©Colette Lewis 2010--
Coral Gables, FL--
Top seed Bianca Sanon and unseeded Michael Rinaldi approached the Tennis Plaza Cup in unsettled states of mind, yet the two Floridians managed to focus on the task at hand to emerge with championship trophies this weekend at Salvadore Park. Sanon defeated unseeded Lynn Chi 6-2, 6-3 in the final, while Rinaldi downed No. 3 seed Zachry Bruchmiller 6-3, 6-2 on a warm and sun-splashed Martin Luther King Day.
Sanon's parents are from Haiti, and when news of the catastrophic earthquake began to surface Sanon's thoughts were not on tournament preparation.
"It just came so unexpectedly," said Sanon, who lives in Plantation, Fla. "I came home from practice and the news channels were on and the phone was ringing off the hook. It was just a weird week, honestly, so I didn't really know what was going to happen coming into this tournament; I was just hoping for the best."
Sanon was relieved to hear that her relatives and family friends were safe, but acknowledged that the tragedy had shaken her. It didn't show in her approach to her matches over the tournament's three days, as the 18-year-old, who will enter Columbia in the fall, didn't drop a set in her five victories.
"I didn't lose any sets, but it was not easy at all," said Sanon, who like Chi, had to finish her quarterfinal match at 8 a.m., before playing the semifinals and finals at 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. respectively. "This morning playing Lindsay (Graff), 4 and 4 is very close match and when I played with Sherry (Li) each point, you just didn't know who was going to win it. And with Lynn (Chi), each point was really stressful, each point I had to give one hundred percent."
The unseeded Chi had proven a tough out, defeating No. 2 seed Julie Sabacinski in the second round Saturday, surviving an 11-9 match tiebreaker against unseeded Deborah Suarez in the completion of the quarterfinal, and coming from 4-1 down in the opening set to eliminate unseeded Samantha Crawford 6-4, 6-2 in the semifinals.
But against Sanon, the 15-year-old Chi couldn't find an answer to her opponent's variety and superior execution. Sanon got a break to take a 4-2 lead in the first set, and while her first serve percentage wasn't high, Chi wasn't able to take advantage of Sanon's very reliable second serve. Chi got her only break of the match in the opening game of the second set, but she was broken at love in the next game, and when Chi was broken in the sixth game of the set, Sanon had the margin she needed.
"She just outplayed me, she was just better," Chi said, who also mentioned the superior placement of Sanon's serve. "She made more balls than I did."
Sanon exhibited some impressive variety as well as consistency, using both a powerful backhand and an effective slice forehand, depending on whether she needed offense or defense. Sanon also credited her serve with getting her out of tight spots.
"My dad is my coach, and what he'll do is set up cones in all four corners, and I can't get off the court until I hit all four corners. I can't go home until I do it, so it's a pretty big incentive. My serve has always been, I wouldn't say a weapon, but a safety. It always helps in crucial points. I have my dad to thank for that."
Serving for the match, Sanon started the game with a brilliant forehand winner from way outside the court, and she ended the game and the match on her first try, with a serve winner.
"I was playing well this whole tournament," Sanon said. "Everything was working. Usually there will be some shots that you don't really make all the time, but I was pretty comfortable with all my shots this tournament."
Boys 18s champion Michael Rinaldi was far from comfortable when he began the tournament, as he had injured his thumb during a session with a punching bag. Wearing a cast for a week, Rinaldi wasn't even certain he would play until Thursday.
But like Sanon, Rinaldi didn't lose a set all week, and in the final against Bruchmiller, he continued his excellent form.
"I played really well," said Rinaldi, the nephew of former WTA pro and current USTA National Coach Kathy Rinaldi. "I just got better and better as the tournament went on."
Against Bruchmiller, Rinaldi served well and also displayed soft hands when he approached the net. Bruchmiller, a Texan with a one-handed backhand, saw a lot of balls directed there, and he was also hampered by what he thought might be an abdominal pull.
"It was kind of sore after my match this morning, but I think in one of the early games, I hit a kick serve and I kind of felt something pull," Bruchmiller said.
"So I was slicing most of my serves."
Without his serve, which had proven effective in his earlier matches, including his match tiebreaker semifinal win over top seed Danny Riggs, Bruchmiller was at a disadvantage. Rinaldi was serving well, and once he got the break he needed early in each set, Bruchmiller couldn't get the break back.
