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Thursday, December 13, 2018

Top Seed Ngounoue Sets Sights on Junior Orange Bowl Title; Eddie Herr Gallery; USTA National Campus to Host Collegiate Wild Card Challenge Saturday

©Colette Lewis 2018--
Coral Gables, FL--

Girls 12s top seed Clervie Ngounoue has already made her mark in the 14s, winning the USTA Clay Courts this summer, and reaching the final of the USTA Nationals and the recent Eddie Herr. But the 12-year-old from Washington DC has been thwarted in her two previous attempts at the Junior Orange Bowl 12s title, so the 2017 semifinalist has elected to give it one last shot.

"I wanted to come back to the 12s Orange Bowl and try to win it," Ngounoue said after her harder-than-it-looks 6-1, 6-2 second round win over Regina Alcobe-Garibay. "A lot of the girls in 14s usually playing 16s came back to the 14s, and I think it would be very tough for me. I still think I would make it several rounds in the 14s, but I wanted the Orange Bowl title. I've been looking forward to Orange Bowl because this is my third year, it's the biggest tournament of the year and the last one....I think the Orange Bowl is the one I've been waiting for."

After the Eddie Herr, Ngounoue was able to play the America's Cup in Lake Nona, the 14-and-under team event between the US, Canada, South America and the Caribbean that serves as a warmup for the Orange Bowl.

"It was good," said Ngounoue, who trains with her father Aime at Sportfit Bowie in Maryland. "I haven't played team tennis in a while, so the fun, the intensity of cheering on your teammates is really fun."

Ngounoue, who won her first round match without dropping a game, said she could find her forehand early in the match.

"At first I thought it was my racquet, because my grip was slippery and I wasn't hitting my forehands right," Ngounoue said. "But I think it was just my mentality; I needed to wake that up a little bit to get in the game. It would go to sleep on some points and I have to wake it back up. I have to keep up my intensity."

A day after the boys 12s lost their No. 4 seed, the girls 12s did the same, with Jovana Grujic of Serbia falling to Isabella Marquart of the United States 7-5, 3-6, 6-3. No. 2 seed Brooklyn Olson of the United States advanced with a 6-2, 6-1 decision over Gabia Paskauskas of Great Britain and No. 3 seed Valerija Kargina of Latvia beat Emily Baek of the United States 6-0, 6-0.
Top boys 12s seed Rudy Quan of the US posted another 6-2, 6-0 win in the second round, beating Lucas Kimelman of Canada.  No. 2 seed Alexander Razeghi of the United States, who is No. 2 behind Quan in the USTA national rankings, defeated Joaquin Guilleme of Nicaragua 6-1, 6-2 to advance to the third round. Like Quan, who came to the Salvadore Park Har-Tru courts from the hard courts at the Eddie Herr, Razeghi was also getting accustomed to a new surface after winning the singles and doubles titles at the USTA National Indoors late last month.

"I didn't have much practice on clay, that's why we came a few days early," said the 12-year-old left-hander, who trains at the Giammalva Racquet Club in the Houston area. "There's very little clay in Texas."

Razeghi is playing his first Junior Orange Bowl and is enjoying the international flavor of the event and figuring out how to compete against unfamiliar opponents.

"It's great playing people from different continents, it's great experience," Razeghi said. "Because you don't know how they play, you don't know who they are, so it's just difficult. The first few games you see what their weak shot is or how they play. Toward the end of the first set or the second set, or even the third, you start to have a strategy. Today, it was just keep the ball in, because it's a really slow surface and you're not going to be hitting many winners, so I would just keep on grinding and just keep the ball in until in the opponent misses."

Razeghi said when he first came to the tournament it was different from USTA events he plays.

"I didn't recognize any players, and with a 128 draw, there's going to be a lot of good players and I'm just going to have to fight through the whole tournament," Razeghi.

No. 3 seed Antonio Voljavec of Croatia advanced to Friday's third round with a 6-0, 6-0 win over lucky loser Fumin Jiang of China.

The top seeds in the 14s also advanced to the third round without difficulty. Girls No. 1 Yayi Yang of Taiwan defeated Sage Loudon of the United States 6-1, 6-1 and No. 2 seed Eleana Yu of the US won her second straight 6-0, 6-0 match, this one over Orly Oglivy of Canada.  No. 3 seed Katja Wiersholm defeated qualifier Valeria Centeno, also of the US, 6-2, 6-3 and No. 4 seed Melisa Ercan of Turkey beat Jasmin Makela of the US 6-2, 6-0.

