Fratangelo and Giron Reach Boys Final, Crawford and Keys Will Decided Girls International Spring Championship Title; Chiang and Rubin Finish Atop 16s
©Colette Lewis 2011--
US players will take home the singles championships at the ITF Grade 1 in Carson, but whether the winner will be seeded has yet to be decided after Saturday's semifinal matches. The boys final will feature two 17-year-olds in top seed Bjorn Fratangelo and unseeded Marcos Giron, while the girls championship will be decided by two 16-year-olds in No. 3 seed Madison Keys and unseeded wild card Samantha Crawford.
Fratangelo, who splits his time between Naples, Fla. and Pittsburgh, Pa., defeated No. 10 seed Mac Styslinger 6-4, 6-4 on a sunny but unseasonably cool morning at the Home Depot Center. Fratangelo was determined to keep the powerful Styslinger from getting comfortable.
"From what everyone was telling me, he serves big and hits big off the forehand, not giving you a lot of rhythm," said Fratangelo. "So going into today, I really tried to mix up my serve well, change my return stance a lot, and not let him see the same ball twice. I think it tripped him up, because I moved him around a lot, hit behind him a lot. But towards the end, he was starting to read that, which is why I made the second set a lot more difficult on myself. But overall, the way I played today, I'm really happy going into the finals."
Fratangelo was up an early break in both sets, but in the second he lost that advantage in the sixth game. But Styslinger gave the break right back, and Fratangelo didn't falter again.
Giron, who is now on an 11-match winning streak, having won the Claremont Grade 4 ITF last week, had a slight hiccup serving for the match against No. 13 seed Patrik Fabian, but he finished the job on his second attempt to post a 6-1, 6-3 victory.
Last year, current UCLA freshman Clay Thompson, then a high school senior, won Claremont and reached the final at the International Spring Championships. Giron, who also has committed to UCLA, has now equaled Thompson, and gets his chance to surpass him on Sunday morning.
"I've matched Clay, so now the next thing is to see if I could win it," said Giron, who lives in Thousand Oaks, Calif. "I got some confidence from winning Claremont, and then I played Dennis Novikov first round. I fought through that one, which really gave me a lot of confidence, and from there on, I've been playing well."
The last meeting between Fratangelo and Giron came in the quarterfinals of the Kalamazoo 16s in 2009, a match that Fratangelo won 6-4, 6-4. But despite having not met in competition in 20 months, the pair are well-acquainted.
"We've practiced a lot, so we know each other fairly well," said Giron. "We've been around each other for a long time, so we both know how each other plays."
"We're good friends, Junior Davis Cup partners from back in 09," said Fratangelo, who, like Giron, has yet to lose a set in the tournament. "We pretty much grew up together, so it's going to be a fun final. We like playing each other and it's always entertaining to watch us play, because we have really similar styles."
There will be stylistic similarities in the girls final as well, with the big hitting Boca Raton residents trading powerful serves and forehands. However in Keys' semifinal win over unseeded Brooke Austin, it was her backhand that helped her close out a 6-3, 6-2 victory.
Serving for the match, Keys sent a forehand long on her first match point, and double-faulted to put herself in dangerous territory against Austin, who came back from 4-0 down in the final set yesterday to beat top seed Vicky Duval. Austin missed a backhand to keep Keys serving, and that's when the string of winners began: a backhand by Keys for match point No. 2, a forehand winner from Austin for deuce, then two more laser backhand winners from Keys to end it.
"I've been working on that a little bit," said Keys, who has not played a junior tournament since the 2010 Orange Bowl. "Usually it's my forehand that gets me more of the winners, but today my backhand definitely came in handy."
Although she is the 2010 16s Eddie Herr champion, Crawford has a much lower profile than Keys, a professional since she turned 14. But Crawford has had a breakout tournament in Carson, her first ITF Grade 1 event, beating the No. 10 and No. 5 seeds earlier, and today, the No. 2 seed.
Against Min, it was Crawford who was the steadier player, with Min struggling not just with Crawford's big serve and pace, but also with her own execution.
