By Steve Pratt
INDIAN WELLS, Calif. (April 12, 2015) – Taylor Fritz learned a lot of lessons on his way to capturing the 48th annual ASICS Easter Bowl ITF Boys’ 18s singles title. Most important was that a match isn’t over until it’s officially over.
The top-seeded Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., resident Fritz, who came back from down a set and 0-5 to win a third-round match on Thursday, continued his high level of play on the final day of the tournament on Sunday as he beat No. 12-seeded Sam Riffice, 6-2, 6-3, to claim the title in the tournament played at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.
Fourteen-year-old Claire Liu, the No. 14-seed from Thousand Oaks, Calif., claimed the ITF Girls’ 18s trophy with an impressive 6-2, 3-6, 6-2, win over Katie Swan, the No. 2-seed from Wichita, Kan.
Fritz smiled when asked after the match if he was more determined to win following such an amazing comeback. “Of course,” he said. “After you have one of those it makes you more determined to win the whole thing.” He added: “It’s crazy to think how early in the tournament that was and I still had so many more matches to go. I just got better and better each match after that. And it woke me up because I had never been that far down before and came back.”
Just one week ago, Fritz was flying home from China after making the finals in the ITF Junior Masters. He was asked what lessons were learned during the week. “That I can play pretty well jet-lagged,” he said. “I learned I don’t have to always play my best tennis and can still win. As long as I can just keep fighting and keep my head in it. Sometime all you need is the heart to win the matches.”
Fritz and Riffice played some unbelievably high-level and entertaining points in front of a nice crowd on hand on a hot 90-degree day in the desert.
“I wanted to dictate more and play a little more offensively,” said Riffice, of Roseville, Calif. “Right off my serve he was pushing me back. He’s improved a lot since we played last. He wasn’t missing many serves and had a good first-serve percentage.”
Fritz added: “Sam and I play very similar. He moves better than I do but we both try to be aggressive. I was just able to take the first strike before he was and was a little more aggressive when I had to be.”
Fritz, who will likely move up a spot to No. 3 in the ITF world junior rankings, said he wasn’t sure if he was going to play the USTA Pro Circuit Challenger in Tallahassee, Fla., on clay April 25-May 2 that he had originally planned to. He will travel to Spain and Italy for ITF Grade A junior events, before playing the French Open Juniors where he will be one of the top seeds.
Fritz said after playing great in China, his play slumped at the start of the week, but got progressively better, especially his serve. “Everything but the serve was working good (this week),” he said. “But today it was working better than it has so I can’t complain.”
Liu joins former Thousand Oaks residents Sam Querrey (2005) and Marcos Giron (2011) to have won 18s titles at the ASICS Easter Bowl, and became one the youngest to win the 18s in tournament history.
Liu said she lost focus and her level of play dipped after a solid first set which she won 6-2. But she was able to get an early break of serve and take a 3-0 lead in the third set.
“I think I played pretty well,” said Liu. “In the first and third set I played better than I did in the second. I just wasn’t there in the second and had a lot of unforced errors.”
She chose several critical points to come to the net and recorded several put-away volleys. “I tried to come in as much as I could and it seemed to help,” she said, adding, “It feels really good to win the Easter Bowl.”
Liu said this tournament was important to her as she is trying to earn enough ITF points to get into the main draw at the Junior French Open.
Like Fritz, Liu said she got better as the week went on. “After every match I did better,” she said. “At the beginning I was nervous and then as I started to get into it. I just started to play more relaxed as the tournament went on.”
Swan was the winner of the Tory Fretz/Jackie Cooper Sportsmanship award on Saturday, along with Boys’ 14s winner Adam Neff.
Swan was playing in her second straight ITF 18s final, falling to CiCi Bellis one year ago. “It was tough and a battle,” Swan said. “I didn’t serve as well as I could have. I’m disappointed with the result, but it was great to be in two straight finals.”
Sponsors include: ASICS, Laurel Springs School, Indian Wells Tennis Garden, the Dent Junior Academy, the tennis website 10sBalls.com, USTA, The Old Spaghetti Factory, SCTA and Mind Matters Tennis.
Boys’ 18 Singles (Final Round)
Taylor Fritz (1) (Rancho Santa Fe, CA) def. Sam Riffice (14) (Roseville, CA) 6-2, 6-3
Girls’ 18 Singles (Semifinal Round)
Claire Liu (12) (Thousand Oaks, CA) def. Katie Swan (2) (Wichita, KS) 6-2, 3-6, 6-2