At the boys 14s on Key Biscayne, where I'll be heading Friday, top seed Victor Lilov of the US defeated Joseph Phillips, also of the US, 6-2, 6-0, and No. 2 seed Bruno Kuzuhara of the US defeated Ignacio Buse of Peru 6-3, 6-4.  No. 3 seed Chak Lam Wong of Hong Kong earned a 6-2, 6-4 win over Waleed Qadir of the US and No. 4 seed Juncheng "Jerry" Shang of the US defeated Sebastian Castro of Ecuador 6-1, 6-0.

For complete results and times for Friday's third round, see the TennisLink site.

As usual, I prepared a photo gallery of all 32 of the singles semifinalists at the Eddie Herr, which can be found this year at the Tennis Recruiting Network.

When the American Collegiate Invitational at the US Open was not held this year, another event was planned to take its place and that is coming up beginning Saturday at the USTA National Campus in Lake Nona.  Eight US women and eight US men will play the Collegiate Blizzard Wild Card Challenge, with the women's winner getting a main draw wild card into a $60K event in 2019 and the men's winner getting a main draw wild card into the ATP 80 Challenger in Lake Nona late this month. Invitations to the USTA's National Collegiate Team will also be extended to the champions. Round robin play is scheduled for Saturday and Sunday, with the semifinals on Monday and the finals on Tuesday.

The women participating are: Kelly Chen, Duke; Sara Daavettila, North Carolina; Salma Ewing, USC; Michaela Gordon, Stanford; Makenna Jones, North Carolina; Ashley Lahey, Pepperdine; Brienne Minor, Michigan; Sophie Whittle, Gonzaga.

The men's participants are: Alafia Ayeni, Cornell; Brandon Holt, USC; John McNally, Ohio State; Emil Reinberg, Georgia; Sam Riffice, Florida; Alex Rybakov, TCU; Keegan Smith, UCLA; Tanner Smith, USC.

For more on all the competitors, as well as their UTRs, see this article from the USTA.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Top Seeds Open with Wins as Junior Orange Bowl Begins; Australian Open Junior Championship Acceptances; Kalamazoo Champion Brooksby Signs with Baylor

©Colette Lewis 2018--
Coral Gables, FL--

Opening day at the Junior Orange Bowl saw the top three seeds in all four age divisions advancing to the Thursday's second round.  I split my day between the boys 12s on the clay at Salvadore Park and the girls 14s at the University of Miami, and checked in briefly with the girls 12s at the Biltmore Tennis Center to close out the evening.

Rudy Quan, the top seed in the boys 12s, was drawn against qualifier Ryusei Miyazato of Japan, and after a few tough opening games, Quan found his form to post a 6-2, 6-0 victory.

"I stayed aggressive and maybe started to come in a bit more," Quan said of his plan to shorten some of the rallies against the left-hander. "I just had to remain."

Quan said he understands that his record this year, which includes singles gold balls at the Winter Nationals, Easter Bowl, Clay Courts, and Hard Courts, makes him a target.

"Everyone wants to win, and they are going to raise their game," said Quan, who trains at Johnson Ranch in Roseville California and is coached by Mike Gennette. "I just don't really think about my record or anything, I just go out and play ball."

Quan is playing in his first Orange Bowl, and competed in his first Eddie Herr two weeks ago, his first taste of international competition.

"At first it was pretty overwhelming," Quan said. "But then I got used to it, and I know that I'm just here for a tennis tournament, so I don't want to make it bigger than it is."

Quan lost in the semifinals of the Eddie Herr, not to an international player, but to Maximus Dussault, who he had beaten in the quarterfinals of the Clay Courts this summer. No. 4 seed Dussault, who went on to win the Eddie Herr title, lost in the first round today to Juhun Choo of Korea, 6-4, 6-1.  Dussault fell behind an early break in the first set, got it back to 4-4 but was broken in the next game. Dussault's unforced errors were a major factor in the outcome, but Choo kept his own level high. Choo saved four break points serving for the set, but when he finally got to a set point he converted it, and there was no comeback for Dussault in the second set. The 11-year-old fell behind two breaks at 3-0 and Choo was able to close out the match by staying in points until Dussault made an error.

Dussault and No. 8 seed Andrew Rundle, also in boys 12s, were the only top eight seeds to lose in the first round in the four divisions.

Girls 14s top seed Yayi Yang of Taiwan had the toughest match of the four top seeds, defeating Emma Roeck of the US 6-2, 7-5.  Boys 14s top seed Victor Lilov beat lucky loser Shrish Choudhary of the United States 6-0, 6-1 and girls 12s No. 1 seed Clervie Ngounoue defeated Mary Boyce Deatherage 6-0, 6-0 in another all-US contest. The ITF arranges their junior draws so that players from the same country do not meet in the first round whenever possible, but the Junior Orange Bowl is not an ITF event, and many of the first round matches here are between players from the same country, which is unfortunate, especially if they have travelled here from South America, Asia or Europe.

