Higuchi stuns defending champion Liu; 12s, 14s winners crowned

April 7, 2016 09:10 AM

By Steve Pratt, special to USTA.com

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. – On an exciting day of ASICS Easter Bowl action that saw the boys’ and the girls’ 14s and 12s singles titles contested, the defending champion in the girls’ 18s singles division was eliminated by her longtime Southern California rival.

Stanford-bound Emma Higuchi of Los Angeles toppled 15-year-old Claire Liu of Thousand Oaks, Calif., 2-6, 6-3, 6-3, for the top storyline on the day in the marquee 18-and-under division of the event. Just last week, Higuchi lost to her friend and former doubles partner Liu in three sets in the round of 16 at the USTA International Spring Championships in Carson, Calif.

“Each time [the level of play] keeps getting better and better,” Higuchi said following her upset of the reigning champ.

Meanwhile, in the girls’ 14s singles title match, No. 12-seeded Ava Hrastar of Duluth, Ga., played consistent tennis on her way to a 6-2, 6-1 win over Skyler Grishuk, the No. 13 seed from Aliso Viejo, Calif. Skyler was watched intently by her mother, two-time (1994 and 1998) Olympic gold medal-winning ice dancing champion Oksana Grishuk.

“I stepped onto the court and put balls away, which I wasn’t doing in past matches,” said Hrastar, who turned 14 in February. “I was nervous, and I got more comfortable as I figured out some things and I figured out her game style. She likes the forehand angles, so I was trying to hit flatter so she couldn’t generate spin.”

Hrastar has hit with some top college players, including current WTA pro and former University of Georgia star Lauren Herring, who also won the girls’ 14s at the ASICS Easter Bowl in 2007.

Grishuk said after the match that her mother has been her inspiration, and that she talks to her about what it takes to be a champion.

“It’s kind of the same because you have to work to achieve your goals,” said Grishuk, who trains with Advantage Tennis Academy in Irvine. “Actually, figure skating is tougher than tennis because they only give you like three minutes. And if you fail, you’re out."

Referring to the final, she added: “I think I could have played better. I made too many unforced errors. But when you lose, you learn more.”

In the boys' 14s singles final, No. 12 seed Alex Lee of Oak Brook, Ill., defeated No. 5 Andrew Dale of Leesburg, Va., 4-6, 6-4, 6-3. The lefty Dale fell hard chasing a ball early in the third set and injured his left hand. Lee said he didn’t notice a change in Dale’s play, but mentally he took the advantage.

Lee trains in Florida with the same coach as last year’s boys’ 14s Easter Bowl champ Adam Neff, Lance Luciani, who was on hand for the second straight year congratulating his winning 14s champion.

The boys’ 12s singles final pitted two hungry players from California, with No. 11-seeded Max Fardanesh of Albany beating top-seeded Samuel Landau of Los Angeles, 6-4, 6-2.

Fardanesh, 12, said he faced Landau once before at a tournament at Stanford University, where he lost in straight sets.

“I was aggressive, and my coach likes it when I play serve and volley,” Fardanesh said. “I really like Roger Federer and switched to a one-handed background about a year ago.”

Fardanesh said he loved playing on the stadium court, which featured his match on the live stream and had a radar gun clocking every one of his serves.

“The fastest one I saw was 96 (mph),” he said.

In a battle between the top two seeded players in the girls’ 12s singles final, No. 2 Katrina Scott of Woodland Hills, Calif., beat No. 1 Nikki Yanez of Sarasota, Fla., 6-3, 7-6 (5).

“It was so professional, and you knew you were going to have a fair game,” Scott said of playing with a chair umpire watching all the calls that were made. “It was really fun and great to win this year after losing in the first round last year. I feel amazing right now.”

Scott is just 11 years old and attends A.C. Stelle Middle School in Calabasas. She had a chance four times to close out the match before the second-set tiebreak, only to have Yanez gamely save all four match points and extend the match.

To keep up with all the ASICS Easter Bowl news, visit www.easterbowl.com, and check out the tournament on Facebook and Twitter.