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Friday, December 11, 2009

Frank Sole American in Dunlop Orange Bowl 18s Semis; US Players Dominating the 16s Division

©Colette Lewis 2009--
Key Biscayne, FL--

Prospects for American Orange Bowl winners were bright when the boys and girls 16s quarterfinals were completed Friday morning, with six of the eight semifinalist from the United States. But like the thickening clouds overhead, the outlook was increasingly gloomy for an 18s champion, with five U.S. players falling in the quarterfinals.

The lone U.S. winner, No. 5 seed Mitchell Frank, beat another American, wild card Jack Sock, 6-4, 7-6(3). It was a contest between two of the hottest U.S. juniors, with Frank coming off a dominating performance in the Yucatan, and Sock a recent winner of a Pro Circuit Futures event.

Frank knew he had his work cut out against the talented right-hander from Lincoln, Neb.

"Going into the match, I knew it was going to be tough," Frank said. "I didn't feel much pressure, because I know he's so good. I just kind of relaxed and went out and played. It was windy here, it was tough conditions to play in, so it's good to come out with a win, no matter how you get it done."

Frank's game is based on minimizing errors and forcing his opponent to take the risks and make the mistakes. He handled the Sock forehand, and had a definite advantage when it came to return of serve.

"I was serving pretty well today," said Frank, who reached the finals of the 16s Orange Bowl last year. "He was a little bit off with his return, and I felt I was serving pretty well and was confident that in that tiebreak, I could hold my serve most of the time."

Sock started the second set tiebreaker with a double fault, and his drop shot down 3-1 didn't work, as Frank got to it and hit a drop shot winner of his own, as Sock stood nearly motionless at the baseline. Sock got only one point on his serve in the tiebreaker, and two stray backhands, one into the net and the final one, long, gave Frank the victory.

Frank will face No. 8 seed Arthur De Greef of Belgium in the semifinals. De Greef defeated No. 15 seed Sekou Bangoura, Jr. 6-3, 7-5. The other semifinal features No. 1 seed Gianni Mina of France against unseeded Justin Eleveld of the Netherlands. Mina downed No. 12 seed Junior Ore 6-2, 6-3, and Eleveld beat Bob van Overbeek 6-3, 6-7(5), 6-2. Van Overbeek was not able to hit either his serve or his forehand with their usual velocity due to a right elbow injury, and found himself in long rallies throughout the match.

In the girls 18s singles, unseeded 14-year-old Madison Keys took the first set from top seed and Kristina Mladenovic, but couldn't sustain the effort over three sets, and dropped a 6-7(5), 7-5, 6-1 decision to the world's top-ranked junior.

Mladenovic, who has already secured the 2009 World Junior Champion title, is determined to enjoy what is likely to be her final junior tournament, having met all the goals she set for herself in 2009.

"I did everything I wanted for this year," Mladenovic said. "Now it's just pleasure. I go on court just to play tennis, because I like it so much. I just fight to win again, enjoy my status and finish as good as I can at the end of the year."

Because of the gusty winds, neither the 6-foot Mladenovic nor the 5-foot-10 Keys could utilize their biggest weapons--their serves. But the ground strokes were unaffected, and during rallies that were indistinguishable from a WTA tour match, there was no power advantage to either girl.

The 16-year-old Mladenovic had nothing but praise for her younger opponent.

"She's a good player, very athletic and she has all the shots she needs for future women's tennis. The first set was very difficult, because I had to get used to how she's playing, and I don't see this girl often on the junior tour," said the 2009 Roland Garros girls champion and Wimbledon junior finalist. "It was a good fight. Maybe I was more aggressive, more well prepared physically than her and also, maybe my experience won today."

In the semifinals, Mladenovic will play No. 6 seed Ajla Tomljanovic, who defeated No. 3 seed and US Open girls champion Heather Watson of Great Britain 6-2, 6-3. Although the two have not played in ITF junior competition, they know each other and each other's games well.

"We know each other from a very long time ago, like when we were 11. She's from Croatia and both my parents are from Serbia, so we are speaking the same language. We are both (birth year) 93s, so we know each other a very long time, but it's funny we've never played each other. It will be fun, she's playing quite good I think, so I will just go on court and enjoy it."

Surprise quarterfinalist Robin Anderson gave No. 8 seed Nastja Kolar of Slovenia her toughest match of the tournament, but could not overcome an early break in the third set, and dropped a 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 decision to the world's No. 14 junior. Kolar will meet Gabriela Dabrowski of Canada, who is now in her third major semifinal in the past three weeks, having been in the finals at the Yucatan World Cup and semfinals at the Eddie Herr. Dabrowski downed unseeded Adriana Perez of Venezuela 7-5, 6-4.

The last Eddie Herr champion still playing, 16s winner Hunter Harrington, saw his streak end at the hands of Karue Sell of Brazil 6-2, 6-3. Harrington, playing his tenth singles match in 11 days, didn't have the same pop on his serve and forehand that he displayed most of the last two weeks. Sell, who as a qualifier has already won seven matches in the past eight days, will face Eddie Herr finalist Alexios Halebian, who used a shrewd observation to help nail down a 6-3, 1-6, 7-6(4) victory over the lone seed remaining in the boys 16s, No. 14 Julien Cagnina of Belgium.

