Bencic Outlasts Shishkina in First Round at Eddie Herr; Top Seeds in 12s and 16s Breeze into Second Round
Of the 148 matches played Monday in the Eddie Herr International at the IMG Bollettieri Academy, one stood out.
Two-time Eddie Herr champion Maria Shishkina, now 14 and a wild card entry into the ITF 18-and-under tournament, was drawn to play No. 5 seed Belinda Bencic of Switzerland, and just a few games into the 10:30 a.m. match, seats were already at a premium on court 1.
With the bleacher seating not yet in place, the steps of the adjacent Conference Center, golf carts and a couple of dozen patio chairs had to suffice, as Bollettieri students, other players, coaches and local fans all gathered to watch two of the bright young stars of international junior tennis.
Often the matches most anticipated turn out to be less than gripping, but not this one, which Bencic won, after nearly three hours of intense competition, 6-7(4), 6-3, 6-4.
In the first set, the 15-year-old Bencic couldn't find her first serve, and Shishkina took full advantage, receiving well inside the baseline and attacking the second serve. After five breaks in a row, Shishkina held for a 5-2 lead, but she couldn't serve it out at 5-3. Bencic saved two set points serving at 4-5, finally getting the advantage in the points with some good serving, and she saved another set point serving at 5-6, with Shishkina missing a forehand.
Although many spectators were neutral, the most vocal of them were Shishkina supporters, and their applause and shouts after their favorite hit a winner seemed to help keep Shishkina's energy high. Her own c'mons hit a peak in the tiebreaker, when leading 5-4, Shishkina got a forehand error from Bencic, giving her two more set points.
Bencic failed to produce a first serve, and Shishkina angled her return of the second serve sharply away from Bencic, who got to it, but missed her reply wide. Shishkina and her fans were downright euphoric after that long and tense set, while Bencic looked far from discouraged, her body language betraying nothing but confidence.
When Bencic return from her bathroom break after the first set, the emotional pitch of the second set was several octaves lower, with Shishkina starting to net more balls and Bencic starting to actually hold serve. She dropped it only once, and never trailed in taking the set 6-3.
After Shishkina took a bathroom break of her own after the second set, the third set began with Shishkina taking a 2-0 lead. But Bencic again stepped up her serving and took the next four games, with Shishkina helping her out with many unforced, and a few forced, errors.
Serving at 4-3 in the third, Bencic fell behind 15-30, and was called for a hindrance for celebrating with a c'mon a little too early on a swinging volley winner. Although Shishkina wasn't likely to have made a play on the ball, she was near it, and the roving umpire agreed the point belonged to her.
Despite the fact that it was a critical point in the match, Bencic didn't get argue much or let it bother her, "because it was my fault," she said after the match. "She didn't reach the ball anymore, but he called it like that, so I cannot change it, so I just played."
Bencic saved one of the break points, but not the second, when Shishkina crushed a backhand winner to make it 4-4.
Shishkina couldn't hold onto to any momentum she may have had, although it was Bencic who deserves praise for her play in the next game. At 30-30, she hit a world-class backhand deep into the deuce corner that forced an error from Shishkina, and Bencic seized that break point with a confident forehand putaway of a short ball.
The drama wasn't over however. Serving for the match at 5-4, Bencic seemed tentative, with two backhand errors, then a Shishkina backhand winner making it 15-40. Again Bencic was able to come up with good serves when she needed them, setting up two straight backhand winners to get back to deuce. Shishkina netted a backhand on the next point, and Bencic had her first match point.
It was a classic, with Bencic failing to put away one swinging volley, while Shishkina scrambled and willed herself back into the point. Neither girl blinked until Shishkina finally left another ball short, and this time Bencic's backhand cross court swinging volley was out Shishkina's reach, giving Bencic her 6-7(4), 6-3, 6-4 victory.
"It was stupid of me to give away the 4-2 lead," said Bencic. "But at 4-4, I said, she is not leading, so I'm just going to play now the big points and win the important points. It was not my best match, because it was the first of the tournament, and the first is not so easy. I was not playing the first match so good, but I won, and that's important."
Bencic also took the crowd's support for her opponent in stride.
"She's local here and she has people around her and she has support, but also I think the people were supporting me," said Bencic, who is No. 11 in the ITF world junior rankings. "She deserves it, because she is a good player."
The atmosphere on Court 8, where boys top seed Noah Rubin played Thien Nguyen Hoang couldn't have been more of a contrast with the 150 fans that hung on every shot of the Bencic - Shishkina encounter. With never more than a dozen fans watching, Rubin fought back to record a 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 win over the 2009 Junior Orange Bowl 14s champion, picking up a break in the eighth game of the third set and holding on for the win.
Top seed Taylor Townsend did draw a bigger crowd for her 9 a.m. match with Dominika Paterova of the Czech Republic, but their viewing window was small, with Townsend taking a quick 6-0, 6-4 victory. Townsend, who is still awaiting word on her request for a wild card into next week's Orange Bowl, found her way to the net on occasion, even though the surface can make the route forward an adventurous one.
Second seeds Yoshihito Nishioka of Japan and Katerina Siniakova of the Czech Republic advanced to the second round in straight sets. Third seed Elizaveta Kulichkova of Russia also came through, but boys No. 3 Borna Coric lost to Brayden Schnur of Canada 7-6(0), 7-6(5).
The 18s qualifying finished Monday morning, with Dan Kerznerman and Nicole Frenkel of the US joining the main draw with wins. Seeded girls falling in the first round include Christina Makarova(9), Domenica Gonzalez(15) of Ecuador and Erin Routliffe(11) of Canada. In addition to Coric, Hugo DiFeo(7) of Canada and Alexander Vasilenko(16) of Russia also went out in the first round.
It wasn't a good day for relatives of top professionals, as wild card Djordje Djokovic of Serbia, brother of ATP No. 1 Novak, retired down 6-2, 2-0 to Ronnie Schneider, and Daria Sharapova of Belarus, cousin of Maria, lost to Jennifer Brady 6-4, 6-3.
On Tuesday, the remaining 21 singles matches in the 18s will be played to complete the first round, as well as all 32 matches in the first round of doubles.
In the 12s, 14s, and 16s, half of the first round matches were played, with few upsets.
Abigail Desiatnikov of the US and Yshai Oliel of Israel, the top seeds in the 12s, moved through to the second round, as did Ku Keon Kang of Korea and Ye Qiuyu of China, the top seeds in the 16s. In the 14s, top seeds Usue Arconada of the US and Orlando Luz of Brazil do not play their first round matches until Tuesday.
At 6 p.m. on Tuesday evening, ATP stars John Isner and Xavier Malisse will be providing an exhibition for coaches, parents and players at Stadium Court, courtesy of Prince Tennis.
For complete results and draws, go to eddieherr.com.