©Colette Lewis 2007--
The half dozen U.S. singles finalists produced only one Eddie Herr champion Sunday, but Melanie Oudin's 6-1, 6-4 victory over Poland's Katarzyna Piter was a significant one.
It is the first girls' 18 title for an American since records were kept in 1993, and it marked the fourth consecutive ITF title for Oudin since September.
"I'm really excited now. I never thought I'd win Eddie Herr--especially since it hasn't been my best tournament," said the fifth-seeded Oudin, who lives and trains in suburban Atlanta. "I knew I'd been playing well lately, so I knew I was going to work hard and try to play well here."
Oudin started quickly in the final, played under clear skies on the US Open blue Stadium Court, making virtually no unforced errors. It was a complete reversal of the opening sets in her quarterfinal and semifinal matches, when she was down a set before her shots began to find their range.
"I was really happy with the way I came out today," Oudin said. "In my last much and the one before, I had not played my best tennis in the beginning. But today, I came out strong, was going for my shots and I was making them, and it was working."
Prospects for Piter, seeded seventh, did not look good when she dropped her serve for the fourth straight time in the opening game of the second set, but a change in strategy got her back to even at 3.
"She play well because I play bad," said Piter. "I play much on her forehand and she has a lot of winners. The second set was better for me because I have good tactics--I play more on her backhand. If I win second set, I think third would be a fight."
There were two line judges in addition to a chair umpire, but controversy surfaced at 4-4, with Piter serving down break point, when Oudin hit a ball that was widely observed to have landed well past the baseline. No "out" call came and it gave Oudin the opportunity to serve out the set. After four consecutive breaks, however, that wasn't a particular advantage, and Oudin was down 15-40 before winning the next four points, several of them on line calls that the Piter supporters in the stands loudly disagreed with.
When Oudin's forehand was called wide on the first of four match points she would need to close it out, a derisive cheer rose from Piter's fans, but their sarcasm couldn't help the Polish 16-year-old in the five-deuce game that ended with Oudin's 22nd consecutive junior victory.
Piter didn't express any bitterness over the call that gave Oudin the ninth game. "It was out, like twenty centimeters (eight inches), and the umpire don't see that, but one ball is not the match. Maybe without that call (however), I can win this match."
There was no controversy in the boys' 18s final, with 17-year-old Gastao Elias of Portugal dominating qualifier Alex Domijan 6-1, 6-2. Expecting an interesting contrast of style (Elias) and power (Domijan), most of the hundreds of fans packing the bleachers were instead treated to a serving exhibition by Elias, who admitted that he played "a perfect match."
"I was holding my service games very easily and it helped me very much," said Elias, who trains at Bollettieri and is represented by IMG. "I could spend more energy in the returning game."
Domijan's serve had helped him to eight wins over the course of the week, but Elias had little trouble with it, which gave time to maneuver the 6-foot-6 inch Saddlebrook student around the court. Domijan chipped in with plenty of unforced errors, which kept him from getting into the rhythm that carried him past a raft of good players.
"I thought I played all right," said Domijan, who once again had a large contingent of supporters from Saddlebrook Prep in attendance, this time with a large poster with his last name writ large. "He got a lot of balls in play, and he doesn't really miss, at all. Doesn't miss first serves either."
Elias recently won an ITF Men's event in Mexico, and he conceded that with a win on that next level, pressure can increase when returning to play juniors.
"I dealt with some pressure in the beginning; I knew I had to play good," said No. 9 seed Elias, who lost only one set in the tournament, in the second round. "But I relaxed and played my game."
Elias had friends and coaches from Bollettieri's watching him, Domijan had his Saddlebrook friends, but Sekou Bangoura Jr. brought out even more fans, who hoped to see a local player take an Eddie Herr title. But unseeded Pablo Carreno of Spain took advantage of his opportunities for a 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 victory sending the crowd of several hundred home disappointed.
"I made a lot of unforced errors," said the sixth-seeded Bangoura, who had won four of his five previous matches in three sets. "I was just tentative, he was aggressive, so he won."
With all his experience in three setters, Bangoura should have been confident heading into the third set, but he couldn't shake his jitters.
"I was still a little nervous," Bangoura admitted. "I was trying to stay relaxed, but I got a little tentative and made some bad shot selections. He knew when to attack, and he didn't blow his chances."
Carreno, who trains in Barcelona with the Spanish federation, is in the U.S. for the first time, and he too, was anxious about playing in front of such a large crowd.
"But once I started to concentrate, I started to improve more," Carreno said through an interpreter. "He is a great player, never made mistakes, and I am happy to win."
The girls' 16 champion is 14-year-old Zarina Diyas of Kazakhstan, who overcame a second-set lapse to defeat wild card Alexandra Cercone of Seminole, Fla. 6-1, 3-6, 6-3. Diyas, the No. 4 seed, prepared for her first trip to the U.S. by practicing on clay in the Czech Republic, but her game is well-suited to hard courts, "aggressive tennis," as she called it.
After controlling the first set, Diyas couldn't sustain her momentum.
