Konjuh Defeats Townsend in Orange Bowl Semifinals, Goes for Florida Sweep Against Siniakova; Djere and Ymer Meet Again, This Time in Final; Liang and Rublev Claim 16s Championships
Saturday's marquee match between newly anointed 2012 ITF World Junior Champion Taylor Townsend of the United Sates and Croatian 14-year-old Ana Konjuh, who is making a name for herself with her scintillating play during the Florida ITF Junior swing, drew fans of all sizes and ages to the the bleachers surrounding the grandstand court at the Frank Veltri Tennis Center.
Although a few of them may have left disappointed that the American girl wouldn't be advancing to the final, none left disappointed in the level of play in Konjuh's 4-6, 6-1, 6-3 victory.
Konjuh's big serve and penetrating shots kept Townsend on defense more than she is accustomed to being, and once the seventh-seeded Konjuh began to get a feel for her left-handed opponent's serve and patterns, she took control of the match.
Although Konjuh used the drop shot effectively, she was trying to hit winners with it, not set up the next shot with it.
"I like to keep her on the baseline, because she has really good volleys," said the well-spoken right-hander, who turns 15 later this month. "She's really good at the net, so I was trying to play angles, so she can't come in."
After losing her serve twice after leading 4-3 in the first set, Konjuh showed no signs of frustration or panic. She began to hit returns for both outright winners and to set up the next baseline blast, which helped her take the second set quickly.
"She was serving well and was more aggressive than I was," said Townsend. "She was putting a lot of pressure on me to hold serve, and was breaking so she had more freedom to go after her serve, and was acing me left and right."
Konjuh took a 2-0 lead in the final set, and Townsend could not overcome that deficit.
"I didn't make enough adjustments," Townsend said. "She was controlling the points and moving me around, hitting flat and taking everything early, and she was rushing me for time. She played very well."
Konjuh admitted to being physically tired after winning Eddie Herr last week and reaching the final this week, but she has not let her mind acknowledge it.
"I have self-confidence now so that really helps," Konjuh said. "Yes I'm tired, but mentally I'm strong right now, so I just hope that will help."
In Sunday morning's final, Konjuh will play No. 2 seed Katerina Siniakova of the Czech Republic, who was still in the running for the World Junior Champion title before falling in the doubles quarterfinals Friday. That loss, coupled with Townsend's tense third-set tiebreaker win over Carol Zhao, mathematically eliminated the 16-year-old Czech's chances at the year-end No. 1.
Siniakova defeated No. 6 seed Marcela Zacarias of Mexico 4-6, 6-2, 6-3 in the semifinals, and will be looking to avenge her 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 loss to Konjuh in the Eddie Herr semifinals last week.
"Her backhand's her better shot," said Konjuh. "She's really moving well, so I'll mix in the drop shot, some slice. I hope to make a good strategy tomorrow."
Another rematch from the Eddie Herr is set in the boys final, with No. 10 seed Laslo Djere of Serbia facing No. 12 seed Elias Ymer of Sweden. Djere, who beat Ymer in the Eddie Herr semifinals 6-3, 6-3, reached the Orange Bowl final by beating No. 9 seed Thai Kwiatkowski of the US 6-4, 6-4.
Djere's physical game kept Kwiatkowski retrieving rather than dictating, and Djere's backhand down the line was lethal on the big points.
"The courts are really heavy and he's a really strong guy physically," said Kwiatkowski, who had a cheering section of local Vietnamese after they read of his heritage, which is three-quarters Vietnamese and one-quarter Polish. "He was able to take the heavy balls and push me back deep, make me move around the court. I wasn't able to do that to him, so that was pretty much the difference."
Kwiatkowski was broken at 4-4 in the opening set, and Djere held to secure the first set.
Djere saved a break point serving at 3-2 in the second set, hitting a perfect drop shot that Kwiatkowski couldn't touch. Kwiatkowski was broken in the next game, but Djere couldn't close the door, losing his serve at love. When Kwiatkowski held at love to put the pressure back on Djere, the 17-year-old Serb simply regained his focus, won the first three points of the game, and hit a signature down the line backhand winner on the first match point.
