Sunday, December 11, 2011

Thiem, Kontaveit Win Orange Bowl Championships on Soggy Sunday in Plantation

©Colette Lewis 2011--
Plantation, FL--

Eddie Herr boys champion Dominic Thiem of Austria finished his junior career in impressive fashion, winning his final 18 matches, including Sunday's 6-1, 6-0 win over compatriot Patrick Ofner in the Orange Bowl championship match. Eddie Herr girls champion Yulia Putintseva of Russia felt the sting of revenge, however, as she fell in the girls final 6-2, 6-2 to Anett Kontaveit of Estonia, whom she had beaten in the Eddie Herr quarterfinals.

Prior to the Orange Bowl final, Thiem's most important match may have been in August, when he beat Austrian tennis legend Thomas Muster in an ATP event in Vienna, a match that signaled the end of Muster’s attempted comeback at age 43.

“It was really, really difficult for me,” Thiem said of his 6-2, 6-3 win at the Erste Bank Open in Vienna. “It was indoors, with 8,000 people watching and most of them were for Muster, because he’s such a legend in Austria.”

Thiem, the top seed, faced none of that drama in Sunday's rain-interrupted final, but with his quick victory over No. 7 seed Ofner, he did make history, becoming the first boy from Austria to win an 18s Orange Bowl championship.

Thiem and Ofner had played in the final of the Eddie Herr last Sunday, but Thiem didn’t expect to win again by exactly the same score.

“I expected a tough match,” said Thiem, who seemed unaffected by a 40-minute rain delay after the first game of the second set.

“I played very well last week and he was a little bit injured last week, but I was expecting a tough match today. I think we were both tired from the last weeks, but I think I played very aggressive and made no mistakes, while he made more mistakes.”

Thiem made the daunting task of winning three tournament titles in three weeks easier by winning all but two of his 18 matches in straight sets. Last year Thiem’s attempt at the Yucatan Cup-Eddie Herr-Orange Bowl triple was halted in the quarterfinals of the Orange Bowl, when he retired against Joris De Loore of Belgium, but he believes he’s gotten stronger in the past 12 months.

“Last year I had very tough matches at the Eddie Herr, I think three three-setters,” said the 18-year-old French Open boys finalist. “It was a very big difference this year that I won the Eddie Herr without dropping a set so I could make it through this one.”

Ofner had beaten Filip Peliwo of Canada in a long three-set semifinal contest Saturday, and he believed that played a role in another lackluster performance in the final.

“I was very tired today,” said Ofner, who has known and played Thiem since they were 10 years old. “I think it was the match of yesterday—it was very hot and nearly three hours. I was only tired today, can’t move anymore and I didn’t play any balls in the court, so congratulations to him.”

From Ofner’s perspective, Thiem’s successful run the past three weeks is the result not only of his potent forehand, but of improved play on his backhand, which is one-handed.

“His forehand is very strong and he can apply a lot of pressure on his opponent, and make a lot of points,” said Ofner. “But he’s also improved his backhand in the last month.”

Thiem will spend the next week vacationing in South Florida before he begins his preparations for the professional tour, which he is approaching with understandable confidence.

“The first two tournaments (the Yucatan Cup and Eddie Herr) I felt a lot of pressure, but now it’s easier because I know when I play good, it’s very difficult to beat me.”

Kontaveit, seeded fifth, had lost to No. 2 seed Putintseva 6-2, 1-6, 6-4 just ten days ago, but her big hitting was too much for the feisty Russian on Sunday.

"I was more aggressive, playing really well also, and I really did attack every ball," said Kontaveit, who turns 16 on Christmas Eve.

Putintseva got off a to a very slow start, trailing 5-1 in the first set, but often the 16-year-old Russian is more comfortable playing from behind, and can raise her game when she needs to.

Kontaveit was hitting with more power however, and Putintseva, unusually subdued throughout the first set, couldn't find a pattern to disrupt Kontaveit's rhythm. Kontaveit was closing the net when she sensed Putintseva was in a defensive position, and her volleys were confident and effective, although Putintseva did earn one opening early in the second set.

