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Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Couts, Nevolo and Williams and Vandeweghe Reach Third Round USO Jr. Championships

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

American qualifiers Kim Couts and Dennis Nevolo came to New York not knowing if they would make the qualifying draw, but six days later, they find themselves among the final 16 players in the U.S. Open Junior Championships after ousting seeds in second round action today. Wild card Coco Vandeweghe also put a seed on the sidelines, defeating No. 14 seed Elena Chernyakova of Russia 7-6 (2), 6-0, while Rhyne Williams, the only American boy seeded at No. 9, came through, giving the U.S. three boys and four girls in the third round.

Couts, 18, hasn't played a junior event since the Australian Open, but she won a $10,000 ITF Pro Circuit event in late July. She told me that victory had given her confidence a boost and it showed today in her 6-4, 4-6, 6-1 win over No. 11 seed Bojana Jovanovski of Serbia.

Couts had hoped that her win of the Futures circuit would get her a main draw junior wild card, but when one wasn't forthcoming, she played the waiting game.

"I ended up being the second to the last player in (to qualifying)," said Couts, who recently decided to pursue professional tennis as a career. "Thursday night, when I found out I got in, I was just so happy to be here, to be in the tournament. That's not an easy situation to be in sometimes. Okay, I'm in, and then the next day it's time to play. I did a good job getting through those two matches and I've kept the momentum going."

In the first set of the match, Couts had trouble with the Serbian's serve, which resembles that of the notoriously erratic Elena Dementieva.

"It has a ton of slice on it, it's not a penetrating serve at all," said Couts. "It's certainly not going to hurt you, but in a way it does hurt you, because it's so short in the box and there's so much spin on it. It takes a lot of getting used to, actually. I returned great at the end, but in the beginning I wasn't returning well at all."

Nevolo faced a different kind of challenge from No. 12 seed John-Patrick Smith of Australia, who definitely had some pop on his serve. The first set went to Nevolo 6-2, the second to Smith by the same score.

"He wasn't playing very well the first set," Nevolo said. "I was playing really aggressive and he wasn't moving that well; he wasn't getting that many balls in the court, so I only had to hit a couple of good shots a point. But in the second set he got a lot more depth on his balls, he started to play more solid, and I stopped being aggressive."

The tension built in the third set, with no breaks in the first eight games. But with Smith serving in the ninth game, Nevolo had four break points, finally converting when the Australian missed a volley just long.

Serving for the match, particularly after a changeover to think about it, can be difficult, but Nevolo had no trouble, taking a 40-0 lead and finishing two points later when Smith hit a backhand just out, closing out his 6-2, 2-6, 6-4 win.

"I was a little nervous, but I kept doing what I did the last few games," said the 17-year-old Illinois resident, currently ranked 149 in the ITF junior rankings. "I played three good points in a row, I came in. It was probably one of the better games I played."

Like Couts, Nevolo wasn't sure his trip to New York would provide him with any tennis-playing opportunities.

"The second to last day, I think I was the 10th alternate," said Nevolo, whose only previous Grand Slam experience was at the 2005 US Open Juniors, where he lost in the first round of qualifying and in the first round of the main draw as a doubles wildcard. "We weren't sure I was going to get in, but we know a lot of people pull out. But it's hard, coming here not being positive I would get in."

That wasn't a problem for 16-year-old Rhyne Williams, although he did have a stomach muscle pull that kept him from playing the Kalamazoo Nationals last month. He pronounced it fully healed and there were certainly no signs of difficulties with it in his 6-4, 6-4 defeat of Gastao Elias, a match that erased some unpleasant memories for Williams.

"The last time the guy gave me a beating," said Williams of their meeting three months ago on clay at an ITF Grade 1 in Belgium. "He crushed me last time, 3 and 1--he took my candy."

But this time it was Williams who was on his best surface, and his serve proved to be more than the 16-year-old from Portugal could handle. Once the points were started, the ground strokes were professional caliber from both boys, but Williams and his coach Andres Pedroso had decided to focus on Elias' forehand.

"He was missing a ton of forehands," Williams said. "Usually I think that's his stronger side, but my coach said to go after it--he knew it ws going to break down, that the backhand was much more solid. So I picked on the forehand as much as possible."

Along with Ryan Thacher, who won his second round match on Tuesday, Williams and Nevolo will play again on Thursday. Vandeweghe and Couts join Ashley Weinhold and Lauren Albanese in the girls third round, also on Thursday. Weinhold earned her spot in the third round on Tuesday, while Albanese, a semifinalist in last year's Junior Open, defeated fellow American Mallory Cecil 6-3, 6-2 to take hers.

The news was not as positive in doubles competition on Wednesday afternoon. Devin Britton is the only American boy to reach the quarterfinals. He and Australian partner Jared Easton took out Adam El Mihdawy and Ryan Harrison of the U.S. 6-2, 3-6, 6-1. 2006 US Open junior doubles finalists Jarmere Jenkins and Austin Krajicek couldn't hold on to a 4-0 lead in the third set or convert a match point at 3-5 in the third set and fell to Moldova's Radu Albot and Russia's Evgeny Donskoy 5-7, 7-5, 7-6 (5). The top seeded boys team of Vlad Ignatic of Belarus and Roman Jebavy of the Czech Republic got a scare from the U.S. team of Alex Domijan and Ty Trombetta before pulling out a 5-7, 6-3, 6-3 win.

The top seeded girls--Russians Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Ksenia Pervak--weren't as fortunate, as they were ushered out by 2007 Wimbledon Junior doubles finalists Musaki Doi and Kurumi Nara of Japan 6-4, 6-4.

Kristy Frilling and Asia Muhammed are the only U.S. team in the girls quarterfinals. Frilling and Muhammed upended the No. 5 seed team of American Gail Brodsky and Jovanovski 6-3, 6-1.

For complete draws, visit usopen.org. For additional coverage of the juniors, see collegeandjuniortennis.com.