©Colette Lewis 2007--
There's one country dominating tennis today, from the Davis Cup down to the Eddie Herr. Shortly before Bob and Mike Bryan finished off Russia in Portland Saturday to earn the U.S.'s first Davis Cup in 12 years, an American junior had reached the singles final of every division of the Eddie Herr.
With Joe Di Giulio and Madison Keys of the U.S. already claiming 12s titles on Friday, the possibility, however unlikely, of a U.S. sweep of all eight championships still exists. The local fans, who were out in great numbers on another warm and sunny day at the IMG/Bollettieri Academy, will undoubtedly pack the courts to cheer on their favorites Sunday morning.
Qualifier Alex Domijan performed in front of a busload of his friends and fellow students at the Saddlebrook Prep school in nearby Wesley Chapel, Fla. and he didn't disappoint them, taking his eighth consecutive straight set decision with a 6-4, 6-2 win over No. 12 seed Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria. Dimitrov, who was seeking his third Eddie Herr title in three years, had defeated top seed and ITF World No. 1 Vlad Ignatic of Belarus in an emotionally exhausting three-setter on Friday, but he was unable to conjure any of his magical shotmaking in Saturday's semifinal. Instead, it was Domijan who dictated play.
Domijan, who lost badly to Dimitrov in the 14s final two years ago, pointed to several areas of improvement in his game since then.
"My serve, my movement, and my backhand," the quiet 6-foot-6 right-hander responded when asked what progress he'd made in the past two years. While training at Saddlebrook, Domijan has an opportunity to hit with pros James Blake and John Isner, but also with top-level juniors like Dimitrov, whom he recently beat in a pro set practice match.
"It was 9-7. I knew how he plays more going into this match, so I think it helped me more than it helped him," Domijan said.
Domijan's first serve is trouble for anyone when he is hitting it as well as he was on Saturday, and Dimitrov had only one look at a break point in the match. Domijan earned only one break in the first set, but it was all he needed, and once Dimitrov was down two breaks in the second set, the battle between the two 16-year-olds was effectively over.
Domijan's opponent in Sunday's final is Gastao Elias of Portugal, who defeated qualifier Mirza Basic of Bosnia in similarly efficient fashion, 6-3, 6-1. The No. 9 seeded Elias, who turned 17 last week, trains at Bollettieri, and recently captured an ITF Men's Circuit event in Mexico. It will be the first contest between Elias and Domijan.
The girls' 18s representative from the U.S. is Melania Oudin, the No. 5 seed, who scored her 21st consecutive junior win by coming back to take a 2-6, 6-2, 6-3 decision over No. 8 seed Simona Halep of Romania.
After Oudin dropped the first set, she was looking for a fresh start in the second, but was immediately broken. To spectators, her prospects looked bleak, but the 16-year-old from Marietta, Ga. had made a mental adjustment.
"I was missing a lot in the first set because I was on the run almost the entire time," Oudin said. "I knew I had to start going for more shots, even if I'm missing them, because I needed to start dictating the points before she did."
"That first game of the second wasn't exactly what I wanted--I made some errors that I was hoping would go in--but I was going for my shots, and finally it started working, and I started winning. That was the way I beat her, going for all of my shots."
Opposite Oudin in Sunday's final will be yet another 16-year-old, No. 7 seed Katarzyna Piter of Poland, who also came from a set down in her semifinal match against No. 9 seed Tammy Hendler of Belgium, defeating the 2005 Eddie Herr girls 14s winner 4-6, 7-6 (2), 6-4. Piter and Oudin have not played each other.
The boys' 16s final between No. 6 seed Sekou Bangoura Jr. and Spain's Pablo Carreno will draw a crowd due to Bangoura's hometown status. In Saturday's semifinal against Jose Silva of Brazil, Bangoura dropped the first set, as he had done in four of his five matches this week, but again he recovered for a 5-7, 6-2, 6-2 victory, much to the delight of his substantial local following. They weren't happy with Silva's line calls in the match, which wasn't chaired, and Bangoura, the 16s sportsmanship winner this year in Kalamazoo, wasn't either.
"I was up 5-3 (in the first set) and got a couple of bad line calls, made some unforced errors, and that was all he needed," said the 16-year-old, who recovered his composure and began constructing points like the chess master he is in the final two sets, which featured a roving umpire on the court throughout.
Bangoura has been disappointed in his performance at the Eddie Herr in previous years.
"I've played here I think since the 12s, and I've been out first or second round," said Bangoura, who was offered congratulations by the score after the match. "This year it feels great; having all the people here watching me and supporting me makes it even better. It keeps me going."
Bangoura is the second of three Florida boys vying for a title on Sunday, the third being Miami's Spencer Newman, the No. 14 seed. Newman dispatched No. 9 seed Jan Kuncik of the Czech Republic 6-2, 6-2, and as in Friday's quarterfinal match, it was David felling Golaith, as Kuncik is approximately twice the height and weight of Newman.
Newman's opponent in the final isn't as physically imposing as his last two, but his scores have been mind-boggling this week. No. 12 seed Tiago Fernandes of Brazil hasn't lost more than 2 games in any of the ten sets he's played this week, and on Saturday continued the pattern with a 6-1, 6-2 win over his doubles partner, No. 5 seed Diego Hidalgo of Eucador.
Another Miami player goes for a 14s title on Sunday, with No. 5 seed Monica Puig taking on the task of stopping No. 1 seed Laura Robson of Great Britain, the Eddie Herr 12s champion last year. Puig defeated wild card Di Zhao of China 6-3, 6-2 in a match much longer and tighter than the score would indicate, while Robson took less than an hour to dismiss unseeded Jacqueline Crawford of the U.S. 6-1, 6-0. Robson hasn't surrendered more than five games in any of her five victories this week, and she is hoping to duplicate Hanna Orlik's back-to-back 12s and 14s titles of the previous two years.
The fifth Floridian hoping to put their name on the Eddie Herr list of champions is Alexandra Cercone, a wild card from Seminole. Cercone, like Bangoura, had been disappointed in previous showings here, but her 2007 performance has made up for it. On Saturday morning she topped Californian Zoe De Bruycker 6-2, 7-6(4) to earn a matchup with No. 4 seed Zarina Diyas of Kazakhstan. Diyas beat No. 13 seed Courtney Dolehide of the U.S. 6-1, 2-6, 6-2.
The 14s doubles titles were decided on Saturday, with the No. 2 seeded team of Puig and Chanelle Van Nguyen of the U.S. taking the girls' championship with an 8-5 win over the unseeded team of Viktoryia Kisialeva and Ilona Kremen of Belarus. The boys' 14s doubles champions are also No. 2 seeds: Tiago Fernandes of Brazil and Diego Hildago of Ecuador defeated the No. 3 seeded Canadian team of Damien David and Andrew Ochotta 8-5.
The boys' 16s doubles was being played in Key Biscayne to accommodate Orange Bowl qualifying.
For more coverage and complete draws, visit eddieherr.com
Saturday, December 1, 2007