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Sunday, January 1, 2012

Kulichkova and Napolitano Win First ITF Grade A of 2012; Farren Takes Doubles Title in Mexico; Australian Open Acceptances

The International Tennis Federation's first Grade A of 2012 was completed today. with Russia's Elizaveta Kulichkova and Italy's Stefano Napolitano taking the singles titles at the Abierto Juvenil Mexicano in Mexico City.

The 15-year-old Kulichkova, seeded third, defeated No. 5 seed Varvara Flink, also of Russia, 6-2, 7-6(7) in the final. Kulichkova had lost in the second and third rounds of the Eddie Herr and Orange Bowl respectively, but may have found the red clay and altitude of Mexico City more to her liking. It is Kulichkova's first title at a Grade 1 or Grade A. The best showing by an American girl came from Kyle McPhillips, the No. 4 seed, who reached the semifinals before falling to Flink. McPhillips and partner Jennifer Brady, the No. 3 seeds, lost in the semifinals in the doubles to the eventual champions, Laura Pigossi of Brazil and Marcela Zacarias of Mexico, the No. 7 seeds.

The 16-year-old Napolitano also was in his first Grade 1 or Grade A final, although he had played on his country's Junior Davis Cup team, which reached the final, losing to Great Britain, in October. Napolitano, the No. 10 seed, surprised No. 3 seed Frederico Silva of Portugal 6-4, 6-4 in today's championship match. Connor Farren, the No. 5 seed, had the best showing of the American boys, reaching the quarterfinals in singles and winning the doubles with Silva. Farren and Silva, the top seeds, beat Italians Matteo Donati and Napolitano, the No. 7 seeds, 4-6, 6-4, 10-7 in the final.

The ITF Grade 1 in Costa Rica, which begins tomorrow, is always popular with US players, and this year is no exception. Farren, Thai Kwiatkowski, Austin Siegel, Trey Strobel, Noah Rubin, Stefan Kozlov and Jordan Daigle are in the main draw for the boys, and the US girls in the main draw include Christina Makarova, Brady, Blair Shankle, Denise Starr, Sachia Vickery, Nadia Echeverria Alam, Peggy Porter, Johnnise Renaud, June Lee, Alexandra Morozova, Mia King and Vitaliya Alkhovik. Spencer Papa, Luca Corinteli, Josh Hagar and Martin Redlicki are in the boys quailfying.

The Australian Open Junior acceptances were posted last month with defending champion An-Sophie Mestach of Belgium on the list of entries. Mestach, who had hoped to return from injury in time for November's Eddie Herr, has not played since May of 2011. ITF World Champion Irina Khromacheva of Russia, who has yet to win a junior slam singles title, has entered, as has Ashleigh Barty of Australia, who won the wild card tournament for a place in the women's main draw. Eddie Herr champion Yulia Putintseva of Russia is also entered. Although many players enter and do not end up making the trip, the following US girls are on the acceptance list in the main draw:
Taylor Townsend
Samantha Crawford
Christina Makarova
Stephanie Nauta
Gabby Andrews
Kyle McPhillips
Sachia Vickery is the next player in.

Australia's Luke Saville, the 2011 Australian Open boys finalist and Wimbledon boys champion, has entered, but the boys' field is not as strong as the girls' this year. With Alexios Halebian's recent withdrawal, Connor Farren is the only American boy in the main draw.