Easter Bowl 2008

Nov 19 08:34 2008 John Yandell Print This Article


The Easter Bowl in 2008 was the 40th anniversary of this storied and unique junior event--and our second consecutive appearance to observe the same.

Last year we covered the Easter Bowl AS a kind of exploratory foray into the study of American junior tennis. The event basically blew me away. I felt I'd discovered an amazing viewing window. The chance to see the best 600 players in America all at the same place at the same time in an environment unlike any junior tournament I'd witnessed.

So I got into it and ended up staying the entire week and writing stories about all six finals--which were mostly amazing competitive matches. In fact,Guest Posting some of them had more drama than many big pro finals I'd witnessed.

We also created a new section o the site, Future Stars, and put up clips of the strokes of about 100 American juniors. We also shared that video with both the USTA and with some of the kids and their coaches. It was surprisingly positive all the way around.

So we decided to go back in 2008--and even became a minor Easter Bowl sponsor. Starting with the boys in this issue (and the girls to follow in June), we are adding another 100 clips of the strokes of American junior players to Future Stars.

As great as the experience was last year, I didn't want to arrive with the expectation that it all had to happen exactly the same way again and so I consciously adopted a somewhat circumspect attitude.

The main goal was just to film the top American juniors again. To help me, I brought along two Tennisplayer ace videographers, Aaron Martinez and Matt Barrett. But I told them "Hey we can get a hundred or so players on video in 3 days or 4 days and get back to San Francisco by the weekend."

But damn if the same didn't happen to me again. Apparently the tournament's been the same way for 40 years, so why would 2008 be any different? So I let Aaron and Matt head back home after the first three days. But once again I stayed for the duration.

If you are unfamiliar with the history, the Easter Bowl has been played all over the country, New York, Florida, Arizona, and most recently, the California desert near Palm Springs. For many years it was at the Riviera Country Club, but for the last two years the host has Rancho Los Palmas Resort.

If you've been around much competitive junior tennis you know that, despite the positive aspects, there can be a palpable toxic atmosphere at many events. Two kids on a back court, two sets of parents squinting through the wind screens. Someone wins and someone loses, sometimes with acrimony and hard feelings, occasionally with some bad line calls. Then everyone immediately piles back in their respective cars and heads home to check the rankings on the internet.

All that is somehow obliterated--or at least impeded--by the atmosphere at Rancho Las Palmas. It's an old style, world class desert resort. Gorgeous faux Spanish architecture. Wonderful, comfortable rooms. A really nice staff. A golf course that is very, very green.

And I can personally testify, a great spa pool. Plus a great rate if you are there for the event. Then there's the tennis facility itself with a couple of dozen courts and a wonderful stadium. And an incredible set of satellite locations throughout the desert area.

And in the evenings, well, there was the chance to revisit some our favorite haunts from our stays at Indian Wells. Before Aaron and Matt left we had a big night at Castelli's, the famed Sinatra-style desert Italian hot spot. And also I got to buy Craig Cignarelli a steak in the bar at Sullivan's Steakhouse.

But back to the event. You've got the boys and the girls in the 14s, 16s and 18s together for the duration--the only coed event of its kind in the country. And yes, as you might imagine, there's some discernable adolescent chemistry.

But you've also got the families and the coaches there in close proximity, so they are forced to mingle as well. And you know what? Some of them looked like they enjoyed it as well.

And that environment is by design. Seena Hamilton, New York marketing maven and former tennis mother, founded the event, and the atmosphere is basically an extension of her vision and personality. A fantastic venue for the players to see who is really the best, with no (or at least minimal) gamesmanship and posturing allowed. Seena wants everyone to feel as if they are guests in her home, she has repeatedly said, and she pretty much pulls that off.

There's a big opening party for everyone, and after every final, an awards ceremony that has the feel of what they do on TV at the Slams. That's because the whole event is the subject of cable television special every year. Then you've got our friends from JuniorTennis.com, taking pictures, interviewing the kids, and putting up the coverage on a daily basis. It makes the players feel that the event is important, and it is.

Seena expects the kids to behave and believes that something about the media buzz and the resort/social atmosphere encourages that. But at the same time she won't tolerate any heavy handed or officious behavior from the tournament officials. There is a differently vibe from the officials here compared to many events I've witnessed. They seem, for want of a better word, actually human--friendly even.