Down 4-1 in the third set tiebreaker, Halebian began to play more aggressively, and brought it back to 4-4.

"I noticed he didn't take any volley practice in the warmup after the rain delay," Halebian said of the 20 minute period early in the third set when a light mist halted play. "He hadn't hit a volley in about half and hour, so I went to the dropper, and after a couple of tries, he missed."

Cagnina made a error on the forehand side to give Halebian his first match point, and the tennis gods smiled on him. Halebian's forehand hit the net cord, but the ricochet still landed inside the near sideline, and Cagnina had no play on it.

The other boys 16s final is between two unseeded Americans: qualifier Marcos Giron and wild card Harrison Richmond. Giron will be playing his fourth consecutive compatriot on Saturday, after beating Dan McCall 7-6(2), 6-4 in Friday's quarterfinals.

Richmond, the 2008 Junior Orange Bowl 14s winner, got past Dennis Novak of Austria 7-5, 6-1, a less taxing win than his grueling win over No. 2 seed William Kwok of Australia on Thursday.

"It was completely different conditions for sure," said the 15-year-old from Pawleys Island, S.C. "I felt ten times better than yesterday, yesterday was pretty brutal."

Richmond, a left-hander who is very capable at the net, served and volleyed frequently against Novak, an Eddie Herr semifinalist.

"He stayed back a lot, stood really far back, and he wasn't able to pass me at all. So if it was working, I had to keep doing it I guess."

With Novak serving at 5-6 in the first set, Richmond came up with two on-the-run winners and had three set points. He didn't convert the first two, shanking a return and hitting a forehand just wide, but a long exchange of slices on the next point ended with Novak's last one finding the net.

As for his Orange Bowl winning streak, Richmond agreed that he's played pretty well in Miami the past two Decembers.

"It feels good, the weather and everything, and I think I'm able to play well when I need to, and in the big tournaments step it up, play a little better and raise my game."

As a qualifier in Girls 16s, Catherine Harrison doesn't have that kind of success to draw on, but she too is in the semifinals after a 6-2, 6-3 win over Giuliana Olmos of Mexico.

"Fourth year's a charm," said the 15-year-old from Germantown, Tenn. "I've never won a main draw match before. But I was pretty confident. I'd just won a National Open in St. Louis over Thanksgiving in the 18s, and I was playing pretty well there."

Harrison hits both forehand and backhand with two hands, and her pace and depth can present problems for opponents if she is consistently finding the lines and the corners. But this week other types of shots have earned her some crucial points.

"I'm trying to work on my variety, but obviously I'm still going to stick to playing basically a power game," she said. "It helps when you can throw in a slice or a lob or a drop shot every now and then."

Harrison will take on No. 10 seed Kelsey Laurente, who defeated No. 14 seed Vicky Duval 4-6, 6-3, 6-4. Laurente, who is from Miramar, Fla., recorded a 6-4, 6-3 victory over Harrison in the third place match at the 18s Gator Bowl in May, so Harrison is eager to gain revenge on an even bigger stage.

In the other girls 16 semifinal, unseeded Breaunna Addison will face No. 7 seed Marcela Zacarias of Mexico, who overcame qualifier Estelle Cascino of France 3-6, 6-2, 6-4. Addison got off to a very slow start against Molly O'Koniewski, but as her movement improved, so did her results, and she calimed a 2-6, 7-6(2), 6-0 decision.

Addison be playing singles and doubles on Saturday, as she and partner Caitlyn Williams, the No. 8 seeds, have reached the championship match in doubles after a 7-5, 6-3 win Friday over Laurente and Kyle McPhillips, the No. 5 seeds. Addison and Williams' opponents are the second-seeded team of Elisabeth Abanda and Emma Onila of Canada who defeated Mia King and Taylor Townsend 6-1, 6-4.

Mitchell Krueger has a chance for revenge on Saturday, as he and Hunter Harrington, the No. 6 seeds, will play Eddie Herr champions Diego Hidalgo of Ecuador and Thiago Monteiro of Brazil. Hidalgo and Monteiro saved three match points against Krueger and his partner Alex Petrone in a match tiebreaker in the Eddie Herr boys 16s doubles final. Krueger and Harrington defeated Giron and Bjorn Fratangelo 6-3, 0-6, 10-2, while Hidalgo and Monteiro got past Eric Johnson and McCall, the No. 3 seeds, 6-2, 4-6, 10-7.

In the 18s doubles, Noel Scott is the sole American vying for an Orange Bowl title Saturday. She and partner Polina Pekhova of Belarus will face No. 8 seeds Anna Orlik of Belarus and Valeriya Solovieva of Russia. Scott and Pekhova downed Paula Kania of Poland and Anna Markeno of Russia 6-2, 7-5, while Orlik and Solovieva, the Eddie Herr champions, defeated Dabrowski and Nicole Gibbs 6-1, 5-7, 10-7.

The boys 18s doubles final will feature top seeds Pierre-Hugues Herbert of France and Kevin Krawietz of Germany, who defeated Guilherme Clezar and Tiago Fernandes of Brazil 6-3, 7-5, against the unseeded Russian team of Mikhail Biryukov and Alexander Rumyantsev. They downed Diego Acosta and Roberto Quiroz of Ecuador, last year's 16s Orange Bowl doubles champions, 6-4, 6-3.

For more, see the tournament website.