Kudla, Harrington, Liang and Vickery of U.S. Win Eddie Herr Titles; Gavrilova Takes Second in a Row with Girls 18s Championship
©Colette Lewis 2009--
He's been playing the Eddie Herr since he was nine years old, but 17-year-old Denis Kudla had never won a title at the prestigious event at the IMG Bollettieri Academy. On Sunday afternoon, Kudla, the fourth seed, broke through, defeating No. 3 seed Marton Fucsovics of Hungary 6-7(4), 6-4, 6-4 in a nearly three-hour match.
Kudla, from Arlington, Va., was joined in the winners circle by Americans Hunter Harrington, who won the 16s championship over Alexios Halebian 6-2, 6-4, Sachia Vickery, a 3-6, 6-1, 7-5 winner over Caitlyn Williams in girls 16s, and Spencer Liang, who earned the girls 14s championship with a 6-2, 6-2 victory over Katy Dunne of Great Britain.
The two singles titles won by competitors not on their home soil were the boys 14s, with Luke Bambridge of Great Britain defeating Thai Kwiatkowski of the U.S. 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 and the girls 18s, with Russia's Daria Gavrilova earning her second consecutive Eddie Herr crystal globe by downing Di Zhao of China 6-2, 4-6, 6-3.
After breezing through the 14s division last year, Gavrilova had a more challenging road in the 18s. She needed a third set tiebreaker to advance over qualifier Danielle Collins in the first round, and in Friday's quarterfinals, the third seed saved two match points against Valeriya Solovieva. On Sunday morning, Gavrilova initially neutralized the pace of Zhao, but the Chinese 16-year-old stepped up her game in the second set, delighting the several hundred spectators hoping to see more tennis. They got their wish, and in the third set Gavrilova retook control, using variety and point construction rather than going for outright winners.
"I started good and then she started to play really, really good in the second set," said Gavrilova, who was a finalist at the French Open this year. "She was driving the rallies. In the third set, we both played good. I won because I was missing less, and I was changing the rhythm. Against a hard-hitter, that's how I play."
In the boys 18s final that followed on a mostly overcast and cool day, there wasn't a similar contrast in styles. Although Fucsovics is physically more imposing than Kudla, both were hitting with pace off the ground, and protecting their serves. Kudla lost his serve once in the three-hour match, in the opening game. Fucsovics was broken three times, once in each set, the final time at 4-4 in the third.
Down 0-40 in that game, Fucsovics saved two break points, when Kudla missed a first serve return and the 17-year-old Hungarian put away a high backhand volley. At 30-40, Fucsovics chose to serve and volley on his second serve, and Kudla's aggressive return caused Fucsovics to pop the volley well beyond the baseline.
Kudla took a 40-0 lead serving for the match, then made it interesting with a double fault and a backhand error. But after a short rally at 40-30, Fucsovics sent a backhand wide, and Kudla had put all his bad Eddie Herr memories to rest.
"I was kind of a nut case," Kudla said, thinking back to a streak of four first-round losses. "This tournament always has windy days, and on those windy days, those were the days I usually lost. I had a bad mentality. I always liked coming here, but I never played well here. But recently I've been doing well here, and then to win the tournament...I never thought I was going to play well enough to win the tournament, so it's pretty cool."
Fucsovics had a trainer on the court three times to re-tape fingers on his racquet hand, which had developed blisters. But he refused to blame that inconvenience for his loss.
"That wasn't the reason I lost the match," he said. "I didn't play my best today, too many mistakes."
It wasn't mistakes that decided the boys 16s final, where the seventh-seeded Harrington played outstanding tennis to subdue Halebian, his friend and training partner at the USTA's National Center in Boca Raton.
"I'm pretty big, and I don't move that well," said the 16-year-old Harrington, explaining his game style. "So I kind of have to go for my shots, be aggressive when I can. I played pretty well. He was making some errors in the first and I capitalized on that."
In the second set, Harrington saw a 4-1 lead slip away after Halebian returned from a bathroom break. But Halebian, the 2008 Eddie 14s champion, couldn't hold his serve at 4-5, and Harrington claimed the victory.
"Too many winners on his part," said Halebian. "A lot of neutral balls on the baseline, tough balls that people don't usually hit winners from. He was hitting winners from every position, return winners, he was hitting every type of winner you can possibly hit. It's not that I didn't play well, I just got beat."