Her goal is to take pressure off the parents and the kids and ameliorate the harsh competitive atmosphere you feel at so many junior events. And for the second year in a row I was amazed at the lack of histrionics. I'm sure it must have happened at some point, but I didn't see one kid request a linesman, and I was there everyday.

The only moment of conflict I actually witnessed was between two spectators, or possibly two coaches and/or parents. I didn't actually hear what was said, but I did hear the raised voices. And, almost instantaneously, Mary Lynn Baker, the onsite director, appeared from behind her desk. She said something like, "Gentleman, that will be all from you or you will both be escorted from the property." And that was the end of the disturbance.

The coaches realize that it's something special as well. I interviewed several of them along with various people connected with tournament, including Seena.

Next month, you'll be able to hear not only what they think about the tournament, but also what they think about the current state of American junior tennis. So stay tuned for that.

The Finals

But let's get to the matches. What happened this year? We filmed some of the same players we saw last year. But interestingly, there were completely different players in the finals of every event.

This year I was struck by a strategic issue that ran through almost all the matches. It's the same kind of question every player at every level has to ask himself--or should. How do you adjust your strategy or game plan to the opponent? Or do you?

What do you do when you find your primary game plan isn't getting the job done? Should you stay with it? Should you change?

And for these talented kids, what are the implications of doing that--or not--for their long term development? So let's see how all these questions played.

The first 3 finals are on Saturday, the Girls 14s, the Boys 14s, and then the Girls 18s, followed by the remaining three matches on Sunday. It's a tremendous two days of elite junior competitive play, and I'd recommend that weekend to anyone who wants to understand the junior game, or just competitive tennis period.

Girls 14 Final

Kyle McPhillips, the number one seed from Willoughby, Ohio, seemed as cool or cooler than any player at the Easter Bowl, with her relaxed style and trade mark wrap around shades. (Yes worn in the matches.) She had also cruised through the draw, amazingly, winning 0 and 0 in the first two rounds, and not losing a set going into the final. That was 12 routine sets against the best players in the country.

On paper, she was the heavy favorite over Sachia Vickery, from Mirimar, Florida, who came into the tournament seeded 17th and fought her way to the final with some tough pressure packed wins. This included a 3 set win in the semi the day before.

And in the final, Sachia just kept doing what she had been doing the whole week, playing rock solid, opportunistic tennis. She ended up scoring a surprising straight set win, 6-3, 6-4.

Or was it surprising? I heard one of the spectators say in astonishment, "I can't believe Kyle lost. She is such a better player." Well, obviously that wasn't true on this day in this match. To me was a fascinating example of the pressure dynamics in competitive tennis. These psychological forces ebb and flow, but in my view they are largely unrecognized by many or most observers. Yet they play a critical if not decisive role in the outcome of virtually every match.

Despite the fact neither Kyle nor Sachia is exactly 6 feet tall, both were explosive off the ground. Both players blasted multiple effortless winners off both wings that showed how talented they are.

Kyle especially has a very complete game. A surprisingly big serve, a well-developed slice backhand. And she likes to go in to the net and force the play.

Her forehand especially is a real weapon, and she can do it all on that side. Rip it hard and flat, roll it deep, and break it off short and quite heavy. She has amazing posture and balance and appears to be incredibly strong for her age.

It was obvious that Kyle's game was somewhat bigger and more complete than Sachia's. But in the end, being heavily favored in the Easter Bowl final probably had an impact on her ability to execute at critical times.

The first set was decided by a combination of winners, but more importantly, unforced errors at moments of opportunity, especially from Kyle. She missed a lot of what for her were makeable balls.

The fact is that was a credit to Sachia. In her role as counterpunching underdog she just stayed more even. She challenged Kyle to play at a very high level to beat her. She made only a handful of errors at critical times. She kept the points going, forcing Kyle into errors, and hitting clutch winners of her own.

Sachia got up two early breaks in the first set to lead 4-1. Then Kyle broke back to serve a t 2-4. But neither player could hold and they exchanged breaks again to make it 3-5 with Kyle serving, this time to stay in the set.

They played a long moonball first point--one of the very few like that in the match. Kyle eventually took it at the net with an overhead winner. Then she ran it to 40-0 with a couple of quick winners. Now it looked like Sachia would have to serve for the set.

But then Kyle made 3 unforced errors on her forehand, and suddenly it was 40 all. The played an unbelievable all court point, both players tagging the corners, both players at the net at different points. Finally Sachia came up with a clutch forehand to get to set point, and then just took with another clean forehand winner. First set Vickery, 6-3.

