©Colette Lewis 2013--
Coral Gables, FL--
Winds gusting over 20 mph didn't keep the top seeds from claiming the winners trophies Monday at Salvadore Park Tennis Center, with boys 18s No. 1 Christian Langmo, boys 14s No. 1 Vasil Kirkov and girls 14s No. 1 Maria Mateas earning straight set victories in the USTA Regional Tennis Plaza Cup finals.
Langmo defeated No. 3 seed Catalin Mateas 7-5, 6-4, after both players had struggled with the breezy conditions in the opening games.
"At the beginning, both of us were holding serve easily," said Mateas, a 15-year-old from Massachusetts who trains at the USTA National Center in Boca Raton. "We couldn't have a rally over four or five balls, and I think it took us a little bit to get used to the conditions. But after that we had a good match, the level was pretty high."
The first ten games went to the server, until Mateas gave Langmo a couple of unforced errors to drop serve. Serving for the set, Langmo earned his first set point at 40-30, but Mateas, who has a one-handed backhand, hit a winner from that side to get back to deuce. After Mateas sent a forehand wide, Langmo had a second set point, and this time he converted, hitting a forehand winner within an inch of the sideline to secure the first set.
"I think he just kind of lost focus at 5-all," said Langmo, a 16-year-old from Boca Raton. "He played a couple of loose points, I took advantage of that, and that was the difference."
Mateas again saw his concentration waiver in the second set, and serving at 2-2, unforced errors put him behind 15-40. He saved the first break point with an ace, but then double faulted. Langmo consolidated the break with a love hold for 4-2. Serving to stay within striking distance in the next game, Mateas again was broken, due to his own mistakes more than any stretch of great play from Langmo. With a 5-2 lead, serving for the match, Langmo could see the finish, and that proved more than he could handle. Mateas hit a backhand lob winner to earn two break points, and he converted the second when Langmo's attempt at a backhand pass went wide.
"I got a little tight once I broke him again, actually," said Langmo. "I stopped focusing point by point--I just saw the trophy, you know. He loosened up and relaxed and started swinging away and his shots were going in."
Mateas saved a match point serving at 3-5, with a deep forehand that Langmo couldn't handle, then hit two winners, notifying Langmo he would have to raise his level in the next game.
It didn't appear Langmo would be able to hold off Mateas' surge when Langmo double faulted to open the 5-4 game, then fell behind 15-40 when his backhand went long. Mateas netted a forehand to squander one break point but the second one Langmo saved with his own athleticism, hitting a tough overhead winner from an awkward position on the court to get back to deuce. Two good serves later, Langmo had the victory, and when Mateas' return flew out, he let out a deep roar of happiness and relief.
"It was building up over two games, every moment," Langmo said of his stress level. "I think I did a good job of composing myself, but I was very tight out there. I just felt numb, just wanted to be off the court. I was fortunate to hit some good serves."
Mateas was gracious in defeat.
"I thought I played a good match overall. He played better than me," Mateas said. "I stepped it up a little bit at the end, but it wasn't enough to come back. He hit a couple of good serves, and just played better than me today."
Langmo, who trains in Boca Raton with Roger Anderson, coach to and now husband of WTA Top 100 pro Chanelle Scheepers of South Africa, was pleased that he could win as the top seed.
"I've never been a number 1 seed at this high a level tournament," said Langmo. "I think I did a good job of handling the pressure. There were a lot of good players who could have for sure taken me out, so I did a pretty good job of staying focused and grounded."
In the 14s, Kirkov was also seeded at the top for the first time, and with his 6-3, 6-2 victory over unseeded Antoine Sanchez, Kirkov finished the tournament without dropping a set.
Although Sanchez was unseeded, Kirkov knew he was facing a dangerous opponent in the final, as the two had met in a Florida sectional event earlier this month, with Kirkov taking a 6-4, 7-5 victory.
"We had a tough match two weeks ago, so I came into the match feeling really nervous," said Kirkov, a 13-year-old from Tampa. "He's a good player, so I just had to play my game. I was playing aggressive and not missing a lot, and keeping my focus on the game and not thinking about win or lose."
Kirkov's nerves may have shown early in the first set, when Sanchez broke him for a 2-1 lead, but Kirkov broke back immediately and began to take control of the match. He broke Sanchez, who is more physically mature than the diminutive Kirkov, at 3-4, then served out the opening set. An early break in the second set, and Kirkov was on his way, ending the match with a drop shot that Sanchez reached but couldn't get back over the net.
His dominating performance, which included the doubles title with Boris Kozlov, was even more surprising given some physical problems Kirkov was having with his knees.
"I couldn't really move today," said Kirkov, who counts his mobility as one of the strengths of his game. "My knees are kind of hurting right now--growing pains."
"I felt a little bit of the pressure coming into the tournament, when I saw I was the No. 1 seed," said Mateas, the 13-year-old sister of boys 18s finalist Catalin. "I was like oh, I better prove myself. I fought in all of my matches and I knew I could beat everyone, so I was happy."
Against Ross, Mateas kept the ball in play more consistently and didn't let the wind frustrate her. She took 3-0 leads in both sets, and Ross couldn't exert much pressure, holding serve only twice in the match.
"She missed more than me, and I think that was the key, being consistent," said Mateas, who trains in Massachusetts with her father Calin. "I was also trying to move in as much as I could and be aggressive. She did miss a lot, although not necessarily all were unforced errors. She did hit a lot of unforced errors, but I tried to force her as much as I could."
Top seeds collected three other Tennis Plaza Cup titles Monday at two other Coral Gables locations.
Reilly Opelka, No. 1 in the boys 16s, played that division rather than the 18s on the advice of USTA National Coach Diego Moyano and the 15-year-old passed that test with flying colors, dropping no more than three games in any set in his five victories. Opelka defeated unseeded Nikola Samardzic 6-3, 6-2 in the final at the Biltmore Tennis Center.
In the boys 12s, top seed Adam Neff defeated No. 2 seed Tyler Zink 6-2, 6-2 in the final, and in the girls 18s, played at Riviera Country Club, No. 1 seed Katerina Stewart completed her straight-set run through the tournament with a 7-5, 6-2 win over No. 4 seed Kristin Wiley.
The girls 12s title was won by No. 7 seed Whitney Osuigwe, who defeated No. 2 seed Zoe Hitt 6-2, 6-2. The girls 16s championship went to No. 6 seed Bridget Forster, who defeated unseeded Leyla Azaeva 7-6(0), 6-3.
For complete draws, including the doubles championships, see the TennisLink site.