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Friday, December 19, 2008

Richmond Beats Halebian and Nguyen Overcomes Krueger in Jr. Orange Bowl 14s Action Friday

©Colette Lewis 2008--
Coral Gables, FL--

In trying to cover four age divisions at four sites, it's easy to miss the best tennis matches. I don't doubt that Sachia Vickery's 7-6, 7-6 win over Tristen Dewar in the 14s was a classic, and I'm sure that Nikki Kallenberg's comeback win over Alina Kuzmenkova of Russia had an exciting ending, given the 1-6, 6-1, 7-5 scoreline. But today I stuck to the boys and was rewarded with two excellent matches in the 14s, first with Harrison Richmond's 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 victory over Alex Halebian in a rematch of their Eddie Herr semifinal, followed by Canada's Ed Nguyen taking a 6-7(6), 6-3, 6-4 decision over Mitchell Krueger of the U.S.

When I arrived at the University of Miami, after watching some of the boys 12s third round at Tropical Park, Halebian, a No. 17 seed, had just taken the second set. Richmond couldn't be blamed for having flashbacks to the Eddie Herr, where he had won the first set against Halebian, then dropped the next two. Today, however, Richmond, a No. 9 seed, didn't make the crucial error during the big points and took a 4-1, two-break lead in the third set. One point in that final set was a spectacular one, with the boys running down lobs and scraping volleys over the net, hitting one miraculous shot after another, showing both speed and athleticism, as well as a tremendous sense of the court's boundaries.

At the Eddie Herr, Richmond was broken serving to send the match to a third set tiebreaker, today, it was Halebian who lost his serve to end the match.

Richmond wasn't surprised that it was another tough three-setter between the two.

"We both knew how each other played, so it just came down to who was making their shots and making less errors," said the left-hander from Pawley's Island, South Carolina. "I thought in the third set, when I needed to, I came up with some good shots and ended up pulling through."

Richmond's backhand overhead was especially effective, and Halebian's usually devastating drop shot wasn't much in evidence, perhaps because the element of surprise was missing.

"I guess you could call it a rivalry," Richmond said. "When we play each other it's always going to be close; it can go either way."

Spectators were fortunate to be able to be within inches of the Richmond - Halebian match, but the Krueger - Nguyen match was on Court 7, which offers no seating and is visible only with a court in between.

Even from that distance, it was obvious that Kreuger, a No. 17 seed, and Nguyen, a No. 9 seed, were playing at a consistently higher level than is customary in the 14s. Neither boy was holding back, both were attacking, moving forward, returning well and taking their chances when presented. I didn't see most of the first two sets, but I watched all of the third, when the match turned with Nguyen serving at 2-3. In a very long game, Kreuger had multiple chances to break Nguyen and played solid, aggressive points, but each time Nguyen, the reigning Les Petits As champion, came up with huge shots, often from defensive positions, and he held for 3-3. Krueger was broken in the next game, and Nguyen had a hard-earned lead.

Nguyen, who was a finalist in the Junior Orange Bowl 12s two years ago, again saved a break point with a difficult overhead winner at 4-3, and after Krueger held for 5-4, Nguyen went down 0-30 when Krueger made an astounding stab volley on a blistering passing shot from the Canadian. At 30-30, Krueger earned another chance to pull even with a forehand winner, but he netted a forehand on the next point, and hit one long to give Nguyen his first match point. Krueger's return error on a Nguyen first serve was a rather anticlimatic end to a very high quality and entertaining third round match.

In Friday's round of 16, there are six U.S. boys remaining. In addition to Richmond, Sean Karl, Reo Asami (9), Roy Lederman, Trey Strobel (6) and qualifier Alexander Ritschard will have a chance to advance to the quarterfinals.

There are five U.S. boys remaining in the boys 12s, including the No. 1 seed from the U.S., Toshiki Matsuya: Noah Rubin, Christian Garay, Dan Kerznerman and qualifier Tommy Paul, who has won six matches in the past six days.

In the girls 12s, four U.S. girls are still competing in the main draw: Kallenberg, Alexandria Stiteler, Brooke Austin (1) and Taylor Townsend.

Continuing a trend set at the Orange Bowl this year, girls from the U.S. make up half the 16 players still vying for a 14s title. They are Vicky Duval (9), Ashley Dai (17) qualifiers Jan Abaza and Hannah King, Riko Shimizu (17), Anna Mamalat (9), Kyle McPhillips (3) and Sachia Vickery. One will definitely be eliminated on Saturday, with King and Dai playing each other.

For complete draws, visit the TennisLink site.