So the question was this. Kyle seemed to have more game. Would she loosen up enough now to make some of the shots she had been missing? Or would she change her game and try to out rally Sachia?

And there you have the issue all players at all levels face. How do I adapt my game when I'm losing--if at all? Kyle answer was not to change a thing. She just kept going for it. It was impressive and showed a lot of courage.

But the pattern of the second set turned out to be very similar. Every time Kyle seemed on the verge of getting control, she tightened up just enough to make a few errors.

With Sachia serving in the first game, Kyle hit a big return to win the first point. Then she made 2 backhand errors, and missed another relatively easy forehand return so Sachia got quickly to 40-15.

Sachia made an error, and Kyle hit a gorgeous forehand return and now it was 40 all. Sachia made another forehand error to give Kyle an ad, and you wondered if this was going to be a tipping point. Kyle moved in on the forehand return to try to finish, but missed it, then made another backhand error, then lost a long moon ball point. So Sachia held.

So now Kyle was serving at 0-1. She made a forehand error, but then hit a great forehand volley. Then she hit a great first serve and a dominating forehand winner to get to 30-15. But then she missed 2 more forehands. You get the idea of how her game went up and down.

And this is where Sachia was clutch. Having weathered the storm, she stepped up and stroked a clean backhand winner down the line, broke and was up 2-0.

The next two games were the same--winners and errors from Kyle, and clutch counterpunching from Sachia who now ran it to 4-0.

It was hard to believe the match wasn't over now, but as happens so often in junior tennis when there are a lot of tight points, slight shifts in the pressure can produce wild swings in the score.

With Sachia serving up two breaks at 4-0 things suddenly changed dramatically. At 15 all, Kyle made one of those big forehand returns. Sachia made a tight forehand error. Then Kyle hit a swinging forehand volley for a clean winner to get on the board and it was 1-4.

What happened in the next 3 games was similar. Sachia missed balls that she made in the first set, and Kyle banged the winners that she had been missing so narrowly earlier.

Sachia had an ad serving at 4-2, but missed a forehand and hit a double fault. Then Kyle came up with a clutch forehand crosscourt winner and suddenly it was back on serve. Serving at 3-4, Kyle absolutely crushed a short forehand on game point to even it at 4-4.

So after this big swing for Kyle, what would happen? The pressure was again even with the set basically there for either player. And the dynamics shifted again, back to the earlier pattern.

With Sachia serving at 4-4, they played a tough long point that ended with Kyle making a forehand error. They traded forehand winners but then two more errors from Kyle gave Sachia the game. So Kyle was now serving at 4-5.

Kyle kept going for it, but she quickly made 3 big errors. That--combined with one more rock solid forehand winner from Sachia--and it was over. Easter Bowl 14 title to the17th seed, Sachia Vickery, 6-3, 6-4.

It was a display of smart, determined, balanced play with some critical shot making. But my impression is that, the next time Kyle gets in a similar situation, her courage in sticking with her game is probably going to pay off. Think Ana Ivanovic and the Australian Open--followed by what happened at Indian Wells.

Boys 14s

In some ways, the Boys 14 final shaped up in a similar tactical fashion to the match it followed on the stadium court.

You had the number one seed, Mike Rinaldi, from Palm City, Florida, who had cruised through his half of the draw without losing a set, playing John Richmond, from Pawleys Island, South Carolina, seeded fifth, who had fought his way into the final with two tough set victories in the quarters and semi-final.

Mike played up close to the baseline, hit big grounstrokes and tried to force play from the first ball. John was a lefty who played a more counterpunching style, mixed with aggressive opportunity shot making.

And there was also a similar pressure dynamic to the first match as well. Mike was the favorite to win the title. Would he be able to execute under this expectation the way he had all week? The answer turned out to be definitely yes. He got off to shaky start, but in the long run he was able to impose his game and take the title.

John held serve easily to start the match. It looked like Mike would hold also, but at 40-15 he floated a slice long and then hit a couple of double faults to get down a quick break point. He hit two big serves to get to ad in, but missed an easy forehand and needed another deuce before he finally held.

Then John held again easily. Mike looked even tighter in his second service game, hitting two doubles and missing an easy forehand to go down 0-40. But suddenly he relaxed and reeled off three huge groundstrokes to get to 40 all.

