©Colette Lewis 2011--
Flushing Meadows, NY--
Unseeded Americans Grace Min and Nicole Gibbs will play Saturday for a place in the 2011 girls singles final at the US Open junior championships, assuring there will be an American finalist for the fourth straight year.
The juniors returned to the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center after a day at the Sound Shore Indoor Tennis Club, with the spacious grounds, sunny skies and warm temperatures a welcome change after two days of rain and one day of doubled-up matches in less than ideal conditions.
Four American girls had won two matches at the indoor courts Thursday, and when all four fell behind in their round of 16 matches Friday, it looked as if the United States would be hosting a junior championship weekend without any Americans.
The unseeded Min trailed Sweden's Ellen Allgurin 5-2 in the opening set of their match, but fought back to take a 7-6(1), 6-2 victory.
"I was pretty nervous and she was making a lot of balls," said the 17-year-old Min, who trains at the USTA National Center in Boca Raton. "It was pretty close the first seven games, but she was just making one more ball than me. After than, I kind of settled down and got my feet moving and fought my way back into that. Once I started to move my feet, everything just fell into place."
Min had only played four sets of tennis on Thursday, but Gibbs had needed six. On Friday, against No. 6 seed and 2010 US Open girls finalist Yulia Putintseva of Russia, it looked as if Gibbs was paying for those two tough matches, dropping the first set 6-1. Gibbs credited her opponent, not her fatigue for the result in the opening set.
"I was definitely not running at my top speed, but I was also shocked. I thought I was coming up against kind of a grinder today," said Gibbs, who hadn't met Putintseva before. "That's what I had heard from scouting reports and stuff, but she was blasting the ball past me. So more credit to her than anything."
The second set was much tighter, and Putintseva began to exhibit signs that she was feeling the pressure from Gibbs. The 16-year-old from Moscow was given a warning for an audible obscenity when a line judge reported it to the chair umpire, and with Gibbs serving at 3-4, Putintseva was given a point penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct during an exchange with the chair umpire.
"We were both temperamental earlier," said Gibbs, who qualified for the tournament, so has now won six matches since last Friday. "I launched a ball and got a gentle warning, and when I bounced my racquet once, he said keep your racquet in your hand, but never an actual warning. But as the match went on she got more and more worked up and there was a little bit of antics there with her fist pumping and screaming c'mon in my face, and I'd win the next point and fist pump in her face."
The point penalty gave Gibbs a 15-0 lead in the ninth game of the second set, and she went on to break Putintseva. Serving for the second set, Gibbs, the sophomore at Stanford, needed five set points to finally take it, with her speed and composure finally getting the job done. Gibbs ran down a drop shot, somehow got to Putintseva's reply, scrambling,quickly finding her balance, then putting a perfectly placed backhand down the line past Putintseva.
Gibbs took a 2-0 lead in the final set, lost it, then broke and held to take a 4-2 lead. Serving down 2-4, Putintseva lead 30-0, but after hitting a serve and coming down on her right leg, Putintseva screamed and went down at the baseline. After receiving a medical timeout, during which Gibbs practiced hitting serves with a ball boy collecting the balls and returning them to her, Putintseva returned to the court. She had a game point after a Gibbs unforced error, but her heavily wrapped thigh seemed to give her the most trouble on the serve, and after a double fault and a forehand long, Gibbs was serving for the match.
Although Putintseva seemed to move normally on her ground strokes, something had changed, and her forehand contributed two errors in the final game, with a shanked one putting Gibbs in the semifinals by a 1-6, 6-4, 6-2 score.
Gibbs and Min have played recently, with Gibbs winning by a 6-1, 6-2 score in the Vancouver Challenger qualifying last month.
"I'm hoping it's a better match than last time," said Min. "I didn't win that, or many games either. She qualified here and is playing well and she's a tough, tough competitor. I've got to be on my best game."
Gibbs said she would speak with her USTA coach Marc Lucero, who is back in Southern California, about what she had done successfully against Min before.
"I'm just going to have to stay in a lot of points tomorrow," said Gibbs, who beat No. 4 seed Eugenie Bouchard of Canada in the second round. "And keep defending, which I've been doing a lot of this week. But important against her is taking my opportunities, not letting short balls go unattacked."
In the other two quarterfinals featuring Americans, Krista Hardebeck lost to No. 3 seed and Wimbledon girls champion Ashleigh Barty 6-0, 7-5, and Vicky Duval battled valiantly against top seed Caroline Garcia of France before falling 6-3, 6-4.
The only American boy in singles action Friday was Alexios Halebian, who lost to top seed Jiri Vesely of the Czech Republic 7-5, 6-2.
"I was playing a little tentative, a little scared," admitted Halebian, who was playing in his first junior slam quarterfinal. "I wasn't going for my shots. He was a little more aggressive. I gave him a lot of respect, which is not a good thing. It's always good to respect your opponent but not fear the guy. I was a little nervous and he seized that opportunity."
The American girls are assured a finalist, as are the British boys, with No. 13 seed Oliver Golding facing compatriot George Morgan, the No. 10 seed, in one semifinal. Golding came back to beat No. 6 seed Filip Horansky of Slovakia 5-7, 6-4, 6-1, and Morgan also needed to claw back into his match, taking out Adam Pavlasek of the Czech Republic 6-7(3), 6-4, 6-4.
The third British semifinalist is Kyle Edmund, who defeated Egypt's Karim Hossam 6-2, 6-4. He will play Vesely in hopes of equaling the American performance last year when Jack Sock and Denis Kudla met in the boys final.
There were two rounds of doubles played today and two more are scheduled for Saturday. Four entirely American girls teams, as well as one German-American team, still remain in contention, but all the US boys playing doubles were eliminated today.
For complete results, see usopen.org.