Smith upsets top seed Blanch on Day 1 of ASICS Easter Bowl

April 5, 2016 08:44 AM

By Steve Pratt, special to

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. – San Diego’s Keegan Smith had just beaten a player ranked in the Top 10 of the ITF World Junior Rankings and the boys' 18s No. 1 seed at the ASICS Easter Bowl, but he was trying his best to act like it was no big deal.

The unseeded 17-year-old Smith (pictured above) had reason to be bursting with pride and excitement after surviving two match points in his stunning 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (6) win over world junior No. 9 Ulises Blanch of Florida in the first round of the 49th Annual ASICS Easter Bowl, being held at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.

Smith is a junior at Point Loma High School and is the nephew of current USC men’s tennis coach Peter Smith. It would appear Smith would have the upper hand in the recruiting battle, but Keegan is undecided on college and won’t take his official visits until next year. Keegan’s cousin and Peter Smith’s son Riley Smith will play for USC this fall.

“I don’t think it’s that big of a deal,” said Smith of his win. “It’s just the first round, and everyone is congratulating me. I actually like playing the better players, or players that are supposed to beat me, because I just give them what I can and see what happens. I don’t want it to be a fluke and have people say, ‘That guy was playing horrible.’

“It’s hard not to get a big head about the win," he added, "but I’m going to try and not think about it and keep playing. But I’m pretty stoked.”

Smith said he was “kind of mad” when he saw the draw and his name underneath the No. 1 seed Sunday night.

“I’d heard of him but had never seen him play. I was like, ‘Dang, I’m missing school, and I have to play the No. 1 seed?’" he said. "But as the night progressed, I just started thinking there was as much pressure on him as there is on me, so I might as well just go out and play.”

Smith, who works with Angel Lopez in San Diego once a week, said he froze while returning a Blanch serve down 4-6 in the third-set tiebreak, knowing he could lose the match.

“Right when I was returning, I was thinking, ‘This is it,’ but once I’m into the point, I’m into it,” he said.

Although he had to be reminded of it by reporters interviewing him after the match, Smith saved the first match point by hitting a great second-serve return at the feet of an approaching Blanch.

Smith has played mostly Southern California events but did win the singles title at the New Balance High School Tennis Championships in Massachusetts last summer.

In addition to Smith's upset over Blanch, there were more surprises on “Show Court 2,” where the ASICS Easter Bowl is providing live streaming all week. The first three matches on that court saw seeded players fall. Before boys' 18s No. 2 seed J.J. Wolf and No. 4 girls’ 18s seed Michaela Gordon won straight-set matches on the court, No. 2 Kylie McKenzie, Blanch and then No. 10 Jade Lewis all lost matches there.

The day started with McKenzie, from Anthem, Ariz., losing to Elysia Bolton of Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y., 7-5, 7-5. McKenzie was a semifinalist here last year, upsetting No. 3-seeded Sonya Kenin in the quarterfinals. She also reached the quarterfinals at last year’s junior US Open.

Last week at the USTA International Spring Championships in Carson, Bolton defeated the tough Hurricane Tyra Black in straight sets before falling to No. 6 seed Gordon.

“It definitely helped my tennis (having that big win last week)," Bolton said. "I’m definitely playing great tennis and hope to keep it going. My goal was to stay calm when I could and to stay in the rallies and finish off points when I could.”

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