©Colette Lewis 2006--
The seventh time was the charm for Devin Britton. Losing all six of his previous contests with fellow 15-year-old Alex Domijan, Britton finally broke through on his home turf, defeating the unseeded Domijan 7-6 (5), 7-6 (5) in an all-American boys 16s semifinal at the Eddie Herr International.
There wasn't a single service break in the entire match, rare enough in junior tennis, practically unheard of in the 16s. Britton, a relentless serve-and-volleyer, made his way to the net at every opportunity.
"I've started chipping and charging a lot more than I used to," said Britton, who has been training at the IMG Bollettieri Academy for fifteen months. "And I've been closing really tight to the net, and it's been working."
In such a close match, there are many big points, but the biggest were the three set points Britton saved serving at 5-6 in the second set. Each time Domijan had the advantage, Britton came up with a service winner, although his concentration was such that he wasn't even aware that he was avoiding a third set.
"I didn't even realize it at the time," said Britton, the No. 10 seed from Jackson, Mississippi. "I was just thinking I was down break points and I didn't want to get broken."
Many in the crowd of spectators surrounding the court on a warm and sunny Saturday morning expressed amazement at both Britton's net game and Domijan's passing shots. If Britton didn't hit a perfectly executed volley, Domijan would pass him, but undeterred, Britton continued to approach the net. In the second set tiebreak, the 6-foot-3 right hander took at 5-2 lead, but when Domijan, who is at least that tall, held while serving the next two points, the tension mounted. A perfect drop volley gave Britton two match points, and although he missed a volley on his first, he made no mistake on the second.
With a reserved c'mon and a fist pump, he celebrated reaching the final-- and breaking into the win column against Domijan.
"It was definitely in my head," said Britton of the losing streak, "but I couldn't have played much better today."
Domijan acknowledged the difference in Britton's game.
"Usually he plays really well for a set and then he starts playing worse," said Domijan, who trains at Saddlebrook. "But today he played best for two sets."
Domijan fell just short of producing a replay of last year's 14s final, where he lost to Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria. Dimitrov, playing in the 16s division despite being ranked 233 in the ITF 18s rankings, advanced to the final with a 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-1 over third seed Ilija Vucic of Serbia.
"He was a tough player," said No. 2 seed Dimitrov, who lost his first set in the tournament to Vucic. "I got up early in the second set and then I slowed down, and the guy just came back."
Dimitrov, 15, reached the Junior Orange Bowl 14s final last year, and expects to be playing his last two 16s events with the 2006 Eddie Herr and Orange Bowl.
"I think if I play my best tennis, I expect to win."
Another player with special memories of Eddie Herr is Philip Bester, who reached the boys 18s final by defeating No. 4 seed Pavel Chekhov Saturday afternoon 6-3, 2-6, 6-4. Fans packed the stadium court bleachers to watch two of the Bollettieri Academy's top juniors slug it out--again.
"Today's match was very special, because I lost to Pavel in the under 14 finals a few years ago (2002)," said Bester, a wild card entry this year, as he was then. "That ended 7-6 in the third. It's special because everybody who's seen me grow up during my four years here was able to see me play."
After breaking Chekhov in the eighth game of the first set and serving it out, Bester's aggressive volleying wasn't quite as accurate in the second , and the hard-serving Russian evened the match. In the third game of the final set, Bester broke, but it was anything but smooth sailing after that. Chekhov had break points in Bester's next two service games, but the Canadian didn't falter, saving them all.
"Because I've been in a lot of situations like that throughout my career, being down, I'm able to put myself in an extra gear," said Bester. "I'm able to step it up when I do get down in those situations. But the way I want to improve is not let myself get into situations like that."
Bester's next challenge is No. 1 seed Nicolas Santos of Brazil, who overcame a determined Rasid Winklaar 3-6, 6-2, 6-2. Santos, whose fondness for "vamos" is evident on practically every point, spent nearly two and a half hours subduing the lefthander from Curacao, but his enthusiasm never waivered. The final will contrast the cool Canadian and the emotional South American, and Bester is looking forward to it.
"I like it when guys get fired up," said Bester. "It motivates me to go for it more and not give the guy any hope on the court."
Second seed Sorana-Mihaela Cirstea of Romania earned her second consecutive trip to the 18s finals by defeating unseeded Tammy Hendler of Belgium 6-4, 7-5. Last year Cirstea dropped a three-set decision to Dominika Cibulkova in the finals, having pulled off the tournament's biggest upset when she eliminated top seed and Wimbledon Junior champion Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland.
On Sunday, she will face Radwanska's younger sister Urszula, the No. 4 seed, who rolled past No. 8 seed Anastasia Pivovarova of Russia 6-1, 6-2.
Radwanska hasn't lost more than four games in any set she's played this week, and she owns a win over Cirstea at this year's Wimbledon Junior Championships.
"But that was grass, this is hard court," said Radwanska, who turns 16 in a few days. "It will be much more difficult."
Radwanska credits her serve as the reason for her dominance, especially in Saturday's match against Pivovarova, who struggled in that department.
"I did everything well, I'm playing very well, especially my serve," she said.
The 16-year-old Cirstea was the veteran in her match with the 14-year-old Hendler, who won the 14s in 2005, and the tall Romanian understands the dynamics of that situation.
"When I play seniors (pro events), I have much less pressure, since I am young, and I play relaxed. But in juniors, the younger girls play like they have nothing to lose, and I am expected to win."
Down 4-2 in the second set after what she described as "a loss of focus," Cirstea identified a technical change as well.
"My arm wasn't going through and I was going back," she said. "And my serve worked really well at the end."
The girls 14s champion in 2003, Cirstea admits to a fondness for the tournament.
"I have a very good feeling about this tournament," she said. "It's a nice feeling to be in the final for the second year."
Hanna Orlik, the 2005 12s champion, has reached her second consecutive Eddie Herr final as well, this time in the 14s. Orlik, from Belarus, the third seed, defeated top seed Katarena Paliivets of Canada 6-7 (5), 6-2, 6-0 on Saturday morning. She will meet a familiar foe, Ajla Tomljanovic of Croatia; Tomljanovic was the other 12s finalists last year. The No. 9 seed, Tomljanovic took out unseeded Alina Jerjomina of Latvia 7-5, 6-0..
The boys 14s finalists are No. 3 seed Yasutaka Uchiyama of Japan and No. 5 seed Ashot Khacharyan of Russia. Uchiyama defeated No. 9 seed Federico Gaio of Italy 6-4, 7-6 (1), while Khacharyan eliminated No. 11 seed Dominik Schulz of Germany 6-3, 7-5.
In girls 16s, unseeded 13-year-old Ester Goldfeld of Brooklyn New York forced top seed Tanya Raykova of Bulgaria into a third set before falling 7-6 (3), 6-7(3), 6-1. Raykova's opponent on Sunday will be no. 14 seed Yasmin Clarke of Great Britain, who defeated U.S. wild card Nicole Bartnik 4-6, 6-1, 6-2.
On Friday, No. 2 seeds Jason Zafiros of the U.S. and Matt Reid of Australia teamed to win the boys 16s doubles title, when their opponents, No. 3 seed Ty Trombetta of the U.S. and Andres Bucaro of Guatemala, couldn't play the match due to scheduling conflicts.
For complete draws, see eddierherr.com.
Marcia Frost from collegeandjuniortennis.com is also here in Bradenton this weekend.
Saturday, December 2, 2006