After a long bathroom break, Putintseva broke Kontaveit in the first game, but after a long game was broken back, just as the skies opened again, this time with little warning and drenching rain. It was two hours and 15 minutes before play could resume, and it looked as if that delay was going to be the momentum change Putintseva needed when Kontaveit hit two double faults and played lethargically to fall behind 2-1. Putintseva had two game points to take a 3-1 lead, but Kontaveit's two winners and a costly double fault marked the beginning of the end for the Russian.

Kontaveit held at love to take a 3-2 lead and then began hitting winner after winner, breaking Putintseva and holding for a 5-2 lead. With Putintseva serving to stay in the match, Kontaveit refused to ease up, and with a punishing forehand winner on her first match point, Kontaveit had her first Grade A title.

Putintseva beat her racquet on the Har-Tru several times, crumbling the frame with the violent impact. She shook hands with Kontaveit, then went to her bag, where she continued to bludgeon the smashed racquet.

Kontaveit was well aware of Putintseva's inclination to dramatize every point, but she was not about to get involved in a battle of wills and words.

"I just try to think about my own game and not focus too much on what she is doing," said Kontaveit, who still attends a regular school in Estonia, and takes her books with her when she is on the road.

Kontaveit could also look to several Estonian supporters in the crowd during her rare lapses, as a tennis coach she knows from Estonia brought along several friends with big neon pink poster-sized signs, each containing a letter of her first name.

"They are some Estonian coaches who came here to vacation," Kontaveit explained. "And of course, support helps."

Putintseva didn't think the advice she received from her coach worked for her in the rematch.

"My coach said I have to play more aggressive, but this way doesn't work with her," said Putintseva, whose ITF junior winning streak was snapped at 11. "Last time I was trying to move her more, but this time I was doing what my coach said, playing more aggressive, and that's why I lost today. And she was playing good today."

Kontaveit returns to Estonia on Monday, but unlike Thiem, she will not be leaving junior competition behind after capturing the Orange Bowl title.

"I will play both juniors and Futures," said Kontaveit, who has already won three events on the ITF women's circuit this year.

But for now, she will savor this unexpected victory.

"I didn't see that win coming," she said in her excellent English. "I was hoping to get some good matches, I really did not have big expectations. I'm just really happy."

In the doubles finals, Thiem fell short in his attempt to sweep both titles, as he and Robin Kern of Germany, the top seeds, were beaten by Liam Broady and Joshua Ward-Hibbert of Great Britain 6-4, 6-3.

Playing in only their second tournament together, Broady and Ward-Hibbert, the No. 4 seeds, took all five of their victories without dropping a set.

The win was especially sweet for Broady, who had fallen in the Orange Bowl doubles final last year, when playing with Slovenian Nik Razborsek.

"Last year I was in the finals of the doubles, so I really wanted to push it a bit further this year," said Broady. "We play well together, so it feels good."

Ward-Hibbert gives credit for their chemistry to Broady.

"I think we complement each other," said Ward-Hibbert. "Liam's got good returns, I've got a good serve, so he helps me out where I'm weaker."

Although they didn't need the match tiebreaker that decides doubles matches in ITF junior competition, Broady described all their victories this week as tough ones.

"You need to keep so much focus, especially in doubles," Broady said. "A few odd shots and the game's gone away from you.

Thiem and Kern know what he means, as having fought off one match point, a deciding point on Ward-Hibbert's serve at 5-2, they had no chance on the next one on Thiem's serve, when Broady's shot clipped the tape and landed in the alley well behind them.

Eddie Herr champions Jennifer Brady and Kendal Woodard of the US had won a thrilling 18-16 tiebreaker in the semifinals against American Allie Kiick and Carol Zhao of Canada, but their magic ran out against No. 2 seeds Victoria Kan of Russia and Ganna Poznikhirenko of Ukraine. With the Americans constantly charging the net, Kan and Poznikhirenko hit perfect lob after perfect lob to come away with a 6-3, 7-6(3) victory over the unseeded Brady and Woodard. Like Broady, Poznikhirenko had also lost in the Orange Bowl final in 2010, but with a new partner, succeeded in taking home the winner's bowl of oranges in 2011.

For complete results, see the tournament page at usta.com.