"I knew she would try to get me on the run," said Crawford, who at 6-foot-1, will always be at a disadvantage when it comes to speed. "Maybe drop shot me, or try to get me to move out of my comfort zone. So I was trying to take control of the points and get my feet going."
Crawford served for the match at 5-2, but couldn't finish it, perhaps unsurprising in a set that featured six breaks of serve and only three holds. Min desperately needed to hold to make Crawford serve for the match again, perhaps thinking about the occasion on the changeover, but Min, a finalist at the ISC in 2009, was broken for the fourth time in the set, ending any hope of reaching the final again.
Keys, who is at the Evert Academy, and Crawford, who trains on the same site with the USTA, know each other, but with their tennis careers at different stages, haven't played in years.
"She has a big serve too," said Crawford, who admits she's playing with very little pressure as an unseeded wild card. "She's aggressive too. We play a lot alike."
In the 16s, Yuki Chiang was on a mission to make up for missing the tournament last year with a wrist injury, and she accomplished what she wanted, defeating No. 8 seed Marie Norris 6-4, 7-5 to claim the title.
All week Chiang has been struggling with her burning desire to win while continuing to follow the advice of coach Lori McNeil to move forward and finish points at the net.
"Yesterday I had a lot of opportunities to come to the net and I did it," said Chiang of her 6-2, 6-4 win over No. 9 seed Kimberly Yee. "My coach said she was so proud of me, didn't care if I win or lose, but she wanted me to come to the net in the finals."
Chiang was able to do that in the first set, but fell behind 3-0, two breaks in the second, and the strategy began to crumble.
"I started to get nervous again, said what if I win, and I don't want to come to the net, because what if I miss," said Chiang. "So I started to get away from it, but one thing she always told me was, if you do the right thing, good things will happen."
It was a volley late in the match that proved McNeil right. In the final game, with Norris serving to force a tiebreaker, Chiang approached the net.
"She hit a really hard shot at me, and I hit a forehand volley," Chiang said. "I had to reach for it, but I got it. After that shot, I said, I've got this, because after that shot, I looked at her to see her reaction, and after I hit that she was like, now what am I supposed to do?"
"That's the Lori McNeil shot," said Chiang of the former Top 10 WTA pro, who is now a USTA coach at the Carson training center. "When you hit there, you stay strong."
Norris expressed disappointment at her level of play in the final.
"I didn't play as well as I thought I could," said the 13-year-old from Kansas, who had saved match points in her semifinal win on Friday, and saved two more serving at 4-5. "But it was a good experience, and I think I did pretty well overall."
Chiang, who is now temporarily living in Boca Raton while her mother is in Japan for family reasons, puts this victory near the top of her biggest tournament wins, just below her 2009 Junior Orange Bowl 14s title.
"I won sectionals twice in a row, but I wondered if that was the biggest thing I would win," said Chiang, who was at the Weil Academy prior to joining the USTA two years ago. "But after Junior Orange Bowl, I thought, wow, I'm capable of so many things. I guess you could say these are my biggest wins."
Noah Rubin, the No. 14 seed, appeared to be in control of his match with No. 6 seed Nikko Madregallejo, but he didn't succeed in closing the door on his 6-4, 5-7, 7-6(5) victory until the last possible moment.
The tone for the match was established in the opening set, when Rubin took a 4-0 lead, then held on as Madregallejo came back. Rubin served for the match at 5-4 in the second set, but didn't get close to finishing there, and was broken for the third consecutive time at 5-6 to give Madregallejo new life. In the final set, Rubin served for the match at 5-4, and the game started promisingly, with two forcing backhands producing winners, but that same shot let him down in the next four points, with two netted backhands making it 5-5. Rubin broke Madregallejo again in the next game, and again he could not hold, although he did get to match point at 40-30, only to net a forehand. After Madregallejo took the next two points, it was 6-6, and when Rubin got down 4-1 in the tiebreaker, his chances looked bleak.
But Rubin stopped making errors, while Madregallejo threw in a couple of costly forehand mistakes on his serve and when Rubin hit a big forehand that forced an error from Madregallejo, Rubin had two more match points.