It turned out to be a pivotal game in the match. They played 4 more deuce points, both going back and forth between winners and errors. But finally Mike crushed a forehand and then a clean backhand down the line winner to get to 2 all.

The next game on John's serve was equally crucial, with 3 tight deuces. Mike missed 2 returns to start. But then he hit a forehand winner and got to 30 all when John missed a backhand. Then they played a tough point that ended with Mike at the net and John missing a lob by about three inches.

That gave Mike a break point, but he made a forehand error, then missed a second serve return. Ad in. Then John missed a backhand. Deuce. Then Mike missed a forehand. Ad in. Then Mike hit a forehand winner. Deuce. Then Mike hit a forcing backhand crosscourt to get another ad, and finally converted when John missed a backhand.

So up a break now, Mike held easily for 4-2. Then he really got rolling, just pounding his groundstrokes and breaking again for 5-2. But serving for the set, you could feel the pressure come back. Mike hit three doubles and made a groundstroke error to give back one break.

So now John was serving at 3-5 to stay in the set. At 30 all, Mike hit another dominating shot, a clean backhand winner down the line that sounded like a bullet off his racket. He missed the next backhand he tried at set point, but then went in and knifed a perfect backhand volley down the line. John made a forehand error. And that was the first set to Mike, 6-3.

With the first set under his belt, you could see Mike's confidence go up. The balance between his winners and errors shifted slightly toward the positive. He hit a clean forehand volley winner and a couple of big serves and held. Then he immediately broke John with a series of very solid backcourt points. He held easily for 3-0. They both held one more time, so John found himself serving at 1-4 in the second. John showed he was still fighting, and hit one of his biggest forehand to hold.

But Mike was rolling now. You could see him relaxing and gaining confidence. He hit a gorgeous slice backhand approach and a deft high backhand volley angle. He followed that up with a rocket forehand up the line to get to 5-2.

In the last game, at 30 all John came in but Mike stuck a forehand at his feet, getting to match point. One more big forehand return and he was Easter Bowl champ, 6-3, 6-2.

By the way it turns out that Mike's dad Dennis Rinaldi is a subscriber and big fan of Tennisplayer.net!

Girls 18s

Now in the Girls 18s, a different story unfolded. Lauren Emberee, unseeded, from Marco Island, Florida versus Melanie Oudin from Marietta, Georgia, seeded number 1. The Easter Bowl 18s, in addition to being American championships, are also International Tennis Federation events. As such they are seeded according to the ITF rankings, which had a significant impact on the draw.

Although Lauren had a high American ranking, her ITF ranking was lower, and that meant she had to play the second ITF seed in the first round, a girl ranked below her in the U.S. I happened to watch that match and it was impressive. Lauren showed a combination of athleticism, ball striking, all around play, and fierce determination.

But in the final she was up against Melanie Oudin, who had been at least as impressive in working her way through the draw. Melanie was hitting the ball unbelievably well off the ground. She also had easily the fastest feet in the Easter Bowl. This girl took so many small fast adjusting steps that it was inspiring to watch. Her balance looked virtually perfect on every ball.

In addition to being the number one seed, Melanie had the additional motivation (and/or pressure) of knowing that if she won the Easter Bowl, she'd reach the number world ranking in the ITF Girls 18s.

The match was a tremendous battle mentally and physically--and I mean physically not only in terms of the shot making and shot patterns, but also in terms of sheer stamina, lasting almost 3 hours in the 90 degree plus desert heat.

What was equally interesting was how the strategy evolved over the match in a series of moves and countermoves. The match started out as a battle of huge groundstrokes. Unless you were there and were actually watching from courtside it's hard to convey just how hard these girls cranked the ball.

Serve wasn't a factor early as the players exchanged 2 breaks each to get to 2 all. Both players then held for 3 all, then Lauren broke again and served at 4-3.

Gradually over the course of the first set, however, Lauren started to vary her tactics. More and more she chose to move back in the court, take a little pace off the ball, and loop it back with more air over the net. She seemed to sense that, as good as her groundstrokes were, she just wasn't able to get control of the points or consistently hurt Melanie. In fact Melanie seemed to be feeding off the pace and was just a little more effective in the straight up exchanges.

At 4-3 Lauren starting to hit the ball higher and deeper and more to the middle. Then she suddenly hit a drop shot, and then closed behind it to hit a forehand volley winner. What a great tactic. You could see that Melanie was a little frustrated and ended up making a bad forehand error to put Lauren up 5-3.

