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Saturday, December 10, 2016

Volynets Makes History, Sun Takes Boys Title at 16s Orange Bowl; ITF Top Juniors Kecmanovic and Potapova Reach Grade A Finals

©Colette Lewis 2016--
Plantation, FL--

A long day of waiting out the rain showers ended on a positive note for Americans Katie Volynets and Steven Sun. Originally scheduled back-to-back matches on the Veltri Tennis Center's Stadium court, the 16s singles finalists at the Metropolia Orange Bowl endured a nearly six-hour rain delay, forcing the matches to be played simultaneously. Although Sun was two points from defeat in his 3-6, 7-5, 6-1 victory over Vikash Singh of India, and Volynets completed her 6-4, 6-3 win over Imani Graham without those dramatics, both matches, which started in daylight, finished within minutes of each other under the lights.

The 14-year-old Volynets, whose reputation for focus and composure is well established, said the long wait to take the court did have an impact on her.

"It was difficult for me to wait, because I was so excited to go and play," said the unseeded Volynets, a Walnut Creek, California resident. "All of a sudden, when I had to wait, I got a little bit more tight, and all this waiting, I didn't even know if I was going to go on today. All of a sudden I go on, and I'm like, whoa, I'm on the court. It was kind of hard."

Volynets lost the first game to No. 14 seed Graham, who like Volynets, will turn 15 later this month. But Volynets got the break back in the next game and managed to keep Graham from changing the momentum in the match, although nearly every point and every game was closely contested.

"Katie is an awesome player and smart on court," Graham said. "With the close games, she really focused, and I feel like her mental game was a little bit stronger than mine today."

The depth of Volynets mental strength was probably best displayed back on Monday, when less than 24 hours after she had won the Eddie Herr 16s title on hard courts, she was in Plantation, playing and winning on Har-Tru clay.

"Personally, I expected it to be very, very difficult," Volynets said of the transition. "But I kind of got a groove on the clay at first, and it wasn't that difficult for me to go from hard to clay."

Volynets said she definitely prefers hard courts to clay, with little exposure to Har-Tru in Northern California, which makes her six straight-sets wins this week even more impressive.

Volynets also becomes the first girl to win the 16s Eddie Herr and Orange Bowl in the same year, an accomplishment she was unaware of until after the match.

"No, I didn't know that," said Volynets, who won the Nationals 12s in 2014 and the National 14s in 2015. "Now I'm really happy and I feel really good. I appreciate these titles very much. They mean a lot to me because I know these are internationals, while the other ones were nationals, so this to me is almost a bigger deal. I feel really good, but of course I'm going to go back to work and back on the court when I get home."

Sun looked to be headed for a straight-sets loss when No. 10 seed Singh served for the match at 6-3, 5-3.  Having been broken at love to give Singh and opportunity to serve for the match, the unseeded Sun had no reason to expect a momentum change, but he continued to battle and Singh went down a break point at 30-40. Singh's shot just missed the baseline and Sun stopped play and asked for a mark check, which went in Sun's favor, and from there, Sun took control of the match.

Sun held at love, broke Singh with a forehand winner at 30-40 for a 6-5 lead and took the set on his third set point, with his forehand continuing to be the determining factor on most of the points.

"I had nothing to lose," said Sun, a 16-year-old who lives in Boca Raton. "I was down a set and 5-3, so I just decided to go for it and it worked out. I got a couple of lucky bounces. I think he did get a little upset, but I think I played pretty well to close out that set and start out the third. It's tough to come back from losing that lead."

The third set was all Sun, and Singh's medical timeout down 4-1 didn't stall Sun's momentum, as Sun held for 5-1 and broke at love to claim the title, sending his racquet flying in celebration.

"He played some of the best tennis I had ever seen in that opening set," said Sun. "I had no idea what to do, but I just hung in there."

Singh admitted he was not able to match Sun's level after losing his chance to serve out the match in the second set.

"At 5-3 he took control of the game and was more aggressive than me," said the 16-year-old, who trains at the Smith-Stearns Academy in Hilton Head, South Carolina. "In the second set, he stepped up, he played well, I give him credit."

Sun, who beat Eddie Herr champion Anton Matusevich of Great Britain in the semifinals, attributed his success this week to his willingness to fight through the tough stretches he encountered.

"I definitely competed well," said Sun. "Sometimes I didn't play my best tennis, but I hung in there and I got my chances and took advantage of them."

The 18s semifinals were played at the same time as the 16s finals, on courts that are not typically show courts, but were used because they were in the best condition after the rain.

World No. 1 juniors Miomir Kecmanovic of Serbia and Anastasia Potapova of Russia continued their marches through the draws, with Kecmanovic defeating unseeded Danny Thomas 6-3, 6-4 and Potapova beating unseeded Carson Branstine 6-4, 6-0.

Kecmanovic and Thomas had not met before, with Thomas playing in his first Grade A event, and Kecmanovic admitted Thomas's game was a challenge for him.

"I think I needed time to get used to his game," said the 17-year-old, who trains at the IMG Academy in Bradenton. "I think he's a difficult opponent to play, because he's lefty, but also because he can start playing really good, get hot a couple of shots and keep that momentum going, so I just tried to put as much balls in the court as I can and finally paid off."

Kecmanovic had been broken several times in the second set, so serving out the match was not likely to be easy.  But at 30-all, Kecmanovic hit two good first serves that Thomas could not get back in play, and having that capability is something Kecmanovic has been working toward throughout the year.

"It paid off a lot," said Kecmanovic. "I've been working on it a lot for this year and I'm happy it works. It's gotten me through some tough situations throughout the year, but I think I still need to be a little bit more consistent and then I think I'll be fine."

Kecmanovic is looking to become the first repeat champion since Billy Martin, now the UCLA men's head coach, won in 1973 and 1974, and the first player to win the Eddie Herr and Orange Bowl in the same year since Dominic Thiem of Austria in 2011.

