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Saturday, December 12, 2009

American Orange Bowl Champions Assured in 16s; French Top Seeds Seek Sweep in 18s

©Colette Lewis 2009--
Key Biscayne FL--

The finalists' Tiffany crystal bowls of oranges won't be traveling far after Sunday's girls 16s championship match at the Dunlop Orange Bowl. Kelsey Laurente and Breaunna Addison will put them in their family cars' backseats and drive home to Miramar and Boca Raton. Yet to be determined is who will have the word winner engraved on the prize.

The boys 16s champion may transport his prize a bit farther, but it won't leave the United States. Californian Marcos Giron and Alexios Halebian, who is currently living in Boca Raton, will play for the coveted title Sunday.

Top seeds Gianni Mina and Kristina Mladenovic give France the opportunity to claim both titles, with Belgian Arthur De Greef and Canadian Gabriela Dabrowski hoping to prevent a French sweep.

A drenching rain overnight left the Crandon Park courts surrounded by puddles, but the sun and a steady breeze kept the delay to the start of the semifinal matches brief. Addison opened her match with No. 7 seed Marcela Zacarias of Mexico as if she was going to stroll to the championship match; in a matter of what seemed liked minutes, she had taken the first set 6-1. Zacarias worked through her nerves however, and the second set was much more competitive.

"I think she was really nervous in the first set," said Addison. "Then I think she calmed down and got herself together."

The diminutive Mexican, who looks more like a 12-year-old than the 15-year-old she is, took Addison to deuce on nearly every service game in the second set. At 3-3, Addison broke Zacarias, giving her a lead that she wouldn't relinquish, but it was not quite that simple. Serving at 5-4, Addison needed six match points to claim the victory, hitting an ace down the T to end it.

"I could have stepped in, tried to make a move to the net, but instead I kind of stayed back and tried to wait for her to give it to me," Addison said. "I need to just be more aggressive when I get into position. I felt so good when I hit the ace--I've really been working on my serve, so it's been paying off."

Laurente, the 10th seed, was down 6-2, 5-2 to unseeded Catherine Harrison, before turning the second set, and the match, around, going on to post a 2-6, 7-6(2), 6-3 victory. Broken at love serving for the match at 5-3, Harrison lost her next service game too, but Laurente also failed to finish the set when serving for it at 6-5. In the tiebreaker, Laurente took control early, cracked a forehand return winner to take second set, and protected her serve throughout the third set. Breaking Harrison to take a 5-3 lead, the 15-year-old Laurente failed to convert her first match point, but when Harrison couldn't return her serve on the next one, Laurente had her victory, much to the delight of the dozen family members and friends who cheered her on.

Asked how much their presence helped her, Laurente was quick with her answer.

"A lot, oh my gosh, they kept me going for sure."

Laurente struggled to remember the last time she had played Addison, turning to her father for confirmation that it had to be the 12s.

"It was four years, about, it was a really long time ago," said Laurente, who planned to talk strategy for the championship match against Addison with her coach, Kevin Chow. "She won, but it was close match."


In the boys semifinals, Eddie Herr finalist Alexios Halebian ended the winning streak of Brazilian qualifier Karue Sell with a 6-4, 6-4 victory. Sell had not lost a set in his seven previous matches, while Halebian had needed three sets in three of his four victories prior to the semifinal.

"He looked like he was steamrolling a little bit, he hadn't played too many three-setters," Halebian said. "He was liking the way he was going through, and I was playing a lot of three-setters, so I felt like he was playing as much as me."

In the final, Halebian, a wild card, will face another qualifier, Marcos Giron, who defeated Harrison Richmond 7-5, 6-3. Giron struggled a bit to end the first set, failing to serve it out at 5-4, but breaking Richmond at love in the next game and holding when he got a second chance to finish it. In the second set, Giron got an early break, and leading 5-3, broke Richmond with a perfect topspin lob on match point. Against Dan McCall in the quarterfinals, Giron had closed out his fellow Californian with a scorching backhand winner, a pattern he'd love to continue.

"It felt good," Giron said. "The last two matches I came up big on match point and I couldn't ask for a better shot at the time."

Against Halebian, who at 15 is a year younger, Giron is prepared for a battle.

"I've played him a couple of times before, but I haven't played him recently. He's a good player, he's gotten to the finals of both the Eddie Herr and the Orange Bowl. He's got a great serve and good forehand. I just have to try to return well against him."

In the 18s, No. 8 seed Arthur De Greef of Belgium eliminated the last U.S. hope for a title, defeating No. 5 seed Mitchell Frank 6-4, 6-2. Frank, who had looked razor sharp against Jack Sock in the quarterfinals, returned to Court 1 hoping to replicate his performance, but the Belgian looked comfortable throughout, and forced Frank into a more aggressive game than he prefers.

Sock's drop shot was not a weapon against Frank on Friday, but De Greef went to it time after time, and it was usually effective. In the final game, De Greef hit clean drop shot winners several times, and although Frank gamely tried to hold his serve, on the fifth match point, De Greef cranked a forehand winner to reach his first Grade A final.

"After the first round, I never thought I can be in finals," said the 17-year-old, who saved a match point in his second round encounter with Nick Chappell. "Now it feels so good."