Serving at 3-5, Melanie made another similar frustrated error. But then suddenly she shifted her own tactics. For the first time started hitting some loops of her own. She got an error from Lauren on a loop at game point and held.

So the matched changed in a fundamental way. Lauren made a move and got an edge but then Melanie countered. Lauren had a chance to serve for the set, but couldn't get it. She missed a couple of forehands and Melanie hit a short forehand winner and it was 5-5.

They exchanged two more breaks with similar combinations of winners, loops and errors. So a tiebreaker would settle it.

The first point of the breaker was a long looping exchange that ended with Melanie missing a swinging forehand volley. And it was downhill for her from there. Melanie ran down a drop shot and cranked it at Lauren--but it backfired when Lauren came up with a reflex volley winner. Now the errors started to flow. Melanie missed 2 forehands then missed a backhand slice.

Suddenly it was 6-0 in the breaker. Lauren finally missed a ball, but at 6-1 they played a 20 ball point and when Melanie missed, Lauren had the first set. They'd been out there more than an hour.

Some players might have given up after a set like that, especially after backing off and adjusting strategy, but you could tell no way this was going to be the case for Melanie. You could sense her determination from 50 feet away.

The first game of the second set was more of the same--long brutal points. But Lauren hit a double and a backhand long to give Melanie the break.

Melanie immediately made two frustrated errors on her serve to go down 0-30. But Lauren made a rare moonball error, and then Melanie cleaned a down the line backhand winner. Melanie missed a forehand, but fought her way back to deuce hitting 4 overheads in one point to finally get the ball past Lauren. It was an amazing battle.

But you could feel that Melanie had turned the tables. She hit three slice backhands in a row and got an error out of Lauren. She hit service winners, smacked opportunity winners, and drew more errors with the slice. It looked like the strain was finally having an impact on Lauren who started to hit some double faults and made a few routine backhand errors for the first time. Melanie ran it out to 5-0. Lauren broke her, but then Melanie immediately broke back to take the second set 6-1.

So the sets were even, but the question was, who was winning points how? And how would that change--or not--in the third with the Easter Bowl title on the line? On balance, Melanie had hit a few more winners, and with her increasing willingness to stay in the long points, it had gotten harder and harder for Lauren to find ways to win points herself.

The players were now routinely having 15 or 20 or even 25 ball points, and it was really, really hot out on that court. Melanie started the third by holding in a long deuce game. Then she broke Lauren to go up 2-0, aided by two double faults and a missed swinging volley. But again, Lauren broke back.

Serving at 1-2, 15-0, Lauren missed a forehand volley with the court open, and you just had the feeling that there had been one more shift in the mental balance in Melanie's direction. Sure enough, Lauren made three more errors, including a missed forehand slice on game point, then slammed a ball into the net, the first sign of frustration she'd demonstrated all afternoon.

Serving at 3-1, Melanie got more aggressive. She hit 3 huge winners, including 2 backhands down the line and held for 4-1. In the next game they played another epic point, one that seemed to take a little more out of Lauren, and on break point she eventually tagged a big forehand that landed about 3 inches long.

It wasn't over yet though. Serving for the match Melanie made a couple of quick errors, Lauren cleaned a backhand, and then one more error from Melanie and it was 5-2. Lauren then held easily for 5-3.

So Melanie had to serve it out. Which she did, impressively. She started with an ace. Lauren hit a backhand winner. Then Melanie won a long point, and then hit another ace. The match point was an amazing 21 ball point, and Melanie finished it with a clean forehand swinging volley winner. What a match! And what a Saturday--about 7 hours start to finish.

Girls 16s

The Girls 16 finals was the first match on Sunday and in it's own way it was as much a titantic struggle as the Girls 18s the day before. Of all the finals in all the divisions it had the greatest contrast in styles. It was also an amazing example of how a match can swing back and forth as the players struggle to impose their respective games.

Sara Lee, the 12th seed from Los Angeles California, is coached by Tennisplayer.net contributor Craig Cignarelli. It was actually incredible to watch Sara put into practice the sophisticated understanding of tactics that Craig has outlined in his articles.  