Kecmanovic's opponent will be No. 2 seed Yibing Wu of China, who has never won more than one match at a Grade A until this week.  The 17-year-old Wu, who won the Asian/Oceania Grade B1 Closed last month, eliminated 2015 16s champion Sebastian Baez of Argentina 6-3, 3-6, 6-2.

Potapova had lost to Branstine last month in the first round of the Grade A Abierto Juvenil Mexicano, but the 15-year-old said that loss had little to do with her dominating performance today.

"In Mexico City, sometimes it happens, you lose," Potapova said. "But my motivation is to finish the year the best way, to win it. She's a great player, and I'm just so happy to be through it."

Potapova, who did not play Eddie Herr, said she has seen her game improve throughout the week.

"The first round, I played good," Potapova said. "The second round was not so good, but I told myself, it's OK, tomorrow is going to be better. And now, it's better and better and now I'm so good, so I just want to keep it going."

In the final, Potapova will face another player who has beaten her in a Grade A, No. 9 seed Kaja Juvan of Slovenia.  Juvan, who ended the run of 14-year-old wild card Whitney Osuigwe with a 6-1, 6-3 victory in the semifinals, defeated Potapova in the semifinals of the Grade A Italian Open 6-4, 4-6, 6-2.

"I wouldn't say I have a lot of confidence," the 16-year-old Juvan said of facing Potapova. "I would just say I fight every point, because she's a good player and I know that not all of us have the best days always when you play. I guess she could have played better that day, so I'm just going to fight for every point. It doesn't matter if I win or lose, I just want to enjoy this moment. Because I know she can play. That's why she's the first player. It's an honor and joy to play her, because she's so young and so good."

Juvan said her experience was part of her advantage over Osuigwe in today's match.

"I feel you have to play smart against these younger girls, because they like to play strong, flat," said Juvan. "I take it that I have to outsmart them, to play what they dislike. Eventually she just got very nervous, and she started to say things, like, I don't like the wind, all my balls are going out, and so I take it that I'm smarter in that way. I've played more matches in the wind. I didn't get nervous, I was just enjoying it."

Like Potapova, Juvan said she found her game after the second round.

"Here I had to win in the first and second round to be comfortable," said Juvan. "I could only relax when I played against a better player, So when I played Olga (No. 6 seed Danilovic), that's when I loosened up and that's when I started playing really well."

Juvan and Potapova will also face off in the doubles final, after both won their evening semifinal matches.

Juvan and partner Lea Boskovic of Croatia, seeded No. 8, defeated No. 2 seeds Emily Appleton and Jodie Burrage of Great Britain 6-0, 6-1 to remain undefeated. Juvan and Boskovic won a $10K doubles title in October and won the Eddie Herr last week. Potapova and Danilovic, the No. 1 seeds, came back to defeated No. 4 seeds En Shuo Liang of Taiwan and Xiyu Wang of China 4-6, 7-6(3), 10-0.

The boys doubles final will be an all-Japanese contest, with unseeded Shinji Hazawa and Naoki Tajima taking on No. 4 seeds Toru Horie and Yuta Shimizu. Shimizu, who won the Orange Bowl doubles title last year with Yunosuke Tanaka, and Horie defeated No. 7 seeds Ergi Kirkin of Turkey and Vasil Kirkov 3-6, 6-3, 10-6.  Hazawa and Tajima saved a match point in eliminating top seeds and Eddie Herr champion Kecmanovic and Benjamin Sigouin of Canada 1-6, 7-6(6), 10-8.

For draws and more on the tournament, see the USTA tournament page.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Eddie Herr Recap; Unseeded Thomas, Osuigwe Reach Metropolia Orange Bowl Semis; Volynets, Graham and Sun Advance to 16s Final

©Colette Lewis 2016--
Plantation, FL--

Before I start with coverage of all Friday's action at the Metropolia Orange Bowl, I wanted to link to my recap of last week's Eddie Herr International Championships for the Tennis Recruiting Network.  If you couldn't follow my daily reports from Bradenton, this article can provide an overview of the tournament.

One of the most prominent names in the Eddie Herr article is Miomir Kecmanovic, who won the ITF boys singles and doubles titles and clinched the honor of being named ITF World Junior Champion with his results there. Kecmanovic decided to defend his title at this week's Orange Bowl, and so far he has been able to fight through the fatigue of playing four straight weeks to reach the semifinals.  In today's match with No. 11 seed Rudolf Molleker of Germany, Kecmanovic let an early second-set break slip away, and Molleker served for the set at 5-4, but wasted two set points with a double fault and a forehand error, opening the door enough for Kecmanovic to step through and claim a 6-2, 7-5 victory.

Kecmanovic will face unseeded Danny Thomas in the semifinals, after Thomas defeated No. 4 seed Yuta Shimizu of Japan 6-2, 7-6(1). Thomas, who is playing in his first Grade A event, is a bit surprised to have reached the semifinals this week.

"I'm feeling pretty happy. I honestly didn't expect to get this far," said the 17-year-old left-hander from Ohio. "I played Eddie Herr and lost second round. But this is great. I'm really happy with myself."

Thomas, who has finished off his last two opponents with drop shot winners on match point, said he is looking forward to playing the ITF's top-ranked junior on Saturday.

"I feel like I play my best tennis when I'm playing guys who are better players," said Thomas, who has already beaten players ranked 22 and 15 this week. "He's the number one player in the world, so I'm really excited about that. He's done a lot, so I feel it will be a really good opportunity for me to play him, to see where I stand among the other top guys."

The other boys semifinal will feature No. 2 seed Yibing Wu of China against the reigning 16s Orange Bowl champion, unseeded Sebastian Baez of Argentina.  Wu had no trouble with No. 5 seed Kenneth Raisma of Estonia, posting a 6-3, 6-0 victory, while Baez overwhelmed No. 13 seed Sam Riffice 6-0, 6-0.

Baez's compatriot Maria Carle was also the Orange Bowl 16s champion last year, but she was unable to continue her run on the Veltri Tennis Center courts, with the Eddie Herr champion falling to No. 9 seed Kaja Juvan of Slovenia 6-3, 6-2.  Juvan's opponent will be wild card Whitney Osuigwe, who won the battle of 14-year-olds in her 6-2, 4-6, 6-1 victory over Marta Kostyuk of Ukraine.