In the girls 16s, top seed Sachia Vickery survived a second consecutive three-setter to claim her first Eddie Herr title, taking a 3-6, 6-1, 7-5 decision from No. 5 seed Caitlyn Williams.
It was a roller coaster of a match, with patches of unforced errors alternating with clever and confident shot-making. Neither girl could stand prosperity, and break after break made it difficult to identify any momentum. Williams had several opportunities to hold for a 5-3 lead in the final set, but she couldn't convert any of them, and lost the game on a double fault. Vickery held her serve the next two games, but Williams couldn't get it into a third set tiebreaker, double faulting on the second match point she faced.
Vickery was relieved to have escaped with the win.
"I know she's a really good player, she's really crafty, and you never know what to expect," said Vickery. "She played really well today, and I held my nerve at the end, and I'm happy, because I kept fighting."
Vickery, who now trains at Mouratoglou Tennis Academy in France, was happy to collect an Eddie Herr title after finishing as runner-up to Madison Keys in the 12s two years ago.
"I almost won it a few years ago," Vickery said. "I was up a set, and like 4-1. And I kind of thought about that too when I was playing. So I'm happy I won, and I pulled it out."
Williams gave Vickery credit for her play, but had regrets about dropping the eighth game of the third set.
"She played a great match," said Williams, 16. "I wish I had won that game at 4-3 up in the third. I had my chances, but she just played well, and I'm happy for her. It was a fun tournament, it always is, and I was happy to be in the finals. I wish I could have won it, but she played a good match."
The boys 14s final between Bambridge and Kwiatkowski came down to who could sustain their level the longest, and it was Bambridge who found his form in the second set and kept it throughout the third.
"I had a game plan, but he came out firing in the first set, so I had to adapt a bit," said Bambridge, the No. 5 seed. "I started to get the upper hand and he started to get frustrated. I kept my level, and as soon as he dropped his after the first set, I raised mine. I started making the balls I was missing, and he started missing some from the pressure, and it turned my way."
Bambridge broke Kwiatkowski in the opening game of the third set and held on for the win.
"I frustrated myself in the second set, and he just continued to play hard," said Kwiatkowski, the 13th seed. "At the beginning of the third set I got broken, and that was basically the match. We both held serve the rest of the way. It was a good quality match."
The girls 14s title went to Liang, who also trains at the USTA National Center in Boca Raton. Unseeded, Liang lost only one set in her seven wins, and against Dunne, the 16th seed, she took control of the match early in the opening set. A streak of ten straight games gave her a 5-0 second set lead, too much for Dunne to overcome.
The only unseeded player to capture a title on Sunday, Liang said the lack of a number next to her name didn't concern her in this tournament.
"I wasn't seeded, but I didn't even look at the seedings," Liang said. "I usually look at the draw and say oh I'm playing a seed, or I'm not playing a seed, but this tournament I just went out and played against whoever was on the other side. I obviously wanted to get to the final, but I had to focus on the match at hand until I got through it. I think as the week went on I played better and better as I got used to the conditions."
The 18s and 14s doubles finals were played Sunday afternoon. In the boys 14s, Bambridge became the tournament's only two-time winner when he and partner Christopher Pearce defeated Andres Cebezas and Jose Chamba Gomez of Ecuador 7-5, 6-0, in a contest between two unseeded teams. Bambridge and Pearce have never lost a match as a team, winning their national championship and several other tournaments in Europe.
The girls 14s doubles title went to top seeds Natella Nabieva of Uzbekistan and Laura Ucros of Columbia, who defeated unseeded Mia King and Josie Kuhlman of the U.S. 3-6, 6-1, 10-4.
In the boys 18s doubles, the wild card team of Mark Verryth of Australia and Harry Fowler of the U.S. took the championship when the top seeded team of Pierre-Hugues Hebert of France and Kevin Krawietz of Germany retired trailing 6-0, 4-1 due to an injury to Krawietz.
The girls 18s doubles title went to Anna Orlik of Belarus and Solovieva of Russia, the sixth-seeded team. Orlik and Solovieva defeated No. 3 seeds Gavrilova and Irina Khromacheva of Russia 6-4, 6-0. A 12s and 14s Eddie Herr singles champion, Orlik, who won the 18s doubles title last year with Laura Robson, collected her sixth crystal globe with the win.
The Glenn Feldman Sportsmanship award was presented to Denis Kudla. Daria Gavrilova was the recipient of the tournament's Rising Star award.
For complete draws, see the tennis information site. For more photos and stories, see eddieherr.com.