Almost every American tennis great has played in the Easter Bowl including: Sampras, Agassi, McEnroe, Connors, Davenport, Capriati, Austin, Roddick, Ginepri and Querrey and current Top 100 players John Isner, Ryan Harrison, Christina McHale and Sloane Stephens. Two up and coming junior tennis stars can now add their names to this distinguished list: Francis Tiafoe and CiCi Bellis.
With his ultimate goal of winning an ASICS Easter bowl finally complete, 16-year-old Francis Tiafoe said his focus will now turn to the junior Grand Slam events in the coming months, including the French Open and Wimbledon.
Tiafoe joined No. 4-seeded CiCi Bellis of Atherton, Calif., as the big ITF 18s winners as the 47th annual event ended with rave reviews from players, parents and coaches being played for the first time at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, home site of the BNP Paribas Open.
The top-seeded Tiafoe of College Park, Md., nearly let an early 5-2 first-set lead slip away, and needed three sets to beat Nathan Ponwith of Scottsdale, Ariz., 7-6 (3), 3-6, 6-2. Bellis had an easier time beating good friend Katie Swan of Wichita, Kan., 6-3, 6-1.
“I definitely could have made that a little easier,” Tiafoe said. “I was up in the first set and we were both playing ugly tennis.”
After dropping the second set, Tiafoe was able to pull out two long games to open the third and deciding set. “The first game of the third set is always huge. Always,” Tiafoe stressed. “I could have easily been down 0-2 but I was up 2-0. Where would you rather be?”
Tiafoe was told by his traveling coach Frank Salazar after the match that he would move up from No. 7 in the ITF world junior rankings to No. 2, becoming the highest ranked U.S. junior in the world.
“That would be huge if I’m No. 2 in the world,” he said. “If I am I’d be very happy.”
Tiafoe wore a silver crown necklace a parent in College Park gave him after he won the Orange Bowl International in December, and it’s become a good luck charm. “Some people think I’m getting a big head for it,” Tiafoe explained. “But he said ‘you’re the king now,’ and I wasn’t going to say no to it.”
Tiafoe can’t wait to get on the red clay in Paris once the French Open starts May 25. “That’s some place and I’m really looking forward to being there,” he said. “I’ve been watching that tournament on TV since I was 6 years old. I plan to get on the grounds early and hit with guys like Sam (Querrey), Stevie (Johnson) and Jack (Sock).
Bellis, who sat with Swan and watched the Tiafoe-Ponwith match before they took to the court, is also looking to head to Europe for the junior Slams, as well as the Italian Open. “I can’t wait to get on the red clay,” she said. “I love it.”
The win marked the second straight ASICS Easter Bowl title for Bellis as she won the 16s last year.
Said Swan: “I’m happy she won. I mean, if it was going to be anyone I’m glad it’s her. She’s a great player.”
John McNally, who won the 16s at the Carson International Spring Championships last week, was victorious on his second straight Sunday, avenging a heartbreaking loss in last year’s ASICS Easter Bowl 14s final. The No. 9 seed from Cincinnati defeated No. 2 Zeke Clark of Tulsa, Okla., in an entertaining match, 6-3, 7-6 (4).
McNally learned to play tennis with a balloon and a mini racquet while watching his mother Lynn Nabors McNally teach tennis lessons. Lynn was a nationally ranked junior and played at Northwestern University at the same time as Katrina Adams, the USTA first vice president, who was on hand watching and commentating for the Tennis Channel ASICS Easter Bowl show, which will air May 18.
In last year’s 14s final against Connor Hance, McNally let a match point slip away, up 6-4, 5-4 and 40-30.
On Sunday with McNally leading 6-3, 5-4, 40-love lead and serving, Clark was somehow able to get it back to deuce, and broke McNally to tie it up 5-all. But the big-serving McNally on his next service game was able to hold and then won the tiebreaker with the help of two big aces.
“Yeah, that was big,” he said, adding that he was clocked by the court speed gun serving 120 mph. “Just to be able to pull out this match is like a huge sigh of relief. I’m still shaking. As soon as I lost that game to make it 5-all I just I just said focus on the next game and hold serve.”
What did he think after Clark battled back to tie it up and letting three match points slip away? “I was in shock,” he said. “It was getting hard to breathe after losing those match points. I was pretty worried. But everybody has match points and blows them. I said in my interview last year that all good players bounce back after losing match points and I bounced back this year to win the title.”
Girls’ 16s top-seeded player Katerina Stewart of Coral Gables, Fla., did not drop a set in the tournament, beating unseeded Claire Liu of Thousand Oaks, Calif., 6-3, 6-3, in the final.
“It feels good,” Stewart said. “This is my last 16s tournament. I’ll play the 18s National Clay Courts and Hardcourts and try to get the wild card into the US Open.”
Boys’ 14s top-seeded player Steven Sun, 13, of Glen Cove, N.Y., beat Keenan Mayo, the No. 2 player from Roseville, Calif., 6-0, 4-6, 6-1, to capture his second Super National previously having won the 12s Clays. “This was a lot tougher and I played better opponents,” he said. Sun overcame a semifinal match on Saturday where he was down 6-1, 3-1, but came back to win.
Another New Yorker, No. 3 Rachel Lim of Briarcliff Manor, N.Y., took out unseeded Ashley Yeah of Los Gatos, Calif., 6-1, 7-6 (2) to win the Girls’ 14s. Lim trains at the USTA National Tennis Center – East in Flushing Meadow.
“It’s amazing to win the Easter Bowl,” said Lim, who lost in the Round of 16 last year. “It’s been a tiring week, but it’s a good kind of tiring.”
Unseeded Daniel Sharygin of Newburgh, Ind., won the Boys’ 12s title with a 7-6 (4), 6-2 victory over No. 16 Ronan Jachuck of Slingerlands, N.Y.
Sharygin battled back from being down 5-3 and then 6-5, love-30, in the first set. “I was extremely nervous today,” he said.
Sharygin said he knew all about the history of the ASICS Easter Bowl as he is coached by Stephanie Hazlett, who won the 1995 Girls’ 16s title.
Kacie Harvey, No. 9 from Braintree, Mass., edged out No. 6 Katie Volynets of Walnut Creek, Calif., in a nearly two-hour match that was closer than the 6-2, 6-1 Girls’ 12s final score indicated.
“She was a really good runner so I had to really be smart with my shots,” said the seventh grader. “I usually had to hit a few extra shots than I’m used to. This is my best tournament result. I usually lose like in the third round.”
She added: “My parents aren’t here but it feels like they are because they keep texting me and calling me.”
Bellis was awarded the overall girls’ Jackie Cooper-Tory Fretz Sportsmanship Award while Ponwith won it on the boys’ side.
Sponsors included: ASICS, Laurel Springs School, Indian Wells Tennis Garden, the Dent Tennis Academy, Tennis Warehouse, TennisPlayer.net Digital Magazine, the tennis website 10sBalls.com, USTA, The Old Spaghetti Factory, SCTA and Mind Matters.
To keep up with all the ASICS Easter Bowl news, visit the website at www.easterbowl.com and check out the tournament on Facebook (www.facebook.com/EasterBowl) and Twitter (@easterbowl). For more information on ASICS, check out: www.ASICSAmerica.com and follow on Twitter @ASICSAmerica.