Having saved five match points in her last two wins, Osuigwe was a little out of her element with the lead, but she didn't mind.

"It felt good," Osuigwe said. "I wanted to keep my foot on the gas pedal."

Osuigwe had lost 6-3, 6-0 to Kostyuk in the ITF World Junior Tennis team championship match in the Czech Republic back in August, but it wasn't a need for revenge that she took from that loss.

"Because of that I knew how to play her, what to do, what not to do," said Osuigwe. "Just hit through the court and be more consistent than she was. And angles, and just running her all around."

Juvan and Osuigwe have not played before.

The top half semifinal will feature a rematch of a first round encounter in Mexico City's Grade A three weeks ago, when Carson Branstine shocked No. 1 seed Anastasia Potapova of Russia 5-7, 6-4, 7-5. Potapova was able to keep her place at the top of the ITF junior rankings when Kayla Day fell in the quarterfinals of that event. Potapova has clinched the year-end title of World Junior Champion with Day not playing this week's Orange Bowl, so that pressure is off, but Branstine's confidence is no doubt high after that result in the previous Grade A and a semifinal showing last week at the Eddie Herr.

In today's quarterfinals, Potapova defeated No. 7 seed Usue Arconada, playing in her last junior event, 6-3, 6-3.  Branstine recovered to defeat the diminutive Maja Chawlinska of Poland 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 to set up the Mexico City rematch.

The 16s finals are set for Saturday, with an all-US contest in the girls final and Steven Sun representing the US in the boys championship match.

Unseeded Katie Volynets, who won the Eddie Herr last week on hard courts and made the transition to clay without so much as a day off in between the two events, defeated unseeded Angelica Blake 6-2, 6-3 to win her 11th straight singles match.  Volynets can become the first girl to win both the 16s Eddie Herr and Orange Bowl 16s in the same year, although Riffice claimed that rare double two years ago in the boys competition.

Against Blake, whom she had beaten in the quarterfinals of the Eddie Herr, Volynets was able to keep her concentration and focus, especially when she faced break points serving at 3-2 in the second set.

"She's a very intelligent player, so I had to make to sure to stay focused on every point, especially those break points," said Volynets, who will turn 15 later this month. "I've been able to keep my aggressive mindset going into the matches and keeping it all the way through."

Volynets will play No. 14 seed Imani Graham, who defeated Austrian qualifier Arabella Koller 6-1, 7-6(4). Koller, who won three matches in qualifying, was up to seven wins in the tournament before she ran into Graham, who played very well in the first set, but began thinking about being the final in the second set.

"The first set I was just playing my game," said Graham, who is from St. Johns Florida, but trains in Mesa, Arizona with Adam Altschuler. "In the second, I was actually, wow, I can make it to the finals of  Orange Bowl, and I started thinking about it way too much. I started playing a little passive and I got kind of lucky at the end, I have to admit. She gave it to me, I didn't take it from her. In the first set, I took it, but in the second, she gave it to me."

Graham and Volynets played in the second round of Tulsa's Grade B1 Pan American Closed in October, with Volynets winning 6-3, 6-4.

"It was a pretty good match," said Graham, who also turns 15 later this month. "I lost 3 and 4, but I feel if I play my game that I have good chance. But she's a great player."

While Volynets kept her dream of the Eddie Herr - Orange Bowl double alive, Anton Matusevich of Great Britain saw his chance at it denied by unseeded Steven Sun.  The third-seeded Matusevich, so adept at winning the big points throughout his run to the Eddie Herr title, couldn't summon that magic today, falling to Sun 6-3, 7-6(4).

In the second set tiebreaker, Sun was clinging to a minibreak lead at 5-4 when he came up with a stunning backhand that landed within two inches of both the baseline and the sideline for a clean winner and two match points.  He only needed one, with Matusevich unable to get a second serve return back in play.

"I like playing pretty free," said Sun, a former New Yorker who now trains with Andres Pedroso in Boca Raton. "If it goes in, it goes in, good, but if I missed, there's another set. There's always another chance."

Sun said that winning the first set allowed him to play without pressure, but he also didn't add any by thinking about Matusevich's previous title.

"I try not to think about that, just play everyone the same way," the 16-year-old left-hander said. "But I guess it's a pretty good win for me."

Sun, who won the 12s Clay Courts back in 2013 and the 14s Easter Bowl in 2014, isn't planning any special preparations for Saturday's final.

"I try not to make too big a deal out of it," Sun said. "But yeah, it's probably one of my bigger ones."

Sun will play No. 10 seed Vikash Singh of India, who won the day's longest match, beating No. 12 seed Stefan Palosi of Romania 5-7, 6-2, 6-3.

Singh, a semifinalist last week at the Eddie Herr, trains at the Smith Stearns Academy in Hilton Head, South Carolina.

The 16s doubles championships were decided Friday, with No. 2 seeds Yeongseok Jeong of Korea and William Woodall winning the boys title in their first tournament as a team with a 2-6, 6-1, 10-5 win over No. 3 seeds Christian Alshon and Boris Kozlov.

Woodall was scheduled to play with fellow Junior Tennis Champions Center student Andrew Fenty, but Fenty dropped out, sending Woodall scrambling for a partner.

"It was last-minute, maybe three days before the tournament started," said Woodall. "I was going through the list and I couldn't really find anybody, so I asked him, and he's a pretty good partner."

Woodall and Jeong, who was the No. 1 seed in singles, were able to establish themselves in the second set, and didn't let up in the match tiebreaker.

"There was a line call that sort of got me pumped up, and after we broke and went up 3-1, 4-1 and continued the momentum into the third set," said Woodall, who won the ITF Grade 1 doubles title in College Park this year with Danny Thomas. "It was definitely a confidence booster after we won that second set pretty easily."