For complete results from today's first round and times for Thursday's second round matches, see the TennisLink page.

Speaking of traveling, the Australian Open Junior Championship acceptances have been release, with six US girls and seven US boys receiving direct acceptance.  The girls are Hurricane Tyra Black, Lea Ma, Gabby Price, Emma Navarro, Kacie Harvey and Chloe Beck. The boys are Cannon Kingsley, Tristan Boyer, Emilio Nava, Eliot Spizzirri, Zane Khan, Tyler Zink and Toby Kodat.  The boys initial cutoff was 91, with the girls cutoff 75. One player, Moyuka Uchijima of Japan, received main draw acceptance based on a pro ranking. She is 396 WTA, just making the Top 400 cutoff to receive main draw entry.

Denmark's Clara Tauson, who did not play the four North American tournaments that closed out the 2018 ITF Junior Circuit, is the top entrant in the girls draw, with Adrian Andreev of Bulgaria the top entrant in the boys draw.

I expected the ITF's new Transition Tour (now known as the ITF WorldTennisTour), which reserves space in lower level pro events for its Top 100 juniors, to have a positive impact on the fields in the major junior events, but that doesn't appear to be the case in Australia. The girls cutoff is higher, but the boys is about the same, and as usual, many of the top juniors are not making the journey.  It's probably too early to tell, since the cutoffs for the 15Ks and 25Ks under the new system aren't yet known, how important the ITF junior ranking position is, but Australia is an ideal way to secure big points early in the year.

In college signing news, blue chip senior Jenson Brooksby, who won the 18s title in Kalamazoo this year, announced he had signed with Baylor. Brooksby, who had verbally committed to TCU back in May, recently reconsidered, and today announced on Instagram that he had signed with Baylor for 2019-20. For more, see Baylor's release.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Junior Orange Bowl Begins Wednesday with Lilov, Quan, Ngounoue and Tang No. 1 Seeds; US Dominates America's Cup in Lake Nona

The Junior Orange Bowl begins on Wednesday in four locations in the Miami area, and Americans are the No. 1 seeds in three of the divisions.  Les Petits As champion Victor Lilov, who won the boys 12s title in 2016, is the No. 1 seed in the boys 14s, and Rudy Quan, who has won every USTA 12s National Championship in 2018, is the No. 1 seed in the boys 12s.

Clervie Ngounoue, who reached the Eddie Herr 14s final two weeks ago, is playing the Junior Orange Bowl 12s again this year, after reaching the semifinals last year.  Yayi Tang of Taiwan is the No. 1 seed in the girls 14s.

The tournament has provided a preview, which can be found here. There is one mistake in the paragraph about Quan. He has lost a 12s match this year, to Eddie Herr champion Maximus Dussault, in the semifinals at the Eddie Herr.

Below are the top 8 seeds in each age division. The full list of seeds (16 seeds for the 12s, 32 seeds for the 14s) and the draws are available now at the TennisLink site.

Boys 12s:
1. Rudy Quan(USA)
2. Alexander Razeghi(USA)
3. Antonio Volijavec(CRO)
4. Maximus Dussault(USA)
5. Quang Duong(USA)
6. Leo Cohen Bacrie(FRA)
7. Kaylan Bigun(USA)
8. Andrew Rundle(USA)

Boys 14s:
1. Victor Lilov(USA)
2. Bruno Kuzuhara(USA)
3. Chak Iam Wong(HKG)
4. Juncheng Shang(USA)
5. Constantinos Koshis(CYP)
6. Mili Poljicak(CRO)
7. John Kim(USA)
9. Fnu Nidunjianzan(USA)

Girls 12s:
1. Clervie Ngounoue(USA)
2. Brooklyn Olson(USA)
3. Valerija Kargina(LAT)
4. Jovana Grujic(SRB)
5. Amber Yin(USA)
6. Sara Saito(JPN)
7. Ela Milic(SLO)
8. Yufei Ren(CHN)

Girls 14s:
1. Yayi Tang(TPE)
2. Eleana Yu(USA)
3. Katja Wiersholm(USA)
4. Melisa Ercan(TUR)
5. Vivian Ovrootsky(USA)
6. Marina Stakusic(CAN)
7. Daniella Benabraham(USA)
8. Rebecca Lynn(USA)

Standing: Armistead, Colak, Brantmeier, Kreuger; Kim, Kang, Wiersholm, Ngounoue

In the week plus between the Eddie Herr and Junior Orange Bowl, some players compete in the Orange Bowl 16s, but four US boys and four US girls play in the recently introduced team competition at the USTA National Campus in Lake Nona, the America's Cup. 14-and-under teams from the USA, Canada, Cosat(South America) and Cotecc(Caribbean) play each other, and this year, the United States won all three of its matches, beating Canada 7-1, Cosat 7-2 and Cotecc 7-2.

