Gold Balls Return at 50th Easter Bowl
by Colette Lewis
, 17 April 2017
|Share: || || |
The adidas Easter Bowl returned to its previous status as a USTA gold ball event in 2017, after three years of reduced status for one of the top tournaments in junior tennis. Taking home the USTA's coveted token of excellence in the California tournament's 50th year were Priya Nelson and Kyle Kang in the 12s division, Charlotte Owensby and Alexander Bernard in the 14s division, and Emma Navarro and Brandon Nakashima in the 16s division.
For the fourth consecutive year, the Indian Wells Tennis Garden
served as the main site for the tournament, giving top US competitors an opportunity to play at the home of the BNP Paribas Open, which concluded a week before the juniors arrived.
The drama of the girls 14s final surpassed not only the other championship matches, but any of the hundreds of matches contested in the sunny Coachella Valley during the week, with Owensby saving seven match points in a 6-4, 2-6, 7-5 win over top seed Gianna Pielet.
Owensby, the No. 8 seed, had not dropped a set prior to the final, with her 6-3, 6-3 semifinal win over No. 14 seed Connie Ma her only encounter with a seeded player. Pielet had beaten just two seeded players en route to the finals, although her semifinal win over No. 6 seed Kailey Evans was a walkover due to injury.
After losing the second set, Owensby found it difficult to get back on track, and she trailed 5-2 in the third, giving Pielet two opportunities to serve out the match. Pielet didn't get to match point serving at 5-2, but she had four chances to finish it off with Owensby serving at 3-5. Pielet converted none of those, but when she went up 40-0 serving for the match a second time, Owensby began to think her luck had run out.
"When it was 5-4, and she went up 40-0, I definitely thought I was done," said the 14-year-old Owensby, who couldn't think of any previous match where she had come back from that far down. "But I just took it one point at a time, and when I got it to 5-all, I just focused on that game and when I won that game, I thought I could win the match."
Owensby made almost no unforced errors in the final five games, while Pielet had trouble staying in points as her lead dwindled. Owensby took a 6-5 lead, assured of no worse than a final tiebreaker, and the next game was a disaster for Pielet, who double faulted twice and made two unforced errors, including a netted backhand on the first match point against her.
Pielet, the reigning Eddie Herr 14s
and USTA girls 14s
national champion, has had plenty of experience on the big stage, but she couldn't settle herself down this time.
"It was definitely my nerves," said Pielet, an eighth-grader from El Paso Texas, whose father Doug won the 14s and 16s Easter Bowl titles in 1979 and 1981. "The crowd, the umpire, the live [stream], I think that's why we both didn't play very well."
"I think we were both really nervous," agreed Owensby, who added her first gold ball in singles to a gold ball she won in doubles at the 2015 Clay Courts. "I tried to focus more on my plan of getting her off the court and when that started working, she got more nervous and started to make more errors. And then I got more confident and started to come into net or hit a couple winners."
Owensby, who is based in Boca Raton Florida, is coached there by former WTA Top 100 player Yuliya Beygelzimer of Ukraine.
"We started working together about a year ago for about five months and then we parted because she had to play more pro tournaments to keep her visa," Owensby said. "We've been back together now for the last few months."
As for how she felt after winning such a pressure-packed match in the final of her first Easter Bowl, Owensby had just one word: "amazing."
Ma won the bronze ball when Evans' injury prevented her from competing.