All the seeded teams were out of the girls 16s doubles by the quarterfinals, and it was Estonia's Saara Orav and Italy's Isabella Tcherkes Zade who collected the winners' bowl of oranges Friday, beating Anna Brylin and Amber O'Dell 7-6(1), 6-3.

The semifinals are set in the 18s doubles, with only one US junior still in the running for a title, Vasil Kirkov.  Kirkov and his partner Ergi Kirkin of Turkey, seeded No. 7, defeated No. 2 seeds Juan Aguilar of Bolivia, the US Open boys doubles champion, and Wu 7-6(5), 7-6(1).

Saturday's order of play, and complete draws can be found at the USTA's tournament site.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Riffice, Thomas, Arconada and Osuigwe Reach Metropolia Orange Bowl Quarterfinals; 16s Semifinals Set; Kathy Rinaldi Named Fed Cup Captain

©Colette Lewis 2016--
Plantation, FL--

For the second straight day, Whitney Osuigwe was forced to save match points to advance at the ITF Grade A Metropolia Orange Bowl. The 14-year-old wild card saved two match points in her 0-6, 6-2, 7-6(3) win over Lea Ma in Wednesday's second round, and today against Daniela Vismane of Latvia, Osuigwe saved three match points in the third set of her 6-4, 4-6, 7-5 victory.

Both Osuigwe and Vismane were visibly struggling, with the mid-80s heat sapping their energy, at least when the ball wasn't in play. Both appeared to be cramping at times during the match, and after the first set, Vismane requested an ice bag, which she placed on her head during changeovers. Osuigwe looked particularly fragile in the second set, but Vismane's issues kept her hopeful.

"She was hurting too, so I decided if she was in as much pain as me, it's whoever deals with it better," Osuigwe said.

Vismane had the finish line in sight at 5-3, and with Osuigwe serving at 4-5, but couldn't convert three match points.  When Osuigwe broke Vismane to take a 6-5 lead, Vismane received a medical timeout and treatment, but the fight appeared to go out of the 16-year-old, who had beaten No. 2 seed Amanda Anisimova on Wednesday.  She fell behind 0-40 serving to get into a tiebreaker, and although Osuigwe made two errors on the first match points, she converted the third, with little reaction from Vismane.

"I think she gave up, decided it was her time," said Osuigwe. "She was feeling really fatigued. I knew I just had to stay in it."

Osuigwe will play fellow 14-year-old Marta Kostyuk of Ukraine in Friday's quarterfinals, after Kostyuk came back to post a 2-6, 6-1, 6-3 victory over qualifier Meiling Wang of China. Osuigwe and Kostyuk played in the ITF World Junior Tennis 14-and-under team final back in August, with Kostyuk winning the No. 1 singles match 6-3, 6-0 in Ukraine's 2-1 victory.

Another impressive comeback in Thursday's third round was constructed by Danny Thomas, who trailed Oliver Crawford 2-5, 15-40 in the third set before saving three match points in a 2-6, 6-2, 7-5 victory.

At 15-40, Thomas hit three straight aces, and he wasn't quite sure where the inspiration for that came from.

"Actually that was my fourth ace of the tournament," said Thomas, a 17-year-old from Ohio, who is playing in his first ITF Grade A this week. "They came at a big time, and I'm just happy they came."

While Crawford could do nothing on those first two match points, he did earn a third on his serve at 5-3, 40-30 and he's not likely to forget the forehand he put into the net on a short ball then.

"I was very lucky on that one," Thomas said. "It was a sitter and he'd hit winners off of that the whole match, but I guess he might have gotten a little tight, which is expected. I just got lucky there, really lucky."

Crawford's level, which had been so high throughout the match, dipped a bit after that third match point, while Thomas locked in and eliminated his errors.  After a big forehand forced an error from Crawford at 5-5 30-40, Thomas would serve for the match. His first serve wasn't there for him, but he stayed aggressive and Crawford's forehand return of a second serve went long to make it 40-30.  After a short rally, Thomas decided on a drop shot, which skimmed the tape then died out of Crawford's reach.

"I figured I would just go for it," Thomas said of the drop shot. "I wasn't really feeling too confident in my forehand, that shot specifically. I just figured, why not, just close into the net."

Thomas will face No. 4 seed Yuta Shimizu in the quarterfinals, after Shimizu defeated Alexandre Rotsaert 6-1, 7-5.

The other US boy in the quarterfinals is No. 13 seed Sam Riffice, who beat qualifier Sangeet Sridhar 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 in the other all-US third round matchup.

Riffice had a 4-1 lead in the third set, but lost his break serving at 4-2. But if being broken at love at such a crucial stage in the match bothered him, Riffice didn't show it, and he gave credit to Sridhar for continuing his aggressive play.

"He doesn't let up, he doesn't stop playing his game," Riffice said of Sridhar. "He goes for his shots and if I give him any time to step in, he's going to hit a big shot, and I wasn't pressing him enough."

Riffice broke Sridhar for a 5-3 lead and closed out the match by holding at love.

"It was probably the first time in the match I served [a game] out at love," Riffice said with a smile.

Riffice's win set up a match between the past two Orange Bowl 16s champions.  Riffice, who won the title in 2014, will play 2015 champion Sebastian Baez of Argentina, who beat Vasil Kirkov 6-4, 6-4.

Top seed and defending champion Miomir Kecmanovic rolled to his ninth straight Orange Bowl victory, beating No. 15 seed Naoki Tajima of Japan 6-1, 6-0.  He will face No. 11 seed Rudolph Molleker of Germany, who beat Sergio Hernandez Ramirez of Colombia 6-2, 6-3. Kecmanovic has beaten Molleker both times they have met in 2016 in straight sets.

No. 2 seed Yibing Wu of China defeated Toru Horie of Japan 2-6, 6-3, 6-3 and will meet No. 5 seed Kenneth Raisma of Estonia in the quarterfinals. Raisma beat Marko Miladinovic of Serbia 6-3, 7-6(5).

In the girls third round, No. 4 seed Taylor Johnson and No. 3 seed Claire Liu were both eliminated.

