©Colette Lewis 2007--
Key Biscayne, FL--
It was a two-ring circus at Crandon Park Sunday, although no tent obscured the partly cloudy skies and the swaying palm trees. But with the singles finals for both girls and boys played simultaneously, a ringmaster would have come in handy to direct attention to the key points. Fans would hover around the edges of Stadium Court, where Ricardas Berankis defeated Grigor Dimitrov 6-3, 6-2, until an odd game changeover sent them scurrying to Court 2 to catch a glimpse of the slugfest between Michelle Larcher de Brito and Melanie Oudin, won by Larcher de Brito 7-5, 6-3.
Both Berankis and Oudin had quick 3-0 leads, but only the Lithuanian got it to 4-0 in the first set. Oudin, the 16-year-old from Marietta, Ga. who had won 27 straight ITF junior matches, had three points to take a 4-0 lead, but Larcher de Brito hung on to that game and got a break in the next to start her comeback.
"In the beginning she was making a few errors and I wasn't missing," said Oudin, who has played 22 singles and doubles matches in the past 14 days. "And then she started playing better, and I started making some errors, but all in all it was a good match. I've played a lot of matches lately, so I'm a little tired, but I've got to give her credit."
Larcher de Brito didn't shy away from Oudin's forehand, which she thought slightly superior to the backhand, primarily because she was focusing on her own game.
"If I worry about too much, well, I like my head clear and I try not to think about anyone else's play," said Larcher de Brito, who will turn 15 next month. "Melanie is playing unbelievably; she's improved a lot, and we played one great match."
Oudin had success when she got her first serve in, but Larcher de Brito was stepping into the court to attack the second serve, taking control of the point with her deep and heavy groundstrokes. With a sizeable cheering section, including her grandparents from South Africa, calling out encouragement, Larcher de Brito was poised to run away with the match when she broke Oudin to start the second set, but Oudin dug in and held in the third game to keep within shouting distance. She wouldn't hold again, however. Larcher de Brito's celebration was delayed slightly when she was broken serving for the match at 5-2, but in the next game she converted on her first match point, when an Oudin approach caught the tape.
Falling to the ground behind the baseline, Larcher de Brito stayed on her back for a few seconds, knees bent, savoring her first tournament victory this year. Then she shook Oudin's hand and surged toward the side fence to embrace her grandparents.
"It means a lot," said Larcher de Brito, when asked about winning the Orange Bowl, the first Portuguese player to do so. "It's been a great tournament, it's been a great week. My family's been here supporting me, my grandparents, and I've felt a lot of support and felt really good throughout the whole week."
Berankis was dealing with more than just Dimitrov in Sunday morning's final. After a Houdini-like escape trailing Jarmere Jenkins 5-2 in the third in Saturday's semifinal, the Lithuanian still has hopes of winning the year-end ITF Junior World Championship, and with his finals victory he will take over the top spot with one tournament left to play, The Yucatan World Cup, where he is defending champion.
As is often the case with the Orange Bowl, the limited direct flights to the Yucatan for a Monday start are a factor, and Berankis could not afford to play a long three-setter. Fortunately for him, Dimitrov complied, with the 16-year-old from Bulgaria playing from behind the entire match.
"I knew I couldn't play well today," said Dimitrov, the 16s Orange Bowl champion last year. "I didn't sleep well last night, I was pretty tired already. I knew I couldn't play good today, so my only chance was to get in the court and finish the match."
At the 3-2 changeover in the second set, after he had broken Berankis, Dimitrov called for a trainer, but it didn't help.
"I don't think he was injured, I think he was cramping," Berankis said, and thinking back to the Jenkins match added, "Unbelievable."
Dimitrov was broken the last two times he served, and in a flash, Berankis had done his photo duties, backed up his racquet bag and sprinted to the parking lot, with no time to savor the Orange Bowl Championship or his climb to No. 1.
"I'm going right now," said Berankis, the first Lithuanian to win the Orange Bowl. "I'm late for my plane, but we'll see how it goes, I'm going to try my best."
The doubles finals were played Sunday afternoon, and Oudin didn't leave Key Biscayne without a winner's trophy. She and partner Mallory Cecil, the No. 4 seeds, defeated the unseeded U.S. tandem of Coco Vandeweghe and Allie Will 6-2, 6-4.
"I definitely wanted to win a final today after losing in singles," said Oudin, who was a doubles finalist at the Eddie Herr with Cecil last week. "Mallory was ready, and she helped me a little bit more in the doubles match. I'm very happy."
The boys 18 Orange Bowl doubles champions were also finalists at the Eddie Herr last week. Roman Jebavy of the Czech Republic and Vasek Pospisil of Canada lost a third set tiebreaker in Bradenton, but Sunday the No. 2 seeds came out the winners, defeating No. 7 seeds Matt Reid and John Patrick Smith of Australia 6-4, 4-6, 6-4.
For complete draws, see usta.com.
Sunday, December 9, 2007