Higuchi and Blumberg Claim Easter Bowl 14s Titles; Broda and DiGiulio are 16s Champions
by Colette Lewis
, 23 April 2012
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The 45th Easter Bowl USTA National Spring Championships had its share of surprises, including cool temperatures, little wind and two rain disruptions, unusual for spring in the California desert. The favorites were no more reliable than the weather, with only one No. 1 seed, Emma Higuchi in girls 14s, making it through to the finals. Champions Higuchi, William Blumberg, Joe DiGiulio and Brooke Broda overcame all the week's obstacles however, leaving Rancho Mirage with six gold balls in tow.
Higuchi had reached the finals of the International Spring Championships 16s division the week before the Easter Bowl, so expectations were high for the 14-year-old from Los Angeles. But on the eve of the final against Catherine Bellis, a No. 17 seed and the reigning Clay and Hard Court 12s champion, Higuchi dismissed that pressure.
"I don't really pay attention to seeds or anything," said Higuchi, who lost only one set en route to the final. "I didn't try to ignore it or anything, but just accept it and play tennis."
That Bellis was capable of the upset was obvious after her 6-0, 6-0 rout of No. 2 seed Raquel Pedraza in the semifinals. Bellis, a 13-year-old from Atherton, Calif., had lost to Higuchi in their previous meeting back in November, but looked determined to avenge that defeat, taking a 3-1 lead over Higuchi in the opening set of championship match.
Higuchi admitted that nerves played a role in her slow start, as did the gusty winds, which hadn't made an appearance until the final.
"I think the wind was difficult for both of us," said Higuchi, who went on to win five of the next six games. "We didn't play amazing, but I think we both handled it well. It was a good match."
Bellis, known as CiCi to her friends, broke Higuchi to take a 4-3 lead in the second set, but was broken right back, as Higuchi refocused.
"I think I got nervous a little, thinking ahead too much maybe," said Higuchi, who trains at the USTA's National Center in Carson, Calif. "So I focused on the game, one point at a time and nothing else."
That strategy worked, with Higuchi taking the final three games of the match to claim her first gold ball in singles.
"I feel great," said Higuchi. "All the hard work finally paid off and it feels good."
Bellis was full of praise for the champion.
"I think she played awesome," said Bellis, a finalist at the Junior Orange Bowl last December. "She was really aggressive today and moved forward well."