Fifteen-year-old Alaina Miller of Saratoga, Calif., the No. 16-seeded player in the Girls’ 16s, used an effective two-handed forehand to beat hometown favorite and No. 13 seeded Kalani Soli of Carson, Calif., 6-1, 4-6, 7-6 (3), in the Girls’ 16 final.
“It was a nail-biter,” said Miller, coached by former SoCal junior and UC-Berkeley player J.P. Fruterro.
Miller was down 5-6 and serving and found herself down love-30 before digging deep and forcing a tiebreaker against Soli, who had about 25 area residents cheering her on. “I try not to show too much emotion,” said Miller after the match. “I found out working with my mental coach that if I don’t show emotion good or bad, then I play my best. Because if I’m saying, ‘Come On’, and that stuff I just don’t feel like that’s me. So I just try and keep it neutral.”
Miller said her mental coach has taught her to think of a song in times of duress. “When things are bad, I turn up the volume in my head and try to block out all of my thoughts and focus on the song,” she said, adding she was listening to Michael Jackson’s “Baby Be Mine” in her head during her most trying times on court.
“It was tough,” a positive Soli said afterward. “I think I was playing defense too much. With her two-handed forehand she hits really flat so it’s hard to get it back.”
Soli lives just down the street from the USTA Training Center-West but trains 15 miles away at the La Habra Tennis Center and is currently home schooled using K-12 Online school.
On the Boys side it was John McNally who beat No. 11-seeded Patrick Kypson of Greenville, N.C., 6-4, 4-6, 7-5, and overcoming not only a tough opponent but also the memory of his loss to Connor Hance at last year’s USTA Spring Nationals in Rancho Mirage.
No. 5-seeded and 14-year-old CiCi Bellis of Atherton, Calif., made short work of 15-year-old and No. 9 Raveena Kingsley of Fulton, Md., 6-3, 6-0. Kingsley had beaten Bellis in their only prior meeting at the 12s USTA Spring Nationals back in 2011.
Kingsley, who trains out of the Junior Tennis Champions Center in College Park, Md., had a tough three-set semifinal on Saturday and said she felt mentally and physically tired before the final. “And it’s my first Grade 1 final, so maybe that helped her confidence, that she’s been here before,” said Kingsley, who was coached by Frank Salazar all week.
Bellis was cheered on by her hitting partner and one of her coaches Jelena Pandzic, a former junior prodigy from Split, Croatia, who reached as high as No. 135 in the WTA World Tour rankings.
“I will rest the rest of today and maybe have a light hit tomorrow,” said Bellis, who turns 15 on Tuesday. “I really want to win the Easter Bowl. It’s going to be really hard because everyone in the draw is really good.”
In 2012, Bellis was a finalist in the Girls’ 14s at the ASICS Easter and last year she won the Girls’ 16s.
On the boys side it was seventeen year old Naoki Nakagawa, a Bradenton, Fla., resident from Fukuoka, Japan, who went the distance to beat top-seeded Francis Tiafoe to capture the Boys’ 18s singles title, 6-4, 2-6, 7-6 (5).
Nakagawa, is in his fifth year training at IMG Bolettieri Academy in Bradenton, Fla. He calls current world ATP Tour Top 20 player Kei Nishikori a good friend. “Yeah, we train together and sometimes I go to his house and we play games,” said Nakagawa.
For a complete run down of all scores and updated draws, log onto the website at www.usta.com/isc.