Mina and Dabrowski Claim Dunlop Orange Bowl 18s Titles; Addison and Halebian of US Win 16s Singles Championships Sunday
©Colette Lewis 2009--
Key Biscayne, FL--
Three unseeded players and a top seed claimed Dunlop Orange Bowl singles titles on another unseasonably hot day in Miami. France had an opportunity to collect both 18s singles titles after top seed Gianni Mina overpowered his friend and frequent doubles partner Arthur De Greef of Belgium 6-4, 6-4, but Gabriela Dabrowski of Canada thwarted that potential sweep, upsetting world No. 1 junior Kristina Mladenovic of France 6-3, 2-6, 7-5.
In the 16 singles championships, which are traditionally played on Saturday, but due to rain early in the week were pushed back a day, the U.S. was already assured of sweeping the singles, with all four finalists from the U.S. Two players from the USTA National Training Center in Boca Raton headed north on I-95 with the winners' share of oranges: Breaunna Addison defeated Kelsey Laurente 6-1, 6-2 and wild card Alexios Halebian came from a set down for the third time in the tournament to down qualifier Marcos Giron 4-6, 7-6(4), 6-4.
Mina, a 17-year-old who is from the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, found the 83-degree temperatures to his liking, and his serve was nearly as hot as Crandon Park hard courts against the eighth-seeded De Greef. Broken only once in the match, when he serving for the championship at 5-2 in the second, Mina was pleased with his performance.
"This was my best match of the tournament," said Mina, the first boys 18s Orange Bowl winner from France since Guy Forget in 1982. "At the beginning I played not so good, but after 3-all, I begin to be more aggressive."
At 4-all, Mina got the only break of the first set, and even a double fault on his first set point in the next game didn't faze him. A confidently struck backhand winner gave him another set point, and when De Greef's attempt at a backhand pass found the net, Mina was a set away.
After taking a 4-0 lead in the second set, Mina may have relaxed a bit too much, allowing De Greef a ray of hope when the 17-year-old Belgian broke and held to make it 5-4 in the second. But in his second opportunity, the young Frenchman started with an ace and then a first serve that produced a weak chip return by De Greef. A double fault made it 30-15, and a defensive lob by De Greef that went long on the next point gave Mina two match points. On the first, Mina sent a backhand long, but on the second he hit an aggressive volley winner to secure his first Grade A, which immediately got him thinking about his next goal.
"I feel now I have to win a grand slam," said Mina, who is planning to play all four junior slams in 2010 and hopes to secure the world junior No. 1 ranking. "Before it was a Grade 1, a Grade A, now a grand slam."
Although his athletic game and physical resemblance to countryman Gael Monfils invite inevitable comparisons, Mina's favorite player is something of a surprise: Gustavo Kuerten of Brazil, who won the men's singles title at Roland Garros three times. A finalist at the Roland Garros juniors this year, Mina's loss to Daniel Berta of Sweden there kept France from claiming both titles, as Mladenovic defeated Daria Gavrilova of Russia in the girls final.
But the sweep again eluded the pair when Dabrowski won the final three games of the two-hour match to become the first Canadian girl to win the 18s Orange Bowl title since Carling Bassett in, coincidentally, 1982.
Dabrowski injured her right knee in the final of the Yucatan Cup a little over two weeks ago, and had it taped throughout last week's Eddie Herr, where she reached the semifinals, and all this week. Playing in her 17th singles match since November 24th, Dabrowski surprised herself with the reserves of energy she tapped late in the match.
"Honestly I don't know how I did it," the 17-year-old from Ottawa said. "I tried to hang in there until the end. I thought I was playing tentative in the second set and that's why she was able to take control and win that so easily. But in the end, I finally found the rhythm on my serve and I decided to step into the ball, because I knew otherwise I would have no chance to win the match. She's such a great ball-striker."
Dabrowski handled the pace of Mladenovic, getting low to the ground despite her fatigue to dig out the punishing ground strokes from the top seed. The third set began with four consecutive breaks, which was not a good sign from the French girl, as her first serve is one of her strengths. Dabrowski hit a tough overhead winner on break point to take a 4-3 lead in the final set, but was immediately broken in the next game; the only point she won on her serve was a point penalty assessed by the chair umpire for a time violation on Mladenovic.
At 30-30 in the next game Mladenovic hit a backhand winner and a service winner to take a 5-4 lead, and Dabrowski was in the precarious position of serving to keep the match going. At 30-30, she was two points away from losing the match, but she got two good first serves in to hold.
Mladenovic double faulted to open her service game, and Dabrowski was focused on moving the 6-footer from side to side. Dabrowski was dictating the points in the game, and when at 15-40, Mladenovic's backhand caught the tape, the Canadian was serving for the match at 6-5.
