©Colette Lewis 2006--
Key Biscayne, FL--
Allie Will hasn't been playing tennis for long, but on Saturday she grabbed one of the most prestigious titles in junior tennis, that of Orange Bowl champion, defeating Lauren Embree 6-4, 6-1.
While growing up in California, Will played all the major sports and was good enough to win the shortstop position as the only girl on a boys' baseball team. But once she got a tennis racquet in her hand, at age 10 1/2, she'd found the perfect sport for her.
In Saturday's match, the gusty winds gave both players trouble. Will, the No. 14 seed, chose to receive and broke Embree, but then lost the next four games.
"In the wind it was hard to hit my flat first serve," said Will, 15. "I was spinning in a lot of second serves."
Embree took advantage of that early, aggressively returning any second serves, but when Will got accustomed to conditions, she began taking control of the match.
"At first I was a little nervous, and I had trouble closing out the points," said Will, who missed several overheads and volleys early.
"But toward the end of the first and the whole second set, I started closing out the points better and putting away the volley. If I sat back and waited for her to make an error, we'd still be playing."
The unseeded Embree, also 15, has a reputation for comebacks, but on Saturday, Will had no difficulty closing out the quick counterpuncher.
"I know that she's a fighter and that's she never going to give up," said Will, who has a 4-1 record against Embree with Saturday's victory. "She's got a very good game, so you've got to close it out, and I'm happy I did."
Will, who is coached by Andy Brandi and Harold Solomon at their recently formed academy in Lauderdale, has plans for a big celebration.
"I don't get to have desserts and stuff very often," she said. "Fitness is hard, and even harder if you don't eat properly. But I'm going to let my fitness instructor know that I'm having some ice cream tonight."
The flavor? Cake Batter from Cold Stone Creamery.
Bulgaria's Grigor Dimitrov swept his second consecutive major junior title in as many weeks, following his Eddie Herr 16s championship with one from the Orange Bowl, defeating Germany's David Thurner 6-3, 7-6 (0). Dimitrov is believed to be the only player to have won both the 16s championships, and is certainly the only to have done it on hard courts, as the Orange Bowl was played on clay until 1998.
Playing in his second consecutive Orange Bowl final, Dimitrov, the only seeded player in the semifinals at No. 5, didn't care for the blustery conditions.
"The weather was bad, really bad, unbelievable," the 15-year-old said. "I dropped my serve, but you have to play, to forget about it."
Dimitrov didn't falter when he had his chance to close out Thurner.
"I was pretty motivated," said Dimitrov, who will begin playing 18s in 2007. "I knew I was going to win the tiebreak. I was just sure."
After winning twelve straight matches, Dimitrov admitted to being tired, but looks at it as training for the future.
"Anyone who wants to be an ATP player, there's a lot of tournaments in a row, so you have to be prepared every single week."
Dimitrov also mentioned that he is looking for a coach to replace his father, one with ATP experience, who will travel with him and help with the transition from the junior game.
But right now Dimitrov will rest, returning to Bulgaria for the holidays before he starts 2007 with an ITF Grade 3 in Sweden.
"It sounds really good," he said with a smile.
The semifinals in the 18s were not kind to U.S. players, as Delaware's Madison Brengle, the 12th seed, dropped a 7-6 (1), 3-6, 6-2 decision to No. 9 seed Nikola Hofmanova of Austria.
The crafty right-hander fought off a set point serving at 4-5 in the first set, and played flawlessly in the tiebreak.
"I missed an easy backhand," said Brengle of that set point, perhaps also remembering a match point in their previous meeting, which Hofmanova also won. "I'll remember that one for a while. It will only mildly haunt me."
"In the first set, we both played very good," said Hofmanova. "In the second set I made too much mistakes, and she played good, more aggressive than me. In the third set, I was the one who did not make so much mistakes, and she put every third ball out, made a mistake."
When asked what makes the rail-thin 15-year-old so tough, Brengle summed it up quickly.
"Her ball is really hard to read off her racquet," Brengle said. "Normally I get a good first step, but I'm a step slower when I play her."
Hofmanova will face No. 2 seed Ksenia Milevskaya of Belarus in the final. Milevskaya defeated No. 3 seed Sharon Fichman of Canada 6-4, 4-6, 6-0.
"I was up 4-3 in the second set," said the 16-year-old from Minsk, who has won five ITF Grade 1s in 2006, and led her team to the Junior Federation Cup. "But I got a little tight to finish the match, because it's semifinals and she's a good player."
But after a bathroom break, Milevskaya returned with renewed focus.
"I was confident and concentrating, and I was lucky. She didn't play so well in the third set."
Hofmanova is approaching her meeting with Milevskaya with optimism.
"I played against her many times, and I lost every time," said Hofmanova. But that changed this year at Wimbledon, when she upset Milevskaya in the first round. "To beat her was good for me."
Top seed Nicolas Santos of Brazil will attempt to duplicate the feat of Dimitrov, winning back-to-back titles at the Eddie Herr and Orange Bowl in 2006. Santos earned the chance to become the first player since Andy Roddick in 1999 to win both in the 18s with a 6-3, 6-4 victory over unseeded Peter Polansky of Canada.
"Yes, I'm tired," said Santos, via his coach and interpreter Luis Faria. "But on the other hand, it's a lot of motivation for the finals."
Santos was serving for the match at 5-3, and had three match points, but couldn't shake Polansky. When Polansky, a 2006 U.S. Open junior finalist, finally got the break to get back on serve, there was an opportunity to turn the match around. But Polansky was unable to hold, and Santos converted on his fifth match point.
"I think the wind bothered him more than me," Santos, 18, said. "He takes all the risks, and I start to play very solid."
The anticipated final between No. 1 seed Santos and the No. 2 seed Donald Young was derailed on Saturday by Petru Alexandru Luncanu of Romania, who beat his fellow left-hander 7-6 (6), 6-2.
"The first set was tough because I had to get in a rhythm with him," said Luncanu, who has beaten Young in their only two meetings. "But I found the key, to go over the ball, attack every time, push him to make unforced errors."
Young often is able to ramp his game up at crucial stages of a match, but the tiebreak slipped away from him when he committed a double fault and two forehand errors.
"I think after the first set he quit a little bit in games, he did not try as much," said Luncanu, 17.
"He played well, I didn't play so well," said Young. "When you have wind you have to play it all different. He played it better today than I did."
The 17-year-old from Atlanta admitted that he wasn't as aggressive as he needed to be.
"I should have come in a lot more," said Young. "The times I came in, I won the point. That's what I've been doing all tournament, coming in and putting pressure on people, but I didn't put any pressure on him today."
The doubles schedule had to be reworked due to rain on Friday and players still in singles. The boys' 16s doubles title went to No. 5 seeds Xander Spong of the Netherlands and Ilija Vucic of Serbia 7-5, 6-0 over Nikolaus Moser of Austria and Gilad Ben Zui of Israel.
In the girls 16s doubles final played Saturday evening, Embree and partner Jessica Alexander, downed the Canadian team of Gabriela Dabrowski and Brittany Wowchuk 6-3, 6-2/
For complete draws, see usta.com.
Saturday, December 9, 2006