Losing early-round matches in past Adidas Easter Bowls proved motivating factors for Thursday’s big winners as coveted boys’ and girls’ 14s and 12s USTA Gold and Silver balls were handed out to finalists at the 52nd annual event taking place at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.
Ethiopian-born Tsehay Driscoll of La Canada Flintridge, Calif., erased some bad Easter Bowl memories as she captured the Girls’ 14-and-under title with a 3-6, 6-1, 6-1 over Ria Bhakta of Saratoga, Calif., on a day that saw the tournament lose its No. 1 and 2 seeds in shocking upsets in the Girls’ ITF 18s division.
“I was more prepared for what was coming and I didn’t want to have a bad tournament for the fourth time in a row,” said Driscoll, who was adopted by parents Mark and Robyn at age 1 and had lost first round, second round, and first round the past three years. “I was just way more determined to do better this time.”
Driscoll, who turns 14 next month, started her tennis career at the Palisades Tennis Center before moving to La Canada Flintridge four years ago and is now working with former USC star and 1996 NCAA singles champion Cecil Mamiit at the Burbank Tennis Center.
“For me this means a lot because it’s the one Super Nationals I’ve never done well in and it’s right outside my backyard,” said Driscoll, who is home schooled and won her fourth career Gold ball. “I feel like it’s a big accomplishment.”
Unlike last year, a 38-hour drive from Illinois was well worth it this year for 11-year-old top-seeded Thea Latak of Darien, Ill., the new Girls’ 12s Easter Bowl singles champion. Latak defeated unseeded Daniela Borruel of Buena Park, Calif., 7-6 (3), 6-3.
“Last year was my first Easter Bowl and I was triple crowned,” said Latak, born in Illinois to parents from Poland. “After 38 hours of driving I lost everything, singles, doubles and consolation. All first round. This year was definitely worth it.”
Latak won her first Gold Ball after winning Silver balls at the National Indoors in singles and doubles last year. She plays out of the Hinsdale Racquet Club and works with legendary coach Jack Sharpe.
In the Boys’ 14s final, No. 12-seeded Juncheng (Jerry) Shang of Naples, Fla., didn’t want to rehash his first Easter Bowl loss last year that resulted in a second-round loss. He beat No. 3 seeded Lucas Brown of Plano, Texas, 6-3, 6-3. Brown did get his Gold ball later in the day capturing the doubles final with partner Aidan Kim of Milford, Minn.
“I don’t know, maybe I’m more experienced now,” Shang said. “I was kind of nervous in the beginning, but it helped having been here before.”
Shang trains at Sanchez-Casals Academy in Naples, Fla. “I was up 3-0 in the second set and then I got tight,” said Shang, who will travel to China for some junior ITFs over the next few weeks. “He did a good job on coming in on my serve.
Boys’ 12s Easter Bowl champion Abhishek Thorat of Lithia, Fla., didn’t have the advantage of playing a past tournament as this was his first trip to the Coachella Valley. The No. 13-seeded Thorat defeated Cooper Woestendick of Olathe, Kan., 6-4, 6-1.
“I’m really happy about this,” said Thorat, a sixth-grader who trains with brothers Andrew and Alex Golub at the Brandon Sports and Aquatics Center near Tampa, Fla. “I definitely played a lot better than I expected and didn’t think I would win the tournament by this big of a margin. I was expecting the semis and finals to be both three setters. It was solid for me.
Thorat added: “It’s a great tournament. It’s a great site and just an amazing experience. “California is a lot drier than Florida so I think I was just able to get stronger after each match.”
In the Girls’ ITF 18s, top-seeded Tyra Black of Boca Raton, Fla., was upset by No. 13-seeded Emma Jackson of La Grange Park, Ill., 6-4, 7-6 (2) and No. 2 Eli Mandlik fell to No. 16 Alexandra Yepifanova of Miami, Fla., 6-3, 6-4.
In the Boys’ ITF 18s, former ATP Top 5 pro Martin Damm watched his son continue his Easter Bowl run as he advanced to the quarterfinals. The No. 3 seeded Damm will take on No. 10 Andrew Dale at 10 a.m. on the main center court (practice court 2). Damm won’t be the only player in the 18s quarterfinal with a famous former tennis player as Mark Mandlik has also made the final eight.
In the Boys’ 16s, Aryan Chaudhary of Santa Clara, Calif., will face No. 3 Samir Banerjee of Basking Ridge, N.J., in one semifinal while No. 4 Thomas Paulsell of Seattle will play No. 9 JJ Tracy of Hilton Head Island, S.C., in the other semifinal.
In the Girls’ 16s, No. 9 Vivian Ovrootsky of San Jose, Calif., will take on unseeded Gracie Epps of Norman, Okla., in the semifinals while No. 10 DJ Bennett of Belleview, Fla., meets No. 12
Daniella Benabraham of New York in the other semifinal.
Easter Bowl Sightings:
Cecil Mamiit, former NCAA singles champion; Rosie Casals, TennisHall of Famer; Robert Kendrick, former ATP touring pro.