Her opponent was Ellen Tsay, from Pleasanton, California, seeded second, a lefty with the toughest defensive game of any junior I saw play the whole week, girl or boy. The bottom line was nobody in the division could stay with Ellen from the baseline. Her groundstrokes were virtually impenetrable and one opponent after another self-destructed trying to hit her off the court. But there was more to her game, because in addition to her lefty serve, she could also finish from the short court, and also at times at the net.

From the first point of the first set, Sara set out to beat her a different way--by going to the net. And she put on an amazing display of attacking tennis, not only tactically, but technically, with rock solid volleys and great touch.

I knew from talking to Craig what she was going to try to do, but even the knowledgeable tennis people watching the match must have been shocked when they saw Sara play her first service game.

On the first point she hit a clean drop shot winner, and then on the second, an angled forehand volley winner to go up 30 love. She backed that up with a service winner, and a masterful low forehand volley. And I could hear Craig's words, "Does anyone really think girls can't volley?"

Well, Sara definitely can, and she kept doing it for the rest of the set. Her second hold ended with a decisive backhand volley winner. This was in a long deuce game in which Ellen shifted her primary backcourt strategy to a series of high, deep loops.

Then with Ellen serving at 1-2, Sara absolutely pulverized an overhead, and later ripped a crosscourt backhand to get an early break. Ellen responded like a champion, hitting two forehand winners and drawing two errors from Sara to break back. But Sara broke her again, running around a serve and smacking a forehand inside in return winner--another page from the Cignarelli book.

Now serving at 4-3 Sara hit two extremely confident forehand volleys, a backhand down the line winner, and another clean overhead winner to go up 5-3. It was virtually pure attacking tennis--and it was working. In the next game, Sara hit a dominating swinging backhand volley, and then got two double faults and a backhand error from Ellen to finish out the set 6-3. Whoa!

Second Set

At the start, it looked like she might just runaway with the second set and match in the same fashion.

Sara fought off two early break points to hold in the first game. Then they exchanged holds. Then with Ellen serving at 1-2, Sara broke and served to go up 4-1. And in that game everything started to shift. Then played four deuces. On Sara's second ad point, she missed an easy overhead--the kind she had been crushing. Ellen broke back and you could feel the momentum start to move.

Ellen hit a solid backhand volley of her own to hold for 3 all. And then the errors started for Sara. She made three in quick succession, let out a scream, then lost serve. You could see why Ellen was in the final. She never showed a hint of giving up and now the constant pressure she'd put on Sara to hit winner after winner was taking its toll.

With Ellen serving at 4-3, Sara missed an uncertain looking forehand volley from behind the service line, and then basically stopped going in. The rest of the set was mainly quick errors from Sara. So Ellen took the second, 6-3.

Third Set

So the match had started one way, and then swung the other. As is often the case, the third set mirrored this swing pattern in a more compressed form.

At 2 all, 30 all, Sara smoked two forehand returns and got a break. Ellen got a break point in the next game, but Sara recovered and held with a gorgeous short angled backhand winner. Sara was now up a break in the third at 4-2.

But that was as far as she was able to push it. Those silky looping strokes Ellen played over and over, combined with the occasional winner and volley just proved too daunting.

The match swung suddenly and dramatically back Ellen's way and she ran off the next 4 games. Well, actually, it took a long time, because some of the points were 10 to 20 balls. But the basic pattern of the second set reemerged. Sara had lost just enough confidence to keep her from coming in the way she had in the first. She still hit a number of impressive winners, but this was matched or exceeded by the errors.

The 4-5 game with Sara serving to stay in the match was typical. Sara made two errors, hit a service winner, then a forehand winner to get to 3 all. But she never got to the net. Suddenly Ellen smacked a forehand return for a clean winner to get to match point. They played a superhuman moonball point that ended when Sara missed a backhand. It was an incredible display of determination and craft. The third set and the Easter Bowl title to Ellen 6-4.

After the match, Craig I thought put the perfect spin on it for both kids. You had to realize Ellen had the character of a champion, but for Sara, there was the proof right before her eyes that she had the capacity to play dominating attacking points against the best junior players in the country.

Boys 18s

Not every match can have that kind of drama, and not every player who has a great tournament necessarily plays his best when he gets to the last match. That was pretty much the story of the Boys 18 where Chase Buchannan, from New Albany Ohio, took out Alex Llompart from Puerto Rico, impressively in straight sets, 6-1, 6-0.

Chase really imposed his all court game from the start, and Alex for his part was never really able to get it going or string together many good points.