Eddie Herr champion Maria Carle defeated Abierto Juvenil Mexicano champion Johnson 6-2, 6-1.  Johnson lost a 14-deuce game serving at 2-4 in the first set, and Carle, the reigning 16s Orange Bowl champion, rolled on from there. Carle's opponent in the quarterfinals will be No. 9 seed Kaja Juvan of Slovenia, who beat No. 6 seed Olga Danilovic 6-4, 6-0.

Liu fell to friend and longtime Southern California rival Carson Branstine 6-1, 2-6, 6-3.

"I think I've know Claire since I was like 7 or 8," said Branstine, who will be representing Canada and training at that country's National Tennis Centre in Montreal in the near future. "We trained with each other up at Carson (the USTA's Player Development Center on the West Coast) when we were so little. And tournaments in So Cal, we kind of grew up together. It was actually my first time playing her in a tournament, in all those years. I have so much respect for Claire as a player and she's a really good competitor, and we had a great match today."

With Liu serving at 3-5 in the third set, Branstine had five match points come and go with a variety of errors by her and winners by Liu. After Branstine's perfect drop shot on the sixth deuce gave her a sixth match point, she finally converted when Liu sent a forehand long.

"I saw it and I thought, why not just try it, I have nothing to lose at this point," the 16-year-old Branstine said of the drop shot. "I want this match to be done. I had to do something to win, so I thought, I'll just throw in some junk and see what happens."

Branstine will face unseeded Maja Chwalinska of Poland, who defeated Mihaela Marculescu of Romania 6-1, 6-1.

Top seed Anastasia Potapova of Russia advanced to the quarterfinals with a 6-2, 6-1 win over Emiliana Arango of Colombia and will play No. 7 seed Usue Arconada, who beat qualifier Victoria Emma 6-0, 6-3. Potapova and Arconada met in the quarterfinals of the Wimbledon Junior Championships this summer, with Potapova winning 6-3, 6-2.

The semifinals of the 16s are set, with three US girls and one US boy still in the running for the singles title.

Unseeded Steven Sun survived a three-hour contest with unseeded Marcelo Sepulveda Garza of Mexico, coming back from a break down in the third set twice for a 3-6, 7-6(3), 7-6(5) victory.  Sun will play No. 3 seed Anton Matusevich of Great Britain, who beat unseeded Trey Hilderbrand 6-2, 3-6, 6-3.  The other boys 16s semifinal features No. 12 seed Stefan Palosi of Romania, who beat No. 4 seed Brian Shi 6-4, 6-4, and No. 10 seed Vikash Singh of India, who downed unseeded Drew Baird 6-4, 6-7(1), 6-1.

The only seed in the girls 16s, No. 14 Imani Graham, will play qualifier Arabella Koller of Austria. Graham defeated wild card Nikki Redelijk 6-3, 6-2 and Koller downed Lauren Stein 6-4, 3-6, 6-3.  The other girls semifinal will be a rematch of the Eddie Herr quarterfinals between Angelica Blake and Katie Volynets.  Volynets won that match last Friday 0-6, 7-5, 6-2.  Today, Volynets defeated qualifier Elvina Kalieva 7-5, 6-0, while Blake took out Amber O'Dell 6-1, 5-7, 6-2.

The 16s doubles finals are scheduled for Friday morning with the boys contest between No. 3 seeds Christian Alshon and Boris Kozlov and No. 2 seeds Yeongseok Jeong of Korea and William Woodall.  The girls finals features two unseeded teams, with Anna Brylin and O'Dell facing Saara Orav of Estonia and Isabella Tcherkes Zade of Italy.

For Friday's order of play, draws and a link to live scoring, see the USTA's tournament page.

The USTA announced today that National Coach Kathy Rinaldi has been chosen as Fed Cup captain, replacing Mary Joe Fernandez.  I have known Rinaldi for years and have seen her in action coaching both individual juniors and the USA's teams in international junior competitions and she has always been caring, enthusiastic and dedicated to the players' best interests.  Rinaldi-coached teams have won two U14 World Junior Tennis titles and two U16 Junior Fed Cup titles since she began coaching at the USTA in 2008.  For more on Rinaldi's career both as a player and a coach, see this USTA article.

The transcript from today's conference call announcing Rinaldi's selection is here.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Vismane Defeats No. 2 Seed Anisimova, Kirkov Ousts No. 7 Seed Caruana in Second Round Metropolia Orange Bowl Action

©Colette Lewis 2016--
Plantation, FL--

On Monday, Daniela Vismane of Latvia had won a long battle of attrition against wild card Nicole Mossmer 6-3, 3-6, 6-4 on a court on one of the most remote courts of the Veltri Tennis Center.  On Wednesday, on Stadium court, the 16-year-old was much happier with the style of play of her opponent, No. 2 seed Amanda Anisimova, and that comfort level translated into a 6-4, 7-6(2) victory.

"It was really hard match for me," Vismane said of her first round win on Monday. "I don't like to play with this kind of player. I like more hitting, so I really wanted to play this match."

Few juniors have the pace and depth that Anisimova possesses, so Vismane had to accept the winners blazing past her on occasion, but she was able to stay in the rallies long enough often enough for Anisimova to commit an error.  After dropping the first set, Anisimova led 3-1 in the second set, but Vismane fought back, got the break back and another won for a 5-4 lead. Serving at 4-4 30-40, Anisimova stopped play on a baseline ball she thought was out, but the chair umpire ruled it good and she lost the point.

Vismane was not able to serve out the match, although she did have a match point at 40-30, but the chair umpire's decision on another baseline ball mark went against her and two points later, Anisimova had broken back for 5-all.

"I was thinking that it was in," Vismane said. "Like on the line. But I really, really wanted to win this match, so I focused on every ball, said keep going, keep going, you can do it. And I forgot it, and played another point."

Vismane led from the first point of the tiebreaker, but even a 6-2 lead was not comfortable for her.

"I was very nervous, because I didn't believe I'm on court and up 6-2 and I can win," said Vismane, who counted the win among her top five performances. "It's really big, the first time I won with a top 10 ranking player."

