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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Hardebeck, Townsend and McDonald Reach Australian Open Junior Semifinals; Quartet of US Boys in Les Petits As Quarterfinals

Americans have been notably absent from the second week of the Australian Open in the men's and women's draws, but the juniors have more than made up for that, with three Americans in the singles semifinals and a doubles team in the final.

Unseeded Krista Hardebeck beat World No. 1 and top seed Irina Khromacheva of Russia 6-3, 6-3 Thursday to claim her first junior slam semifinal berth. Hardebeck has not lost a set in Australia, winning the Grade 1 in Traralgon last week as a qualifier, thereby earning a special exemption into the main draw in Melbourne.

Hardebeck's semifinal opponent will be No. 14 seed Taylor Townsend, who had a much tougher quarterfinal match. The 15-year-old left-hander beat No. 12 seed Sabina Sharipova of Uzbekistan 6-3, 2-6, 6-4, blowing a 3-0 lead in the third set, losing four straight games, then winning the last three games to move into the semifinals against Hardebeck. The two Americans met last week in the quarterfinals in Traralgon, with Hardebeck taking a 6-4, 6-2 victory.

Townsend also reached the doubles final with Gabby Andrews, with the unseeded 2011 US Open girls finalists cruising through the draw all week. They have lost only 10 games in their four wins, and will have extra motivation against the top-seeded team of Khromacheva and Danka Kovinic of Montenegro in Friday's final(Thursday night in the US). Khromacheva was half of the team (with Demi Schuurs) that beat Andrews and Townsend in the girls doubles final in New York.

With Townsend and Hardebeck playing each other, an American girls finalist is assured for the first time since 2007, when Madison Brengle lost in the championship match to Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.

Mackenzie McDonald's win over unseeded Robin Stanek of the Czech Republic is one of the most memorable matches I've ever watched via live scoring. McDonald, who qualified for both Traralgon and the AO, was down 6-0, 4-0, 30-0 before coming back for a 0-6, 6-4, 6-2 win. I have no idea how he did it, and would have loved to see it live; a turnaround like that in a junior slam, or anywhere for that matter, is extremely rare.

McDonald will play unseeded Filip Peliwo of Canada, who won the Grade 1 in Traralgon, and beat McDonald 6-0, 6-1 in the quarterfinals of the Pan American Closed last October. Peliwo has also shown the ability to comeback during the tournament, so no matter what the score, it's safe to say that a prediction is risky.

The other boys semifinal will feature top seed and 2011 finalist Luke Saville of Australia against his nemesis Adam Pavlasek of the Czech Republic. Pavlasek beat Saville in back-to-back weeks at the Canadian Grade 1 and US Open juniors, so the No. 10 seed may be an underdog by seeding only, not in reality.

The second girls semifinal has No. 2 seed and 2011 semifinalist Eugenie Bouchard of Canada against No. 4 seed and Eddie Herr champion Yulia Putintseva of Russia. Bouchard is seeking her first junior slam singles final, while Putintseva reached the 2010 US Open girls final.

The singles semifinals and doubles finals are later tonight in the US, and I will be staying up to watch the live scoring and tweeting. There will be no live stream for the semifinals. The junior draws can be found at the Australian Open website.

In Tarbes, the US boys continue their impressive showing, with all four of them in the quarterfinals for the second straight week. Nathan Ponwith(10), William Blumberg(15), Michael Mmoh(5) and Francis Tiafoe(4) all advanced in both singles and doubles at Les Petits As and with all four in different quarters, could all advance to the semifinals.

Raquel Pedraza and Tornado Ali Black(4) remain in the girls draw, both in the top half, while Black and Nicole Frenkel and Pedraza and Emma Higuchi are also in the doubles semifinals.

For complete draws and live scoring, see the tournament website.