©Colette Lewis 2006--
Urszula Radwanska of Poland and Brazil's Nicholas Santos captured straight set victories on a clear, calm and warm Sunday morning at the Eddie Herr International Championships at the IMG Bollettieri Academy. Radwanska defeated Sorana-Mihaela Cirstea of Romania 6-3, 6-1, while Santos claimed a 6-2, 6-4 victory over Philip Bester of Canada.
Several hundred fans packed the bleachers to support favorite son Bester, a student at the Academy the past four years. But the 18-year-old wild card wasn't at his best physically due to a calf muscle pull sustained in his semifinal victory over fourth seed Pavel Chekhov of Russia.
"Yesterday in the third set I was serving at 4-3 and I landed on a serve and pulled it," said Bester, who took the court with an elastic bandage on his left leg. "I wasn't able to play my game, coming into the net as I usually do, but in the second set it felt a little bit better. But all credit to Nicolas, he really made me do my best today."
The 18-year-old Santos, the tournament's top seed, was aware of the injury, according to his coach Luiz Faria, who served as an interpreter in the postmatch interview, but it didn't play a major role in their strategy.
"I tried to be very solid in the ground strokes from the baseline and to take his confidence, work on his mind," said Santos, who learned his tennis on a hard court, unusual for a South American.
Santos emoted through two three-set matches--in the round of 16 and in the semifinal--but in the final, he broke Bester the first time he served in each set, allowing the intense and emotional Brazilian to relax and fire away off the ground. But it wasn't his outstanding backhand that he credited for his championship. When asked the key to his title, he pointed to his temple.
"His mind," said Faria. "All the matches were very close, but his mind was focused."
In the girls 18s final, the 15-year-old Radwanska overwhelmed Cirstea, who was appearing in the her second consecutive 18s championship match at the Eddie Herr, while Radwanska lost in the first round of the 18s in 2005. But on Sunday, Radwanska demonstrated that her easy waltz through the 2006 draw was proof of her improvement in the past year. The match itself was almost eerily quiet, with no screaming, grunting or exhaling by either girl, and unlike the boys' final, the spectators had no clear favorite.
Cirstea, seeded second, had difficulty with her serve, and actually won as many games--two--on Radwanska's serve as she did her own. Radwanska was down a break at 2-3 in the first set, but collected the next four games, then started the second set by breaking Cirstea, and began serving better herself.
"I served very well," said Radwansa, who lost only 21 games in her six victories. "Maybe that's the key."
"She had a really strong game," said Cirstea, 16. "She was hitting well, I think she played really good tennis today, and me, I didn't have enough patience. I tried to go for the balls too early."
Radwanska attributes much of her recent success to working with her sister, Agnieszka, who at 17 has already beaten Anastasia Myskina, Elena Dementieva and Serena Williams, and is currently no. 61 in the WTA rankings. The elder Radwanska was in Bradenton this week, supporting her sister and working out herself with Bollettieri pros, such as Nicole Vaidisova.
"We are practicing together and doing everything together," said Urszula, who admits that she has never beaten her older sister. "I want to be like my sister and be in the top 100 in the WTA."
She also admitted that they both have hopes of emulating another pair of tennis-playing sisters--Serena and Venus Williams.
"We want to be in the final of a Grand Slam or be No. 1 and No. 2 in the world. It would be great."
In the boys 18s doubles final, No. 6 seeds Mateusz Kecki and Bassam Beidas captured their first Grade 1 ITF event, defeating No. 5 seeds Roberto Maytin of Venezuela and American Dennis Lajola. 6-3, 7-5.
The American Kecki and Beidas, who plays for Lebanon but lives in Eygpt, began their partnership in auspicious fashion back in January, when they reached the semifinals of the Australian Open Junior Championships, and they have been playing together regularly in ITF events since, although the Eddie Herr title was their first as a team.
"It's the first time I've won a doubles tournament in my life," said Kecki, 16.
After defeating the top seeded team of Santos and Fernando Romboli of Brazil Saturday evening, Beidas and Kecki were sharp from the outset and when they broke Maytin to take the title, indulged in a Bryan brothers chest bump in celebration.
"We returned well, and he was passing well, hit a couple of good passes on important points," said Beidas, who will be playing for Pepperdine beginning in January. "And we were holding our serve more than in other days."
