©Colette Lewis 2010--
Flushing Meadows, NY--
Ten years ago another Nebraska Cornhusker fan came to the U.S. Open Junior Championships and left with the boys singles title. On a cool and gloomy Sunday at the USTA Billie Jean King Tennis Center, unseeded Jack Sock became the first American since Andy Roddick in 2000 to win the boys championship, claiming a 3-6, 6-2, 6-2 victory over Denis Kudla of Arlington, Virginia.
At the beginning of the match, many of the 400 or so spectators were probably wondering why Sock had received so much attention during the week. The USTA National junior champion had not lost a set all week, and in his comprehensive 6-3, 6-4 victory over No. 2 seed and Wimbledon boys champion Marton Fucsovics in Saturday's semifinal, he had not faced a break point.
But against Kudla, Sock was broken two of the first three times he served, and was frequently looking at his racquet in disbelief, after it produced yet another error. Sock said later that it wasn't nerves, rather just some loose play on his part, plus Kudla's own high level, that led to the 1-5 deficit. Sock began to find his first serve in the next game, and although he was broken to end the set, he seemed to have found the form that had he exhibited throughout the week.
Kudla, who had been playing aggressively and even serving and volleying on occasion, made very few errors in the first set, but in the second, with Sock raising his level, the mistakes began to multiply.
"He started really neutralizing my attacking ball," said the 18-year-old Kudla, who was playing in his last junior tournament. "I'd come forward on his forehand, and he would hit it high where the only way I'd be able to do something with that is hit it on the rise, which in these kind of conditions isn't the easiest thing to do."
Kudla also noticed that he was having more trouble with Sock's serve, and it wasn't just when Sock cracked one of his six aces.
"It was big. I'd be able to return it, but it'd be in the middle of the court and he would be able to dictate with his forehand. So I would say his forehand and serve are definitely two shots that gave me a lot of trouble."
But it was another Sock shot, just one, that ultimately sealed Kudla's fate. After taking the second set 6-2 and building a 3-1 lead in the third, Sock faced a break point serving at 3-2. Kudla described the point in the press conference.
"Yeah, well, I came forward, and I knew he was really far behind the baseline and he hit a great lob. I didn't expect it to be that good. I knew when it was going up chances of it going in were pretty high. I was hoping something would go wrong or it'd go out and I would get a little bit of momentum to hold."
"But it's the best shot he could have hit at that moment. If he can do it, then there's nothing I can do about it."
Sock went on to hold for 4-2, then break Kudla in the next game. As a light mist began to fall, Kudla may have hoped for the deluge that later cancelled the men's final, but it didn't come.
There was no drama as Sock served out the championship--his drop shot and off-speed kick serve produced two points, with errors by Kudla providing the other two necessary to complete the win.
Sock dropped his racquet to the baseline and pumped both his fists in the direction of his family members before walking to the net to shake hands.
In the lengthy press conference after his victory, Sock was asked how he felt after completing the Kalamazoo-US Open Junior double, the first since Brian Dunn accomplished it in 1992.
"I'm very happy, obviously," said Sock, who turns 18 later this month. "It's been a great, great month and a half or two months or whatever, and I'm very happy with the way I'm playing. I mean, Kalamazoo was a great week, as well. I had a rough start, but I was happy with the way I finished there. Then here obviously again I had another good week. I don't know if this is yet settled in much, but I know it's been an unbelievable month and a half. Hopefully I can keep this play up for a while."
Kudla was asked about being a part of the first all-American U.S. Open boys doubles final since Roddick beat Robby Ginepri in 2000, and what that meant for their future professional success.
"You know, it would be great if we both made it. If you go by that kind of result, looks like his career is gonna be pretty good. You know, it's good to know the last two Americans, they both made it and would be great if we both made it. But since it's my last junior tournament, I'm going to put it behind me. It's done. I finished my junior career with finals at a Grand Slam, which is great. I'll just move forward, keep working on everything. I believe in myself to make it to the top. Hopefully he can do the same."
In the all-Russian girls final, top seed Daria Gavrilova defeated Yulia Putintseva 6-3, 6-2. The two friends train at the Moratouraglu Academy in France, and played their first tournament match against each other, but the 16-year-old Gavrilova, Putintseva's senior by one year, demonstrated just how crucial that year's worth of experience can be.
After a long battle with American Sloane Stephens in the semifinals, Gavrilova, the recent Youth Olympic Games champion, admitted that her legs were "heavy" for the final and that she didn't sleep well Saturday night.
"That was a really bad match, actually," Gavrilova said. "But we were so tired and I couldn't even move."
Gavrilova saw her 5-1 first set lead dwindle to 5-3, break point, but Putintseva couldn't capitalize. Gavrilova has too many ways to alter the pace and placement of the ball to allow Putintseva the rhythm and pace she craves, and with Putintseva making unforced errors, her problems were compounded.
"My serve was a bit weak, and I did a lot of mistakes, maybe because I was so nervous today," said Putintseva, who left the court in tears prior to the ceremony and didn't return for ten minutes. "It wasn't my best match in this tournament."
Putintseva had been able to defeat both No. 2 seed Timea Babos of Hungary and Christina Dinu of Romania this week, an impressive feat considering that those two girls had dealt her five of her 11 losses this year. But in the battle of the 2008 and 2009 Les Petit As champions, it was Gavrilova who held the upper hand.
"I was disappointed because I was playing bad, not because I lost or something," Putintseva said. "I didn't show my best today. I was nervous and I couldn't break this feeling today."
Gavrilova's goal is now the ITF year-end World Junior top ranking, and she is still planning to play junior slams next year, but her immediate focus is to raise her position on the WTA computers.
Asked how she would celebrate her first junior slam championship, Gavrilova, the 2009 French Open girls finalist, revealed just how determined she is to take the next step.
"I am traveling tomorrow," she said. "I am flying to California for a $25(K) event."
For complete draws, see usopen.org.
For additional coverage of the U.S. Open junior championships, see collegeandjuniortennis.com.
Sunday, September 12, 2010