Tiafoe, Bellis Capture Easter Bowl ITF Titles
by Colette Lewis
, 21 April 2014
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Francis Tiafoe and CiCi Bellis have similar international junior accomplishments. Both swept the major winter European 14-and-under competitions at Bolton and Tarbes, Tiafoe in 2012 and Bellis last year. Both led the USA to ITF World Junior Tennis team championships in those years, playing No. 1 singles.
Until this year, however, they've differed in their results at the Easter Bowl
, with Bellis going 13-1 in the previous two years, while Tiafoe was only 3-2. That changed last Sunday, with both the 16-year-old Tiafoe and 15-year-old Bellis leaving the Indian Wells Tennis Garden
, the tournament's new site, with Easter Bowl ITF singles titles.
The champion of the ITF Grade 1 International Spring Championships in Carson, California the week before the Easter Bowl, Bellis had only one day off between tournaments, but the No. 4 seed kept her court time to a minimum in the 90-degree desert heat, winning her first four matches in straight sets, until meeting top seed Sofia Kenin in the semifinals. Bellis trailed the 15-year-old Floridian 4-2 in the final set of the tense and emotional match, but reeled off the final four games to earn a 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 victory and a place in the final.
Awaiting her there was No. 11 seed Katie Swan of Great Britain, who had just received notice that she could compete in the tournament, which is open only to those who are United States citizens, or have immigration status that is approved for USTA competition. Swan's family moved to Wichita, Kansas over a year ago when her father was transferred, and with an application for a green card accepted, she was only cleared to play the week before.
Swan had taken down two players with higher rankings, defeating No. 6 seed Raquel Pedraza in the third round and No. 7 seed Michaela Gordon in the semifinals, and had not lost a set all week.
Swan looked comfortable in her first Grade 1 final, taking a 2-0 lead, but Bellis found her form, winning six of the next seven games to take the set. The reigning 16s Easter Bowl champion continued to dictate points with her forehand in the second set, while Swan's serve began to lose its effectiveness, resulting in a 6-3, 6-1 victory for Bellis.
Bellis, who is now traveling with former NCAA finalist Jelena Pandzic, was pleased with her level in the final.
"I played well today," said the Atherton, California resident, who rose to No. 12 in the ITF World Junior rankings after taking both ITF singles titles in California. "Katie's such a great player, and she's aggressive, so I had to be ready to be on defense, but also on offense when I could, so it was good."
Swan had nothing but praise for her friend Bellis, whom she first met at the Teen Tennis tournament in Bolton last January.
"She's such a great player," said Swan, who watched the boys final with Bellis earlier in the day. "It's great to play against someone like that, so I know the level I need to get to. She's just looking always to dominate, and has a great forehand. She's just an amazing player."
Bellis, who is undefeated in ITF junior competition this year, having won all three Grade 1 tournaments she entered, will head to Europe for the Italian ITF junior swing later this month, which ends with the Grade A Italian Open. She will then stay in Europe for the French Open junior championships the first week of June.
"I can't wait," said Bellis, the tournament's sportsmanship winner, who developed affection for the red clay while competing in the ITF World Junior Tennis championships in the Czech Republic last August.