The US team consisted of Clervie Ngounoue, Reese Brantmeier, Katja Wiersholm, Ashlyn Kreuger, Jackson Armistead, Ozan Colak, Kyle Kang and Aidan Kim. Complete results can be found here.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Burel and Tseng Named 2018 ITF World Junior Champions; Cressy Wins Tallahassee Futures; Racquet Club of Memphis, Site of USTA Girls Clay Courts, to Close

The ITF Junior Circuit (note the new look website, part of the ITF World Tennis Tour) has concluded for the year, with the next tournaments scheduled to begin three weeks from now. Although no one could catch the current No. 1s, Clara Burel of France and Chun Hsin Tseng of Taiwan, the ITF waits until after the Orange Bowl to announce its ITF year-end world junior champions.  The 17-year-old Burel, who reached two junior slam finals, won the Youth Olympic Games silver medal and claimed the ITF Junior Masters title, finished just under 400 points ahead of Coco Gauff, who won the French Open and Orange Bowl titles. For more on Burel's run to No. 1, see the ITF website.

Tseng, who won the French and Wimbledon boys titles and reached the Australian Open final and the US Open semifinals, finished more than 1300 points ahead of Youth Olympic Games gold medalist Hugo Gaston of France. For more on Tseng's rise to the top of the junior game, see the ITF website.

The United States had two players in both the girls and boys year-end Top 10: Brandon Nakashima[5], Sebastian Korda[10], Coco Gauff[2] and Caty McNally[9].

The last USTA Pro Circuit event of the year was the $25,000 Futures in Tallahassee, with UCLA senior Maxime Cressy capping an impressive fall with his first Pro Circuit singles title. The unseeded 21-year-old from France, who defeated former Memphis standout Ryan Peniston of Great Britain 6-4, 7-6(4) in the final,  reached the final last week at the Waco $25K and the semifinals in the Columbus $25K the week before that. His ATP ranking will be inside the Top 500 when the points are added.  Unseeded Jordi Arconada(Texas A&M) and Michael Geerts of Belgium(Arizona State) won the doubles title, beating unseeded Felix Corwin(Minnesota) and Jacob Dunbar(Richmond) 6-3, 7-6(0) in the final. Geerts, who won the Waco Futures singles title two weeks ago over Cressy, now has eight Pro Circuit doubles titles, while Arconada now has four.

A couple of weeks ago the news came out that the Racquet Club of Memphis is closing, leaving the Girls 16s USTA National Clay Courts without a home.  Prior to 2018, the Racquet Club was the site of the Girls 18s USTA National Clay Courts, and I covered eight of those tournaments there, from 2008 to 2016. Although the heat in July was brutal, I enjoyed the tournament, and they worked hard to make the experience special for the girls and the college coaches who flocked there. Once the club lost the WTA (and ATP) event held there in February, the tournament could no longer offer a coveted WTA wild card to the Clay champion, and last year, the 18s moved to Charleston, where the winner now gets a wild card into the Volvo Open there. Aside from the loss to the USTA junior circuit, this is a major blow to tennis in general, as the club had a long and impressive history in both pre- and Open era professional tennis.  

I spoke to both the 16s tournament director and the USTA about the news while I was here in Florida, and as of now, a new site for the girls 16s is still up in the air, but I have been told it should be in place in the next month.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Gauff Comeback Ends with Another Orange Bowl Title; Finland's Virtanen Makes History with Victory over Khan

©Colette Lewis 2018--
Plantation, FL--

Just two years ago, Coco Gauff won the Junior Orange Bowl 12s championship, a title she had chased for five years before capturing. After her 6-1, 3-6, 6-4 victory over China's Qinwen Zheng in Sunday's ITF Grade A Orange Bowl championship match, in just her second attempt at one of the Junior Circuit's most prestigious tournaments, the 14-year-old French Open champion may already be saying goodbye to junior events.

Down 4-2 in the final set to the big-hitting Zheng, Gauff recalled the words of her father Corey.

"He told me at the beginning of the tournament, OK, this is probably your last junior tournament, so play how you want to be remembered, and that's what I was thinking," said Gauff, the No. 1 seed. "People mostly know me to always fight, and even when I was down that's how I want to be remembered, at least in junior tennis. We'll see what the next chapter has for me."

