©Colette Lewis 2008--
Flushing Meadows, NY--
It's a rare tennis tournament where American quarterfinalists outnumber those of all other countries, but at this year's U.S. Open Junior Championships, the Red, White and Blue claimed seven spots, while nine other countries had one each. After Friday's action the U.S. contingent was down to three--Devin Britton, Coco Vandeweghe and Melanie Oudin--the first time since 2000 the U.S. had three semifinalists, and that year it was all boys: winner Andy Roddick, runner-up Robby Ginepri and Ytai Abougzir.
The fans arriving early for the Bryan brothers championship contest on Ashe stopped by court 10 to see surprising qualifier Devin Britton of Jackson, Miss. claim his sixth victory of the week, this one over No. 11 seed Cedrik-Marcel Stebe, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3. Spectators who do not regularly follow the junior game could be heard exclaiming "that boy can really volley," with Britton again sticking to his serve and volley game plan against the quick left-hander from Germany.
Britton got the only break he needed in the opening set when Stebe served at 1-2, but Britton was broken for the first time in two matches to fall behind 2-0 in the second set.
"I played a really solid first set, making a lot of first serves." Britton said. "After the first set I relaxed a little bit I think...I was hitting a lot of second serves and I wasn't getting good looks at volleys. I didn't serve great at the beginning of the third but I got out of a couple of games, got some confidence, and started serving better."
Stebe was broken at 2-1 in the third, but threatened to get the break back in Britton's final two service games. Serving at 4-2, Britton was down 15-40 when Stebe nailed two excellent returns, but four straight points by Britton--a touch volley, an ace and two service winners--gave him a 5-2 lead. Stebe indulged in some unplesantries in his native language while heading to his chair, but his frustration did not prevent him from holding and forcing Britton to serve out the match.
After Stebe pounded a second serve return winner to go up 0-15, Britton came back with three service winners, two of them on second serves, to reach match points. But Stebe again hit a return winner, and at 40-30 Britton misjudged a weak return, letting it drop into no man's land and then netting it. But Stebe couldn't take advantage of that error, missing a return wide to give Britton another match point. The 6-foot-3 right-hander thought he had once again finished a match with an ace, letting out a c'mon as soon as he hit it, but the serve was called out, and he took a moment to re-group. His second serve was a good one however, and Stebe's backhand return went well wide, putting Britton into the semifinals, a result he admits was unexpected.
"I guess I didn't see it coming," said the 17-year-old, who has never advanced beyond the quarterfinals of a Grade 1 ITF tournament. "I was happy to be in the second round...I was happy to be in the main draw," he corrected himself. "I'm definitely happy to be in the semifinals."
Awaiting him there is fellow Bollettieri student and roommate Filip Krajinovic of Serbia, who downed No. 4 seed and Wimbledon finalist Henri Kontinen of Finland 7-6(6), 7-6(5). Britton defeated Krajinovic in the final round of qualifying on the grass of the Grade 1 in Roehampton in June.
One berth in the other semifinal was filled by No. 3 seed and Wimbledon boys champion Grigor Dimitrov, who defeated Chase Buchanan 6-4, 6-3, the tenth consecutive Junior Grand Slam match the Bulgarian has won in straight sets. He will clash with No. 1 seed and French boys champion Tsung-Hua Yang of Chinese Taipei, who eliminated wild card Rhyne Williams 6-3, 6-7(5), 6-3.
U.S. girls made up half of the quarterfinalists, with Oudin and Vandeweghe advancing and Gail Brodsky coming ever so close to joining them before losing 5-7, 7-6(8), 6-4 to No. 12 seed Kristina Mladenovic of France. Brodsky had a match point serving at 7-6 in the tiebreaker, but Mladenovic hit a cross court forehand winner to save it. At 9-8 in the tiebreaker, Brodsky was given a point penalty for racquet abuse, a call that she understood.
"I wish I hadn't of done it, but I didn't control myself at the moment, so that's life," said Brodsky, 17. "I deserved it; I have no problem with him giving me the point penalty, it was just a rough time."
There were no rough times for wild card Vandeweghe, who has yet to drop a set in the juniors with a 6-2, 6-0 rout of No. 11 seed Tammy Hendler of Belgium. Vandeweghe feasted on Hendler second serve, with the 6-foot-1 Californian using an observation from last year's Orange Bowl to her advantage.
"I could tell she wasn't confident in it," Vandeweghe said. "From playing her at Orange Bowl last year, her served had changed, so just seeing that I knew she wouldn't be confident in it. I thought if I put pressure on that second serve, she might choke on her serve, or push her first serve...because I was waiting to pounce on it."
The other semifinal will be the fifth in a series, with No. 2 seed Oudin once again trying to get the better of unseeded Gabriela Paz of Venezuela. Oudin overcame a shaky start to defeat Madison Brengle 4-6, 6-4, 6-1.
"I think I am in better shape than she is, and the longer I made the match, the better for me," said Oudin, who turns 17 later this month. "I played better in the third set, I think she missed a little more, I don't know if she was moving slower, but I got stronger and she slowed down a little bit."
Brengle, a two-time junior Grand Slam finalist, was philosophical about her quarterfinal exit from her final junior Slam.
"She's a really good player," said Brengle, who, although she had never played Oudin, had seen her play many times at both junior and professional tournaments. "She gets a lot of balls back and she's really fast. I made some random errors that I shouldn't have made in the third. But the juniors was sort of fun for me. I won my first round in the (women's) qualies so I got some points, and now I've got six tournaments in a row coming up, fifties and seventy-fives, and I'm playing well, so hopefully it will go well."
Paz, who upset No. 5 seed and French finalist Elena Bogdan of Romania 6-3, 6-0, has lost four matches to Oudin in the past year, all in straight sets.
"I really haven't played my best game every time I've played her," said Paz, who trains in N. Miami Beach and competes exclusively in the United States. "I don't know why. But I feel I'm playing good, and if I keep playing the same way, I shouldn't have problems."
Due to the expected landfall of tropical storm Hanna on Saturday, plans are being made to move the semifinals indoors at Sound Shore Club in Port Chester, NY. The final decision will be made at 7:30 a.m. Eastern time, with matches expected to start at noon.
For complete draws, see usopen.org.
For additional coverage, see collegeandjuniortennis.com.
Friday, September 5, 2008