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McNally to face Ross, Sanford to battle Douglas in Easter Bowl finals

April 10, 2016 08:27 AM
Fifteen-year-old Ellie Douglas is pumped after defeating Caty McNally to reach her first ITF Grade 1 final.

By Steve Pratt, special to USTA.com

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. – It’s the old boxing adage: Styles make fights. Both John McNally of Cincinnati and Gianni Ross of Boca Raton, Fla., are predicting a big-time battle come Sunday in the ITF boys’ singles final at the 49th Annual ASICS Easter Bowl.

The two friends and former doubles partners meet in the 10 a.m. PT final at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden and hope their familiarity with each other’s games and their hard-hitting, all-court style of play will lead to a great final.

It will be followed by the girls’ ITF singles final featuring 17-year-old Alexandra Sanford of Westerville, Ohio, and 15-year-old Ellie Douglas of McKinney, Texas.

All four players won their semifinal matches in straight sets Saturday.

“It’ll be fun to play him,” said the unseeded Ross, who, like McNally, dropped just six games in advancing to his first Grade B1 final. “It’s good to play someone you know. He’s a fighter. He’s got a good game, and we fit well together. We’ve got to know at least a little bit about each other.

“I think we will play to each other’s strengths and weaknesses. I hope it’s not a blowout but a good match.”

The No. 4-seeded McNally, who beat No. 6 Vasil Kirkov, 6-2, 6-4, agreed.

“It’ll be a heckuva match,” he said. “I love the kid. You know how good of friends we are. I know how good a player he is and how hard he works.”

The pairing of McNally and Ross won the boys’ 16s doubles in 2014 at the Kalamazoo National hard courts but had, what McNally called, an “unfortunate falling out” last year, which led McNally to start playing doubles with fellow Cincinnatian J.J. Wolf. The pair was top-seeded here this week but lost in Saturday's semifinals.

Ross figured that he and McNally have played each other in singles an estimated 12 to 14 times.

“I know at one point he beat me eight straight times,” Ross said, joking that no one beats him nine consecutive times. “I know I then beat him three times in a row, so I would say at least a dozen.”

Ross had to overcome the experienced Nathan Ponwith, who had reached both the final (2014) and semifinals (2015) at the last two ASICS Easter Bowls. Ross downed the future Georgia Bulldog, 6-4, 6-2.

There is one person who won’t be watching the match in person and perhaps will just check in from time to time on the live stream via www.easterbowl.com. Ross’s father gets so nervous during his son’s matches he chooses not to watch. The family moved to Boca Raton, Fla., last September after his father retired from his medical practice.

“Whenever he watches me, he gets way too emotional, and it gets in my head,” Ross said. “So I do request that he doesn’t watch. It’s better for him to be away. It helps his heart. It helps me, and it helps him, so it’s a good combination.”

Both McNally and Ross lost in the first round in singles at last year’s ASICS Easter Bowl. But it will be McNally’s third ASICS Easter Bowl final, as he made the 14s championship match in 2013, holding a match point before losing to Connor Hance. He won the 16s title in 2014.

“It just shows it’s all a journey,” McNally said. “I remember that (first final) match. I mean, of course I remember that match. Then coming back and bouncing back after that tough loss. Hopefully I’ll be able to come out and get a win tomorrow and say 'see you' to California for a while.”

In girls' action, No. 8 seed Sanford played outstanding tennis on her way to a 6-4, 6-0 win over unseeded Hanna Chang.

Sanford, who has played seven USTA Pro Circuit events this year, surprised everyone in February when she won three qualifying matches at a $100,000 USTA Pro Circuit event in Midland, Mich. She wasn’t done there, as she then won two rounds in the main draw to make the quarterfinals, beating Ingrid Neel, former NCAA singles champion from UCLA Jennifer Brady and Alexa Glatch along the way.

Sanford has been recovering from a back injury and was questionable to even play the ASICS Easter Bowl. She played in qualifying at both the Junior French Open and the US Open last year.

“I don’t know yet what my schedule will be,” she said. “If I decide to play Roland Garros or Wimbledon, this definitely helps and gives me options if I decide to play over there.”

No. 13 seed Douglas matched Sanford’s aggressiveness and eliminated No. 9 Caty McNally, 6-3, 6-4, to advance to her first Grade 1 final.  

Douglas has been injured and is currently playing without a full-time coach.

“I had a stress fracture in my lowest vertebrae and was sidelined for six months, then another in a different area that kept me out three more months,” Douglas said. “Then I suffered a pulled stomach muscle that has kept me off the court off and on.”

In the boys’ doubles final, the unseeded team of Kirkov and Korda will go up against No. 6 Nathan Ponwith and Jake Van Emburgh.

In the girls’ doubles final, No. 6 seeds Victoria Emma and Sofia Sewing will face the unseeded team of Elysia Bolton and Chiara Lommer.

To keep up with all the ASICS Easter Bowl news, visit www.easterbowl.com, and check out the tournament on Facebook and Twitter.