A rain shower just three games into the match resulted in a delay of more than two hours, and when Gauff and Zheng returned to the Har-Tru courts of the Veltri Tennis Center, Gauff took control of the match, winning the next four games and looking the sharper of the two.

Zheng, the Eddie Herr champion and second seed, was playing her 12th singles match in 14 days, and with both inner thighs taped, the toll of all that tennis was beginning to show. But the 16-year-old kept unleashing her powerful ground strokes and Gauff threw in a messy service game at 3-4 to get broken. Serving at 5-3, Zheng used a potent backhand to get out of a 15-30 hole, taking the second set on her first set point.

Gauff took a bathroom break, but after returning, she donated two double faults and was broken at love. Zheng held on to that break until serving at 4-3, but when Gauff hit a forehand winner on break point to level the set, she, and the crowd, were fully energized.

"The crowd has been here all week for me," said Gauff, who lives in nearby Delray Beach. "Clearly they were rooting for me, and there were faces who were here since Monday, not people I knew, but now I know. I was expecting when it rained, no one would come, but people came back. I think that kind of helped, because I remember saying this in my head, all these people are here rooting for you down 4-2, so you should start rooting for yourself. And I think that kind of helped turn the match around."

The 4-4 game was a classic, with Gauff saving three break points, with her serve responsible for getting her out of every jam.

"I was serving well the whole match," Gauff said. "If I didn't expect my serve to come through, I wouldn't have went for it, I just would have tried to get it in. I think on almost every break point I hit a good serve, and she missed it or something like that, and I'm just glad it went in."

After that five-deuce game, Zheng played her worst game of the set when serving to stay in the match. Her backhand sprayed around the court and she double faulted, and the match ended with another error.

While giving credit to Gauff, Zheng was disappointed with the way she played in the final four games of the match.

"She played really good at the end," said Zheng, who is known as Ana to her English-speaking friends. "I was 4-2 up and it's really difficult to lose like this, but she play more aggressive in the end and I was too defensive. That's the reason I lose. At 4-2 I should go, take the courage, take the match and not stay behind and wait."

Zheng will take time off and then prepare for the Australian Open Junior Championships next month, while Gauff will be concentrating on improving her WTA ranking, with a goal of getting into the slams this summer.

"Right now I'm just playing some ITFs (Pro Circuit), to get my ranking up and to see if I can get wild cards into certain tournaments," said Gauff, who is currently ranked 870. "I think next year, that's my goal, to be top 100 in WTA."

One of the reasons Gauff elected to play the last two ITF Junior Circuit Grade A tournaments of the year was the extra four WTA tournaments she can play if she finishes in the Top 5 in year-end junior rankings.

"A lot of people think I played this to finish No. 1," said Gauff, who will not catch France's Clara Burel for the top spot. "That wasn't my goal. My dad asked me mid-year, and I said, I don't really care, I just want to finish Top 5, so I can get those extra [WTA] tournaments."

Although Gauff elected not to focus on achieving the ITF Junior Circuit's No. 1 ranking, boys Orange Bowl champion Otto Virtanen is.  Just five minutes after 17-year-old from Finland defeated wild card Zane Khan of the United States 7-5, 6-4, he had already reset his goals.

"Yes, that's my goal now," Virtanen said. "Now, I decided now, yes. I really want to be number 1, so I'm looking forward to this season."

Virtanen, the No. 13 seed, had a slight edge in Grade A experience, with five tournaments at that level, compared to the 16-year-old Khan's three. But neither player looked comfortable to start the match, with four straight breaks to open it before Khan held serve to get his nose in front. At 5-all, Khan was able to save two break points with forehand winners, but on the third, his backhand sailed long.  Serving for the set, Virtanen went up 40-15, but again Khan held on, only to watch as Virtanen hit two consecutive aces to take the set.

"I had a lot of chances and I didn't play as good as I wanted to," said Khan, who is coached by his uncle Shariq Khan, and has also been training the past few months at Boca West with Antonio Fernandez and former ATP pro Sebastien Grosjean, who attended the final. "It was not easy playing him, because he had a really good serve and there wasn't much rhythm. He is really powerful with his shots and he had a good forehand and it wasn't easy to get into the points."

Virtanen admitted that, although he made less than half of his first serves, he was able to find one when he needed it.

"I served well the big points, yes, I served well," Virtanen said. "And I didn't rush in the really big points. In the last game he did two easy mistakes, he went too fast then, and I was lucky."

At 4-4 in the second set, Khan made three unforced errors, while Virtanen made sure he picked big targets in the rallies and Khan was broken at 15-40 when his backhand went wide. Serving for the title, Virtanen hit two massive forehand winners and a kick serve ace, and after an inexplicable drop shot attempt that missed on his first match point, he blasted his tenth ace to close it out.