The girls doubles champions were No. 2 seeds Anastasia Pivovarova of Russia and Katerina Vankova of the Czech Republic, who defeated unseeded Maria Mokh of the U.S. and Ksenia Pervak of Russia 6-0, 6-7 (4), 6-4.
Grigor Dimitrov had never been to the U.S. until last year, when he prepared for the Eddie Herr and the Junior Orange Bowl at the Weil Academy in Ojai California. He won the Eddie Herr 14s title and was a finalist at the Junior Orange Bowl, so his return to Florida brought back many pleasant memories that he's now added to, with a 6-2, 6-1 victory over No. 10 seed Devin Britton of the U.S.
"That was my court," said the 15-year-old Bulgarian of Court 17, where he defeated Alex Domijan in the final in 2005. "I played on it last year, so it felt pretty good."
Britton, also 15, had served and volleyed throughout his tense semifinal victory over Domijan, but in the final neither of those two shots--crucial to his game's success--was working.
"I definitely could have served a lot better," said Britton, who didn't drop his serve in his semifinal win, but was broken the first time he served in the final. "It's about holding serve for me. I wasn't making any first serves and I wasn't getting into any of the points, establishing any rhythm."
Dimitrov, seeded second, admitted that he liked his chances against a net-rusher like Britton.
"I like to play against guys like this that go to the net," said Dimitrov. "I have more confidence. I know what to do."
"Even when I did get my first serve in, I wasn't putting away the volley," said Britton, "and he would get there, and come up with an angle, or a lob or something. There wasn't much I could do."
"I just played good today," agreed Dimitrov. "I don't know what else to say. To play so in the finals, it's just amazing."
Also amazing was the Bulgaria's perfect record in the 16s, as Tanya Raykova, also from that country, joined Dimitrov as an Eddie Herr champion in the girls 16s, downing No. 14 seed Yasmin Clarke of Great Britain 6-2, 2-6, 6-1.
"I feel really happy about both of us," said Raykova, a longtime friend of Dimitrov's who also trains at the Weil Academy. "He was cheering me on a lot, and I appreciate it."
Raykova, 15, had a difficult three-set semifinal match Saturday followed by the doubles final, which she and partner Jaklin Alawi, also of Bulgaria, won. She admitted to being tired and wanting to "play less" on Sunday, but Clarke, who also had a three-set semifinal, wouldn't accommodate her. Raykova righted herself quickly in the third set however, jumping out to a 3-0 lead, and she coasted from there.
"I just concentrated more and more, found a way back," said Raykova. "I think I'm mentally good."
Like Dimitrov in the boys 16s, the girls 14s featured a back-to-back winner, as Hanna Orlik of Belarus, the 2005 12s winner, defeated No. 9 seed Ajla Tomljanovic of Croatia 6-4, 6-1. Orlik, the 2006 recipient of the tournament's prestigious "Rising Star" award, had beaten Tomljanovic in that final too, but despite her history, she wasn't totally comfortable.
"First set, I was little bit nervous," said No. 3 seed Orlik, who trains in Minsk most of the year. "But second set, no errors, nothing. I play good I think."
On tap next for Orlik is the Junior Orange Bowl, where she won the 12s last year, but for 2007, she has her sights set on bigger things.
"After my birthday in March (when she turns 14), I can play some money tournaments, ten thousand, maybe twenty-five thousand (dollar)," she said. "Octagon is my sponsor, so maybe they give me some wild cards."
The boys 14s winner was also a No. 3 seed, Yasutaka Uchiyama of Japan, who defeated No. 8 seed Ashot Khacharyan of Russia 6-1, 6-4.
"I want to play good from start," said Uchiyama, who has been training at the IMG Bollettieri Academy for a year. "But he play better in second set. My serve and forehand, they help me."
Despite the late hour in Japan when his match finished, Uchiyama, 14, phoned his parents in Sapporo tell them the good news. After the Junior Orange Bowl, he will return home while on break from Bradenton Academy.
Marcia Frost at collegeandjuniortennis.com is also covering the tournament this weekend and then will be at the Little Mo International in Dallas next weekend. I'm on to the Orange Bowl at Crandon Park.
For complete draws, see eddierherr.com.
Sunday, December 3, 2006