©Colette Lewis 2009--
Flushing Meadows, NY--
It's a rare junior match that features no service breaks and winner after winner, but in today's first round contest between No. 4 seed Liang-Chi Huang of Chinese Taipei and Matt Kandath of the U.S., that's what the crowd gathered around court 10 witnessed. Kandath, who avoided qualifying by reaching the doubles final of the ITF Grade 1 in Canada last week, took a 7-6(4), 7-6(4) decision over the world's fourth ranked junior.
Neither player seemed to suffer any nerves even the tense moments, or if they did, they expressed it by hitting harder and closer to the lines. There were forced errors, but very few of the unforced variety and even more winners, at least in the half dozen games that I saw.
"I knew I was serving great, and that really helped my confidence," said Kandath, who had nine aces in the match to Huang's two. "It was a little frustrating not to be able to break him at all. I think we each had a few break points, but not too many, so I had to grind out all the way to the tiebreak."
Kandath admitted that he had probably never played better, and to do so against a top player in front of several hundred fans, most of them cheering for him, was especially gratifying.
"Usually I get a decent size crowd, just because I'm from New York and I know a lot of the Eastern section kids," said the 17-year-old from Albany. "But as the match went on, people started seeing it was really close, and it did help to have that big of a crowd supporting you and cheering you on, getting you through the tough points."
Huang was serving from behind throughout the second set, and at 4-5 30-40, Kandath earned his first match point. Huang saved it, painting the sideline with his forehand, and played aggressively in the next two points to even the match at 5-5. With both players blasting groundstrokes--Kandath with both hands on forehand and backhand--that landed within inches of the baseline or sideline, errors seemed inevitable, but they rarely came. After both held serve, the tiebreaker began with Kandath taking a 4-1 lead, and his returns, which landed within inches of the baseline that Huang hugged, helped Kandath take a 6-2 lead. Four match points are a great luxury, but a net cord that dropped wide and another near miss brought it to 6-4 brought some tension. It didn't last long however, as in a final scintillating rally typifying the match, Kandath forced a forehand error to secure the win.
Earlier in the day, which was again pleasantly cool and slightly overcast, Alex Domijan squeezed past Indian qualifier Sudanwa Sitaram 6-3, 3-6, 7-5. Domijan was down 3-1 in the final set, but got the break back when Sitaram missed a volley serving at 4-3, 30-40. Domijan wasn't serving well and Sitaram kept up with him on the ground, until the last game. Sitaram was serving to get into a tiebreaker and with that pressure the errors began to mount. At 15-40, he saved one match point, but Domijan pounded a forehand that Sitaram couldn't handle, and the 6-foot-7 Floridian had set up a much-anticipated meeting with No. 3 seed Bernard Tomic of Australia.
"I didn't serve well from halfway through the second set to the end," Domijan said. "He was chipping a lot of my returns and I wasn't really making him pay for that enough, so I got broken a lot."
Kandath and Domijan were joined in the second round by wild card Raymond Sarmiento, who defeated Cheng Peng Hsieh of Chinese Taipei 7-5, 6-3, giving the U.S. seven first round boys winners with two others, Evan King and Dennis Novikov, playing first round matches on Tuesday.
If there's a competition between the U.S. boys and U.S. girls however, it's no contest, as the girls won six of seven matches on Monday, after winning four of seven on Sunday. Ester Goldfeld and Mallory Burdette will play their first round matches on Tuesday. Christina McHale, the No. 8 seed, withdrew with a thigh injury, and her place was taken in the draw by lucky loser Annika Beck of Germany, whose match was postponed until Tuesday.
Wild card Gail Brodsky got off to a slow start, trailing 5-2 in the opening set before winning six games in a row against Paraguay's Veronica Cepede Royg, and the 2008 girls 18s champion came through with a 7-5, 7-5 win. No. 16 Beatrice Capra defeated qualifier Anna Marenko of Russia 6-3, 6-2, and wild card Grace Min beat qualifier Ting-Fei Juan of Chinese Taipei 6-4, 6-2. Qualifer Courtney Dolehide won her first junior Grand Slam match, taking out Cristina Dinu of Romania 6-0, 4-6, 6-4, and No. 7 seed Lauren Embree eliminated qualifier Paula Kania of Poland 7-5, 6-2. The final singles match of the day saw Nicole Gibbs defeat Magda Linette of Poland 6-4, 6-1.
"I came out and got up 3-1, 40-15 and then had a rough patch through there," said Gibbs who found herself at 4-4 in the opening set. "She changed up her game and I was trying to hit the ball out of my strike zone. I was trying to take the ball early but it just took me a little time to get my timing, and I played really well after that."
After yet another ferocious comeback from Melanie Oudin earlier in the day, I asked Gibbs, who is a year and half younger than Oudin, how her achievement was seen by other U.S. junior girls.
"It's inspirational, watching her win today, watching the kind of emotion her family was showing after the match," Gibbs said. "It's hard not to feel really proud of your country and of Melanie. She's doing amazingly, and I think that means really good things for me as a 5-foot 5-inch tennis player," Gibbs said with a laugh. "You know there are still people who are doing some damage in the main draw at my height, so that's good to see."
Junior doubles action also began on Monday, and the top seeded girls doubles team of Kristina Mladenovic and Silvia Njiric of Croatia were defeated 5-7, 6-2, 10-5 by Jana Cepelova and Chantal Skamlova of Slovakia. For complete draws and results, as well as the order of play, see usopen.org.
Monday, September 7, 2009