Madregallejo decided to play more aggressively on the next point, with a driving forehand and a perfectly executed forehand volley to make it 6-5 Rubin, but his attempt at another forehand winner went millimeters beyond the baseline, and Rubin had escaped with the win.
"I thought, did that really just go just long?" said Rubin, relieved when the baseline judge called out, and the chair umpire agreed. "I was like, thank God. I finally get a free point that I want. He definitely played well, props to him, but it was a good feeling."
Rubin, who is from Long Island, NY, had no difficulty in his first five matches despite playing outdoors for the first time in months, yet something, whether it was the conditions or the pressure of a major final, caused his focus to waiver on Saturday.
"Overall, I felt like I competed well," said the 15-year-old right-hander. "I lost a couple of easy points I shouldn't have and got a little upset. I have to work on my focus more, but overall it was good."
Rubin did manage to block out his numerous missed opportunities and turn his attention to winning one point at a time after trailing 4-1 in the tiebreaker.
"I told myself I'd been out there way too long," Rubin said of the two-and-a-half hour match that boiled down to just a few points. "It was definitely my most focused play there."
Madregallejo was disappointed in the result, and mentioned a few points he should have won, but had no regrets.
"I executed what I've been practicing, what I wanted to do," said Madregallejo, who trains at the USTA's Boca Raton center. "I'd rather lose playing the way I want to play for the future, rather than winning in ways that aren't going to improve my game."
"He played well, moved well, gets a lot of balls back," Madregallejo said of Rubin. "He was the better player today."
Three of the four doubles finals went to match tiebreakers, with the girls 16s title the only one decided in straight sets and with a minimum of drama. Chiang and her partner Alexis Pereira, who were unseeded, defeated top seeds Ally Miller-Krasilnikov and Julia O'Loughlin 6-4, 6-4 in the day's final match.
In the boys 16s doubles final, No. 7 seeds Robbie Bellamy and Gregory Garcia took the title with a hard-fought 6-4, 6-7(4), 11-9 victory over top seeds Joseph DiGiulio and Spencer Papa.
In the boys 18s doubles championship, No. 2 seeds Mitchell Krueger and Shane Vinsant took their first Grade 1 title with a 4-6, 6-1, 11-9 win over unseeded Mate Cutura of Croatia and Mikhail Vaks of Russia. Krueger and Vinsant trailed 7-5, but took the next four points, only to see Cutura and Vaks save two match points to earn another change of ends. Vinsant took control on the next point, making an aggressive poach to give his team a third chance, which they converted when Vaks netted his return of a Vinsant first serve.
"It just comes down to a few points," said Krueger. "I felt we played pretty aggressive at the end and kind of made it happen," said Vinsant.
The second seeds hadn't been forced to a match tiebreaker--they hadn't even lost their serves since their first round match--until the finals.
"We were really threatened this match," said Vinsant. "It's just a matter of how you can control the deuce points, because it can change in an instant like that," said Krueger of their second set loss. "A couple of points in doubles just completely changes everything."
In the girls 18s double final, 14-year-olds Gabrielle Andrews and Taylor Townsend saved three match points in their 3-6, 6-2, 15-13 win over No. 3 seed Ellen Allgurin of Sweden and Rio Kitagawa of Japan.
Andrews and Townsend, who were unseeded, have been in more tense situations than the final of a Grade 1, as the pair were on the court with the score tied in the final of last year's ITF World Junior Tennis competition against the Ukraine. They won that match in three sets, giving the USA their fourth consecutive world title, yet still aren't immune to nerves.
"Our comfort level has gotten a lot higher," said Townsend, "because of the things we've gone through together. But it's still a tournament, and still the finals."
"We're pretty much sisters," said Andrews. "It's easy for us to pump each other up when we're down," said Townsend.
In their previous matches, they had both worn colored face paint, but said they "forgot" about it today. They will be playing the Easter Bowl as a team (they won the 14s doubles title there last year) however, and vow to resurrect it soon.
"We'll continue the trend at the Easter Bowl," said Townsend. "You'll see a lot of us and our face paint at the Easter Bowl."
For the complete draws, see the tournament page at usta.com.