"At 5-2 he won two games, but then I was concentrating a bit more when it was 5-4, and I won the game easy," said Djere, who didn't let his loss from 6-0, 4-1 up in the Eddie Herr final to Christian Garin affect his play this week.
"I came here and the tournament was starting, so I had to forget that, and to be focused on this tournament," Djere said. "If I was thinking about that, I wouldn't be in the final."
Against Ymer, Djere said he knows how he has to play against the 16-year-old Swede, who is coached by former ATP No. 2 Magnus Norman. "He also knows me and my game," said Djere. "So it will be a tough match, I think."
The 18s doubles finals will also be Sunday, with none of the singles finalists in the championship matches.
Unseeded two-time junior slam winners Gabby Andrews and Taylor Townsend of the US will play No. 8 seeds Victoria Rodriguez and Marcela Zacarias in the girls final. Andrews and Townsend defeated No. 6 seed Katy Dunne of Great Britain and Christina Makarova of the US 6-2, 6-3. Rodriguez and Zacarias earned their spot in the final with a 6-4, 6-2 win over unseeded Jennifer Brady and Jamie Loeb of the US.
Christian Garin of Chile and Nicolas Jarry of the United States are aiming for their third straight title in the boys final. The Yucatan Cup and Eddie Herr winners received a walkover into the final due to an injury to Gianluigi Quinzi, who was partnering Filippo Baldi. Garin and Jarry will play unseeded Lukas Mugevicius of Lithuania and Alexander Vasilenko of Russia, who defeated No. 2 seeds Ymer and Borna Coric of Croatia 6-4, 6-3.
Canadian Gloria Liang made it two straight titles for her country with a 6-3, 7-5 win over No. 16 seed Chloe Ouellet-Pizer of the US.
The 16-year-old from Mississauga Ontario was down 3-0 and two breaks in the second set before coming back to join Erin Routliffe, the 2011 champion, on the winners' list.
"She's actually one of my really good friends," Liang said. "We were in the room last night, and she said, if you win, it's going to be two Canadians, so I was like, I'd better do that, so it was good."
Liang expected Ouellet-Pizer to use an array of high looping balls, and was ready for it.
"I actually knew she was going to do that, so I was prepared," said Liang. "But she changed in the end, so it was a good match."
Ouellet-Pizer, who had used that strategy successfully against Lisa Ponomar of Germany in the semifinals on Friday, said those were the wrong tactics against Liang.
"I went out with the wrong game plan," said the 15-year-old from North Carolina. "I didn't start playing more aggressively until the second set, and that worked a lot better. I wish I wouldn't have kept with the high ball strategy so long in the first set. If I had played aggressively from the beginning, maybe I could have won, worn her down."
Liang dropped only one set all week, to No. 3 seed Madison Bourguignon in a marathon quarterfinal match, and she said she played well all week long.
"At Eddie Herr, I didn't play that well," said Liang, who prefers hard courts, but has access to training on clay at the National Tennis Centre in Montreal. "But I practiced and I think it clicked afterwards. I'm not that good at sliding, but it's fun."
No. 4 seed Andrey Rublev became the first Russian boy to win the 16s title, defeating No. 12 seed Tommy Paul 6-3, 6-4.
The 15-year-old, who trains in Moscow with his mother Marina Marenko, used his powerful first serve to control points, and wasn't broken until late in the second set, when he had an insurance break for a cushion.
"Today it was not so easy to play," Rublev said. "Sometimes he would make easy shots, winners, and sometimes easy mistakes, so it's tough to adapt. I just take the break and keep my serve."
Paul said he was nervous at the start of the match and wasn't able to shake those nerves until the start of the second set. He also gave credit to Rublev for his play.
"He hit some pretty big serves on some pretty important points," said Paul, a 15-year-old from North Carolina who now trains at L'Academie de Tennis in Boynton Beach, Florida. "I didn't play my best, and he played well."
Rublev has a reputation for emotional outbursts on the court, but in the final, he only occasionally showed that side, with a few loud soliloquies in Russian.
"Two years ago, I was absolutely crazy," Rublev said. "I broke two racquets in one match. But now it's better."
Although Rublev referred to the win as "just another trophy," he does plan to return to Russia with another trophy he's coveted for some time.
"I'm going to buy iPhone," he said.
For complete draws and the order of play for Sunday, see the tournament page at usta.com.