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Sunday, January 6, 2013

Milojevic Stays Perfect in 2013, Flink Takes Girls Title at ITF Grade 1 Coffee Bowl

Serbia's Nikola Milojevic ran his 2013 ITF junior record to 12-0 today, defeating unseeded Tommy Mylnikov of Canada 7-5, 6-2 in the final of the ITF Grade 1 Coffee Bowl in Costa Rica.  The 17-year-old top seed won last week's Grade A in Mexico City, so he is definitely one of the in-form players heading into the Australian Open Junior Championships in two weeks.

Mylnikov, who trains at the IMG Bollettieri Academy in Bradenton, had one of his best tournaments since winning the Eddie Herr 16s in  2011, beating No. 5 seed Lucas Gomez, No. 10 seed Naoki Nakagawa, No. 3 seed Clement Geens, all in straight sets, before falling to Milojevic.

The difference in the match, which was streamed live, was Milojevic's play on the big points. Mylnikov didn't back off or play tentatively, but he wasn't able to hit his forehand for winners when he really needed them.

Every year I write about how different this tournament is from most other junior tournaments, with huge crowds, many sponsors, TV interviews--the champions even autographed a camera lens as is the professional custom. This year, even though the finals were played Sunday afternoon rather than Saturday night, the atmosphere was still amazing. Contrast that with the sparse number of spectators the TV cameras showed in the Doha and Hobart professional events, and you can't help but be impressed by the interest in this level of tennis.

The girls final, played earlier in the day, saw 16-year-old Russian Varvara Flink claim her first Grade 1 title, beating 15-year-old Veronika Kudermetova, also of Russia, 206, 7-6(2), 6-2. Flink, the No. 6 seed, was able to overcome some frustrating double faults to get the victory over the No. 4 seed.  Flink avenged her Orange Bowl loss to Christina Makarova of the US, the No. 1 seed, 1-6, 6-3, 6-3 in the quarterfinals.

The Coffee Bowl usually produces good results for Americans--last year all four finalists in singles were from the US--but that didn't hold true this year.  Makarova was the only girls quarterfinalist after 7 reached the round of 16, and unseeded Justin Butsch was the only boys quarterfinalist from the US.

The US did have some success in doubles, but both Makarova and Luca Corinteli fell short in the finals.  Makarova and Kudermetova, the No. 1 seeds, lost to the No. 4 seeds from Mexico, Alejandra Cisneros and Victoria Rodriguez, 6-3, 3-6, 10-8.  Corinteli and Jordi Arconada of Argentina, who were unseeded, lost in the final to top seeds Franko Miocic of Croatia and Guillermo Nunez of Chile 6-3, 6-1.

There is another Grade 1 this coming week in Venezuela, the Copa Gatorade, and with the Australian Grade 1 in Traralgon beginning next Saturday, the field is not a strong one.  Makarova, who last year went from Venezuela to the Australian Junior Championships without playing the Grade 1 in Traralgon, is on the entry list, one of only three US girls in the draw. Katrine Steffensen and Usue Arconada are the other two. Luca Corinteli, Jared Donaldson, Justin Butsch and Javier Restrepo are the only US boys entered.

One player on the entry list who may not end up competing is Valerie Patiuk of Israel, who has been unable to obtain a visa. Venezuela and Israel have no diplomatic relations, and denial of her visa appears to be based solely on her nationality.  For more on this unfortunate story, see the Israel Tennis Results blog.