Two top-seeded players overcame second-set letdowns to come back and beat California wild cards on a dramatic final day of play at the International Spring Championships on Sunday at Dignity Health Sports Park.
Canada’s top-ranked junior boys’ player Liam Draxl, a 17-year-old from North York, Ontario, beat Zachary Svajda of Pacific Beach near San Diego, 7-6 (6), 3-6, 7-5, for the Boys’ 18s title while recently turned pro Hurricane Tyra Black, 18, from Boca Raton, Fla., overcame full body cramping to defeat Northern Cal’s 15-year-old Connie Ma, 6-2, 4-6, 6-4, to defend her Girls’ 18s singles title.
The second of two consecutive important junior tournaments following the Adidas Easter Bowl, the International Tennis Federation Grade 1 18s and 16s ISC event is part of the ITF World Tennis Tour with international players earning valuable ITF ranking points which helps them gain entry into Junior Grand Slams and ITF Futures professional tournaments.
Draxl, who is coached by Peter Billingham at Saddlebrook Academy in Wesley Chapel, Fla., near Tampa, overcame a set point serving at 5-6 in the first-set tiebreaker as the University of Kentucky recruit rallied for the first-set win.
“It’s a Grade 1 so you think by getting to the final you would see someone who you know or have seen before,” said Draxl of 16-year-old Svajda, who was only playing his third junior event over the last several years choosing instead to work on his game through practice, not traveling to tournaments. “He was just kind of a local kid, but he was so tough. He was running me around with his angles.”
Draxl described the set point this way: “He hit a huge return and I picked it up on the baseline and he had a chance to put it away. I guessed right and passed him. It was pretty lucky.”
Svajda said he went cross court when he should have gone down the line. “He was already cross court so he didn’t have to move and I should have gone down the line,” he said. “I will definitely remember that.”
Svajda, who had only dropped three games total over his past three matches, didn’t dwell on letting the first set slip away and jumped out to a 5-1 lead in the second set. “He was coming up with some insane winners,” Draxl said. “I was falling apart mentally but I was able to get it back to 5-3 so it was good to come back a bit. At this level, if you drop your focus for one game it’s a completely different game.”
The second-set loss was the first set Draxl dropped in the tournament as the Australian Open quarterfinalist beat five Americans to reach the final. Draxl was also a quarterfinalist in singles in doubles at the Orange Bowl in December. He is currently ranked No. 21 in the world ITF Junior rankings and will likely be seeded at the French Open Juniors.
Svajda, who needed three sets to beat Adidas Easter Bowl finalist and No. 4 seed Martin Damm in the second round, spent an entire month at the recent BNP Paribas Open playing in the pre-qualifying event. He practiced with top American John Isner, and warmed up eventual winner Dominic Thiem and Roger Federer before his quarterfinal, semifinal and final against Thiem.
For the past three months, Svajda has started training at the USTA National Campus in Orlando and is working with some of the USTA’s top national coaches. He trains with his 12-year-old brother Trevor, who warmed him up before Sunday’s match and was watched by his mother and father Tom, who is a teaching pro at the Pacific Beach Tennis Center near Mission Bay and once played at the USTA National Hardcourts in Kalamazoo, Mich.
“It was good match, and I played well the entire time and so did he,” Svajda said. “It was just good-quality tennis.”
Unlike the vocal Draxl, Svajda shows little emotion on court. “I like to stay pretty calm on the court,” he said. “I don’t want to break racquets. On an important point I’ll say come on. Sometimes. That’s just my personality on the court.”
Svajda will travel to Orlando in two weeks for a USTA playoff and will be playing for a wild card for a Challenger and a Futures-level pro event.
Black will improve on her No. 13 ITF junior ranking on Monday and like Draxl hadn’t dropped a set until Ma took the second set on Sunday.
Early on in the second set, Black took a nasty fall on an approach shot and fell and re-injured her left wrist, scraped her knee and later broke a shoelace.
Black took a 2-0 in the third set, then starting cramping and dropped the next three games to Ma, who played more aggressively started coming to the net. “My body was totally starting to shut down and I didn’t feel like I could rally or hit the ball,” said Black, who also needed three sets to win the ISC title last year. “After those three games I sat down and ate some energy gummies and drank tons of Gatorade and I realized I would have to keep going because it’s only 3-2 and anything can happen. I just really wanted this match.”
Black, who signed a professional contract in January and is represented by Baseline Management based in her hometown of Boca Raton, Fla., stayed steady and eventually led 5-4 and held two match points, with Ma saving the first. “The last two match points my whole body was cramping up and I was crying and it literally felt like the worst things that’s ever happened to me,” said Black, who skipped the awards ceremony and immediately sought treatment from the trainers for cramping.
Ma, who is from Dublin, Calif., 35 miles east of San Francisco, won her wild card into the tournament by winning the 18s Winter Nationals in Orlando in singles and doubles. Ma is a sophomore attending regular school and chose to play the ISC over the Easter Bowl because she was on spring break last week. She played the US Open Juniors last year and played her first Grade 1 final in just her third ITF junior event.
Ma is coached by Max Taylor at Tompkins Tennis Academy. She said her slow start was a mix of both nerves and Black’s steady all-court game, which included sharp low backhand slices that pinned Ma deep to the baseline. “I guess a mix of both,” said Ma, who beat hard-hitting Adidas Easter Bowl finalist Robin Montgomery in the semifinals. “Her style is a little bit different to what I’ve been playing.”
Past ISC champions of the event include the tournament’s first boys’ winner Sam Querrey in 2005, Bradley Klahn (2008), Sloane Stephens (2009) and Melanie Oudin (2008), just a few who have gone on to bigger and better things on the pro and collegiate circuit.
Other notable American player since 2005 has played in the ISC and past participants who have gone on to reach the world top 100 include: Frances Tiafoe, Taylor Fritz, Madison Keys, Steve Johnson, Christina McHale, Madison Brengle, Vania King, Ryan Harrison, Nicole Gibbs, Coco Vandeweghe, Lauren Davis, Taylor Townsend, Jessie Levine, Canada’s Milos Raonic and Switzerland’s Belinda Bencic.