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Sunday, September 9, 2012

Wild Card Crawford Takes Girls US Open Title; Peliwo Finishes Junior Career With Second Slam Title

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

Samantha Crawford's three memorable weeks in New York ended with an impressive display of power tennis and a United States Open Junior Championship Sunday with a 7-5, 6-3 win over No. 12 seed Anett Kontaveit of Estonia.

Crawford, an unseeded wild card who was 90th in the ITF junior rankings, qualified for the main draw of the US Open women's event, also as a wild card, back in August, and continued her fine play in the junior tournament, defeating five seeds in her six victories.

Against Kontaveit, who had beaten Americans Taylor Townsend and Vicky Duval in the quarterfinals and semifinals, Crawford showed few signs of nerves in her first junior slam final. But Kontaveit also handled the occasion well, ripping winner after winner in the first two games to take a 2-0 lead.  The hundred or so spectators on Court 11, perhaps unaware of her two previous victories from a set down, may have been worried, but Crawford dug in, got a break point in the third game and converted it with a return winner to make it 2-1.

"I thought she came out playing really well and kind of forced me to try to play better," said Crawford, who trains with the USTA in Boca Raton, but considers Atlanta her home town. "I think as the match went on, I started serving better, making more shots and playing better overall."

Crawford again fell behind, and again broke right back and held to pull even at 4-4. With much lower humidity and drastically reduced wind speeds in contrast to Saturday, Sunday's conditions allowed both girls  to confidently strike the ball with pace and depth. When Crawford and Kontaveit got their first serves in, points were over quickly, usually with three shots: a good serve, a good return and a better forehand winner.

With Kontaveit serving at 5-5, she earned three game points, but couldn't convert them, with Crawford finding her rhythm on her return. Crawford hit a forehand return winner for deuce, then a forehand winner for her first break point of the game. She quickly converted it with a return so deep and and heavy that Kontaveit netted the reply.

The 6-foot-2 inch American shows little emotion on the court, but she did let emit a barely audible "c'mon" and gave a small fist pump when she got the break to lead 6-5.

Closing out the set, Crawford played some excellent defense, which eventually led to errors by Kontaveit, who at 16, was also playing in her first junior slam final, although she had reached the semifinals at both Roland Garros and Wimbledon this year.

Kontaveit appeared shaken by the last two games of the first set, and in the first game of the second set, she was broken at love, committing two double faults and trying a desperate drop shot that didn't come close to going over the net.

Crawford kept hitting winners, and Kontaveit regained her form and kept it close, but she couldn't get a look at a break point, as Crawford's serve percentage improved. Kontaveit got one glimmer of hope when Crawford was serving at 4-3, scrambling defensively to come up with the first point and getting a Crawford backhand error for 0-30. But an error by Kontaveit, sandwiched between a good first serve and an ace made it 40-30, and Kontaveit couldn't get a second serve return in play, netting it on the backhand side to make it 5-3.

Serving to stay in the match, Kontaveit had a 30-15 lead in the game, but Crawford cracked another good return for 30-30. Kontaveit missed a forehand wide to give Crawford a match point. A brief rally ended with Kontaveit coming forward for a short shot from Crawford and netting her backhand.

With a fist pump and a big smile, Crawford went to the net for the handshake, then made her way to the sidelines to embrace her USTA coach Kathy Rinaldi.

"She's helped me so much and she's such a great person," Crawford said in the press conference, after also acknowledging Rinaldi in the on-court interview after the match. "She's so encouraging. I really want to thank her."

Kontaveit had nothing but praise for Crawford's level of play in the match.

"Sam played really well, she played so aggressive," said Kontaveit, who plans to play the junior slams next year. "Her serve was working so well and she played her best tennis, I think, so it was really tough out there for me."

With the exception of the first game of the second set, Kontaveit played well throughout the match, although her nine double faults were an area she will look to improve in the future. Yet Kontaveit acknowledged that as well as she played, it wasn't enough.

"Yeah, it was really tough," Kontaveit said. "She played so well. I don't even know what I could have done. She just played too good."

Crawford joins 2008 champion CoCo Vandeweghe as a US wild card winner of the girls title, and with Grace Min's victory last year, the United States can claim three of the last five girls champions.

Crawford is entered in the $75,000 Pro Circuit event in Albuquerque, New Mexico which begins on September 17th, and despite her recent success, said she is still considering college as an option.

After the snappy 69-minute girls final, the boys final between Canada's Filip Peliwo, the No. 2 seed, and Great Britain's Liam Broady, the No. 13 seed went to three sets, and the last one, which gave Peliwo a 6-2, 2-6, 7-5 victory, took longer to play than the entire girls match.

The 18-year-old Peliwo, the first player since Australian Mark Kratzmann in 1984 to reach the final of all four junior slams, called on all his experience to down Broady, who was playing in his first slam final since reaching the boys championship match at Wimbledon in 2011.

Serving at 3-2 in the final set after having broken Broady from 40-0 up, Peliwo gave the break right back, although Broady's aggressive play was responsible for several of the errors Peliwo made in that game.

After Broady held for 4-3, Peliwo found himself at deuce after Broady came up with a stunning forehand pass on the run. Broady roared and the Court 7 crowd, which had swelled to nearly a thousand with the finish of the men's semifinal, applauded the British lefthander's effort. Broady earned a break point with a good return, but Peliwo responded in kind. He hit a good first serve and a forehand winner to bring it back to deuce, then hit two more effective forehands to level the set at 4-4.

"It's how small the errors are in tennis really," Broady said. "I had a break point, had played a fantastic point before and got really pumped. He put out a big serve out wide and I just didn't quite get a full swing on it, it went a bit short and he hit a winner, and that was break point over really. I'm sure I'll be thinking for a while if I'd taken a bigger swing at it, maybe I'd have been able to push him back, but it's just those things in tennis."

Although Broady is hardly deficient in the experience department, Peliwo believed his advantage there may have contributed to his performance in the final five games of the match.

"I definitely think that was a factor in it," Peliwo said. "I knew what to do when it came down to the wire, and we were just separated by a couple of points here or there. Once I got the break, I knew what I had to do. I had the same situation sort of in Wimbledon. It was nothing new to serve it out."

At 5-5 Broady saved two break points, but couldn't save a third, with Peliwo earning the chance to serve out the championship when Broady netted a forehand.

Up 6-5 40-15, Peliwo had two chances to win his second consecutive junior slam title, but he only needed one. Using a surprise serve and volley tactic, Peliwo finished with a forehand volley winner, fell to his knees at the net, dropped his racquet and raised his arms triumphantly.

"I have to say I'm a lot more relieved now than I was at Wimbledon," said Peliwo, who lives in Vancouver, but trains at the Canadian National Centre in Montreal. "At Wimbledon it was just excitement, and right now, I've just got a huge weight off my shoulders I think."

Despite his dominating year in the juniors, one that he says exceeded his own expectations, which were initially to reach one major semifinal or final, Peliwo is not expecting the transition to professional tennis to be easy.

"It's definitely a huge challenge," said Peliwo, who will resume playing Futures events now that he has likely secured the No. 1 year-end junior ranking, although he will first serve as a hitting partner for the Canadian Davis Cup team against South Africa next week.

 "I have seen a lot of juniors before that have had success at this level and never really translated it into the pro circuit. So it's definitely looking good for me, I think, right now, but there is no guarantees...It's going to be an interesting few years, I think, seeing how I develop. But I think that I'm quite confident that I can achieve big success on the pro tour if I just stay healthy and keep working hard."

For complete draws, see the tournament website.