crawford play for the US Open girls’ singles title nearly two weeks after watching her on the same court in women’s qualifying. That day, I had had no idea who Crawford was, and viewed her only as a stepping-stone for another established junior, Irina Khromacheva, to make her foray up and into the senior level.

Tennis also has a way of punishing fans that don’t do their homework.

Far from a pushover, the 17-year-old Georgia native clad in Nike and armed with an orange Wilson racquet, clocks the ball as hard and flat as another former US Open girls’ champion, Lindsay Davenport. And Crawford stood her ground as she played the final junior Slam of 2012 like a big fish in a small pond.

After qualifying for the senior main draw (with wins over Khromacheva and former top 20 player Eleni Daniilidou) and pushing giant killer Laura Robson in the first round, Crawford entered the junior tournament unseeded and relatively under the radar amidst a field of more celebrated junior prospects like compatriot Taylor Townsend and Yulia Putintseva. Free from pressure, the American made light work of her unseeded opponents and eeked out tight three-setters against higher ranked opponents like Sachia Vickery.

She didn’t have to play the feisty Putintseva, who withdrew from their quarterfinal clash with a rumored heart problem. But after seeing her trounce Khromacheva and Estonia’s Anett Kontaveti in the girls’ final today, I’m willing to argue that Crawford would have emerged victorious from that encounter as well. While many of the higher ranked juniors are undersized baseliners, Crawford is tall (6’2” to be exact) and has an effortlessly powerless serve that makes her appear light-years ahead of her similarly aged opponents who struggle on their second – and even their first – delivery.

Against Kontaveit, she started on the back foot, failing to put enough first serves in and falling too far behind the baseline, allowing the Estonian, who hits hard enough on both sides to be called a baby Kaia Kanepi, to dictate from the onset. But just like against Khromacheva, the young American began to find her range and once she did, the match was all but over. The Estonian has had a solid year at the junior Slams and a win over Townsend this week to be proud of, but she didn’t serve even half as well as her opponent, failing to consolidate a single break or 30-15 point on her racquet.

Crawford meanwhile, got better and better as the first set wore on, looking visibly giddy as she clocked short balls into the corner and converted her first opportunity to take the opening set. Nerve-free, she never looked back as she broke several more times to take the match in straight sets. The giggles and bubbly personality shone through during the trophy ceremony; Crawford barely got any words out and only provided nervous laughter as explanation for three weeks of utterly serious tennis.

For all the high-profile stories involving the next generation of WTA superstars, Crawford’s spectacularly underrated showing may prove to be a springboard that will have her laughing last for years to come.

David Kane is an avid tennis fan reporting from the grounds of the U.S. Open. You can follow him on Twitter @ovafanboy.

Milos Raonic beats Pete Sampras in the Face-Off in Toronto

Pete Sampras and Milos Raonic © Kevin Pope at Tennis Canada

The prodigy beat his hero on Thursday night in Toronto as Canada’s top player Milos Raonic defeated Pete Sampras 7-6, 6-1 in an exhibition match in front of his hometown fans at the Air Canada Centre.

The Canadian rising star and the American legend were greeted with a standing ovation as they arrived on court sporting Toronto Maple Leafs jerseys embroidered with their name and the last two numbers of their date of birth.

The much anticipated ‘Face-off’ between Missile Milos and Pistol Pete featured blistering serves, impressive net play, deft touch and a lot of smiles on both sides of the net. Raonic was philosophical when describing what it meant to have the opportunity to play his childhood idol.

“It’s a moment that’s going to be tattooed in my mind,” Raonic said. “It’s never going to leave. There is a lot that comes with this moment. For myself to learn and grow, but also for Canadian tennis to promote the sport and that’s what the end goal is.”

Sampras, who met Raonic for the first time earlier this year at the SAP Open in San Jose, a tournament which Raonic won to capture his first ATP title, had some high praise for the 20-year-old Canadian.

“Milos is a great kid,” Sampras said. “He seems really driven and has a great future ahead of him. When I look at young players, I look at a weapon. And he has a big one with his serve.”

The evening’s main event was preceded by a set of women’s tennis between Wimbledon junior doubles champion Eugenie Bouchard and former world no. 21 Aleksandra Wozniak. Both ladies hit their fair share of winners in a 6-4 victory for Wozniak over her compatriot.

The festivities kicked off with some celebrity doubles as the four players took to the court with actor Hayden Christensen, former NHL player Brad May as well as Toronto television personalities Rick Campanelli and Gord Stellick. Christensen, famous for playing the role of Anakin Skywalker in the Star Wars movies, played junior tennis and acquitted himself well against the pros.

This was the first time tennis has been played at the Air Canada Centre, a venue that seats 19,000 for Maple Leafs hockey games.

The event was a special treat for Canadian tennis fans, who not only watched one of the game’s all-time greats, but also saw Milos Raonic’s first match in his home country since the summer of 2010, an encounter he won’t soon forget.

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