Liam Caruana, Kayla Day Take Home USTA International Spring Championship 18s Singles Titles

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Copyright © 2016. No duplication is permitted without permission from Bob Larson Tennis.

Photo by Cynthia Lum

Tennis rivals for half their young lives, 16-year-old Kayla Day and 15-year-old Claire Liu battled on one junior tennis’ largest stages on Sunday in the final of the Girls’ 18s Singles division at the USTA International Spring Championship.

The No. 2-seeded Day from Santa Barbara, Calif., fought her way back to defeat the No. 5-seeded Liu of Thousand Oaks, Calif., 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, in just under three hours on the same courts in Carson where they train with the same USTA coaches, Adam Peterson and Henner Nehles.

In the Boys’ 18s Singles final, Liam Caruana of Austin, Texas, who like Day lost the first set, came back to defeat Sam Riffice of Granite Bay, Calif., in dominating fashion, 4-6, 6-0, 6-1.

Day fell down a set (4-6) and 0-2 to Liu, but upped her game to rally back and then staved off a third-set comeback to finally defeat Liu after three consecutive losses to her SoCal rival. “We’ve been playing since we were like 8-years-old,” said Day, who also shares the same personal coach with Liu, Mike Gennette.

Day led 5-0 in the third set, and held a match point at 5-1, but never thought the match was over till she won the final point. “Against her you have to think that way,” Day said. “Even at 5-0 I knew I was in a good position, but…”

Day recalled once at a Nike Junior Tour event in the 14s where Liu was up 6-3 and 5-3 and held two match points, only to see Day come back and win the final. “I know that’s always in the back of her mind,” said Day, who will depart Sunday night for the ITF Masters in China.

That means the rivalry will not continue this week at the ASICS Easter Bowl, where Liu won the 18s ITF singles title last year as a 14-year-old. Asked by blogger Colette Lewis how she felt heading to the desert with a finals appearance at Carson, Liu quipped. “Well, I’m feeling pretty good knowing she won’t be there.”

Liu smiled when asked what she was thinking leading 6-4, 2-0. “I’ve had match points and I’ve lost to her,” she said. “Especially against her I knew I had to fight for every single point because she’ll come back if there’s just a sliver of a chance. She’s not going to give me anything so if I want to win, I have to take it. She’s such a good competitor.”

Down 0-5, there was no quit in Liu as she played aggressive and nailed several winners down the line. “I figured it was better to end on a better note than playing bad,” she added.

Both intense competitors on the court, and good friends off the court, Day and Liu posed for pictures of their coaches after the match. “It’s fine we have the same coaches,” Liu said. “A lot of our friends are at the USTA and we share the same coaches so it’s not that big of a deal and we all play each other a lot.”

Caruana said nerves were the reason he fell down 1-5 to Riffice in the first set of the boys’ final. Caruana called for a trainer at the changeover at 2-5.

“Earlier in the tournament I strained my (abdominal) muscle so I’ve carried that throughout the tournament,” Caruana said. “It wasn’t enough to default, but it hurt when I was serving. After that medical timeout I told myself to play loose and free because if not I was just getting destroyed.”

Caruana, who was 0-4 in ITF junior finals coming into the day, started playing more aggressively and coming to the net, and totally took Riffice out of his rhythm. “I started mixing in some serves and volleys and trying to attack and take the match a little bit more. I think that caught him off guard a little.”

Caruana said after Saturday’s 6-0, 6-1, dismantling of defending champion William Blumberg, he was concerned Riffice might run away with it at the start. “That popped into my mind at 4-zero. He’s very smart and plays the angles very well. He was moving me side to side in the first set.”

Riffice was visibly disappointed after the match. “I don’t think there was much I could have done to beat him today,” he said. “I think he just started slow, and picked up his game. There was a lot I could have done better to make it closer. I didn’t play as offensive as I would have liked and he was dictating the points. I didn’t get to pressure him much and my balls didn’t have a lot on them.

“He mixed up the pace a lot and he hit a lot of different shots and didn’t give me the same ball too many times in a row.”

Caruana heads to the ASICS Easter Bowl needing a few more valuable ITF points to gain direct entry into the summer’s Grand Slam events. “This was my fifth ITF junior final, and I didn’t want to go 0-for-five. So I put a little extra effort into it.”



Boys’ 18 Singles (Final Round)

Liam Caruana (Austin, TX)  def. Sam Riffice (Granite Bay, CA)  4-6, 6-0, 6-1


Girls’ 18 Singles (Final Round)

Kayla Day (Santa Barbara, CA)  def.  Claire Liu (Thousand Oaks, CA)  4-6, 6-4, 6-3

Copyright © 2016. No duplication is permitted without permission from Bob Larson Tennis.