Both players had won some clutch matches to get there. Chase, seeded fourth, had a tough 3-setter in the first round, and another one in the semi-final. Alex was seeded 13th seed and had survived a tough three setter in the first round, then took out the 11th and 3rd seeds to get to the final match.

You could see why he got there when you saw his forehand, which was probably the most extreme stroke I saw in the event. He was quite far under the handle, close to Nadal grip-wise. He had very explosive racket speed, hitting the ball hard, but especially, with very heavy spin. The shot looked heavier than many pro forehands I've studied.

After the match I heard him tell one of the reporters that he'd been having trouble with his back since the third day, and maybe that had something to do with it. Or maybe, like many players who make an unexpected run, he'd come as far as he could and was just out of gas physically, or more likely, emotionally.

Chase served to open the match and promptly hit two forehand volley winners, a forehand winner, and a service winner to hold at love. Then in Alex's first service game, Chase hit a topspin lob for a clean winner and another forehand winner. Meanwhile Alex missed two big forehands and it was very quickly 2-0. And that was pretty much representative of the match.

After Chase held easily, Alex held for the first and only time to make it 1-3. But from there Chase ran out the next nine games.

It wasn't so much that Alex looked outclassed in terms of his shot potential. They had some great exchanges, and there were times where Alex got his forehand going. But in this match for Alex, there were far more forehand errors than winners.

After he ran out the first set, Chase immediately broke serve again to start the second. Alex called the trainer and tired to get his back stretched out, but there wasn't much change in the way the points went. Alex struggled really hard to keep from losing the second break, but after Chase hit a volley winner, he missed a backhand and was down 0-3.

Chase held for 4-0, and they played another tough game. Alex played a serve and volley point and cranked a massive forehand. You might have thought Chase would let the game go since he was up a set and two breaks, but he wanted every point. He eventually broke him for the third time.

Then Chase calmly served it out, hitting two backhand volley winners, the second coming at match point. That had to feel great. It was a tour de force of high percentage, aggressive tennis on a big occasion.

Boys 16

Last year the final in the Boys 16s was the most dramatic of all the final matches, and this year it turned out to be the same. Clay Thompson, the second seed, from Venice California, faced off with Jack Sock, from Lincoln, Nebraska, seeded eighth.

When you observed these two kids there was quite a difference physically, but also in terms of personality. Clay was about 5 or 6 inches taller at 6' 2" or maybe even taller, and very composed, and unassuming. He barely said two words for the whole match--maybe one or two "C'mons" when he hit incredible clutch winners in the third set.

Jack on the other hand was, shall we say, vocal, bordering on cocky but not in a completely unattractive sense of that term. He wore his heart on his sleeve the whole match and you had to admire his passion and intensity.

During the previous match in the Boys 18s while he was waiting to play, Jack happened to come up to the viewing area above the court where I was filming and was talking to one of his coaches.

The kid is in love with tennis--he knows everything about all the players, has opinions on all the different rackets. He knows who is wearing what clothing from what company, what seasonal line it is, and had strong opinions on how it all looked.

He also had over the course of the week apparently made at least a few fans among the girl players. I know because two of them came up to the same viewing area and cheered for him during most of his match.

The match was an incredible struggle involving power shotmaking, sudden changes in tactics, and tremendous emotional resilience on both sides, and it went down to a breaker in the third set. Sometimes even when you get to a breaker in the third, you get a sense of who is going to win, but in this case I had no idea, the match still seemed totally up in the air.

There was no doubt that Clay had a big game, huge in fact. He played in close, took a lot of balls on the rise, and went for his shots unfailingly, time after time. What was a little surprising though, considering the size difference, was how explosive Jack was as well.

He had to play defense at many points, but Jack never backed off an inch when he had a chance to go for it himself. He also had great touch and tremendous variety, qualities that payed off time and again.

Jack served first and held easily, hitting a couple of really big first serves and finishing with an amazing crosscourt short angled pass. Then he immediately took it to Clay in the second game. He blocked back a rocket first serve and when Clay came in, nailed a perfect heavy topspin backhand lob.

He backed that up with a rocket backhand return, to get up 0-30. Then at 15-40, he hit a very confident looking slice forehand return on a wide serve that surprised Clay and drew an error. Right from the start it looked like this was going to be a really high quality match.

