©Colette Lewis 2007--
Kei Nishikori, the No. 4 seed, overcame a slow start to defeat unseeded Mike McClune 6-7 (2), 6-4, 6-1 in the boys' final, while top-seeded Sorana Cirstea started quickly in her 6-2, 6-1 victory over No. 3 seed Anastasia Pivovarova in the girls' match that followed.
McClune had requested the boys' final be moved up so he could catch a flight to Tallahassee to make a qualifying deadline for the challenger there, and the original schedule of the boys following the girls was reversed, with action beginning an hour earlier.
McClune's start indicated that he was ready; he won the first nine points of the match, and didn't face a break point until the seventh game. But Nishikori converted it, and when the 17-year-old from Japan saved five set points serving at 4-5, it was apparent he wasn't going to allow McClune a quick and tidy first set. And although the 17-year-old from Irvine, California took the tiebreak and came up with an early break in the second set, Nishikori began to move with his customary speed midway through the set.
"His weapon is his mobility," said Gabriel Jaramillo, who coaches Nishikori at the IMG Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Bradenton. "He moves very well."
McClune's forehand began to produce more errors than winners, and his serve, which was so effective in his first two wins, wasn't as reliable against Nishikori.
"My served failed me," McClune said. "I don't know what happened. I was serving great all week, and I just couldn't find it today. My serve got worse throughout the match and so I had to just grind with him and on most days he's going to win doing that."
Nishikori, who admitted that nerves played a role in his slow start, credited his forehand and a change of strategy for the turnaround.
"In the second set, I changed my mind, sometimes go to net," said Nishikori, "and don't miss. I was pumped up and moving well."
Between the second and third sets, Nishikori requested a trainer, and his shoulder was treated, an injury he partially attributed to his workouts with world No. 1 Roger Federer the previous week.
But there were no signs of physical problems in the way he played in the third set; in a complete reversal of the first set, he took the first three games easily, missing nothing, while McClune couldn't recapture the form he displayed in the first set.
Both McClune and Nishikori will concentrate on Future and Challenger level tournaments in the upcoming months, and according to Jaramillo, the goal for Nishikori is to raise his ranking sufficiently to get into the U.S. Open qualifying.
With the Luxilon Cup win, he has a spot in the qualifying for the 2008 Sony Ericsson, but right now he is looking forward to some rest.
"I'm taking a couple of weeks off," Nishikori said, after posing for photographs and signing autographs after the match. "I am so happy, it's great to win a big tournament."
The prize was even bigger for Cirstea. The girls' champion gets a wild card into the Sony Ericsson main draw, and Cirstea wasn't shy about admitting that as her reason for accepting her invitation into the Luxilon Cup.
"We came here to take first place," said the Romanian, speaking of she and her coach. "And we are happy to reach the goal. I have to prepare well to be in shape when we are coming here next year."
A large crowd gathered around Practice Court A, as those arriving early for the Murray - Djokovic match sought to get a peek at the Sony Ericsson's future stars. Several remarked on Pivovarov's unusually high toss on her serve, noting that it would be especially prone to the whims of the day's typical Key Biscayne March breezes. She double faulted six times, and Cirstea's aggressive play on any second serve contributed to Pivovarova's woes.
"It's really hard because of the wind," said Cirstea, who turns 17 next week. "Me, I change my serve; my toss wasn't as high as normal, because the wind was taking the ball. She has that really high toss and I think it wasn't the best in this wind."
In her semifinal win over Jamie Hampton on Thursday, Pivovarova was moving forward, attacking the ball, but the 16-year-old from Moscow was back on her heels for most of the match. Cirstea's superior serving was one reason, and her defense also contributed to Pivovarova trying to do too much.
"She was maybe stepping back a little bit, making mistakes on important points," said Cirstea, "and it helped me, gave me confidence."
Cirstea, who is ranked 323 on the WTA computer and recently reached the semifinals of a $25K event in Spain, is planning on playing all the Junior Grand Slams this year, hoping to solidify her spot in the ITF Junior Ranking Top Ten. But right now, she is looking forward to going back to Romania, where she can return to her non-tennis life for a few weeks before the clay court season starts in Europe.
"I'm going back home, taking a few days off, because I've been away like one month now," said Cirstea, taking time to sign autographs and pose for photographs between interviews. "So I just want to go to school, hang out with my friends, and take it easy before I start to work on the clay."
Friday, March 30, 2007