A new wave of top American junior tennis players has risen to the forefront this week and will be on display one final time during Championship Sunday in the Boys’ and Girls’ ITF division at the iconic 52nd annual Adidas Easter Bowl taking place at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.
Left-handed, 14-year-old No. 14 seed Robin Montgomery from Washington D.C., advanced to the Girls’ ITF 18s singles final while another lefty, 15-year-old Martin Damm did the same on the Boys’ 18s side.
The power-serving Montgomery – who was clocked at 115 mph during her 4-6, 6-2, 6-0 win over former training partner No. 5 Lea Ma – told reporters after the match her biggest weapon is her backhand. She will face No. 3 seed Emma Navarro in the 10 a.m. final Sunday, attempting to be the youngest Easter Bowl winner in recent memory.
Charleston’s Navarro, who beat Montgomery in straight sets in their only career meeting back in December at the Orange Bowl, beat unseeded Ellie Coleman 7-6 (1), 6-2. During her match, the official Volvo Car Open Draw Ceremony was being revealed and it was announced Navarro would face WTA veteran Laura Siegemund of Germany in the first round of the Premier Level Charleston WTA tournament where Navarro has been granted a wild card in singles and doubles with partner Chloe Beck.
The No. 2 seeds Navarro and Beck got in some good practice late in the day Saturday as they captured the Girls’ ITF doubles title with a 6-4, 6-4 win over top-seeded Tyra Black and Ma, 6-4, 6-4.
Montgomery said she’s improved since she last played Ma a year ago in a practice match which she lost, 6-1, 6-1, and started to play better when she dictated the pace. “When I was younger I used to be a slow starter but I think I’ve grown out of that a bit,” Montgomery said. “I tried to come out swinging. In the first set I was moving to her pace, walking slower and letting her take her time but in the second and third sets I started to move faster and I don’t think she likes moving fast. So I think that got her out of her comfort zone.”
Montgomery’s tennis hero is Serena Williams on the women’s side and Frances Tiafoe on the men’s side. She called the former Easter Bowl champion Tiafoe, who is now ranked inside the world’s Top 35, one of her best friends. Both have a history having started their tennis careers around the age of 5 and training at the Junior Tennis Champions Center in College Park, Md.
Damm will face qualifier Ronald Hohmann, who trains with former ATP pro Todd Widom in Coral Springs, Fla. Damm downed No. 14 Mark Mandlik 6-1, 6-4, and Hohmann had an easier time with No. 13 Jacob Bullard, 6-2, 6-1, in his semifinal match.
Hohmann has now won eight straight singles matches over eight days.
“He broke me the first game of the match and I thought, ‘Oh God, this is going to be one of those days,” Hohmann said. “But then I broke back and held and I just took it to him from there. I just played unbelievably well. I didn’t miss anything. It’s crazy.”
Hohmann has been returning to his Indian Wells hotel and stretching and icing each night after his wins. “I’m so tired, I’m not going to lie. I’m just glad it went quick.”
Hohmann recently found out the winner of the Easter Bowl gets a wild card into the Junior US Open and a USTA $80,000 Challenger level tournament. “I noticed that yesterday when I looked at the website,” he said. “I wasn’t even supposed to qualify based on the qualifying seedings (he was seeded 10th).”
Damm will have to make room in his suitcase for his USTA Silver ball he captured in doubles later in the day. Facing No. 3 seeds William Grant and Tyler Zink, top-seed Damm and Toby Kodat fell in an exciting final match of the day, 7-6 (3), 0-6, 11-9.
Samir Banerjee is the 2019 Adidas Easter Bowl 16s champion as last year’s 14s finalist from Basking Ridge, N.J., called upon his experience of last year’s match to propel him to the title as he beat No. 9 JJ Tracy out of the Smith Stearns Tennis Academy on Hilton Head Island, S.C., 7-6 (4), 7-5.
Part of the ITF World Tennis Tour pathway to the pros, with the win Banerjee receives a wild card into a future ITF WTT $15,000 pro event. “That’s crazy,” said Banerjee,” who beat top-seeded Aryan Chaudhary in three sets on Friday. “I did say I was looking to play some stiffer competition.”
The 15-year-old Banerjee trains at Center Court Tennis Academy and Garden State Tennis Center near Newark, N.J.
“I knew it was going to be tough and there would be a lot of pressure and a lot of people watching,” said Banerjee, who now has a total of 10 USTA balls, including six in doubles and four in singles. “I just tried to stay focused and play my game throughout the entire match.
San Jose’s No. 9-seeded Vivian Ovrootsky won the Girls’ 16s singles title with a 6-3, 6-4 win over No. 10 DJ Bennett of Belleview, Fla. She will receive a wild card into an ITF Grade 1 event.
“I didn’t play my best tennis today and DJ played unbelievable tennis today and her forehand was really on,” said Ovrootsky, age 14, who was also presented with the division’s USTA Sportsmanship award. “I just had to get through the match and stay offensive.”
That makes two tournament wins in a row for Ovrootsky, who won the ITF Level 4 event in Irvine last week. Ovrootsky is now on a 12-match winning streak.
“It was tiring, but I think I recovered well which is why I was able to move the way I did today,” said Ovrootsky, who has now won three USTA Gold balls and two Silver balls.
Ovrootsky attends Laurel Springs Online School and trains with coach Nick Fustar at Eagle Fustar Academy in Northern California.
Gracie Epps of Norman, Okla., beat No. 12 Daniella Benabraham of New York, N.Y., in straight sets to win the bronze.
In the 3rd-4th place Boys’ 16s match, Thomas Paulsell, the No. 4 seed from Seattle, won the Bronze ball over Aryan Chaudhary, No. 1 from Santa Clara, Calif., 6-3, 4-6, 6-3.
Paulsell also took the Gold ball by winning the 16s as he teamed with Frank Thompson of Blacksburg, Va., to beat the top-seeded team of Alex Finkelstein (Raynham, Mass.) and Nathan Mao of Topsham, Maine, 6-2, 6-2.
In the Girls’ 16s doubles final, No. 1s Ava Catanzarite (Pittsburgh) and Sydni Ratliff (Gahanna, Ohio) beat Whitley Pate (Daniel Island, S.C.) and Sophia Strugnell (Summerfield, N.C.) 6-2, 4-6, 6-0.