Virtanen, who trains at the Good to Great Academy in Sweden, is the first player from Finland to win an Orange Bowl title, and he is hoping that accomplishment resonates in his home country.

"I'm going back home tomorrow, and I hope they have some special surprise," Virtanen said of his celebration plans. "I don't know [if it will be a big deal], I hope so, because for me, it's a big thing. I can't even realize, it's a really big trophy. Maybe today, later, I'll realize what I have done."

Virtanen is planning to play the Australian Open Junior Championships next month, as is Khan.
The doubles titles were also decided on Sunday afternoon, with No. 3 seeds Adrienn Nagy of Hungary and Sohyun Park of Korea taking the girls title, and No. 4 seeds Sergey Fomin of Uzbekistan and Gauthier Onclin of Belgium claiming the boys championship.

Nagy and Park, playing together for the first time, came from behind to defeat unseeded Kacie Harvey and Natasha Subhash of the United States 2-6, 7-5, 10-8.

"We actually said two weeks ago that we were going play together, since none of us had doubles partners," Nagy said. "We talked in Mexico that we would play together, so we are surprised to win, definitely."

Nagy attributed their slow start to the quality of their opponents play.

"The first set, they were playing really good and we didn't really feel it," Nagy said. "The wind and everything was different than yesterday. The second set, we started to play better and the super tiebreak was the best we played in this match. We put it together at the end."

"She is a very, very good partner," said Park, 16. "She has energy."

Nagy appreciates Park's ability to finish at the net, which she did on their third match point, poaching for the winning volley.

"She's really good with the volleys and I can always count on her," said the 17-year-old Nagy. "And she's really consistent from the baseline too. It's good to have someone you know is not going to miss it."
Fomin and Onclin also dropped the first set, unable to serve it out up 5-4 and losing a tiebreaker to unseeded Justin Schlageter of Germany and Gustaf Strom of Sweden 6-7(6) before rebounding for a 6-7(6), 6-1, 10-8 victory.

Like the girls champions, Fomin and Onclin, both 17, began their partnership very recently, at the Eddie Herr, where they won one match, but the pair did not lose a set all week until today.

"We played very well this week," Onclin said. "We just did what we had to do."

"We go to the volley," said Fomin. "And not stay at the baseline, so we do better this tournament. I think that is better, for me and my friend."

"It was an incredible week for us," Onclin said. "It's incredible."

Top Seeds Gauff and Zheng Reach Orange Bowl Final, Khan and Virtanen Vie for Boys Championship; Sieg, Llamas Ruiz Win 16s Titles; Zamarripa Takes $15K in Colombia

©Colette Lewis 2018--
Plantation FL--

Young Americans Coco Gauff and Zane Khan got revenge Saturday at the ITF Grade A Orange Bowl, dominating their opponents on another warm and sunny day in South Florida to reach Sunday's final.

The top-seeded Gauff defeated No. 3 seed Diane Parry of France, who had beaten her two weeks ago in the quarterfinals of the Yucatan Grade A, 6-0, 6-0 while Khan, a wild card, had a much longer wait for an opportunity against Mateus Alves of Brazil, who had beaten him last November in a Grade 2 in Peru.

The 16-year-old Khan came out firing against Alves and never let up against the big-hitting 17-year-old, well aware that Alves had won all four of his previous matches in three sets, including yesterday's quarterfinal over No. 8 seed Cannon Kingsley.

"I felt like if I didn't keep pushing him down and keep on him, he would come back, he would start feeling more confident on court," Khan said. "He is such a good player, such a good competitor and has such a good serve, it's not easy to break him. So, yeah, I tried to focus on my service games and get every ball back on the return games, make him play."

Khan, who had won three three-setters himself this week, was nursing a shoulder injury coming into the tournament, and considered withdrawing, but his coaches encouraged him to give it a try, and it has bothered him less as he continues to advance through the draw.

Although he earned a big win in the first round over No. 4 seed Deney Wassermann of the Netherlands, Khan didn't take that as any indication that six days later he would be playing the final.

"I felt every person after that was a really good player," said Khan, who is coached by his uncle Shariq Khan, and has also been training at Boca West with Antonio Fernandez and former ATP pro Sebastien Grosjean. "Just because I beat the 4 seed that didn't mean anything for the other guys. There were a lot of close matches, like yesterday, that could have gone the other guy's way."

Khan's opponent in the final will be No. 13 seed Otto Virtanen of Finland, who came back to beat unseeded Alejo Lingua Lavallen of Argentina 1-6, 6-1, 6-4.