They stayed on serve all the way to 5-3, with Clay mixing big first serves, huge groundies and some clean volleys in his service games, and Jack continuing to mix it up with power and variety everywhere on the court.

With Jack now serving for the set, he got out to 40-30 set point, but in one of the few bad errors he made all day, he a forehand into the next court. Clay jumped on the opportunity. On the next two points he ran around second serves and cleaned two forehand winners. Suddenly they were back on serve.

But with Clay serving at 15 all, Jack hit an amazing reflex return, and then a forehand pass. Suddenly Clay missed two forehands and that was the first set, 6-4 Sock.

Second Set

The second set looked like it might be a repeat of the first when Jack again got an early break and served at 3-2. But Clay broke back to get to 3 all and then just literally ran off the next three games.

The difference was just a slight shift in the number of errors, with Jack making a few more and Clay making a few less and hitting a few more winners. Serving at 3-5, Jack was visibly frustrated. He hit two doubles, then missed a tough low volley. That combined with one huge return from Clay squared it at a set a piece.

Final Set

The third set was amazing--I filled up10 pages in a notebook recording everything that happened back and forth between these two great young competitors.

Clay started by hitting a forehand winner to hold in a tight deuce game. Then Jack held in his first game which included an amazing drop shot followed by a soft touch lob for a winner--over a 6' 3" opponent.

They both held all the way to 4 all, with Clay serving to get to match game. Clay hit a service winner to start. But suddenly Jack changed it up. He hit two more of amazing forehand slice returns and got errors on both points. He hit a lob that forced another error, and finally a backhand slice return that drew a backhand miss. Bang! Just like that it was Jack serving for the match.

But the match had just seemed too even for Jack to close it out now. You could see the pressure weigh on him just enough to push it back Clay's way. Clay relaxed and hit a gigantic forehand return. Then they played one of the longest points of the match, and Jack missed a forehand. 2 more quick unforced errors followed from Jack and it was right back on serve at 5 all.

Then Clay held, hitting a clutch first serve on game point. And now, Jack went from serving for the match, to serving to force the breaker. You could just feel however, that the breaker was where this match was headed. Clay got to within 2 points of the match at 15-30 with a couple of aggressive forehands, but at 40 all, he missed a backhand, and then Jack hit a service winner, and there it was, 6-6 in the third.

So after more than a couple of hours on court, it was as dead even as it could be, and I had no sense at all who would take the breaker. But then things started happening fast. Clay hit a backhand wide on the first point. Then Jack came up with a tremendous inside in forehand winner--possibly the most explosive shot he hit in the whole match.

Clay missed a forehand and very quickly found himself serving at 0-3. He hit an incredibly clutch backhand volley to get to 1-3, but then missed a forehand by two inches.

So Jack was serving at 4-1. He missed a backhand and then Clay hit a big forehand return--but he missed the second forehand with a chance for a clean winner. So that made it 2-5, with Clay serving. It really felt like the margin might now be too much to overcome, but, I had to rethink that as suddenly Clay hit an ace and backed that with a forehand winner. These guys were playing the kind of big time tennis you usually see usually only the highest levels of the sport.

So now, Jack had the match on his racket, serving at 5-4 in the breaker. Would it continue to swing back toward Clay? Jack missed his first serve, and Clay ran round around the second and tried to crush the return, but missed, barely. Even though he made an error, it was still so impressive, because at the tightest juncture in the match he did not back off one bit. He knew what he wanted to do and he tried to make it happen. So at 6-4, serving for the Easter Bowl title, what happened? Jack stepped up and hit an unreturnable first serve. Title to Jack Sock, 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (7-4).

And here was another example of the ebb and flow of the game, and how tactics play into outcomes, though often in very different ways. One player fearlessly going after ball after ball regardless of the score. And a second player mixing it up just enough to get a few extra points and a major junior title.

So that was it for another incredible Easter Bowl. But there is more to come. Next month we'll hear from some of the country's elite junior coaches. And in the future there is a plan in place to stream the cable television special on Tennisplayer so you can see even more of these amazing kids. Stay Tuned!

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John Yandell
John Yandell

John Yandell is widely acknowledged as one of the leading videographers and students of the modern game of professional tennis. His high speed filming for Advanced Tennis and Tennisplayer have provided new visual resources that have changed the way the game is studied and understood by both players and coaches. He has done personal video analysis for hundreds of high level competitive players, including Justine Henin-Hardenne, Taylor Dent and John McEnroe, among others.

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