By Steve Pratt, special to USTA.com
CARSON, Calif. – No matter how hard he tried, Cincinnati’s John McNally could not shake the memories. He let a big lead slip away in the title match at last year’s Easter Bowl, and he had no interest in a repeat performance in the boys’ 16s final of the 10th annual USTA International Spring Championships.
McNally, who held a championship point before falling to Connor Hance last April in the 14s final at the Easter Bowl, put that memory behind him Saturday at the StubHub Center, defeating No. 11-seeded Patrick Kypson of Greenville, N.C., 6-4, 4-6, 7-5, to win the International Spring Championships.
“I was serving for it and I started having nightmares of last year’s Easter Bowl, where I had a match point but I blew it,” said McNally, 15, who had to call for a trainer up 6-5 in the third set to work on a bad blister on his right foot. “My entire right foot is one big blister. It hurt when I pushed off. It feels like there’s liquid in it but there’s not.”
He continued: “I thought on the changeover to just come out and try to win the first point and take it one point at a time and see what happens. Patrick is a very, very, very good player and he’s going to have a very bright future.”
McNally wasn’t done for the day, however, also capturing the boys’ 16s doubles title with partner Gianni Ross of Burr Ridge, Ill., over Kypson and Trent Bryde of Suwanee, Ga., 6-2, 7-5.
In the girls’ 16s final, 15-year-old Alaina Miller of Saratoga, Calif., the No. 16 seed, 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).
“It was a nail-biter,” said Miller, who is 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 to force a tiebreak against Soli, who had about 25 area residents cheering her on.
“I try not to show too much emotion,” Miller said 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.
In the boys’ 18s final on Sunday, top-seeded Francis Tiafoe of College Park, Md., will go up against Naoki Nakagawa, the No. 2-seeded player from Fukuoka, Japan, who has been training at IMG Academies in Bradenton, Fla., for the past four years. Nakagawa ousted local Taylor Fritz of Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., in the semifinals, 6-4, 6-1, while Tiafoe defeated No. 9 seed Daniel Kerznerman of Brooklyn, N.Y., 6-1, 6-1.
In the girls’ 18s final, which like the boys’ final will be streamed live at www.usta.com/isc, No. 5-seeded CiCi Bellis of Atherton, Calif., will take on Raveen Kingsley of Fulton, Md.
In the boys’ 18s doubles final on Saturday, Tommy Paul of Coconut Creek, Fla., and Henrik Wiersholm of Kirkland, Wash., downed William Blumberg of Greenwich, Conn., and Alex Rybakov of Coral Springs, Fla., 6-4, 6-2.
In the girls’ 18s final, former US Open and Australian Open junior doubles champion Gabby Andrews of Pomona, Calif., and partner Sandra Samir of Irvine, Calif., beat Francesca Dilorenzo of New Albany, Ohio, and Caroline Dolehide of Hinsdale, Ill., 3-6, 6-4, [10-5].
For a complete run down of Saturday’s scores and updated draws, as well as live streaming, log onto the website at www.usta.com/isc.