Virtanen, who had beaten top seed Adrian Andreev of Bulgaria in the third round, went up 3-1 in the final set, but had to take a medical timeout due to shortness of breath.

"I had a hard time breathing," said the 17-year-old, who trains at the Good to Great Academy in Sweden. "Every point I felt like it is not going in. It was not a good feeling. I told I would take [a medical timeout] one game later, but then I played the one game and I just had an emergency, even if I was leading 3-1."

The trainer came out and spoke to Virtanen, but did not provide any treatment, and when he returned to play, he lost the next two games. But he began to feel better, mentally and physically.

"I reset everything, I have to play everything like from the beginning," Virtanen said. "I started with my best game at 3-all and finished with it."

Virtanen broke and held for a 5-3 lead, and the Argentinian left-hander saved a match point serving at 3-5. In the final game, Virtanen took a 30-0 lead, but two unforced errors on the forehand provided some tension. But Virtanen's excellent first serve saved him, with Lavallen unable to get either of them back in play.

Khan and Virtanen have never met, but Virtanen is excited by the prospect of a new opponent, while conceding that Khan is likely to have the crowd on his side.

"This is the first tournament I've seen him playing," Virtanen said. "I'm looking forward to meet new players."

Gauff's unexpectedly easy win over Parry was a combination of an improved strategy and improved play.

"In Mexico I lost to her like 6-3, 6-2, so going in, I knew what I had to do," said the 14-year-old, who won the French Open girls title this year. "I would say that week I was making a little bit more errors on shots that I shouldn't have. Today, I just wanted to be patient and see if I can out-rally her, and I think I did."

Gauff said that the temptation to go high to Parry's one-handed backhand was something she needed to avoid in the rematch.

"I think two weeks ago I focused too much on her backhand," said Gauff, who two years ago won the Junior Orange Bowl 12s title. "She does have a good one-handed backhand. People are like, it's a one-handed backhand, she's a girl, it's probably her weaker side. But really, she can rip it. Obviously, the high ball on the one-hander works, for any one-hander, but today I was not focusing on that, but play like I would any other match, moving her no matter if it is her forehand or backhand. I think that was a mistake last time, because she knew where I was hitting the ball every time, while this time, I kind of mixed it up a lot more."

Gauff's opponent in the final is Eddie Herr champion and No. 2 seed Qinwen Zheng of China, who beat unseeded Emma Navarro 6-0, 6-4. Zheng, who is looking to be the first Eddie Herr and Orange Bowl champion in the same year since Ana Konjuh of Croatia accomplished that in 2012, had kinesio tape on both of her inner thighs after her second consecutive week of top level competition.

"Of course I'm tired," said the 16-year-old right-hander, who won only one singles match in the two tournaments in Mexico leading up to the Eddie Herr. "And because I played too much, I have injury on my leg. But it is good, I continue to fight and I found a way to win."

Zheng started the match with Navarro as she had in their first round meeting at the Eddie Herr, which Zheng won 6-1, 6-0. But Navarro got her teeth back in the match in the second set, pulling even after being down 4-2. The 17-year-old Duke recruit was broken in the next game however, and Zheng was able to serve out the match.

"Last week was the first round and this week is the semifinals, so everything is different," Zheng said. "It's a new match, so I just keep my game plan and focus. I couldn't run too much, so I try to finish the point and to play more smart."

Zheng is looking forward to a chance to play Gauff after breaking out of her slump last month.

"I saw her play a little bit, but I never play against her," Zheng said. "I know she's an amazing player, so I will fight a lot tomorrow. If you tell me in Mexico that I be in finals here and win Eddie Herr, I say no, no way."
The 16s finals were tense and full of twists and turns, with No. 4 seed Madison Sieg defeating unseeded India Houghton 2-6, 6-4, 7-5 in an all-US contest, and No. 3 seed Pablo Llamas Ruiz of Spain beating top seed Dali Blanch of the United States 6-4, 5-7, 6-3.

Sieg, who lost in the Eddie Herr 16s final last Saturday, didn't look like she would better that showing this week after losing the first set quickly and going down a break at 3-2 in the second set. But the 15-year-old broke right back and kept the pressure on Houghton, who saved two set points at 4-5 in the second set, but couldn't save a third. In a long and entertaining point, both Sieg and Houghton ended up at the net, with Sieg winning the battle to earn a third set.

"She played a really good first set," said Sieg, who beat Eddie Herr champion and fellow Evert Academy student Elaine Chervinsky in the quarterfinals. "I knew I had to get it deeper, but I knew I was playing the right way, hitting the ball good, so I just kept the same way of hitting it."