Vismane will play wild card Whitney Osuigwe, who defeated fellow wild card Lea Ma 0-6, 6-2, 7-6(3).

Top seed Anastasia Potapova struggled a bit on serve, but managed a 6-3, 6-4 win over Sofia Sewing to reach the third round.  No. 3 seed Claire Liu overcame a stern challenge from 14-year-old Vanessa Ong 2-6, 6-3, 6-1 and will play Carson Branstine next.  Branstine took out No. 15 seed Dominique Schaefer 6-1 ,6-2.

No. 5 seed Xiyu Wang of China made an early exit for the second straight week, falling to Mihaela Marculescu of Romania 6-3, 2-6, 7-5. Eddie Herr champion Maria Carle extended her Orange Bowl winning streak to eight matches, with the 2015 16s champion defeating Elysia Bolton 6-4, 6-4. Carle will face No. 4 seed Taylor Johnson in Thursday's third round, with Johnson getting by Fernanda Labrana of Chile 6-3, 4-6, 6-2.  No. 7 seed Usue Arconada will play qualifier Victoria Emma on Thursday, after Arconada defeated qualifier Amanda  Meyer 7-6(3), 6-4 and Emma took out Eddie Herr semifinalist Irina Cantos Siemers of Germany 4-6, 6-1, 6-3.

Six US boys have advanced to the round of 16: Sam Riffice, Sangeet Sridhar, Alexandre Rotsaert, Oliver Crawford, Danny Thomas and Vasil Kirkov.

Riffice, the No. 13 seed, beat Alan Rubio Fierros of Mexico 7-6(6), 6-2 and will next play qualifier Sridhar, who came back for a 0-6, 6-2, 6-3 victory over Govind Nanda.  Thomas, a 6-0, 6-4 winner over Nick Hardt of the Dominican Republic, and Crawford, who took out Eddie Herr semifinalist Ergi Kirkin of Turkey 6-1, 6-2 will play in the other all-US third round match.  Rotsaert plays No. 4 seed Yuta Shimizu of Japan, who defeated wild card Lukas Greif 6-7(5), 7-5, 6-1.  Rotsaert advanced with a 6-2, 6-4 win over No. 16 seed Trent Bryde.

Kirkov, who won a grueling first round match over Alberto Lim of the Philippines on Tuesday, had considerably less trouble subduing No. 7 seed Liam Caruana of Italy Wednesday, taking a 6-2, 6-4 decision.

"I felt a little tired after the match, a little tight," Kirkov said of his physical condition after his 7-5, 3-6, 7-6(4) win over Lim. "My muscles were a little tired, but I had a long sleep and recovered well. Today I felt a little tired, but still went out there and just competed and it turned out ok."

Caruana had a 2-0 lead, but surrendered the next six games.

"He started very well, and I think I started a little slow," said Kirkov, 17. "I wasn't in it in the first couple games, but I started playing my game, serving and volleying a little bit and after that I started getting a rhythm. He started making a few errors and from there I just took it. He got a little disappointed in himself. There was just one break in the second, and that's all I needed."

Kirkov signed with IMG back in September, so he will not be playing collegiate tennis.

"It was a big move, the decision was really tough," said Kirkov, who reached the Kalamazoo 18s final this year. "Once I got it done, I felt kind of relieved to get it out of the way. It took the pressure off after that. I just played free. I still have one more year of juniors, but since I've turned pro, I'll focus more on pro tournaments."

Right after the US Open, Kirkov and several other boys in his age group did a six-week physical training block with Jez Green, a fitness expert who worked previously with Andy Murray.

"Six weeks is a pretty long time," Kirkov said. "We did two weeks with no tennis. I'm starting to see some of the effects already, which I didn't expect to, but I'm obviously getting stronger and more fit from those six weeks. And I think I'll see more results from the fitness in a couple of months."

In addition to Futures tournaments, Kirkov may play the Costa Rica Grade 1 at the start of next month, hoping to assure himself a ranking that will get him into the junior slams this summer.

"I'm not trying to go to South American or anything, but maybe do well in Costa Rica and hopefully I can have enough points to get in the slams," Kirkov said.

Kirkov will play 2015 16s Orange Bowl champion Sebastian Baez of Argentina in Wednesday's third round. Baez downed Gianni Ross  7-6(2), 6-4.

No. 1 seed Miomir Kecmanovic defeated Finn Bass of Great Britain 6-2 6-2 and No. 2 seed Yibing Wu of China also won in straight sets, although he was down a break in both sets to Siphosothando Montsi of South Africa before recovering for a 6-4, 6-4 win.

After the dust had settled in the third round of the 16s, only one girls seed and four boys seeds have reached Thursday's quarterfinals.

Eddie Herr champion Katie Volynets defeated No. 2 seed Oana Corneanu of Romania 7-6(4), 7-6(4) and No. 3 seed Kacie Harvey fell to Angelica Blake 7-6(2), 4-6, 6-3 in a three-hour contest. No. 14 seed Imani Graham is the sole seed to reach the quarterfinals, which feature seven Americans.  Only qualifier Arabella Koller of Austria can prevent a US champion this year.

Four of the last eight in the boys draw are from the US: Drew Baird, Trey Hilderbrand, Steven Sun and No. 4 seed Brian Shi.  No. 3 seed and Eddie Herr champion Anton Matusevich of Great Britain was tested by Joseph Brailovsky, but Matusevich pulled away in the second set of his 7-6(11), 6-2 victory.

The first round of 18s doubles was completed today, with boys top seeds Kecmanovic and Benjamin Sigouin of Canada getting their second straight 6-0, 6-1 victory, this time over Nicolas Mejia of Colombia and Duarte Vale of Portugal. Kecmanovic and Sigouin won the Eddie Herr doubles championship by that same score. The girls No. 1 seeds Olga Danilovic of Serbia and Potapova barely got by Abigail Forbes and Chloe Hamlin 3-6, 6-1, 15-13.

