Thiem Makes History in 18s; Third Time's a Charm for Black in 16s; Shishkina Saves Six Match Points to Take 14s Title at Eddie Herr International
©Colette Lewis 2011--
The hundreds of local tennis fans who annually make the trip to the Eddie Herr International tournament at the IMG/Bollettieri Academy not only enjoyed great weather and great drama on Finals Sunday, but also could claim familiarity with many of the 12 finalists.
Two academy students, Tommy Mylnikov and Maria Shishkina earned titles, much to the delight of their fellow students and area residents, while three finalists from 2010 took home winners trophies Sunday afternoon.
Dominic Thiem of Austria was one of those finalists, the only one to have won in 2010. With his straightforward 6-1, 6-0 victory over countryman Patrick Ofner, the top seed became the only two-time boys 18s winner in tournament history.
"For me it's really a dream," said the world's No. 8 junior. "I know all the great players who have won it, and I can't believe that I'm the first to win it two times."
The 18-year-old grew up on red clay and doesn't find it much different from the Har-Tru surface the 18s division played on this year for the first time. It wasn't, however, the only reason he chose to come back to the Yucatan Cup, which he also won in 2010, the Eddie Herr, and the Orange Bowl.
"I like these tournaments," said Thiem, who joked that December tournaments were his favorites. "I had to defend points from last year, and I like clay."
Ofner, who had upset No. 2 seed Liam Broady in Saturday's semifinal, suffered from an injury in the final, which Thiem acknowledged contributed to the lopsided score. But Ofner, the sixth seed, didn't make any excuses.
"Something hurts, but I don't know what it is," said Ofner. "It may have (affected me), but he was better. He's a good player."
Russia's Yulia Putintseva had lost in the final in 2010, to American Lauren Davis, but she denied that was any motivation in returning for another try.
After defeating Victoria Kan, also of Russia, 6-3, 7-6(4) to win the championship, Putintseva admitted that the absence of ITF Women's Circuit events this time of year contributed to her decision to play both the Eddie Herr and Orange Bowl, especially since both are now on clay.
"At 16, I get to play only 12 (professional) tournaments, and in December there are just maybe a few, in Chile, or somewhere," said Putintseva, who is ranked 244 on the WTA computers and plans to go to Australia for women's qualifying for the Australian Open next month. "And we didn't think to play Eddie Herr, just Orange Bowl, because it was on clay, but when we heard Eddie Herr was clay too, we decided to come."
Against Kan, Putintseva was able to start well and although she failed to serve out the match at 5-3 in the second set, she came up with a big shot when in mattered in the tiebreaker.
After double faulting to make it 4-4, Putintseva hit a drop shot winner. In the next point, she outlasted Kan in a lengthy rally, inducing a backhand error from the 16-year-old to give herself two match points. She only needed one, as again it was Kan who erred first, and Putintseva could celebrate a title.
Known for energetic and exaggerated celebrations, even when it's 15-0 at 2-2 in the first set, it was hard to imagine how she would mark a championship point, but she didn't disappoint. Putintseva threw her racquet straight up into the air and jumped up and down a half-dozen times, yelling "c'mon, let's go" in English before retrieving her racquet.
"She played very good," Putintseva said of Kan, who she hadn't played before, despite their similar age and nationality. "I was a little bit better in some small ways today, but maybe some day we can play in the US Open final."
Tornado Ali Black was the runner-up in the 12s in 2009 and in the 14s last year, but this year the 13-year-old Floridian did not have to settle for second place, defeating Alyssa Smith 6-1, 6-2 in the girls 16s final.
"I really wanted to win, I didn't want to be a finalist three years in a row," said Black, who lives in Boca Raton and trains with the USTA there. "This year, I just wanted to win."
In the past two years, Black's trouble controlling her emotions have contributed to her rare losses, but she showed little of that volatility in Sunday's final.
"You can't be a good role model with a bad attitude," said Black, who credits a sports psychologist at the Evert Academy with helping her mental game. "I'm just a whole different person now."
Black, a wild card, led throughout the match, which despite the routine score, still took over ninety minutes to complete due to many long deuce games. Smith, a 16-year-old who trains at the USTA Carson facility, struggled with her serve throughout the match, with the three games she won coming on breaks of Black's serve.
"I don't feel I served my best at all, really," said Smith, who had lost to Black in the South Carolina ITF last month. "I was having difficulty with foot faults, thinking about where my feet were. The wind was moving my toss around, so I was hitting it all different sorts of places. But you can't really change the wind, and she had to deal with it too, so it's not like it's a one-way thing."
Although Black and Smith were playing on the Stadium Court, a substantial number of fans had their attention on Court 1, where local favorite Mylnikov was playing qualifier Andrew Schafer. Mylnikov, who turned 16 last month, was playing in his sixth Eddie Herr, and he had substantial support from other Bollettieri students and coaches as he took a 7-5, 6-2 decision from Schafer.
"The home crowd was helping me out," said Mylnikov, who has lived at the IMG/Bollettieri Academy for six years. "They got me pumped up when I was down, and it's a good help playing at my house."