Sieg again fell behind a break in the third set, but she again immediately got the break back, only to fall behind 4-3. Houghton again couldn't consolidate however, and when Sieg held for 6-5, the pressure mounted on the 16-year-old from Northern California.

When Houghton hit a forehand wide to go down 15-40, but she saved the first match point with a huge forehand, a dangerous shot that Sieg had seen often throughout the match, and saved the second when Sieg hit a backhand wide after a long, tense rally. Sieg stepped into a backhand to force an error to give her a third match point, and after another lengthy rally, it was Houghton who made the error, giving Sieg a coveted Orange Bowl title and a 11-1 singles record over the past 12 days.

"I've just always seen other players win the Orange Bowl, and it's never occurred to me that I could actually win it," said Sieg, who will take a month off before the Central and South American swing in January. "So I'm really happy that I'm able to do it."

Houghton, who had gotten to the final without losing a set, said she didn't feel nervous to start the match, but the possibility of winning did contribute to some jitters later on.

"In the middle of the second set, that's when I got a little nervous," said Houghton, who trains at Tompkins Tennis. "She's a great player, a great fighter and she was getting a lot of balls back. Maybe I got a little impatient, or went for too much on my shots, but she was a really good player."

Houghton has only one ITF Junior Circuit tournament on her resume, a title at the Grade 5 in Canada back in October, but she is looking forward to competing more at that level.

"I definitely would like to start playing more international tournaments," said Houghton, who doesn't consider herself a late bloomer. "I played my first ITF a month ago. These past few years, maybe I've started to train harder, train more and with higher intensity."

Next up for Houghton is the USTA Winter Nationals in Lake Nona Florida, in the 18s. Houghton was aware that last year's 16s runner-up, Fiona Crawley, went on to win the gold ball in the 18s at the Winter Nationals just a few weeks later.

The boys finalists proved just as evenly matched as the girls, with Llamas coming from down an early break down in the first set to breaking to win it, then having a match point in the second set with Blanch serving at 4-5, only to be broken in his next service game, with Blanch taking the second set with a big first serve on his third set point.

Blanch fell behind in the 4-1 in the third set, but his forehand came through for him with Llamas serving at 2-4, and Blanch got back on serve with a winner on his second break point. He couldn't pull even however, with two forehands wide costing him the game and giving Llamas a chance to serve for the match. Blanch earned a 15-40 lead, but Llamas countered with his best serving of the set, hitting four consecutive big first serves to close out the title.

The 15-year-old Blanch, who lives and trains in Argentina, said that the combination of Llamas' style and his quick pace of play wore him down.

"He is a smart player, and he has good hands," said Blanch, who will start his year at the ITF Grade 1 (now called J1) in Costa Rica. "He likes playing long points and he rushes you a lot. There's no rest between points, just another point, another point. He's used to it, but I'm not. I think that I could have played better. I didn't play my best tennis, got very frustrated. I wasn't making the shots I was making in the other matches. I think I could have beaten him, but it wasn't my day."

Llamas, who won the doubles title on Friday, agreed that testing his opponent with his pace of play, and his variety, works for him.

"I try to play quick," Llamas said via an interpreter. "I always try to vary the depth of the ball and make sure that my opponent is never comfortable. I play depending on my opponent."

Llamas acknowledged that countering Blanch's power is not an easy task.

"I've been training very hard for this, trying to get better and better for opponents like this," Llamas said. "I thank everyone, from my team to my teammates to my coaches, everybody in Spain, for their support, for giving me the strength to become an Orange Bowl champion."

The 18s doubles final are scheduled for Sunday, with the girls final between unseeded Kacie Harvey and Natasha Subhash and No. 3 seeds Adrienn Nagy of Hungary and Sohyun Park of Korea.  Harvey and Subhash, finalists at last week's Eddie Herr, defeated top seeds Gauff and Hurricane Tyra Black 6-3, 6-4, with Nagy and Park downing unseeded Savannah Broadus and Kylie Collins 6-0, 6-3.

The boys top seeds also exited in Saturday's semifinals, with No. 4 seeds Sergey Fomin and Gauthier Onclin of Belgium beating Andreev and Great Britain's Anton Matusevich 7-5, 7-6(5). Their opponents in the final will be Justin Schlageter of Germany and Gustaf Strom of Sweden, who beat Tom Leblanc Calverie of France and Mark Mandlik 6-4, 7-5.

For Sunday's order of play, see the tournament website.

Sixteen-year-old Allura Zamarripa swept the titles at the $15,000 ITF Women's Pro Circuit tournament in Bogota Colombia, beating top seed Andrea Villarreal of Mexico 6-3, 6-3 in today's singles final. Allura and twin sister Maribella won their first pro doubles title on Friday.