©Colette Lewis 2008--
Port Chester, NY--
The U.S. Open Junior Championships will feature an American boy and an American girl for the first time since 1992 when Devin Britton and Coco Vandeweghe earned hard-fought wins at the Sound Shore Indoor Tennis facility Saturday. Britton overtook unseeded Serbian Filip Krajinovic 1-6, 6-4, 6-2, while Vandeweghe eased past No. 12 seed Kristina Mladenovic of France 6-2, 7-6(5). They are hoping to duplicate the results of Americans Lindsay Davenport and Brian Dunn, who raised the winners' trophies 16 years ago.
By the middle stages of the boys' matches, tropical storm Hanna's rains had begun to fall, throwing the U.S. Open men's and women's schedule into chaos, delaying the women's final until Sunday and the men's final until Monday. But the junior finals will proceed on schedule, with only one player, third seed Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria, carrying a number next to his name.
The sixteen-year-old Vandeweghe, whose serve is the linchpin of her game, was expected to reap the advantage of the indoor setting, but Mladenovic also made great use of that shot and was broken just twice in the match, serving at 2-3 in the first and in the second set's opening game. Vandeweghe was moving exceptionally well and cracking plenty of first strike winners throughout, but she found it difficult to shake the tall, lean right-hander.
With a 3-1 lead in the second set, Vandeweghe, who had a vocal cheering section that included her uncle Kiki Vandeweghe, General Manager of the NBA New Jersey Nets, was broken. From then on the match was extremely close and consistently well-played, with winners outnumbering errors by a wide margin. Mladenovic saved a match point against Gail Brodsky in Friday's quarterfinal in a second set tiebreaker, so Vandeweghe was relieved to take advantage of her first chance to end it, jumping on a second serve and crushing a forehand winner.
"I was kind of happy when she missed her first serve," said Vandeweghe, who is now working with Robert van't Hof, who coached Lindsay Davenport for many years. "I saw her chuck her racquet when I won the first point off her serve, and was like, please call a point penalty, because she's been killing me on her serve. It would have been a terrible way to win, but I was at the point where I said I've got to get something here. But getting a second serve is almost as free a gift as getting a point penalty."
Vandeweghe's opponent will be Gabriela Paz of Venezuela, who surprised No. 2 seed Melanie Oudin 6-4, 6-4, her first win over the Georgian in five tries.
"I lost to her four times maybe," said the sixteen-year-old Paz, who trains in N. Miami Beach. "And today's the day I decided it isn't going to happen again. I fought really hard, I didn't get too negative, but she fights, she doesn't give up, so it was really tough."
Paz showed off a much improved serve, which had been a liability in the past, and recorded many more winners than unforced errors, another area where she struggled in previous losses to Oudin.
"It definitely improved," Oudin said of Paz's serve, "and I think she's improved all around. She didn't miss anything today. If I wasn't going to stay in there long enough, she would definitely win the point. She wasn't going to miss. I had to win the point, she's not going to lose it."
Paz, who lost in the first round of qualifying in the U.S. Open junior championships last year, has never played Vandeweghe.
"I'm not really sure how she plays," Paz admitted. "Maybe run her around, but play my game."
The boys finalists have a bit more familiarity with each other. Dimitrov, a 6-3, 5-7, 6-4 winner over top seed Tsung-Hua Yang of Chinese Taipei, and Britton met in the 16s finals at the 2006 Eddie Herr, with Dimitrov taking a 6-2, 6-1 decision.
"That was not pretty at the Eddie Herr," said Britton, who like Dimitrov is 17. "He's a good player, it's going to be tough, but I'll try to do the same thing I did today, without the first set."
In the match against Krajinovic Saturday, Britton lost the first set in a matter of minutes against his fellow Bollettieri student.
"The first set was scary," said Britton, from Jackson, Miss. "He didn't miss a pass the first set; he was hitting two inches from the line, he didn't miss a ball, he was playing unbelievable. I wasn't serving so good; I had maybe five or six double faults and wasn't making a lot of first serves at all. But I wasn't playing that bad."
Britton turned it around quickly in the second set, however, breaking Krajinovic in the opening game and protecting his serve throughout.
"Second set, I started making a lot more serves and I think I was mixing it up better," Britton said. "Out wide to the forehand was working pretty well. I was volleying well and I was hitting my ground strokes pretty well today, especially in the third set."
As he had done in the second set, Britton opened the third with a break of Krajinovic, who seemed increasingly frustrated with his inability to handle Britton's first volley. When Britton got his second break, and then a third to take a 5-0 lead, the unlikely seemed inevitable, until he was broken at love serving for the match.
"I was definitely a little nervous in the 5-0 game," Britton admitted. "No first serves, missed a couple of volleys. But I played a really solid last game at 5-2."
Two aces--one to open the game and one to end it--helped Britton to a love hold and his seventh straight victory since last Friday's first qualifying match.
"It's not likely at all," said Britton of his run this week in New York, where he was the 19th alternate when the first acceptance list was published in early August. "But the confidence is there now--I think I'm a different player than before--and I'll do my best to go farther tomorrow."
Dimitrov, who had been cruising through the draw, had an inexplicable lapse serving at 5-6 in the second set, and before he knew it, Yang had taken the second set and a 2-0 lead in the third. But six games later, the reigning Wimbledon junior champion had reached his second junior slam final of the year.
"I saw he was getting tired and I decided to take my chances while I can," said the Bulgarian, who was content to hit from the back court for the first two sets. "I can try this, to hit the ball right away."
Dimitrov is guarding against overconfidence against Britton, who is an obvious underdog on Sunday.
"He's a pretty good player," Dimitrov said. "He is solid, and I think I'll have to be focused."
The girls and boys finals will be played simultaneously at noon on courts 7 and 11 Sunday, weather permitting.
For more coverage of the action at Sound Shore, see Steve Pratt's account at usopen.org.
Saturday, September 6, 2008