Mylnikov was born in Israel, where his grandmother still lives, and his Russian parents reside in Canada, but "his house" is definitely in Bradenton.
His dozens of supporters had plenty to cheer about with Schafer serving at 5-6 in the first set. At 15-40, Mylnikov had two set points. He netted a forehand on the first, but with Schafer transitioning to finish at the net, Mylnikov hit a forehand topspin lob that landed inches from the baseline to take the set.
"I saw that he was really close to the net, so I decided to go for a lob," said Mylnikov, who won the Academy Wild Card tournament to earn a place in the draw. "The wind was with me, so I thought it was going to go out, but at the last second, it just dipped in. I was really excited to see that go in and get that first set."
Schafer, who won three qualifying matches, admitted to some fatigue in the final.
"I was a little tired. I've been down here for a week and a half," said Schafer. "But he played really well. His forehand was just overpowering, and it was a little tiring running after every winner he was about to hit."
Schafer also said he learned a bit about playing in a partisan environment.
"Tommy was on his home courts, so playing against a big crowd kind of helps you mature a little," said Schafer. "I learned the crowd's not cheering against you, but for him."
The tournament ended with the 14s championships, with both going three sets. Mariya Shishkina, the 2009 12s champion, provided the Stadium crowd with all the drama it could ask for, saving six match points in the second set in her 6-7(4), 7-6(8), 6-3 win over No. 6 seed Anhelina Kalinina of Ukraine.
It was a back and forth match, with countless service breaks, so few spectators were comfortable predicting a winner at any stage of the match. Shishkina, 13, saved her first match point serving at 5-6 in the second set. She smashed a service winner to save it and won the next two points on some stunning defensive play against the much bigger Kalinina.
With Kalinina leading 4-2 at the first change of ends of the tiebreaker, an unfortunate spill, in which she appeared to turn her right ankle, resulted in Shishkina cutting the lead to 4-3. Kalinina didn't ask for the trainer, and although she still limped between points in the tiebreaker, she won the next two points when Shishkina failed to handle her serve.
This gave Kalinina three match points, but she netted a return and then missed her world class backhand to make it 6-5. The next point was full of great offense by Kalinina and great defense by Shishkina, with one her defensive lobs seemingly destined to sail long before the wind pushed it back in the court. Kalinina finally got a short ball, but as she ran forward, she swung just a bit too hard and her overhead was centimeters deep. Kalinina missed a forehand way long on match point number 5, and on number 6, her powerful backhand landed just wide. She then double faulted, giving Shishkina her first set point. Unlike Kalinina, Shishkina seized her opportunity, evening the match when Kalnina's backhand was long.
After a bathroom break, the players returned to the court, and continued to play excellent tennis, but the tension that had been released at the end of the second set never quite returned. Shishkina broke an increasingly erratic Kalinina at 2-3, and held the next two service games, the last one at love. With an emphatic backhand winner, over three hours after the match had begun, Shishkina had her second Eddie Herr title.
"I was putting a lot of pressure on her I guess, because I was saying c'mon and let's go," said Shishkina. "I was jumping like I wasn't tired. I didn't think about (being tired), I just was thinking you have to get through this match and after that I can have a whole three days off."
Shishkina, who saved a match point in her semifinal win against No. 2 seed Naiktha Bains of Australia, attributed her comeback to consistency and what she called her heart and spirit.
"I just said to myself, be consistent, don't give her free points, and don't give up."
Shishkina will now play the Nike Junior Masters Tournament before competing in the Junior Orange Bowl 14s later this month.
The boys 14s championship went to No. 16 seed Alejandro Tabilo of Canada, who beat No. 9 seed Seongchan Hong of Korea 2-6, 6-4, 6-3.
Hong dominated the first set, but Tabilo, a strong left-hander, began to find his range and execute his strategy.
"He played some great tennis, I've got to admit," said Tabilo, who began training with Tarik Benhabiles at L'Academie de Tennis in Boynton Beach, Florida just a few months ago. "But as the match went on, I was able to get in a rhythm, and find his weaknesses. And keep the ball in the court."
Few 14-year-olds have found any weaknesses is Hong's game, but Tabilo said he focused on moving the Korean and hitting high heavy balls so he wouldn't have a comfortable shot to attack on.
As the match went to the third set, it was Tabilo who began dictating points, standing on the baseline, while Hong was forced well behind it, defending, not playing aggressively. Tabilo's confidence obviously grew with each game he won, and he had the luxury of his first match point on Hong's serve at 2-5 in the third.
Tabilo used that to hit a perfect drop shot, which Hong retrieved, but couldn't keep in the court, giving him an Eddie Herr title in his first year playing the tournament.
"It's a incredible feeling just knowing that a lot of my idols in the pros have played this tournament," said Tabilo, who was born in Canada of Chilean parents. "Being able to win this tournament means a lot to me."
For complete draws, see the Tennis Information site. For more photos and stories, see eddieherr.com. The 18s draws are available at the ITF junior website.