Branstine, Rotsaert Capture Titles at ITF Grade 1 International Spring Championships
by Colette Lewis
, 31 March 2017
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Carson Branstine and Alexandre Rotsaert each earned a first ITF Grade 1 singles title last week at the International Spring Championships in Carson, California. No. 2 seed Branstine defeated top seed Taylor Johnson 6-4, 6-3 in the girls final, while No. 10 seed Rotsaert downed No. 3 seed Gianni Ross 6-3, 6-3.
Rotsaert was dominant throughout the event, with all six of his victories coming in straight sets. After taking out No. 6 seed Toru Horie
6-4, 6-2 in the third round, Rotsaert didn't face another seed until the final, with Ross also advancing to the final without dropping a set.
Ross had won their previous meeting this year in the quarterfinals of the ITF Grade 1 Banana Bowl in Brazil, but the surface was not the only change working in Rotsaert's favor. After losing in the final round of qualifying at the Orlando Futures early this month, Rotsaert went back home to Boca Raton for an intense training block with his coach Ernesto Ruiz.
"I changed my serve a bit, and am trying to play more aggressive, take the ball more on the rise, especially on these hard courts," Rotsaert said of those five-hour training sessions. "And I'm trying to play a bit more free."
That last part was particularly important in the final, with his performance in other championship matches a source of frustration after settling for the silver ball at the past two 18s Clay Courts and the 2015 Kalamazoo 16s division.
"I was trying to go out and just play well," the 17-year-old right-hander said. "In those last finals, one of those against Sam (Riffice), I started out well, but the others I started out pretty bad, so I went out there with the mentality of playing my game and playing aggressive."
Rotsaert worked through his nerves in the first game, held in the second game, and after saving a break point in the sixth game, won the final three games of the set, ending it with a forehand volley.
"I've been practicing coming in and stepping forward," said Rotsaert. "I think at 1-all in the second, I had two break points against me, and I hit two really good volleys, one a reaching drop shot volley I was really happy with. What was good, was when I got a bit nervous, and started making a couple of unforced errors, I was able to calm myself down and use my techniques to really let myself play."
Rotsaert's level was such that Ross was not particularly disappointed in his own play.
"He played really well, it was a good day for him," Ross said. "He hit me off the court, finished points, did well at the net, served well, it was a very solid match from him. It was tough for me to pressure him. He was always on me, always making me play one extra shot. I'm not going to say I played bad, maybe a little bit too many errors, but I played well."
With the title, Rotsaert has boosted his chances of playing in the junior slams this summer, in his final year of eligibility.
"We'll see in the rankings, I didn't really calculate," said Rotsaert. "But this was pretty much my last tournament, this and Easter Bowl was my last chance, so I'm really happy I stepped up this tournament. If I wasn't going to be in the main [draw], I wasn't going to go to Europe; I think I was going to maybe focus on Futures, so I'm really happy to have the opportunity and honor to play those tournaments."
His losses in previous important finals gave Rotsaert a unique perspective on his victory in Sunday's championship match.
"I don't really feel different," Rotsaert said. "When you think of winning a tournament, you think it's going to be amazing, but it doesn't change anything, and it's the same when you lose. Your life doesn't change, that's something I learned."