"I served really well this tournament," said Rinaldi, of Palm City, Fla. "Sometimes it's not good, and sometimes it is."
Punching bag incident aside, Rinaldi likes the way 2010 has begun.
"This is a good start to the year," he said.
In the girls 14 final, also played at Salvadore Park, top seed Mia King claimed a 6-1, 6-4 victory over unseeded Bridget Forster.
Unlike Sanon and Rinaldi, King had had a couple of nail-biters earlier in the tournament. On Friday, she had needed a 10-8 match tiebreaker to defeat Adi Milstein in the second round, and on Sunday evening, she returned to the court after a six-hour rain delay to finish a 6-4, 7-6(6) victory over No. 7 seed Caroline Henderson.
On Monday, King was in top form however, taking out No. 5 seed Alexis Aranda 6-4, 6-0 in the semifinals, before taking on Forster in the final. Forster had come back for a 3-6, 6-3 10-7 win over unseeded Shilin Xu in the semifinals, but even that momentum and her remarkable positive energy weren't enough against King.
"She just kept really consistent and was dictating most of the points," said Forster. "When I would try to change up the pace with semi-lobs or slices, she would really control the ball, take a swinging volley, or try to get to the net. I know she played a little bit better than me today."
King used the swinging volley very effectively throughout the match, although she admitted it doesn't necessarily come naturally to her.
"I just had to push myself to do it," said King, a Hendersonville, NC resident now training at the USTA National Center in Boca Raton. "The last two matches the swing volley wasn't my best, but today I felt it really helped me a lot. It was tough running up there, but I felt like it paid off."
Having lost the first set for the third consecutive match, Forster had no reason to doubt she could come back against King, and her body language made that clear. But King, who had never played Forster before, didn't lose her determination either.
"I knew that it was going to be a tough fight," King said. "So I just tried to focus on myself, and not so much on my opponent."
With the finals at Salvadore Park completed, the focus turned to the 16s finals at the Biltmore Tennis Center, where the two winners now have even fonder memories of the tournament.
No. 4 seed Alexandra Morozova, the 14s winner in 2008, captured the girls 16s title Monday afternoon with a 6-4, 6-3 win over friend and training partner Emily Hahn, the No. 2 seed.
The 14-year-old Morozova, who is from Sunny Isles, Fla., was playing her third match of the day, and although none involved the stress of a match tiebreaker, she admitted she was tired in the final against Hahn.
"I know her game pretty well, so I thought that was an advantage," said Morozova, who trains with Hahn at Nick Saviano's Academy in Sunrise, Fla. "I managed to play good, and do what I was told."
The boys 16s champion Jordan Daigle took his second consecutive Tennis Plaza Cup title, having won the boys 14s title on the clay courts of the Riviera Country Club last year.
This year, Daigle, the No. 6 seed, moved to the hard courts at the Biltmore, but the result was the same, with Daigle collecting a 6-4, 6-3 win over No. 3 seed Nikko Madregallejo.
Daigle, from Lafayette, La., had beaten Madregallejo in three sets in a November 2009 National Open, so he knew what he had to do to repeat that result.
"I knew it would be a tough match, so I had to come prepared," said Daigle. "I think I served really well today. I was a little tired from playing three matches, but I think I kept my composure, kept a lot of balls in play, and made him play."
Madregallejo, a Californian who trains at the USTA National Center, wasn't at his best, and playing from behind throughout both sets just increased the pressure he was under. Daigle lost his serve only once, and that was when he already had a two-break lead in the opening set.
Daigle had a simple explanation for his continued success at the Tennis Plaza Cup.
"I always play well here. I just enjoy playing here in Miami," Daigle said. "It's just a fun atmosphere."
This year's boys 14s title went to top seed Dan Kerznerman who defeated unseeded Matthew Cravinhos 6-4; 6-1. The boys 12s title was won by No. 2 seed Michael Plutt, a 6-1, 6-1 winner over No. 4 seed Alexander Del Corral. The girls 12s champion is No. 7 seed Cristina Rovira who defeated No. 3 seed Usue Arconada 6-2, 6-2.
For draws and results, see the TennisLink site.
The tournament is sponsored by Tennis Plaza. For more information about their Miami store and products available online, see tennisplaza.com.
Monday, January 18, 2010