"I lost concentration," said Diyas, who sought her mother's help in selecting the appropriate word in English throughout the post-match interview. "And I was tired in third set. My knee," she said, pointing down to the area taking the stress of her first tournament on hard courts. "But good serves and good returns."
The second game of the third set proved pivotal, with Cercone holding easily in the first game and then earning several break points for a 2-0 lead, which she failed to convert.
"It was pretty crucial," said Cercone, who admitted the pace of Diyas caught her off guard in the first set. "I was kind of upset I didn't win it."
When Cercone was broken at love in the next game, the momentum shifted, and despite several brilliant displays of defense, she couldn't keep the ball between the lines, and fell behind 5-1.
Cercone saved three match points serving at 1-5, and broke Diyas to inject some doubt into the outcome, but she couldn't summon the energy to force Diyas to serve it out.
"I had to fight off a few match points, I started getting really hot and tired and she started running me more and she stopped missing. She was playing more conservative, the points were lasting a lot longer, and she was running me from side to side."
Diyas, who took Piter to three sets in the final of a Grade 2 in the Czech Republic, is not playing the Junior Orange Bowl, but she has her sights set on returning to the Eddie Herr next year. "It's great," she said.
Girls' 14s No. 1 seed Laura Robson would certainly agree, after taking her second consecutive title with a 6-0, 4-6, 6-0 victory over No. 5 Monica Puig of Miami. Playing on the same court where she captured her 12s title last year, Robson, who had won eleven straight sets this week, saw that streak come to a halt.
"I had a bad service game at 4-2, and then I kind of mentally destructed," said the British left-hander. "I got so tense, my balls were flying everywhere, back fence, but in the third set I got my head together."
Puig, who trains at the Harold Solomon Tennis Institute, is not as experienced as Robson in international level events, and she also rode a roller coaster of emotions.
"I couldn't make a lot of balls, focusing about being in the final, and she had the edge because she's been here before," Puig said of the opening set. "In the second set, I felt I had nothing to lose, so I went out and played very loose tennis, and I put the pressure on her. In the third set, the nerves came back, because I knew this was it."
For Puig, who lost her first match at the Eddie Herr three years ago 6-0, 6-0, reaching the final and putting pressure on the top seed helped console the pain of the loss.
"She came out here and was blowing everybody away in two sets," said Puig, who won the doubles title on Saturday. "I don't think anybody has really given her a hard time, so I was happy to get a set off her, and fought as hard as I could."
Puig succeeded in challenging Robson for one set, but the boys' 14 field couldn't mount any resistance to No. 12 seed Tiago Fernandes of Brazil, who defeated Spencer Newman of Miami 6-2, 6-1, bringing his games-lost total to 17 in six matches.
Fernandes, who is competing in the U.S. (and internationally) for the first time, used a big serve and a heavy ball to dominate Newman, the No. 14 seed.
"He served well," said Newman. "I just wasn't hitting my shots, and he had a heavy ball, so every time I would set up for it, I was tight, and it would catch on me, and I'd get it a little late. He played well, kept attacking, kept the pressure on me."
The tall, thin Brazilian was modest about his impressive debut on the international tennis stage.
"It seem easy, maybe, but the players are so good," said Fernandes, who is entered in the 18s at the upcoming Prince Cup and in the 14s at the Junior Orange Bowl. "The tournament is very important, everyone is so nice, the organization is good, and I enjoy it. And I play good."
In addition to the six singles champions crowned on Sunday, the 18s doubles winners were decided. Top seeds Vlad Ignatic of Belarus and Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria defeated the second-seeded team of Roman Jebavy of the Czech Republic and Vasek Pospisil of Canada 2-6, 6-4, 7-6(4) in a match that provided plenty of entertainment for those not interested in the girls' 18s singles finals played at the same time.
In the girls' 18s doubles, Melanie Oudin fell short in her attempt to sweep both 18s titles, as she and partner Mallory Cecil, the No. 4 seeds, dropped a 2-6, 6-4, 6-3 decision to unseeded Kristy Frilling and Asia Muhammad.
Frilling and Muhammad, who played together for the first time at the U.S. Open junior championships and reached the semifinals, fell behind 2-0 in the final set, but reeled off six of the next seven games for the victory.
"We started playing more aggressive," said Muhammad. "When we were losing games, we were letting them take control. Playing aggressive is what we do best."
Frilling, a qualifier in singles, needed to reach the semifinals in doubles this week in order to secure a special exemption to avoid qualifying at the Orange Bowl.
"I was so nervous in the quarters," said Frilling. "We had to win that match for me to get the special exemption, and I was here by myself, without a ride, so I didn't know how I'd get to Miami (for qualifying). So we had to win."
The boys 16s doubles final, which was played in Key Biscayne to accommodate qualifiers for that tournament, was won by No. 2 seeds David Holiner and Max Stevens of the U.S. They defeated the unseeded team of Brandon Burke of Jamaica and Darian King of Barbados 8-4.
For additional coverage and draws, see eddieherr.com.
Sunday, December 2, 2007