Mladenovic hit two return winners, but also made two errors to make it 30-30, and had a point to get into a tiebreaker when Dabrowski sliced a forehand wide. But again Dabrowski's serve came through for her, with a first serve winner bringing it back to deuce. Mladenovic tried to force the action on the next point, but her forehand approach was into the net.
Dabrowski, who had been playing quickly in the final few games, slowed herself down, went to her towel and thought for a moment.
"I knew I couldn't take any more dramatic matches," Dabrowski said, referring to her semifinal win over Nastja Kolar of Slovenia, where she came back from match point down to win in a third set tiebreaker on a racquet abuse point penalty and an Eddie Herr match when she won it on a game penalty for racquet abuse. "I've had too many of them in the past three weeks honestly."
Dabrowski stepped to the line and hit a first serve, and when Mladenovic floated the return long, Dabrowski smiled and looked to her coach, but didn't have the energy for a more theatrical celebration.
Mladenovic, who had come back from a set down in the quarterfinals and semifinals, was philosophical about the loss.
"Of course I'm disappointed, because I was supposed to get the victory, but I had a very good tournament. I came here to get used to these conditions for Australia, and even if I did not win today, my three last matches give me a lot of confidence. I have nothing to reproach myself with all I did this season. 2009 was just an incredible year for me. I'm proud of myself even if I lost 7-5 in the third today."
De Greef was also happy to have had a chance to experience the conditions he will likely encounter when he travels to Australia for the junior championships next month.
"This was very good training for Australia, I think. Today in Belgium it was 2 degrees (Celsius)."
The winners in the 16s competition aren't making any plane reservations for Australia just yet, but Addison and Halebian have every reason to think that is just a couple of years away.
The unseeded Addison dropped only one set during the tournament, took out Eddie Herr champion and nemesis Sachia Vickery in the third round, and in the final blasted past No. 10 seed Kelsey Laurente 6-1, 6-2.
Serving for the first set at 5-1, Addison hit two aces and an unreturnable serve.
"I was glad I didn't get all nervous like the last couple of rounds," said Addison, who turns 15 later this month. "Once I felt really loose and I was serving well, I knew I could do it."
Laurente, who had come back from a set down in her quarterfinal match and from a 6-2, 5-2 deficit Saturday against Catherine Harrison, continued to fight, but she had no answer for Addison's standard of play.
"She played amazing. I couldn't pass her, I couldn't out-rally her, she was getting everything back," said the 15-year-old from Miramar, Florida. "She was serving bombs, and another factor was my feet. I didn't get to the ball. Sometimes I would just look at it, because it was such a good serve. Today, I couldn't make the magic happen."
With her first major international junior title and the fourth consecutive Orange Bowl 16s title for an American girl, Addison was all smiles reflecting on how she felt when Laurente sent a backhand long on match point.
"It felt amazing, so good," said Addison. "I thought it would be more joyous, like crying or something. But I knew I deserved it, because I've been working really hard. It just felt great."
In the boys 16s final, Halebian dropped the first set to Giron 6-4, but getting a break when Giron was serving for the set at 5-2 helped get him on track for the rest of the match.
"Even though I lost the set, those games helped me out in the next set," said the 15-year-old left-hander from Glendale, Calif. "If I would have lost 6-2 and I hadn't played too many good games the whole match, so he probably would have started out cruising again. He would have been the one feeling well."
Giron reflected back on the ninth game of the first set, when he had three set points with Halebian serving at 0-40.
"If I would have capitalized on the first (set) point, that would have been bigger," said the 16-year-old from Thousand Oaks, Calif. "Obviously after he won that game, he started to get more confident, get in a better groove, feeling he had a good chance of doing it."
Another point Giron wishes he had back came in the second set tiebreaker. With Halebian holding two set points at 6-4, Giron hit a too-short lob, but retreated in time to get Halebian's smash back, lofting a fantastic lob that Halebian somehow ran down. With his back to the ball, Halebian wasn't able to do anything but keep it in the court, and Giron was waiting for the ball a few feet from the net. He missed the overhead into the net, drawing a sustained moan from the several dozen spectators, and the match was all even.
"That was heartbreaking," admitted Giron. "If I had won that point, he would have been disappointed because he didn't put his overhead away. He still was serving at 6-5, but I would have had a chance to get the point back anyway."
In the final set, Halebian broke in the first game, and held the advantage the rest of the way. Giron said he "probably won like a point" on Halebian's serve in the final set.
"I thought I served well in the third set," Halebian said. "I hadn't served that well in the whole match."
After losing in the final of the Eddie Herr 16s, Halebian was glad to finish with the winner's trophy this week.
"It's still good to make the final, but if I would have lost, it would have been like the same situation last week. It's tough to lose in the final, but I've played pretty well and I'm happy about the end of the year. I'm playing well."
For complete draws, see the tournament website.