For Thursday's order of play and the complete results, see the USTA's tournament page.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Qualifier Sridhar Defeats Sigouin, Thomas Downs Etcheverry in Metropolia Orange Bowl First Round Action

©Colette Lewis 2016--
Plantation, FL--

Top seed and ITF No. 1 junior Miomir Kecmanovic of Serbia breezed into the second round of the ITF Grade A Metropolia Orange Bowl Tuesday, beating local wild card Joseph Honorio 6-0, 6-0, but No. 3 seed Benjamin Sigouin of Canada, who lost to Kecmanovic in the final of the Eddie Herr Grade 1 on Sunday, ran into a red-hot qualifier in Sangeet Sridhar and fell 7-6(4), 4-6, 6-0.

Sridhar was taking the ball early and matching Sigouin's power and then some throughout the opening set. In the first set tiebreaker, Sridhar hit five winners total, including a forehand winner at 5-4 and an ace at 6-4.  Sigouin came back in the second set, but Sridhar refused to concede the set, with Sigouin escaping only after saving a break point.

"I just wanted to put as much pressure as possible for him to close out the set," said the 16-year-old from Arizona. "I had a break point with a tough call there on the line, but I just made him work for it. He did a good job closing the set out, but when the third set started, I was ready again. I think the effort at the end of the second set, even though I lost it, was I think critical to the third set."

Sridhar took control of the third set with a break in the second game and rolled from there.

"I played really solid in the first three games and he started to break down and lose it mentally a little bit," Sridhar said. "He was obviously tired, I'm sure he had a long week last week. I played smart and put the pressure on him to push his level and he struggled a little bit and I took advantage of it."

Sridhar, who had also qualified last week for the Eddie Herr, but lost in the first round there, admitted his game was at its peak today.

"It's one of the best matches I've played," Sridhar said. "I hope to have better matches in the future, but so far that's the best match I've played. It's tough, there's times you want to drop the level, drop the focus because it was so tough, some of the games. But I told myself obviously Ben's a great player and if I want to win the match I have to do it by playing every game as hard as I possibly could. So the drive to win the match pushed me to play at that level the entire match."

Danny Thomas had seen the downside of not sustaining his level when he played No. 3 seed Kenneth Raisma of Estonia last week in the second round of the Eddie Herr. After taking the first set 6-4, Thomas lost the next two 6-3, 6-2, so after winning the first set today against No. 8 seed Tomas Etcheverry of Argentina 6-1, the 17-year-old from Ohio was on his guard.

"It was in my mind the whole time, especially when I won the first set pretty easily," said Thomas, who completed the 6-1, 6-1 victory without any drama. "Going into the second, I had a couple of bad points and he ended up holding for 1-all, and I was thinking maybe it would happen again. But I tried to keep fighting as hard as I could to not let that happen."

Thomas did not play either of the ITF junior tournaments in Mexico, opting for Futures in Central America instead, but he believes he is acclimated to clay after last week.

"This is just I think my fourth tournament on clay this year, and I haven't had too much practice on it," Thomas said. "In Ohio I mostly play on hard. But I like clay more, I think, than hard court."

In addition to Sridhar and Thomas's wins over seeds, four other US boys advanced to the second round.  Alexandre Rotsaert defeated qualifier Yusuf Khamis of Egypt 6-3, 3-6, 6-1, No. 16 seed Trent Bryde beat qualifier Carlos Sanchez Jover of Spain 6-3, 6-4, and Govind Nanda downed Maxence Broville of France 6-4, 7-5.  Vasil Kirkov had lost to Alberto Lim of the Philippines in the third round of the Eddie Herr 6-2, 6-2, but their rematch in today's first round was much closer, with Kirkov pulling out a 7-5, 3-6, 7-6(4) victory.  Kirkov led 4-1 in the third set, but it was Lim who served for the match at 6-5, only to be broken without reaching match point, and Kirkov was the steadier of the two in the tiebreaker.

The rematch of the Eddie Herr ITF girls final saw the same winner emerge, with Maria Carle beating No. 14 seed Varvara Gracheva of Russia 6-2, 6-2.  No. 8 seed Jodie Burrage of Great Britain lost to qualifier Meiling Wang of China 7-5, 6-3, No. 11 seed Emily Appleton of Great Britain lost to qualifier Victoria Emma 7-5, 6-3 and qualifier Layne Sleeth of Canada beat No. 10 seed Ellie Douglas 5-7, 6-4, 6-4.

In the second round of the 16s, top seed Yeonseok Jeong of Korea was
beaten by Roi Ginat of Israel 6-3, 6-4 and No. 2 seed Jack Draper of Great Britain was ousted by Drew Baird 6-2, 6-3. Of the 14 boys seeds that started the tournament (two dropped out before play began) only five have advanced to the third round.

The girls 16s draw had only 12 seeds to begin with, with four, including No. 1 Elli Mandlik, dropping out after the draw was made.  Only three seeds are left in the round 16, No. 2 seed Oana Corneanu of Romania, No. 3 seed Kacie Harvey and No. 14 seed Imani Graham. Eddie Herr 16s champion Katie Volynets repeated her win in the final over Victoria Hu two days later, with Volynets taking out the No. 13 seed 6-1, 6-2 in a match much closer than that score suggests. Volynets faces Corneanu in Wednesday's third round.

The doubles quarterfinals are set for the 16s, but only the bottom half of the 18s doubles draws completed their first rounds today, with the top half first round matches scheduled for Wednesday.

For draws, the order of play and the link to live scoring, see the USTA's tournament page.

Monday, December 5, 2016

2016 World Junior Champion Potapova Starts Orange Bowl with Win, Top US Girls Seeds Advance; USA Wins Sixth Straight Master'U Championship; Shane Claims Waco Futures Title

©Colette Lewis 2016--
Plantation, FL--

World No. 1 junior Anastasia Potapova of Russia played her first match as the 2016 ITF World Junior Champion today in the first round of the ITF Grade A Metropolia Orange Bowl, but it wasn't a particularly satisfying victory for the 15-year-old Wimbledon girls champion.

