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Friday, January 6, 2012

American Champion Assured at Costa Rica Grade 1; Jabeur Aims for WTA Top Ten; Young Ready for 2012

The ITF Grade 1 in Costa Rica will feature two American girls in the final, although who will face Sachia Vickery has yet to be decided. The fifth-seeded Vickery, who lost a total of seven games in her first four matches, received a walkover into the final from No. 8 seed Rebecca Peterson of Sweden. This evening, No. 3 seed Christina Makarova will play No. 6 seed Jennifer Brady for the opportunity to face Vickery, and that match will be streamed live, as will the two boys semifinals. Connor Farren of the US, the No. 5 seed, will play unseeded Christian Garin of Chile, followed by unseeded American Noah Rubin against No. 4 seed Markos Kalovelonis of Greece.

I watched some of Farren's exciting 6-1, 4-6, 7-6(5) win over unseeded Vasco Mensurado of Portugal last night, and it's hard to overstate how impressive the tournament atmosphere is. The stands are packed, there are full line crews and ballrunner teams, the logos would do any professional tournament proud. There are televised post-match interviews and kids bearing giant tennis balls asking for autographs. I have a deep and abiding regard for the Kalamazoo experience, but I must say that I doubt any American boy who has played a night match in Costa Rica would be intimidated by the Kalamazoo scene.

Farren broke Mensurado to serve for the match at 6-5 in the third, but he was broken at love in the next game, and fell behind 5-2 in the tiebreaker. Mensurado failed to win either of the next two points on his serve, and it appeared that the call on a Farren volley, initially ruled out and giving Mensurado two match points, was overturned by the chair, making it 5-5. Farren won the next two points, making it five straight, to move into the semifinals.

Even if you don't watch a complete match, I encourage you to check out the stream, and let me know if you've ever seen a similar atmosphere at a junior tournament. I don't travel much outside of the US, so I would love to hear of others that might compare. I imagine Les Petits As being similarly impressive, and Wimbledon, when there's a British junior in the final, but I would never have thought the Copa Cafe in Costa Rica would be on this type of short list (with Kalamazoo, of course).

The live stream link and the draws can be found at the tournament's website.

A couple of junior slam winners were in the news today.

Ons Jabeur, the Tunisian 17-year-old who won the girls championship at the French Open this year, was named the winner of the Emerging Arab Athlete award this week, which led to this article in The National. There's no mention as to why she hasn't played since August (her last junior match was a first round loss at Wimbledon), but she is now training in Belgium and it sounds as if she will get wild cards at the two big WTA tournaments coming up in February in Doha and Dubai. The first article on Jabeur I linked to on twitter quoted her as saying that Nadal and Federer had won French junior titles, which was incorrect, as neither did. This article quotes her as saying, more generically, "I know that Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have won juniors (grand slam) titles," which, while closer, is only half right. Federer won the Wimbledon boys title in 1998, but Nadal never won a junior slam, and in fact, only played one, as a wild card. He lost to Lamine Ouahab of Algeria in the semifinals at Wimbledon in 2002.

Donald Young is also a former Wimbledon boys champion, a title I saw him win in 2007, but he struggled mightily to earn a secure place in the Top 100 in the years since. This article in the New Zealand Herald does not add any startling revelations to his well-known career path, but it does solicit some interesting comments from Young on his difficult transition from the juniors. Young, ranked 39th, will be seeded in the Heineken Open, which starts with qualifying Saturday.