©Colette Lewis 2006--
Key Biscayne, FL--
Austria's Nikola Hofmanova and Petru Alexandru Luncanu of Romania claimed upset wins at the Orange Bowl Sunday morning, getting historic victories for their countries in the prestigious Grade A ITF event.
The Czech-born Hofmanova, seeded ninth, defeated No. 2 seed Ksenia Milevskaya of Belarus 7-5, 6-3 in a topsy-turvy match at the Crandon Park courts on Key Biscayne, to become the first Austrian girl to win a title in the tournament's sixty years.
Hofmanova ran out to a 5-2 lead in the first set, but Milevskaya countered, winning the next three games. Serving at 5-6, however, the 16-year-old from Minsk played a loose game, and unforced errors cost her the set.
"I wasn't confident today at all, I don't know why," said Milevskaya, who lost to Hofmanova in the first round of Wimbledon this year. "After the first set, I was getting mad at myself, and didn't play well."
Hofmanova gave Milevskaya an opening, losing her serve at love in the first game, after Milevskaya had returned from a trip to the restroom, and twice more down a break, at 2-1 and 3-2, But as Milevskaya observed after the match, being down a break isn't unusual.
"Girls tennis is not about serves, it's about how you're playing," she said. "If you serve good it helps you a lot, but not too many girls can do it."
"In the beginning (of the second set), I only looked at how she's playing," said the 15-year-old Hofmanova, who has been playing tennis for 11 years. "But then I started to play my game again."
Asked to describe her game, Hofmanova, whose family moved to Austria when she was two, was quick to respond. "I'm playing aggressive, taking the balls early, and try to make the point, not waiting for the opponent to make the mistake. Normally I try to play more from the net, but that didn't work so much today."
Hofmanova managed to win the Orange Bowl without playing her best tennis in the final, and she spoke with amazement at how far she had come in a year's time, when she was seeded second in the 16s and lost in the quarterfinals.
"Last year I was looking at the 18s girls that were playing, thinking, 'oh my god, they are so good', so it's a great feeling."
When asked how she would celebrate, she spoke of waiting until she returns to Austria on Sunday to celebrate with her family, but after thinking a moment, another idea came to her.
"I'm going to the Dolphin Mall shopping this afternoon," she said. "If I see something and I like it, I'm going to get it, no matter what."
Luncanu had no time for shopping, or anything else, as Romania's first Orange Bowl boys' Champion had a plane to catch for the Yucatan Cup immediately after his 6-2, 4-6, 6-3 upset of top seed Nicolas Santos of Brazil. Had the No. 4 seed known he would be in the finals of the Orange Bowl, he may have skipped the final Grade 1 on the ITF calendar, but his results in 2006 gave little indication that a Grade A title was in the offing.
But after an early round loss at the Eddie Herr, Luncanu had time to prepare for the Orange Bowl, and it showed in his five straight-set victories, leading to the final clash with the 2006 Eddie Herr champion. On a warm and sunny Sunday, for more than two and a half hours, the 17-year-old from Bucharest attacked, attacked and attacked again, knowing it was his only chance to beat the ultra-consistent Brazilian.
"I have to try to do this because it was the key that I could beat him," said Luncanu, who is known as Alex to both his friends and the Romanian fans in the Miami area who came to cheer him on. "He doesn't make many mistakes, so I had to try to go to the net and finish the points."
In the first set, Luncanu did just that, and also hit his share of forehand winners from the baseline, which made his delicate drop volleys all the more effective. Although Santos, serving down 2-5, saved the first set point with a spectacular running backhand down-the-line winner, he succumbed to a perfect Luncanu drop shot, and then just missed the sideline during a rally. Giving Luncanu the chance to start the second set serving first didn't hurt Santos however, as he broke immediately and hung on to take the set.
"I didn't think about too much, because I knew there was one more set coming," said Luncanu. "I tried to forget it and tried to play again like the first set--to be more aggressive."
After Luncanu took a 1-2 deficit and turned it into a 5-2 lead in the third set, the voluble Santos talked to himself incessantly in Portuguese, often ending the soliloquy only a moment before Luncanu was ready to serve. What might have unnerved a less experienced player didn't bother the Romanian.
"He always does like this," said Luncanu. "He always screams, making those things he does on the court," Luncanu said, referring to the many fist pumps and vamoses. "I wasn't thinking too much about what he was doing, just be focused on my game."
Santos acknowledged that Luncanu was the better player on Sunday, although he expressed no disappointment that his 11-match winning streak was at an end.
"I played my best tennis in these two weeks," said Santos through his coach and interpreter Luis Faria. "And today Luncanu really deserved the win. He played very aggressive, winner shots all the time and he changed the direction of the ball very often."
Santos, who never looked anything but energetic during his run through the Eddie Herr and the Orange Bowl, wasn't even interested in taking a break before he played in the final match of the day, the boys doubles finals. After the ceremony, the photographs, interviews and an Orange Bowl T-shirt launching by both players, Santos was right back on the court, with partner Fernando Romboli, also of Brazil. But the day didn't end any better than it started for him, as the fourth seeds were defeated by Roman Jebavy of the Czech Republic and Daniil Arsenov of Russia, the third seeds, 6-2, 6-4.
The girls doubles title, played concurrently with the two singles finals, went to the No. 2 seeded team of Sorana-Mihaela Cirstea of Romania and Urszula Radwanska of Poland. They downed the top-seeded team of Canadian Sharon Fichman and Czech Katerina Vankova 6-3, 6-1.
Sunday, December 10, 2006