Potapova had drawn, for the second consecutive Grade A in the US, friend Maria Mateas, who had taken Potapova to three sets in the opening round of the US Open Junior Championships back in September.

"We had a practice yesterday and she asked me if we play again," Potapova said. "I and was like, 95 percent yes. And of course, we did. It's always tough to play her, because she's a strong player, so good at tennis, and she's my good friend."

Mateas started the match well, going up a break, but Potapova fought back to take the first set 6-3, and at 2-1 in the second set, down a break, Mateas asked for a trainer, and retired after taking the medical timeout.

"Her shoulder was hurting so much, she can't play," Potapova said. "I'm so sorry for her. It was a good match, and I want to wish her to get better soon."

Despite the unfortunate circumstances that led to the win, Potapova could express her satisfaction at finishing the year as the ITF's No. 1 junior.

"Of course I am so happy," Potapova said. "It was my goal after winning Wimbledon, my goal for the other half of the year and I'm happy that I did it."

Potapova's lead in the points race became insurmountable only when second-ranked Kayla Day withdrew last week.

"She had an amazing year," Potapova said. "She won a $50,000, she won US Open. I wish her luck for next year."

Potapova left the Veltri Tennis Center with a broken finger last year, an injury she suffered in the semifinals against Day, forcing her to retire.

"I am here to finish what I started last year," Potapova said. "Probably this is my last junior tournament, and I want to show amazing here. Not so much pressure now that I am 100 percent the No. 1, but it's always a bit of extra pressure on the first. I feel it, but I'm used to it, so it's ok."

No. 2 seed Amanda Anisimova, who lost to Potapova in a blockbuster first round of the Orange Bowl, had an easier time in her second Orange Bowl singles match, beating Zhibek Kulambayeva of Kazakhstan 6-1, 6-1.  No. 3 seed Claire Liu won the final 11 games in her 6-3, 6-0 win over Himari Sato of Japan and No. 4 seed Taylor Johnson moved past Jia Qi Ren of China 6-3, 6-0.  All four top seeds in the girls draw did not play last week's Grade 1 Eddie Herr.

The United States started with seven of the 16 seeds in the girls draw, but No. 12 seed Caty McNally was beaten by Marta Kostyuk of Ukraine 6-2, 4-6, 6-2 and No. 16 seed Natasha Subhash lost to Emiliana Arango of Colombia 6-3, 6-1. Usue Arconada, the No. 7 seed, and Ellie Douglas, the No. 10 seed, play their first round matches on Tuesday.

Fourteen-year-old wild card Whitney Osuigwe defeated No. 13 seed Yuki Naito of Japan 6-3, 6-0. Wild card Nathalie Finch, Pepperdine freshman Ashley Lahey, Elyisa Bolton and Hurricane Tyra Black are the other US girls to advance to Wednesday's second round.

A rematch of the Eddie Herr final is on Tuesday's schedule, with champion Maria Carle of Argentina again meeting Varvara Gracheva of Russia, who is the No. 14 seed this week. Both were seeded last week, with Carle 12, but she is unseeded this week, with the Eddie Herr not counting for this week's seedings.

The boys draw lost two seeds on Monday, with No. 6 seed Yshai Oliel of Israel falling to Sergio Hernandez Ramirez of Colombia 6-2, 6-2 and No. 10 seed Juan Carlos Aguilar of Bolivia going out to Gianni Ross 6-2, 7-6(5). Only two US boys are seeded, with No. 13 seed Sam Riffice beating Shinji Hazawa of Japan 6-2, 6-1 today, and No. 16 seed Trent Bryde playing on Tuesday. In addition to Ross and Riffice, Patrick Kypson, Oliver Crawford and wild cards Karl Poling and Lukas Greif posted wins on Monday.

No. 2 seed Yibing Wu of China, a late withdrawal at the Eddie Herr, advancing with a 6-0, 6-3 win over wild card Mikael Rodriguez of Ecuador. ITF No. 1 and Eddie Herr champion Miomir Kecmanovic of Serbia will play his first round match against wild card Joseph Honorio Tuesday.

The 18s doubles will begin Tuesday, with Eddie Herr champions Kecmanovic and Benjamin Sigouin of Canada the top boys seeds.  Olga Danilovic of Serbia and Potapova are the No. 1 seeds in the girls doubles.

In the 16s, both Eddie Herr champions continued their winning streaks, with Katie Volynets defeating qualifier Makayla Mills 6-0, 6-2 and Great Britain's Anton Matusevich, the No. 3 seed, defeating Blake Croyder 6-2, 6-3.

Both have intriguing second round matches on Tuesday, with Volynets facing Victoria Hu, who she beat yesterday in the Eddie Herr final, and Matusevich meeting 2016 Kalamazoo 16s finalist Jenson Brooksby.

The draws and order of play can be found at the USTA tournament page, where there is also a link to live scoring.

The USA collegiate team of Francesca Di Lorenzo of Ohio State, Ena Shibahara of UCLA, Hayley Carter of North Carolina, Christopher Eubanks of Georgia Tech, Strong Kirchheimer of Northwestern and Tom Fawcett of Stanford won the country's sixth consecutive Master'U BNP Paribas, the international team event for collegiate tennis.  The United States defeated Russia 4-1 in the final, after overcoming a 2-0 deficit against Germany in the semifinals.  For more on the competition, see the USTA College Tennis page and College Tennis Today.

At the $25,000 Waco Futures, 2015 NCAA champion Ryan Shane of Virginia won the second ITF Pro Circuit singles title of his career, with the No. 7 seed saving a match point in his 2-6, 7-6(7), 6-4 win over unseeded Jared Hiltzik, a recent Illinois graduate, in the final.

Mexico's Hans Hach(Abilene Christian) and Great Britain's Farris Gosea(Illinois) won the doubles title, with the No. 2 seeds beating Baylor's Juan Benitez Chavarriaga of Colombia and Julian Lenz of Germany, who were unseeded, 7-5, 6-3.

This week's USTA Pro Circuit event is a $25,000 Futures in Tallahassee, with Sekou Bangoura the No. 1 seed.