Abanda and Zhao in All-Canadian Girls Final; Rubin Returns to Pan American Closed Final Against Di Feo
©Colette Lewis 2012--
Three of the four singles finalists at the ITF B1 Pan American Closed are from north of the border, continuing the theme of Canadian junior success in 2012.
Top seed Carol Zhao of Ontario and No. 2 seed Francoise Abanda of Quebec reached the finals in markedly different ways, with Abanda receiving a walkover from Maria Shishkina and Zhao coming from a set down to subdue No. 3 seed Christina Makarova 3-6, 6-1, 6-2.
Shishkina withdrew Thursday evening with a lower back injury, with Abanda notified shortly thereafter that she would not need to play Friday. Due to a rain storm prior to the 10 a.m. start time Friday, the day's matches were moved indoors at the Michael D. Case Tennis Center, which suited the Canadians just fine.
While Zhao got off to a slow start against 2010 Pan American finalist Christina Makarova, her compatriot Hugo Di Feo had no such difficulty, getting a break early in each set and rolling to a 6-2, 6-1 victory over No. 2 seed Spencer Papa.
"I played really well today and I was lucky it was indoor," said the 17-year-old Di Feo, who lost to Papa 6-1, 6-2 in the first round last year. "He has a really heavy forehand, especially outdoor or on clay. I'm Canadian, I play more indoors, so it was good for me."
Di Feo handled the power of the much bigger Papa with little difficulty and also took advantage of his skills at the net to finish points quickly.
"I try to take the ball early and come in," said Di Feo, who has reached a Grade 1 final for the first time. "That's for sure my game plan every match, but indoors, you can't stay back. I was trying to step in, come in as fast as I could, and it really worked."
Di Feo is hoping to emulate another small Canadian who has had big junior results: 2010 Pan American closed champion Filip Peliwo, who won both Wimbledon and the US Open boys titles this year.
"It's amazing what he's done this year," said Di Feo. "I train with him every day and seeing how he acts and how he hits, it's really amazing. I'm trying to do the same. He's not really tall, though a little bit bigger than me. He's better than me for sure, but I think we have similar games."
Di Feo will play top seed Noah Rubin in the finals, after Rubin once again escaped a dangerous situation--trailing 3-1 in the final set--to defeat No. 3 seed Thai Kwiatkowski 3-6, 6-0, 6-3.
Kwiatkowski, who had not lost a set in his previous four matches, played well in the opening set, and, like Di Feo, tailored his game for the indoor court surface, serving and volleying on nearly every point at the end of the opening set. Once Rubin got an early break in the second set, Kwiatkowski made error after error and that set went quickly.
Kwiatkowski, a 17-year-old from North Carolina, refocused early in the third set, breaking Rubin in the third game and holding for a 3-1 lead. Rubin got the break back with Kwiatkowski serving at 3-2. Kwiatkowski stuck to his plan of approaching the net often, but Rubin's passing shots got sharper with practice, and Kwiatkowski couldn't find a pattern that worked consistently for him. Rubin continued to play well down the stretch, taking the final five games to return to the final for the second consecutive year.
"I feel very good defending my first big points," said Rubin, who lost to Mitchell Krueger in last year's championship match. "It's been a great experience, and we'll see how it goes tomorrow."
Rubin, who saved three match points in his 6-2, 0-6, 7-6(2) win over Roy Lederman in the quarterfinals Thursday, is very comfortable on indoor courts.
" I don't mind outdoors at all, but I play indoors ten months out of the year, so it's to my advantage I guess," said the New Yorker, who trains at the John McEnroe Academy.
Rubin, who has now won three three-setters this week, is expecting another challenge in Saturday's final.
"It's going to be a tough match again," said Rubin. "I haven't had one easy one yet this week. But I'm prepared for anything. My body has two more matches in it this week, so I'll think I'll be okay."
But the 17-year-old believes there are pros and cons to long, tough matches.
"I think there's a good and a bad for that," said Zhao. "The bad obviously being playing a lot of matches, but good in that I'm ready and I'm grooved. Today in the doubles I felt really fresh, so that's a good sign."
Against Makarova, Zhao's overhead and volleys got a workout, part of her strategy against the exceptional defense of Makarova.
"I had do that especially against yesterday's opponent and today's opponent," Zhao said. "I was trying to intercept everything and take it out of the air. That was the game plan. It took me a while to get into it for sure, but in the second set I kind of regrouped and focused again, believed in myself and the results showed."
Abanda, who watched her Canadian friends compete in their matches today, said she almost felt guilty about getting a walkover into the final, and had mixed feelings about the day off.
"Carol played a match today, so it's like she's going to be more in the tournament," said the 15-year-old. "I'm not playing today, so it's kind of breaking my rhythm. But you look at the (professional level) grand slams, and all the players have a day off between their matches. But it's kind of weird."
Zhao and Abanda have split their previous two meetings this year, with Zhao defeating Abanda in the semifinals at Roehampton and Abanda returning the favor in the final of the Grade 1 Canadian Open right before the US Open.
"She's a great player, a solid player," said Abanda. "I'm sure she's looking forward to beating me tomorrow. Once on the court, it doesn't matter who it is. For some players, it's a mental thing, but me, I'm fine."
Zhao is also enjoying the prospect of facing Abanda again.
"It's a friendly rivalry," said Zhao. "It's always fun to play her. It should be interesting."
Three of the four finalists in singles will also be competing for the doubles title later in the day on Saturday.
Di Feo and partner Brayden Schnur, the No. 2 seeds, will play top seeds Rubin and Martin Redlicki. Di Feo and Schnur downed the unseeded team of 14-year-olds Michael Mmoh and Francis Tiafoe 7-5, 7-6(2), while Redlicki and Rubin saved a match point in the 6-3, 6-7(4), 11-9 victory over No. 3 seeds Jordi Arconada of Argentina and Luca Corinteli.
Zhao may have experienced some tough singles matches, but she and partner Erin Routliffe, also of Canada have breezed through the doubles draw. In today's semifinal, top seeds Routliffe and Zhao defeated unseeded Jessica Cortes of Mexico and Ellie Halbauer 6-1, 6-2. They will face No. 6 seeds Charlotte Petrick of Canada and Denise Starr, who beat unseeded Mia King and Jamie Loeb 4-6, 6-2, 10-6.
For complete draws see the tournament home page at usta.com.