Saturday, September 8, 2012

Crawford Reaches US Open Girls Final Against Kontaveit; Peliwo Goes for Back-to-Back Junior Slams Against Broady; Andrews and Townsend Capture Doubles Title

©Colette Lewis 2012--
Flushing Meadows, NY--

Samantha Crawford is something of an unknown quantity on the ITF junior tennis circuit.  The 17-year-old from Georgia is competing in only her third junior slam, but she will play for the title of US Open girls champion Sunday after a 3-6, 6-1, 6-2 victory over No. 4 seed Antonia Lottner of Germany.

All four junior semifinals were delayed for over two hours due to rain, and although the skies cleared, the wind never stopped gusting, at times reaching over 35 mph. Under those conditions, the tennis wasn't going to be pretty, and in the first set against Lottner, Crawford admitted she couldn't find her range.

"I was having trouble with the wind, and I was making mistakes, not hitting the ball as cleanly as I thought I could," said Crawford, an unseeded wild card. "In the second set, I thought about just getting the ball back when I was returning and making more first serves, at least just get the point started."

Lottner seemed unaffected by the wind in the opening set, and although Crawford occasionally blasted a winner past her, Lottner stayed in points longer while still hitting the ball aggressively.  In the third game of the second set, Crawford began to find her form, saving two break points and coming up with forehand winners and aces at key moments in the four-deuce game. Lottner was broken in the next game, committing two double faults, and suddenly Crawford was rolling, winning ten games in a row to take a 5-0 lead in the third set.

"In the second and third she started making more errors, on bigger points, too," said Crawford, who trains at the USTA's Boca Raton Center. "So I think that helped me a little. But I think I was getting the balls back more and forcing her to do more."

After Crawford held for 4-0 after saving a break point, Lottner looked particularly discouraged, unable to summon any emotion after the unforced errors kept piling up.  Crawford appeared nervous in her first attempt to serve out the match at 5-0, with two double faults and unforced errors negating the ace and forehand winner that saved two break points. She reached match point in the game, but missed a backhand, and and Lottner was still alive.

Serving in the next game, Lottner was down a match point at 30-40, but hit a dropshot that surprised Crawford, who got to it and put it back over the net, but Lottner then passed her. Lottner held for the first time since second game of the second set for 5-2, and Crawford tried again to finish the job.

She started well, hitting an ace, and after a Lottner overhead winner the 16-year-old German made two unforced errors to give Crawford two more match points. Lottner saved the third with a forehand return winner off a Crawford second serve, but Crawford finally closed it out with an ace.

"When Stosur was playing Robson and she had nine match points, I was thinking, well you haven't gotten to that point yet," said Crawford, who lost to Robson in the first round of the women's tournament after getting through qualifying. "Thinking about that, I relaxed a little and just kept fighting for each point."

Crawford's opponent in the final, No. 12 seed Anett Kontaveit, finished her 6-2, 7-6(4) win over wild card Vicky Duval with a stretch of outstanding tennis, breaking Duval at love when she was serving for the set at 6-5, and then keeping that momentum to build a 5-1 lead in the tiebreaker.

"I just tried to be really calm, play my match and be aggressive," said Kontaveit, who is looking to become the first Estonian to win a junior slam since Kaia Kanepi won the French Open girls title in 2001. "I managed to do that really well, put pressure on her, attacked a lot."

Despite her excellent summer, Duval was disappointed with the way she handled the difficult conditions Saturday.

"I was never really relaxed the whole match," said Duval. "Conditions were tough and she seemed to handle it a lot better than I did. There were so many points where I would go to hit a forehand and the wind took it and I ended up hitting a backhand. It was so ridiculous."

Duval was still processing the loss, but reminded herself that she has come a long way since suffering a series of injuries that kept her from competing for nearly six months.

"I'm going to take a lot of positives from these two weeks, though I'm obviously still extremely disappointed about today," said Duval, who will begin full-time training with the USTA this month. "I'll just write in my journal, then turn the page and forget about it, because I can't replay the match. I have come a long way with all the injuries, so I need to give myself a pat on the back once in a while. I forget how tough it was for me to start the comeback."

Lottner and Crawford have never played, and both will be competing in their first junior slam final.

Not so for boys finalist Filip Peliwo of Canada, who has now reached every junior slam final this calendar year, the first time that has been accomplished since Mark Kratzmann of Australia did it in 1984.

After a 6-4, 6-0 win over unseeded 16-year-old Yoshihito Nishioka of Japan, the Wimbledon boys champion is aiming for his second straight title and the top spot in the year-end ITF junior rankings, results he could not envision 12 months ago.

