©Colette Lewis 2008--
Sunday's championship matches at the Eddie Herr were short on drama, but long on American success, as Alex Domijan, Raymond Sarmiento and Alex Halebian collected singles titles, Lauren Embree gave the U.S. its second straight girls 18s title, and the boys 18s doubles crown went to Devin Britton and Jarmere Jenkins.
In the only match not featuring a competitor from the U.S., Eugenie Bouchard of Canada won the girls 16s, and in the girls 14s, Daria Gavrilova of Russia took the title over qualifier Nadia Echeverria Alam of the U.S.
The week's second cold front moved through Saturday evening, leaving behind temperatures in the upper 50s and a brisk north wind of 15 to 20 mph for the 9 a.m. matches, but the challenging conditions had little impact on the performance of the winners.
The first player to pick up the crystal globe of the Eddie Herr champion was unseeded Alex Halebian of Glendale, Calif., who rolled past No. 4 seed Pedro Guimaraes of Brazil 6-1, 6-1 in less than an hour.
Halebian, a finalist at Les Petit As, was surprisingly unseeded, as he was a member of the U.S. team that captured the ITF World Junior Tennis competition this summer. The only set he lost in the tournament was to Harry Richmond of the U.S. in the semifinals, and on Sunday the left-hander was in top form.
"He played pretty bad, but I was constructing all my service games, and I was playing really well when I needed to," said Halebian, who trains at the USTA High Performance Center in Boca Raton. "The conditions were windy, and I hit a few double faults, but I got used to it."
One of Halebian's most effective weapons is his drop shot, which is particularly effective against a baseline player like Guimaraes, and even the tricky winds cooperated on that strategy.
"My drop shot was working pretty good a few times when I needed to make it, and it all went good."
Halebian is the first boys 14s winner from the U.S. since 2001, when Clancy Shields took the title, and he is excited to join the Eddie Herr champions list.
"It's a great feeling when you go out and win and can be on the champions list, with all the great players that have won it," said Halebian. "It's a great feeling."
Shortly after one Alex went through the trophy presentation, the other, No. 14 seed and 2007 Eddie Herr finalist Alex Domijan was closing out surprise 2008 finalist Julen Uriguen of Guatemala by a 6-3, 6-4 score in the boys 18s final.
The hundred or so spectators, several wrapped in blankets, who surrounded the US Open blue court that is the site of many of legendary academy founder Nick Bollettieri's lessons, were treated to excellent tennis and to world class umpiring, as Grand Slam final umpire Lars Graff was in the chair, on a busman's holiday during the ATP tour's off-season.
The first game of the match played out much like the entire match, with Domijan taking a 40-0 lead, losing that, facing a break point, but eventually holding. In the third game, Uriguen again earned break opportunities, but did not convert, and serving at 2-3, gave Domijan the only break he would need to secure the first set.
Uriguen was broken in the first game of the second set, and his body language and his Spanish monologue didn't bode well for a comeback. But Domijan gave the break right back for 1-1, only to be given another lead, when Uriguen chipped in with two double faults and was broken for the second time in the set.
"The wind was moving my ball and I just didn't serve as well as I was," said Uriguen, who was playing in his first major ITF final. "He really steps into the ball, and that didn't give me the time to recover. Also, his ball went really low and flat, so it was hard for me to get underneath the ball and make him play a lot."
Domijan took a 5-2 lead in the second set, but suffered his second break of serve when Uriguen saved a match point with a backhand pass, then sliced his backhand so well that the 6-foot-6 Domijan couldn't get down to ball in time to get it over the net. Domijan admitted that his goal in that game was "to try not to choke," adding, "That's not really a good attitude."
But he had another chance, this time serving with the wind, and although Uriguen saved one more match point with a difficult overhead putaway after a long rally, the third one was a charm for Domijan. Never one to devote much emotional energy to celebrating victories, Domijan raised his arms over his head, then patiently waited for Uriguen at the net.
Although Domijan conceded it was his biggest title, he refused to view it as a major milestone in his tennis career.
"It's just a junior tournament," he said, although he admitted that he was "really nervous" coming into the Eddie Herr after such an impressive run last year. "I didn't want to lose first round this year--that was basically my goal."
After winning the B1 Pan American Closed in Tulsa in October and now the Eddie Herr, a double that Melanie Oudin of the U.S. accomplished last year, the Saddlebrook-trained Domijan is on a 12 match winning streak in junior events, and has also reached the semifinals of a recent Futures event in Hawaii. Despite this success, he won't be seeded at the Orange Bowl, where he could disrupt the draw early.
Marco Island Fla.'s Lauren Embree was next on court, facing unseeded but red-hot Heather Watson of Great Britain, who had won the previous Grade 1 in Mexico last week. Embree, the ninth seed, rolled through the draw this week, with seven games the most she had lost to any of her five opponents.
That trend continued on Sunday, when Embree took the first set 6-0, with Watson looking sluggish and error-prone. Embree, however, knew that the 16-year-old Bollettiei student had fashioned impressive comebacks in her wins over No. 2 seed Kristina Mladenovic and No. 3 seed Zarina Diyas, so she was on her guard, especially after being broken in the eighth game of the match.
"I do that a lot, get up and then lose focus," said Embree, who did not play the Yucatan Cup in Mexico that Watson won. "This time I couldn't do that, because the crowd was for her and if she got momentum, things could change quickly."
