Fifteen-year-old Rubin and 14-year-old Zarazua Reach Semis at Pan American Closed; Kiick and Scholl Resume Rivalry Two Weeks After Amelia Island Final
©Colette Lewis 2011--
Every ITF Pan American Closed quarterfinal match was decided in straight sets Thursday at the Michael Case Tennis Center on the campus of the University of Tulsa, so drama was in short supply. Yet the resulting semifinal matchups are intriguing ones, with two unseeded youngsters challenging their older counterparts, and a budding rivalry that has gone from a professional tournament final to a junior semifinal in the space of 12 days.
The youngest player in the semifinals is 14-year-old Renata Zarazua of Mexico, who bears an uncanny resemblance, game-wise, to last year's finalist Christina Makarova, who was then also 14. Zarazua has yet to lose a set in the tournament, with her defensive skills frustrating her older opponents. In Thursday's quarterfinal against unseeded Catherine Harrison, Zarazua kept the ball in play, anticipated her opponent's every shot, made no unforced errors and every so often, for variety's sake, would blast a passing shot.
Harrison, who hits with consistent pace, did not appear interested in any long rallies with the diminutive Zarazua, taking balls out of the air and hitting plenty of swinging volleys. But Harrison missed a lot of overheads, and wasn't able to punish Zarazua's unimpressive serve, which lead to Zarazua's 6-4, 6-3 win.
Makarova, the No. 2 seed this year, was not able to find any of her defensive wizardry against No. 11 seed Taylor Townsend, who posted a 6-1, 6-1 victory over the 15-year-old Californian. The 15-year-old Townsend, who has dropped only nine games in her four wins this week, was able to control the rallies with her serve and forehand, and will present Zarazua with her toughest challenge yet.
The other unseeded newcomer is on the boys side, with wild card Noah Rubin posting even more impressive results than Zarazua, dropping only six games in his four matches (one match was a default.) Against No. 4 seed Connor Farren, Rubin completely controlled the match from start to finish, taking a 6-2, 6-1 decision.
"In the first set, I played well and kept the ball in play, moved him around," said the 15-year-old New Yorker, who lost to Farren in the 16s consolation final Kalamazoo in August.
"In the second set he broke down a little bit, and I just kept the pressure on him and it worked out. I was a little relaxed after the first set, but I was like, I have to close this out. I can't get lackadaisical because I know he came back against Kozlov yesterday."
Rubin is playing in just his second ITF event, the first being the qualifying at the US Open, where he won a round but failed to qualify. He believes the age difference works in his favor, especially psychologically.
"It definitely puts pressure on the other kids, since I'm younger," Rubin said. "It's a lot of fun, since I can play this for two more years [actually three].
Rubin's semifinal opponent is 18-year-old Marco Aurei Nunez of Mexico, the No. 2 seed, who beat unseeded Spencer Papa 7-6(4), 6-3 in the day's closest match. Nunez, a left-hander who has committed to the University of Georgia, came up with big serves when he needed them against Papa, who couldn't get back the sole break in the second set.
With their three-year age difference, it's no surprise Rubin and Nunez have not played, but it may come as a surprise that right-hander Rubin enjoys playing left-handers.
"I like playing lefties for some reason," said Rubin, who beat left-hander Bastian Malla of Chile on Wednesday. "I like the exchange of the forehand to the backhand. I know they can do that too, but I think I can put a little pressure on them, start with that."
The other boys semifinal features two 17-year-olds: No. 1 seed Mitchell Krueger against defending champion and No. 3 seed Filip Peliwo of Canada.
Peliwo rolled past unseeded Mackenzie McDonald 6-0, 6-1, while Krueger took out Peliwo's countryman Brayden Schnur 6-2, 6-2. Krueger played another marathon game, a 10-deuce affair with Schnur serving down 1-4 in the second set. As he had in the 11-deuce game against Samuel Monette on Tuesday, Krueger lost the game, but Schnur's shot tolerance was low throughout the match and many of the long games were on his serve, with Krueger holding quite comfortably.
Peliwo and Krueger last met in the final of an ITF Grade 3 in Canada two years ago, with Peliwo winning 6-2, 6-0.
The second girls semifinal is a rematch of the Pro Circuit final in Amelia Island, Fla. earlier this month, with No. 5 seed Allie Kiick meeting No. 14 seed Chalena Scholl.
Kiick won that title, her first on the Pro Circuit, with a hard-fought 6-7(5), 6-2, 6-3 decision over Scholl, also beating Taylor Townsend in the quarterfinals.
"It was up and down, but a really good match," said the 16-year-old Scholl, who beat No. 9 seed Kelsey Laurente 6-0, 6-3 in the quarterfinals. "There were some really long points, but it was clay, so it'll definitely be shorter tomorrow."
Kiick, who has won all her matches against Scholl save for a retirement last year in the Wichita Falls ITF, believes their game styles have a lot in common.
"We have similar games," said Kiick, who beat No. 13 seed Jennifer Brady 7-5, 6-2 in Thursday's quarterfinal match. "We like to stay consistent, she has a very heavy forehand, I have a heavy forehand. It's really who's going to get that short ball first to put the point away."
In her match against Brady, another player with a big forehand, Kiick saved two set points with Brady serving at 5-4 in the first.
"It's always hard to lose a set after you've had a couple of set points," said Kiick, 16. "Neither Jenny nor I played very well, but I just happened to be the better person today. Jenny unfortunately made more errors, which cost her the match."
The doubles quarterfinals were played Thursday afternoon, and the top two seeds in the boys draw advanced, in entirely opposite fashion. Connor Farren and Mitchell Krueger, the No. 1 seeds, cruised past Bastian Malla of Chile and Brayden Schnur of Candad 6-0, 6-1, losing only two points in the opening set.
No. 2 seeds Hugo DiFeo and Edward Nguyen of Canada trailed 5-1 in the match tiebreaker against Mackenzie McDonald and Noah Rubin, but came through with a 7-5, 3-6, 10-8 victory. Farren and Krueger will play No. 4 seeds Samuel Monette and Filip Peliwo of Canada, who defeated No. 6 seeds Daniel Khanin and Trey Strobel 4-6, 6-3, 10-8. DiFeo and Nguyen will meet the unseeded team of Ognjen Samardzic and Ryan Smith, who beat No. 3 seeds Lucas Gomez and Ricky Medinilla of Mexico 5-7, 7-5, 6-3. The match tiebreaker ended abruptly when Medinilla threw his racquet after losing a point. Because he'd already been warned and given a point penalty, the next violation in the progression meant a game penalty, and that ended the match.
There are two unseeded teams in the girls doubles semifinals, with Breaunna Addison and Catherine Harrison advancing with a 6-1, 6-3 victory over No. 8 seeds Allie Kiick and Alexandra Morozova. They will play No. 5 seeds Jennifer Brady and Samantha Crawford, who beat unseeded Rianna Valdes and Alanna Wolff 6-2, 7-6(4). The second unseeded team is Kelsey Laurente and Chanelle Van Nguyen, who took out No. 3 seeds Kimberley-Anne Surin of Canada and Stephanie Nauta 5-7, 6-4 10-8. Their semifinal opponents are US Open girls finalists Gabby Andrews and Taylor Townsend, the No. 2 seeds, who beat unseeded Caroline Doyle and Mia King 6-1, 6-2.
The semifinals will begin with the girls singles, followed by boys singles, girls doubles and boys doubles. Full draws are at the TennisLink site.