"It was a very unexpected, successful year," said the second-seeded Peliwo, who was ranked 38 at the end of 2011. "I didn't think I would have so much to be proud of, honestly. I thought maybe I would be able to make a semifinal and be in the Top 10. I hadn't any great successes in the slams or any big tournaments until the Orange Bowl and Australia. I tried not to go into the slams with any expectations, because after Australia, I didn't think I'd have another shot at a slam. I thought maybe you've missed that chance, so I just played. If you don't over-analyze it and think too much about it, you can let loose and play your game more freely and that's what I'm trying to do."

Peliwo will play No. 13 seed Liam Broady of Great Britain, who eliminated the other Japanese semifinalist, defeating No. 8 seed Kaichi Uchida 6-1, 6-1.  Broady, who reached the final at Wimbledon in 2011, hasn't had the results expected of him in his last year on the junior circuit.

"A year and a couple of months is a long time, especially in juniors," said Broady, now 18. "This is my last slam and I really wanted to end up doing well in it, to leave juniors with nice memories. I had a tough time after Wimbledon, it was tough to process how I lost (from up a set and a break at 4-3 in the second) and it did all sorts of things to my confidence. But I can safely say that's all done now and I'm training a lot harder now over the last nine months, and I think I feel a lot stronger physically and mentally."

Broady was particularly pleased with his play against Uchida, given the challenging conditions.

"My coach was doing stats on my match and I only hit five unforced errors," said Broady, who said it wasn't the worse conditions he'd encountered in his 15 years of tennis. "All in all I played a very solid match."

Broady is 2-0 against Peliwo with their most recent meeting coming just last week in the Grade 1 in Canada, with Broady winning 6-3, 2-6, 7-5.

"Well, it's always nice to beat someone the week before you play them in the final of a slam," Broady joked. "I'd prefer to be in my shoes than in his, because he's probably expected to win as the higher seed and won a slam and been in the finals of two others this year. He's on form.
This week I maybe haven't played my best, but I don't want to play my best until maybe the semis and the final, which looks like that's happening, so it's the best possible scenario."

Although he hasn't encountered men's finalist Andy Murray this week on the grounds, Broady is aware he can match Murray's junior title here in 2004 and raise his own profile among British tennis fans.

"There's been a lot of people sending me messages on twitter and things, saying let's get two British champions," Broady said. "And I was told by my coach today that [Murray] was watching my match in the changing room, so I was having a laugh about that this morning."

There has already been one British champion crowned with Kyle Edmund teaming with Frederico Silva of Portugal to capture the boys doubles title.

Playing together for the first time, the two 17-year-olds, seeded eighth, defeated No. 6 seeds Nick Kyrgios and Jordan Thompson of Australia 5-7, 6-4, 10-6.

"We've known each other for a long time, from the under-14s," Edmund said. "We'd always see each and know each other, but it's the first time we've played doubles, so we had to get to know each other, and it worked out great."

Silva, a left-hander, said he thought from the start they would make a good team.

"I knew we could play well together, but we had never tried," said Silva, the first Portuguese player to win a junior slam title. "I'm a lefty and have a good forehand. He also has a good forehand, so I thought it could work well. We tried at the US Open and well, we won the tournament. Obviously, that's really good, and I hope to play more times with him now."

Edmund and Silva are planning on playing the junior slams in 2013, and are looking to continue their successful partnership, which could not have gotten off to a better start.

Gabby Andrews and Taylor Townsend ended 2012 as they started it, with a junior slam doubles title.  The fourth-seeded Andrews and Townsend, who reached the final last year, accomplished their goal of going one step further this year, defeating No. 2 seeds Belinda Bencic of Switzerland and Petra Uberalova of Slovakia 6-4, 6-3.

"With everything that's gone on here, I just wanted to come here and do my best," said Townsend, who has been at the center of a controversy with the USTA regarding her fitness level, which came to light in a story this week in the Wall Street Journal. 

"Both of us set a goal that we wanted to do better than we did last year, and we made the finals last year, so better than that is winning it and we did," said Townsend, who captured the Wimbledon girls doubles with Eugenie Bouchard after taking the Australian title with Andrews in January. "Besides everything that went on outside of the court, I'm just really happy that we were able to come together, be happy on the court together and perform well."

Townsend and Andrews did not lose a set in their five victories, and when Andrews hit an ace up the T to seal their win today, the two best friends enjoyed a long embrace.

"She's always been there for me," said Andrews. "Through ups and downs, we've just been so close. I'm just glad she's my best friend."

"Even though we're not really related we're so much like sisters," said Townsend. "She talks to me about anything and I talk to her about anything."

Although seeded only fourth, Andrews and Townsend were confident their previous success together was in the heads of their opponents.

"Every match we played I felt all the pressure was on them," said Andrews, 15. "It just made us more relaxed, knowing that they had all the pressure on them and that we could just go out and play our game and have fun on the court."

The junior finals are both scheduled for noon on Sunday, which is forecast to be a beautiful day. A five-dollar grounds pass is available to watch the junior final of your choice and to watch the other Sunday matches on the big screen.

For complete draws, see the tournament website.