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Thursday, September 6, 2007

Albanese Sole American Remaining in Singles at US Open Juniors

©Colette Lewis 2007--
Flushing Meadows, NY--

At most of the tournaments I attend, player interview scheduling usually consists of approaching a player after his or her match and asking if I could talk to them about it. Things are quite a bit different at Grand Slam events, much more structured, with written requests relayed to the ITF staff, who then approach the player after the match and ask them when they will be available for an interview. The interview is scheduled for an conference room (there are three at the US Open, of varying sizes), the time is posted on a monitor in the media center, and then the player is escorted to room by the ITF Staff.

It's very difficult to keep up with this interviewing cavalcade when there are so many matches to watch, especially at this stage in the tournament. So today, I submitted seven interview requests, one for each American player left in the singles draw, for "win only" (the other option is win or lose). And, much to my surprise and disappointment, I spent more time watching matches than I did talking to players about their wins, as only one, Lauren Albanese, survived the the third round.

The day started out promisingly enough. The weather was terrific again, as it has been throughout the junior tournament, and the three U.S. boys--Dennis Nevolo, Rhyne Williams and Ryan Thacher all took early leads. Williams and Nevolo were first on, and the ninth seeded Williams used one early break of No. 5 seed Australian Greg Jones to take the first set. At the 5-4 changeover, as I headed to Court 8 to see how Nevolo was doing, I overheard a tennis fan remark to his companion as they left the Jones/Williams contest, "They weren't rallying. I like to see rallies." And the man was correct. Serves dominated, and I saw one game when Jones never got a ball in play when Williams was serving. Few points lasted more than two strokes.

Nevolo, playing the No. 8 seed Roman Jebavy of the Czech Republic, was broken serving for the first set at 5-4, but Jebavy couldn't take advantage, was broken again, and Nevolo held at love to take the first set. Nevolo returned extremely well, closed the net when he had the stocky Czech off balance, and used some deft drop and stop volleys in the first set, but the second set got away from him quickly and he made little effort to win a game after going down 4-0. In the third, he wasn't able to recapture the magic of the first set, and the qualifier's run ended 5-7, 6-0, 6-2.

Meanwhile Williams had held to win the first set 6-4 and had broken Jones for a 1-0 lead in the second. But Jones got the break right back and the serving exhibition continued, with a tiebreaker the unsurprisingly result. All the pressure was on the Australian, but after winning his previous two matches in third-set tiebreakers, it was nothing new to him, and two aces at 4-3 really helped his cause. One his first set point, he chipped and charged on a Williams second serve and the Tennesseean couldn't come up with the pass. Jones broke Williams early in the third, and it was all he needed, as he took care of his own serve the rest of the way for a 4-6, 7-6 (3), 6-4 victory.

After that match finished I had time to catch the end of No. 8 seed Lauren Albanese's victory over No. 10 seed Ksenia Lykina of Russia. It was 5-3 in the third when I arrived, but I saw more of the match than I had anticipated I would, especially when Albanese got a look at a match point at 3-5, 30-40. It could have been over then, but Albanese mishit a backhand, Lykina held and Albanese needed to serve it out.

At 5-4, 40-0, a quick ending seemed likely, but it was five match points later before a couple of serve winners finally gave Albanese the 6-3, 2-6, 6-4 decision. Albanese credited her serve as the reason she won the first set, but she wasn't pleased with her consistency.

"I was serving unbelievable in the first set, a lot of aces, but she gave me a lot in the first set," said Albanese, a semifinalist in the US Open junior championships last year. "My first serve percentage fluctuated so much. I think there was a stretch where I missed 12 first serves in a row, some unbelievable stat like that."

Albanese knows she'll need to avoid stretches like that in her quarterfinal match against Urszula Radwanska of Poland, seeded No. 2 in the Open, but now ranked No. 1 in the world in the latest ITF junior rankings.

"Obviously it's going to be tough. She won Junior Wimbledon. She's a good player, but I'm a good player also, so I just have to focus on what I'm going to do," Albanese said.

My next stop was Ryan Thacher, who was up 3-0 on unseeded Daniel Evans of Great Britain when I arrived. But Thacher won only one more game in set from the small but hard-hitting 17-year-old from Birmingham England. Evans began to zero in on Thacher's serve, which the left-hander wasn't hitting with the pace he displayed in his first two wins, earning an early break in the second set. Thacher fought back to make it 3-3, they exchanged breaks again for 4-4, then held to 6-6. In the tiebreaker, Evans continued to play aggressively, and two key serve and volley successes and one return winner contributed to his cause. Several straw-hat-wearing British "tournament guests" as their credentials identified them, watched their junior in the second set, and piped in with a "well-played" comment on a regular basis. They too were right; Evans played well, earned his 6-4, 7-6 (3) victory and has now advanced to quarterfinals where he'll face No. 3 seed Matteo Trevisan of Italy.

I caught just a bit of Ashley Weinhold, who lost 6-1, 6-3 to Sacha Jones of New Zealand, a surprisingly lopsided score after their 7-5 in the third barnburner last year in the same round. I then got my first extended look at Coco Vandeweghe, who was playing Australian Jessica Moore, and had dropped the first set 6-4. But Vandeweghe made an early break in the second stand up, taking it by the same score.

Down 3-1 in the third, Vandeweghe fought back to 3-3, but serving at 3-4 30-30, the powerful Californian sent a routine backhand rally ball flying. On the next point, Moore took an excellent approach shot from Vandeweghe and from well off the court, caressed a topspin forehand to within inches of the baseline for the break.

Both girls were stepping two or three feet inside the baseline to return second serves, so no lead was ever safe, and Moore had her difficulties serving out the match at 5-3. Vandeweghe made four uncharacteristic return errors in the game, but even with those missteps, she had three break chances. Moore hung in there however, and finally on her fourth match point, she earned her spot in the quarterfinals despite being unseeded.

In fact, half of the girls quarterfinalists are unseeded. Jones and Moore are joined by Oksana Kalashnikova of Georgia and Kristina Kucova of Slovakia.

For the first time in four years, a boy from the U.S. will not hold a US Open Junior doubles trophy. The final American boy in doubles, Devin Britton, and his partner Australian Jared Easton, were elminated on Thursday by Jones and his partner Stephen Donald, the No. 2 seeds, 6-0, 6-3.

The unseeded girls team of Kristy Frilling and Asia Muhammed of the U.S. advanced to the semifinals however, upsetting the No. 4 seeded team of Lenka Jurikova of Slovakia and Katarzyna Piter of Poland 4-6, 6-1, 6-1 Thursday afternoon.

For complete draws, visit usopen.org.


Anonymous said...

Coco has an lot of game. She obviously needs a lot of work, but she is the one American girl with a shot at the next level.

Anonymous said...

Go Lauren!!!! It would be a great kick start to her career to win the tourney and beat radwanska and pavlyuchenkova doing it.