While De Greef is hoping to become the first boy from Belgium to claim an Orange Bowl title, his opponent, Gianni Mina, is aiming to follow in the footsteps of Guy Forget, who won the 18s title back in 1982. Mina, who had a struggle in the opening round, has breezed through his subsequent matches, which included a walkover, and on Saturday he reached the final when unseeded Justin Eleveld of the Netherlands retired down 6-4, 3-0.

Mina's compatriot, Mladenovic, who trains side by side with him at French federation training center in Paris, reached her fourth Grade A final of the year with a hard-fought 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 win over No. 6 seed Ajla Tomljanovic of Croatia. A winner at Roland Garros and the Osaka Cup and a finalist at Wimbledon, Mladenovic had already claimed the year-end World Junior Champion's title, so playing the Orange Bowl was certainly optional.

"I am practicing in Paris and preparing for the Australian Open, where I will go to play qualies, and with my coach we decide it's a good idea to come here, playing outside, very hot conditions, almost like Australia," said the 16-year-old, who is 201 on the WTA computers.

"And I'm a girl who likes to play, to win, and you learn a lot with matches, not only with practices. It's easy to hit shots but you have to do it in a match."

As she had been with quarterfinal opponent Madison Keys, Mladenovic was effusive in her praise of Tomljanovic, who traded powerful ground strokes and booming serves with the world's top junior, bringing out the best of both their games.

"Yesterday and today it was incredible," Mladenovic said. "Almost every point was winners and big serves and I can just say thanks to my opponents that we played such a good match. The level of those two matches was so good, and I hope we can continue that way, that all three will see each other in the future, and in a few years why not come back here in this place and play another event?"

Mladenovic will face unseeded Gabriela Dabrowski of Canada, who was in the final of the Yucatan Cup, the semifinals of the Eddie Herr and now has reached the finals of the Orange Bowl, a grueling three weeks that have also been long on drama.

At the Eddie Herr, Dabrowski was awarded a second round win over Yulia Putintseva of Russia when a game penalty was assessed at 6-5 in the third set for racquet abuse. In Dabrowski's 5-7, 6-2, 7-6(5) win over No. 8 seed Nastja Kolar of Slovenia today, Dabrowski again was the beneficiary of an official's ruling of racquet abuse.

Having been given a warning for racquet abuse earlier in the third set tiebreaker, Kolar picked the worse possible time to have another fit of anger. At 5-5 in the tiebreaker, she hit a forehand into the net. She slammed her racquet into the court, and although it was difficult to detect whether it was broken, the chair delivered her verdict: point penalty, game, set and match to Dabrowski.

There was little protest or emotion from Kolar, as she shook both Dabrowski's hand and the chair umpire's and quietly packed up her bags and left the court. Dabrowski took the gift, although she said she would have preferred to win it more conventionally.

Kolar had served for the match at 5-3 in the third, but Dabrowski ripped three consecutive backhand winners to get back on serve.

"That was pretty clutch," said the 17-year-old from Ottawa, who also saved a match point with an tough overhead serving at 4-5, 30-40. "I felt I had to go for it if I wanted to come back. There was no sitting around waiting for her to miss. Of course I got tight at the end, but I'm glad that I went for those shots."

Dabrowski, who has had her thigh and knee taped all week, admitted that she was tired.

"I'm exhausted but I'll give it my all tomorrow, see how much I have left in the tank. I had no expectations today--I already knew it would be a tough match. I was just hoping to last. If I could last, I'd be satisfied."

All four doubles finals were played on Saturday, and three of them were decided in match tiebreakers. The only match decided in straight sets was the girls 18s, where Anna Orlik of Belarus and Valeria Solovieva of Russia, the eighth seeds, defeated unseeded Polina Pekhova of Belarus and Noel Scott of the U.S. 6-2, 6-2.

The boys 18s doubles title went to the unseeded team of Mikhail Biryukov and Alexander Rumyantsev of Russia, who upset top seeds Pierre-Hugues Herbert of France and Kevin Krawietz of Germany 6-2, 2-6, 10-8.

In the girls 16s, the Canadian team of Elisabeth Abanda and Emma Onila, the second seeds, downed No. 8 seeds Addison and Caitlyn Williams of the U.S. 6-4, 6-7(4), 10-7.

The boys 16s champions are Hunter Harrington and Mitchell Krueger of the U.S., the No. 6 seeds. They defeated unseeded Diego Hidalgo of Ecuador and Thiago Monteiro of Brazil 4-6, 7-6(2), 10-6. Hidalgo and Monteiro had beaten Krueger and his partner Alexander Petrone in the Eddie Herr finals, saving three match points in the match tiebreaker, so the 15-year-old Texan was looking for revenge.

"It was in my mind," said Krueger. "Definitely at the 8-6 point, when I was going up for a second serve. Because I had double faulted to that same guy on that same side last week on one of our match points. I was definitely thinking, don't miss the serve. Thank god I made it."

Harrington and Krueger had played together only once prior to the Orange Bowl, and that resulted in a first round loss in the Kentucky Grade 1 in September. But they had an idea they might be a good team.

"It helps when you're serving big, and he's been serving big these past two weeks," Krueger said of Harrington. "So it's easier at the net."

"And he doesn't miss returns, which is always good," said Harrington.

The singles finals begin at 10 a.m. on Sunday.

For complete draws, see the tournament website.


curious said...

Colette I know this is a higher level of tennis than USTA but after all your reports of racket abuse, including Degreef breaking "a few" after his first rd win (which to me is beyond ridiculous) just curious...do these top juniors just get an endless supply of rackets like the pros?