Abanda Claims Girls 12s Championship at Junior Orange Bowl; All-American Girls 14s Final Wednesday; McDonald and Kozlov In Boys Finals
©Colette Lewis 2009--
Coral Gables, FL--
Any casual spectators wandering over to the Junior Orange Bowl girls 12s championship Tuesday morning at Salvadore Park could be excused for thinking they were watching a 16s or 18s division match. They saw two 5-foot-10 girls hitting balls with vicious pace and depth, crushing second serve returns and going for the lines regardless of the score.
When it was complete, the championship belonged to 12-year-old Francoise Abanda of Canada, a No. 1 seed, who came from down a set and a break to defeat unseeded Julia O'Loughlin of the U.S. 6-7(6), 6-4, 6-1.
Abanda, who has both a physical and mental resemblance to Venus Williams, never looked rattled, even when O'Loughlin was serving up 4-3 in the second set. A favorable net cord gave the Montreal resident a break point in that game, and she ripped a forehand winner to even the second set at 4. After holding in the next game, Abanda took her chances when she got a second serve from O'Loughlin at 4-5, and when the Floridian's forehand wobbled a bit, Abanda was able to convert on her fourth set point.
Although Abanda admitted that she was tired after playing two draining three-setters on the green clay Monday, she didn't let the fatigue disrupt her concentration. After the mandatory ten-minute break between the second and third sets, Abanda saved a break point at 1-1, broke O'Loughlin in the next game and held again for a 4-1 lead.
"I tried to play smart and calm myself," said Abanda, who is based at Tennis Canada's National Training Centre. "I think I played pretty good in the third set. I had good serves and I didn't miss a lot, so that helped me."
Abanda knew that she had to find a way to neutralize some of O'Loughlin's impressive power.
"She's hitting really heavy, and her backhand is really good," Abanda said. "She had good serves, and it was hard for me to control the ball, because she was hitting so hard."
As a few more errors began to creep into O'Loughlin's game in the third set, Abanda took advantage, but O'Loughlin never seemed discouraged, and right up until the backhand winner that Abanda struck on match point, O'Loughlin kept the positive self-talk, with c'mon, you can do it, being the favorite phrase. A few moments after the loss was a reality, O'Loughlin burst into tears, but after a taking a minute or two to reflect on her week, the smile was back on her face.
"I really wanted to win it, but second place is pretty good," said O'Loughlin, who moved from Colorado to Boca Raton three years ago. "I like my game. I was more aggressive this tournament, and that worked out very well for me."
Abanda's sister Elisabeth, who won an Orange Bowl trophy of her own in the 16s doubles at Key Biscayne this year, was there supporting her younger sister, taking photographs and helping pick up any stray oranges that fell out of the winner's silver bowl as Francoise posed with the Canadian flag and the Junior Orange Bowl princesses.
In contrast to the girls 12s final, the boys 12s semifinals on the hard courts of the University of Miami did not feature the same brand of power and pace. Eddie Herr finalist Seongchan Hong of Korea defeated Alexander Zverev of Germany 6-1, 1-6, 6-2 and Eddie Herr champion Stefan Kozlov beat fellow American Spencer Furman 6-3, 1-6, 6-3 to set up a rematch of the Eddie Herr final, won by Kozlov in two tiebreakers.
Kozlov is looking to change strategies and play more aggressively against Hong in Wednesday's final.
"I'm going to hit winners only, or I'm going to try to," said the 11-year-old from Pembroke Pines, Fla. "I'm not going to get into his game, which is pushing--well, not pushing, but lobbing. The Eddie Herr was all of that."
In the 14s, the reigning Easter Bowl 14s champions will try to add another prestigious title to their resumes, with Brooke Austin and Mackenzie McDonald earning berths in the Junior Orange Bowl finals.
The top-seeded Austin rolled past No. 4 seed Domenica Gonzalez of Ecuador 6-2, 6-2, giving the stylish right-hander no time to set up for her shots. Austin dominated with her flat, on-the-rise ground strokes, finishing off points with swinging volleys or seemingly impossible angles. It wasn't long before Gonzalez needed to switch to plan B.
"I think she tried to slice more when she was running," said Austin, who is from Indianapolis. "But it just kind of lobbed, and I could take control of the point."
Austin's opponent in the final is unseeded Yuki Chiang of California, who added another impressive victory to her string of them in this tournament by downing No. 3 seed Daria Lebesheva of Belarus 6-3, 6-7(6), 6-4, although not without drama.
Cruising along at 6-3, 4-0, Chiang lost focus for a minute and the strength of Lebesheva resurfaced.
"I started to think about winning, then I started thinking about how powerful she was," said Chiang, who trains at the USTA's National Center in Carson. "She's absolutely amazing, it's not even funny how hard she hits it and how they fly in and how aggressive she is."
As Lebesheva won game after game, Chiang began to realize that a third set was looming, and when she made two unforced errors at 6-6 in the tiebreaker, Lebsheva had pulled even. But in the ten-minute break between sets, Chiang was re-energized by conversations with her father and with USTA National Coach Kathy Rinaldi.
"They were giving me strategies of what I was doing wrong and what I should be doing--don't push and just hit the ball," said Chiang. "The only thing she wants to do is try to outhit you, overpower you and make you feel scared. When she hits it hard, just hit it hard back, and I did and she weakened out. She couldn't do any other strategy."
With a break in the fifth game, Chiang had her chance, and there was no repeat of the second set. Serving for the match, Chiang thought she had caught the baseline on match point, Lebesheva called it out however, and the chair agreed with her. But Chiang recovered from the disappointment, saved a break point two points later, and claimed the match when Lebesheva's backhand found the net.
The ending of McDonald's 4-6, 7-5, 6-4 win over fellow No. 9 seed Kyle Edmund of Great Britain was also odd. After three hours of deuce game after deuce game, Edmund was serving at 4-5, but unable to get a first serve in. Down 15-30, Edmund struck what he thought was a backhand winner, but McDonald saw it just long, and the chair agreed, giving McDonald two match points. Edmund escaped the first when McDonald's forehand was wide. Edmund missed his first serve again, and the ball bounced into the stands. McDonald turned his attention to a youngster preparing to retrieve the ball, but Edmund was already hitting his second serve.
"He missed a first serve and it went over the fence and this kid was going to run after it," said McDonald. "So I told him to stop, and as I looked back the serve was already coming and he double faulted. So I got lucky there."
McDonald, from Piedmont, Calif., admitted that the two matches on Monday, as well as some nervousness, led to an alteration in his playing style in Tuesday's marathon.
"Mostly when I play, I try to stay aggressive, finish points at the net, hit a lot of winners, go for forehands, but I didn't really feel my A game today," McDonald said. "So I had to go to the B game, and hit thousands of balls, as many as I could, and get to everything."
McDonald's opponent in Wednesday's final is a former doubles partner, No. 8 seed Thien Nguyen of Vietnam, who defeated Nikko Madregallejo of the U.S. 7-5, 6-3.
"Even though he's from Vietnam, he moved to California for a few years, and I got to know him pretty well, so we're pretty good friends," McDonald said. "Two or three years ago we played some nationals together; he's a good guy."
The finals Wednesday will start with the girls 14s and boys 12s, followed by the boys 14s.
For complete results, including consolations, see the TennisLink site.