Watson had a chance to get back in the match in the second set, when Embree was down a break point serving at 4-1, but she was unable to capitalize on that one chance, and Watson's unforced errors kept her from earning any others.
"I made a lot of errors and she was a very consistent player," said Watson, the recipient of the tournament's Glenn Feldman sportsmanship award. "I was tired, but she played very well today."
Embree's ability to reset a point was often in evidence Sunday, and in addition to several of her desperate-seeming lobs eventually allowing her to win the point, she forced Watson to try to hit closer to the lines.
All of the girls 18s winners this decade have gone straight to the professional tour, but Embree will not be joining them right away. Asked about her reasons for choosing the University of Florida as her next tennis stop, Embree was brief and to the point.
"I want to go to college, I want that experience," Embree said. "I don't want to turn pro and miss out on the college life."
In the boys 16s, top seed Raymond Sarmiento triumphed over his fourth consecutive British opponent, defeating Jack Carpenter 6-1, 6-2. Sarmiento, of Fontana, Calif., didn't drop a set all week, but was particularly pleased with the way he played in the championship match's opening stages.
"Something clicked," Sarmiento said. "The wind helped me a little bit; I like playing in the wind. To know where the wind is and to use it, use it to your advantage."
While acknowledging the pressure of being seeding No. 1, Sarmiento said that there are advantages to it as well.
"There's like a vibe to it. You go on to the court and you already have an edge."
The unseeded Carpenter said that he was familiar with Sarmiento's style, not just from his British teammates who had played Sarmiento earlier, but from other tournaments, so the difference in their rankings wasn't a factor for him.
"I knew how he played, it's not like I was overwhelmed," Carpenter said, adding that he impressed with Sarmiento's level of play considering the conditions.
"I was struggling a little bit, and he hit the ball the same, as if it wasn't windy," Carpenter said. "It felt like I played quite well, despite losing 6-1, 6-2, which goes to show how well he played."
Unlike Carpenter, unseeded qualifer Nadia Echeverria Alam of Miami, didn't feel she performed well in her 6-2, 6-0 loss to top seed Daria Gavrilova of Russia, although she gave full credit to the reigning Les Petits As champion.
"I just felt I couldn't play, and she played an amazing match," said Echeverria Alam. "I know if I had played half of the game I played yesterday, I might have gotten a better result. But she can move the ball very well, she has very good footwork."
The question everyone had for Gavrilova was why she played the 14s, when she would have qualified for the 18s main draw, and is playing the 18s in the Orange Bowl.
"I played 14s because my dad and coach, they said it would prepare me for girls 18s Orange Bowl," said Gavrilova, who is ranked 100 in the ITF juniors. "So here I played more matches than I would play maybe if I were playing Eddie Herr 18s. It's difficult to play 14s because I must win, I'm expected to win, so that's hard."
Gavrilova admitted that the conditions were challenging, but she was happy with the way she performed.
"I played good today, and she, I think, did not play her best game because of the cold, the wind and the weather," said Gavrilova, who didn't lose a set in the tournament.
The most compelling match of the day, and the only one of the eight that went the distance, was the girls 16s final, which saw top seed Eugenie Bouchard of Canada defeat No. 2 seed Christina Dinu of Romania 7-6(8), 3-6, 6-4. Both girls had reached the final without dropping a set, so it was unsurprising that their meeting was so closely contested.
Bouchard trailed 4-2 in the third set, but broke Dinu at 3-4 to pull even. She faced a break point in the next game after a double fault at 30-30, but the 14-year-old's forehand came to her rescue, with three clean winners coming from that side to give her the lead.
Faced with the pressure of serving down 4-5, Dinu never held a game point, and a double fault on the second match point was a disappointing ending to a dramatic encounter.
"I feel really confident with my forehand right now," said Bouchard. "I'm happy how I played with it today, as I was definitely able to control the point and be aggressive with it."
Bouchard wasn't surprised that Dinu came back to force a third set after losing such a close tiebreaker.
"I was ahead early, I think I went up 2-0, but then she started playing well. She's a great player--I have to give it to her, she was playing well to come back."
Both Bouchard and Dinu are headed to Miami for the Orange Bowl, and again are seeded No. 1 and No. 2 respectively in the 16s division there.
The boys 18s doubles championship went to No. 5 seed Devin Britton and Jarmere Jenkins, who defeated fellow Americans Jordan Cox and Evan King, who were unseeded, 7-6(0), 6-3.
Britton and Jenkins had survived two match tiebreakers in the second and third rounds before finding a rhythm.
"I think we kind of figured out the patterns a little bit," said Britton, who had last played with Jenkins over a year ago. "We played a good tiebreaker."
"We both served well today," said Jenkins, "and we capitalized on the break points we had early in the second set and we closed it out."
No. 3 seeds Anna Orlik of Belarus and Laura Robson of Great Britain won the girls 18s doubles, by downing No. 6 seeds Beatrice Gumulya of Indonesia and Kanyapat Narattana of Thailand 7-6(5), 6-3. Orlik and Robson fell behind 4-1 in the opening set's tiebreaker, but took six of the next seven points to secure the first set, then broke Gumulya the last two times she served to take the title.
For complete draws see the tennisinformation site, and for more stories and trophy photos, see eddieherr.com.
Sunday, December 7, 2008
©Colette Lewis 2008--