Friday, December 4, 2009

Shishkina, Kozlov Take 12s Titles at Eddie Herr; Rain Forces Play Indoors, but Semifinals are Set in 14s, 16s and 18s

©Colette Lewis 2009--
Bradenton FL--

Rain started to fall at the IMG Bollettieri Academy shortly after 11 a.m. Friday, but fortunately the bulk of the quarterfinals matches in the 14s, 16s and 18s had been completed in the two-hour morning window of dry weather. Matches in progress were finished on two indoor courts, including the boys 12s championship match, which went to Stefan Kozlov of the U.S. 7-6(1), 7-6(5) over Seongchan Hong of Korea. The girls 12s title was completed outdoors, with Mariya Shishkina of the U.S. defeating Tornado Ali Black 6-1, 6-0.

Shishkina, who moved to the U.S. from Kazakhstan and trains at the IMG/Bollettieri Academy, was exceptionally focused throughout the week, with all seven of her wins in straight sets. Her quickness is not a surprise, given her small stature, and the pace she can generate and tolerate is impressive. But there was another factor she singled out as key to her success in Friday's final.

"I had to have consistency, keep my emotions under control and ignore everything around me," she said. "Consistency is really, really important for me, building the point, no winners, just keeping the ball in play."

That may sound like the cliche of girls 12s, replete with moonballs and baseline rallies that extend for minutes, but there is actually very little of that in either Shishkina's or Black's game, with both hitting through the court and covering it well. When Black was training in Bradenton, they often played practice matches, so neither was surprised by the other's strokes or strategies.

Shishkina had the advantage mentally, however, and Black became so frustrated that she smashed a racquet late in the first set and never quite recovered her composure.

Part of that frustration may have been born of fatigue, as Black had needed over three and a half hours to complete her win in Thursday's semifinal, and then played mixed doubles late into the evening.

"She played really well," said Black, who like Shishkina is 11 years old. "I didn't play that well, but anyone can beat anyone."

There may be a rematch in the immediate future, as both girls are planning to play the Junior Orange Bowl in less than two weeks.

For Kozlov, the 2008 12s finalist, a win over Hong was especially sweet as the Korean had beaten him in both the doubles final and the mixed doubles quarterfinals on Thursday.

"Today was payback," Kozlov said.

It didn't start well for the 11-year-old from the Miami area, as he fell behind 5-2 in the opening set before coming back to dominate the tiebreaker that decided it. Kozlov was up 2-0 in the second set when the rain came, and there was a lengthy delay while other matches were completed, but he took a 3-0 lead before Hong fought back, taking four straight games. Kozlov served for the match at 5-4 and 6-5, but couldn't finish it either time.

"At 6-5 me I got a little tight," Kozlov admitted, noting that there were several long rallies with plenty of moonballs during that time.

When he finally got to match point, at 6-4 in the tiebreaker, Kozlov began to cramp, with his racquet hand needing some serious shaking before he could continue. Hong executed a perfect pass to save one match point, but uncharacteristically missed a routine backhand on the second to silence his enthusiastic supporters, most of whom were other young Korean players. Kozlov was relieved to see it end there and happy to earn the winner's trophy this year.

"There wasn't that much pressure to get to the finals," said Kozlov, who is eligible to defend his title next year if he chooses to. "It was harder for me to get to the finals last year, this year was a little easier."

For the 12-year-old Hong, who lost in the round of 32 last year, this year's performance was a big improvement.

"It was similar to last year, but easier this year, the tournament," said Hong through an interpreter. "Stefan played good."

With the players in the 12s division now on their way to Prince Cup and Junior Orange Bowl in Miami, the weekend's attention will be on the older divisions.

In the boys 18s, two Americans will meet in one semifinal, with No. 4 seed and 2008 Eddie Herr semifinalist Denis Kudla facing No. 13 seed Sekou Bangoura Jr. It is a rematch of a recent encounter in the Pan-American Closed, which Bangoura won 7-6(6), 6-3. In quarterfinal matches that finished before the rain, Kudla eliminated the dangerous qualifier Mark Verryth 6-4, 6-3, neutralizing the big Australian's potent first serve, and Bangoura downed unseeded Oliver Golding of Great Britain 7-6(5), 6-1. No. 3 seed Marton Fucsovics of Hungary defeated No. 9 seed Raymond Sarmiento 6-2, 6-3. In the only quarterfinal that was finished indoors, unseeded Jack Carpenter of Great Britain saved match points in the second set and took a 5-7, 7-5, 6-3 win over No. 3 seed and Yucatan Cup champion Mitchell Frank. Frank led 5-4 30-30 in the second set when rain stopped the match, and although he had several opportunities to end it in straight sets, Carpenter came up with big forehands to extend it to a third set, where he never trailed.

The girls 18s quarterfinals were all played indoors, late into the evening. Unseeded Gabriela Dabrowski of Canada had the only easy match of the four, defeating unseeded Luksika Kumkhum of Thailand 6-0, 6-2. She will play No. 3 seed Daria Gavrilova, who saved two match points against No. 11 Valeriya Solovieva in a 1-6, 6-3, 7-5 win. Solovieva served for the match at 5-3 in the third set, but Gavrilova played brilliantly down the stretch, saving two match points serving at 4-5. Gavrilova, the 2008 Eddie Herr 14s champion, is one of three former champions still alive for a second Eddie Herr singles title.

Unseeded Madison Keys, the last U.S. hope to match the titles of Melanie Oudin (2007) and Lauren Embree (2008), served for the match in the second set against unseeded wild card Di Zhao of China, but ended up losing to the Bollettieri student 3-6, 7-6(7), 6-4. Zhao plays No. 13 seed Polina Leykina, who came back from 4-1 down in the final set to defeat No. 8 seed Zsofia Susanyi of Hungary 6-4, 4-6, 7-5.

Alexios Halebian, the Eddie Herr boys 14s champion last year, has extended his Eddie Herr winning streak with a 6-3, 6-1 win over wild card Robert Livi in the boys 16s. The eighth seeded Halebian joins fellow American Hunter Harrington, the No. 7 seed, in the semifinals. Harrington defeated unseeded Thiago Monteiro of Brazil 7-6(6), 6-4. The two seeds play two qualifiers, with Harrington meeting Dennis Novak of Austria and Halebian matching up with Luis Patino of Mexico.

The U.S. is guaranteed a girls 16s champion, with all four semifinalists from the United States. No. 1 seed Sachia Vickery takes on friend Vicky Duval, the No. 16 seed, for a place in the final, while unseeded Breaunna Addison meets No. 5 seed Caitlyn Williams. Williams finished her 2-6, 6-2, 6-4 victory over No. 2 seed Elisabeth Abanda of Canada indoors.

The third Eddie Herr champion looking for a second title is Joseph DiGiulio, the 2007 boys 12s winner. DiGiulio, the No. 3 seed, will play No. 8 seed Luke Bambridge of Great Britain, while in the other half, No. 13 seed Thai Kwiatkowski will try to upset Thien Nguyen of Vietnam, the top seed.

In the girls 14s, unseeded Spencer Liang is the U.S. hope for the championship, and she will play Pippa Horn of Great Britain on Saturday. The only seed remaining in the girls 14s is No. 16 Katy Dunne of Great Britain, who will face Madara Straume of Latvia.

Most of the doubles were postponed until Saturday, which may still see rain, especially early in the day.

For complete draws, see the tennis information site. See eddieherr.com for other photos and stories.