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Thursday, March 29, 2007

McClune and Nishikori in Boys Final; Cirstea and Pivovarova to Vie for girls Luxilon title

©Colette Lewis 2007--
Miami FL--

It was a short trip to the Luxilon Cup finals for Mike McClune on Thursday, so brief that the 17-year-old from Irvine, California was looking for another match in the afternoon to keep sharp.

His opponent, 16-year-old Gastao Elias of Portugal, held serve in a five-deuce game to take a 2-1 lead in the first set, then walked over to the chair umpire and announced he was retiring, due to back pain.

Pain of a different type befell Jamie Hampton, when the unseeded 17-year-old lost six straight games after taking a 5-1 lead in the second set to give Russia's Anastasia Pivovarova, the No. 3 seed, a 6-2, 7-5 victory.

"I just relaxed," said Pivovarova, describing what led to the change of momentum. "I told myself not to miss, so she has to win the point."

Hampton, who lives in Alabama and trains in the Atlanta area, used her slice and variety to build the big second set lead, and Pivovarova's confidence was waning. But when Hampton failed to convert a 40-15 lead serving at 5-1 and then let three more set points get away at 2-5, 0-40, the momentum definitely began to shift. The Russian was not going to be hit off the court, and several times when it appeared that she was, the 16-year-old from Moscow managed to pull off some demoralizing winners from a variety of precarious positions.

Pivovarova also began to test the Hampton forehand more, and that strategy worked in minimizing the damage of Hampton's double-handed backhand.

The Russian, who is training at the Evert Academy in Boca Raton when in the U.S. for tournaments, said that she had mounted similar comebacks before, which helped her stay focused and "fighting for every point."

On Friday, she will face another player who has proven difficult to derail, top seed Sorana Cirstea of Romania, who defeated unseeded Petra Martic of Croatia 7-6 (2), 6-3.

"I started well," said Cirstea of her 4-0 lead in the first set. "I was thinking, 'this is going too fast', started thinking, you know, and that was my mistake."

Serving for the set at 5-3, Cirstea admitted to being "a little bit tight," and didn't convert on two set points in that game and on another at 6-5, but unlike Hampton, she recovered her equilibrium before she lost the set.

"After I took the first set, I was just more confident, like yesterday," said the 16-year-old, recalling her battle to take an opening set tiebreak from Julia Boserup. "It gives me more confidence when I take the first set."

And as she did against Boserup, Cirstea accelerated through the second set, giving the elegant Martic little hope of coming back. After the match, as she walked off the courts, Cirstea received a congratulatory hug from the young son of Ruxandra Dragomir, the Romanian Federation Cup coach, who was on hand for Cirstea's match.

In the last match of the day, No. 4 seed Kei Nishikori of Japan defeated No. 2 seed Ricardas Berankis of Lithuania 6-2, 6-3.

Berankis, who had played flawlessly against Devin Britton on Wednesday, never facing a break point, was down three in his first service game against the 17-year-old Bollettieri student. Nishikori has played no junior tournaments since last year's US Open, concentrating on ITF Men's Circuit events, having enough success in them to earn a top 600 ranking on the ATP's computer.

He also has the added advantage of having served as the hitting partner for Roger Federer at the Sony Ericsson the past two weeks.

"I was so nervous," said Nishikori, who was also a hitting partner for Rafael Nadal at last year's French Open. "But he was so nice to me, and it is good to just hit his ball."

Nishikori showed some of the variety of his mentor against Berankis, who had himself recently won an ITF Men's Futures event in Portugal. Using pace, spin and a fast start, Nishikori had the 16-year-old on defense from the beginning.

"I knew he was good, and I was ready," said Nishikori. "The first couple of games, I didn't miss a ball. My forehand was hitting well."

The first set was over quickly, but the ultra-composed Berankis gave no sign of discouragement, or any other emotion. After trading breaks in the fourth and fifth games, both held, but at 3-4, Berankis buckled. Although he saved two break points with forehand winners, two back-to-back double faults sealed his fate, as Nishikori held at love for the match.

McClune and Nishikori haven't played but they were familiar enough with each other to warm up together Thursday morning.

"I've seen him in the Futures a couple times," said Nishikori. "I know how he plays. We warm up together....but probably not tomorrow," he laughed.

The Luxilon Cup finals begin at noon Friday. The girls will play first, followed by the boys.