©Colette Lewis 2007--
Flushing Meadows, NY--
He comes from a small country not previously known for male Grand Slam champions but Lithuanian Ricardas Berankis' shares more than that with Roger Federer. Berankis, who defeated unseeded Jerzy Janowicz of Poland 6-3, 6-4 to win the US Open Junior Championship Sunday afternoon, was called on by the Swiss champion to serve as a hitting partner in Dubai prior to the summer hard court season in the United States.
And, after Berankis completed his efficient and opportunistic victory over the 6-foot-6 inch serving machine and the sparsely attended media interviews, he had the honor of warming up the 11-time Grand Slam champion in advance of his fourth straight U.S. Open title.
The boys final, played on Court 11 under this week's predictably sunny skies, was a 53-minute affair, with the changeovers often lasting longer than the games themselves. Berankis opened the match by holding serve, broke Janowicz, and then didn't see another break chance until 3-3 in the second set. In fact, during one nine-game span neither player won more than one point on the other's serve.
Jakub Ulczynski, Janowicz's coach and interpreter, said that his player was deliberately shortening points due to the heat and his fatigue, with the 16-year-old from Lodz having played four consecutive three-setters and four tiebreakers this week. After Janowicz found the rhythm on his gigantic serve, a second set tiebreaker loomed large, but at 3-3 30-30, a Janowicz error gave Berankis his chance, and he seized it.
Janowicz rocketed a first serve and Berankis bunted it back, short enough that Janowicz had to move forward for the forehand putaway. Berankis regained his balance and anticipated the shot, slamming a backhand past Janowicz, a break with huge significance since Berankis did not face a break point throughout the match.
"Today (I) was serving pretty well, consistent, like pretty fast, flat," said Berankis who had three aces to Janowicz's six. "And I was pretty consistent on the returns."
Janowicz described that second set break as "a little bit lucky," referring to Berankis' returns finding the lines on a couple of occasions in that seventh game. "With his tiredness his only chance to win this match was to go to the tiebreaker," Ulczynski admitted, "but a little bad luck and he lost."
Berankis, who didn't lose a set in the tournament, came off his win in last week's Grade 1 championship in Canada full of confidence; the 15th seed is now looking to compete in several Futures tournaments in California in an attempt to raise his ATP ranking, currently at 788. But first there's a seat for him in the player's box at Arthur Ashe stadium when he can cheer on Federer's quest to join him as a 2007 US Open champion.
Kristina Kucova, the girls champion, has a rooting interest on the other side. After upsetting 2007 Wimbledon Junior titleist and No. 2 seed Urszula Radwanska 6-3, 1-6, 7-6(4) in a two-hour and eight minute marathon, the unseeded Slovakian revealed in the post-match interview that she had received a ticket from Marian Vajda, Novak Djokovic's coach, and would be cheering for her "favorite" Sunday evening.
In the final, Radwanska took an early 3-0 lead, but the carryover from her five sets of tennis on Saturday, when she beat her doubles partner Ksenia Milevskaya of Belarus and then teamed with her to win the doubles championship, began to take its toll.
After Kucova had won four straight games from Radwanska to take a 4-3 lead in the first, Radwanska called for a trainer, indicating a problem with her knee.
"I felt pain in my knee," said the 16-year-old from Krakow, Poland. "I don't know what happened, maybe just too tired. Not very big pain, but it didn't go away."
Radwanska dropped the next two games, but won going away in the second, and then the match really picked up steam. After an early exchange of breaks, the girls traded ground strokes for a solid hour--Radwanska using the low-to-the-ground backhand that is so common now among European teenage girls; Kucova deploying her two-handed forehand up the middle to keep Radwanska from creating angles. The crowd, which was building with each passing game, cheered loudly for both players, although Kucova (Kika to her friends and family) was missing her "K-Block," the New York Slovakians whose work obligations kept them from supporting her as they had all week."
Serving from behind, Kucova, 17, showed no signs of pressure, but she did let a couple of chances slip away with Radwanska serving at 5-5, 15-40. First Kucova hit a backhand wide, then a forehand long and two winners by Radwanska nullified that opportunity to serve for the match.
But in the tiebreaker, Kucova forged a 5-1 lead as the steadier of the two, although points were decided more often with errors than with with winners. Although Radwanska brought it back to 5-3 and saved a match point with a brave forehand on the line, on the final point her backhand sailed long and shortly afterwards, her racquet flew toward the net as Kucova collapsed to the ground far behind the baseline.
The handshake turned into an embrace, as both girls recognized the valiant effort of the other.
"I told her well-played, congratulations, and don't cry, because she was crying," said Radwanska.
"I don't know if I cry," said Kucova. "It was a shock for me, the last ball. I just fell on the court. I don't know what happened then."
A few hours later, after she had received her championship trophy in Arthur Ashe Stadium, "my dream," she said, Kucova was still trying to comprehend her achievement.
"I still can't believe it. It's a wonderful feeling. It's amazing. I can say nothing."
Sunday, September 9, 2007