Chirico Faces Bencic in French Open Junior Semifinals, Lottner and Konjuh Save Match Points to Advance; Vanderbilt, Mississippi State and Mississippi Popular in Men's ITA Kick-off Weekend Draft
Playing in just her second junior slam, Louisa Chirico has advanced to the semifinals of the French Open junior championships after posting a dominant 6-0, 6-2 win over qualifier Kristina Schmiedlova of Slovakia Thursday.
Much was made of Serena Williams' 6-0, 6-1 rout of Sara Errani in the women's semifinal this afternoon, but even Williams needed more than 15 minutes to win the first set, which was all the time it took Chirico.
Granted, there was actually some suspense early in the second set, when Schmiedlova, whose older sister reached the girls final last year, led 2-1, but she needed six deuces to win that set's third game, and didn't win another. Chirico didn't face a break point, and I don't believe was ever taken to deuce on her serve, and in 48 minutes she was done and awaiting her opponent.
That took decidedly longer to determine, with No. 2 seed Belinda Bencic of Switzerland outlasting No. 11 seed Taylor Townsend 2-6, 6-2, 9-7 to prevent an all-US semifinal. After the two exchanged nearly identical sets to start, the third set was one of missed opportunities, especially for Townsend, who was up a break at 3-1 and 4-2 in the third set, only to be broken back immediately without even having a game point to hold. At 6-6, Townsend was up 40-0, lost that lead, then had two more ads, but on her first break point Bencic converted. Serving for the match, Bencic went up 40-15, lost those to match points and one more, but she converted her fourth to set up her first junior meeting with Chirico in Friday's semifinal. Chirico beat Bencic in the first round of qualifying for the Charlottesville Pro Circuit $50,000 back in April 6-4, 7-6(11).
While that match had plenty of drama, the other two quarterfinals were even more exciting, with both top seed Ana Konjuh of Croatia and No. 5 seed Antonia Lottner of Germany saving match points in their victories. Following matches via live scoring, as I have been doing all week, has its disadvantages, but one advantage is the ability to actually keep track of two matches at once. While I can only imagine how the match points were saved, knowing that they were saved is some consolation.
Konjuh defeated No. 6 seed Darya Kasatkina of Russia 3-6, 7-6(6), 6-4, with her close encounter with elimination coming when she was serving at 4-5 in the second set. Down 15-40, the 15-year-old won four straight points for 5-5, held in a two-deuce game for 6-6, then survived an equally close tiebreaker, which she finished with an ace, according to tweets from those on the scene. Konjuh didn't make it easy for herself, failing to serve out the match at 5-3, but she broke Kasatkina to post the win. Kasatkina also served for the match at 5-3 in the second set, but was broken at love.
Lottner also had two match points against her, also serving at 4-5 in the second set, before she came back to defeat Elizaveta Kulichkova of Russia 6-7(4), 7-5, 6-4. Unlike Konjuh, Lottner rode that momentum shift to take the next three games, avoiding a tiebreaker, but she had been up 4-1 and two breaks in that set, so there was no predicting the third. Lottner took a 3-0 lead, was broken twice, but managed to serve out the match to return to the semifinals, having reached the final four as a qualifier in 2012. In fact, in her five junior slam appearances, Lottner has reached at least the quarterfinals in all five, and she defeated Konjuh in the third round of last year's US Open junior championships en route to the semifinals there.
The boys quarterfinals were ho-hum by comparison, with only one match going three sets, and that ended with No. 4 seed Alexander Zverev of Germany defeating No. 5 seed Kyle Edmund of Great Britain 6-2, 5-7, 6-0. Zverev, who just turned 16 in April, is playing in only his second junior slam, having lost in the first round in Australia this year. He will play No. 2 seed Nikola Milojevic of Serbia, who defeated No. 6 seed Gianluigi Quinzi of Italy 7-6(2), 6-2 to reach his first junior slam semifinal. No. 8 seed Borna Coric of Croatia reached his second consecutive junior slam semifinal with a 6-2, 6-3 win over No. 13 seed Guillermo Nunez of Chile, and ending hopes for an all-Chile boys semifinal. Unseeded Christian Garin of Chile did his part, defeating French wild card Calvin Hemery 6-3, 6-0 to advance to his first junior slam semifinal.
Garin is also still alive in doubles, with he and partner Nicolas Jarry of Chile, the No. 5 seeds, facing Australian Open boys doubles finalists Maximilian Marterer of Germany and Lucas Miedler of Austria in one semifinal. US Open boys doubles champions Edmund and Frederico Silva of Portugal, the No. 3 seeds, meet unseeded Benjamin Bonzi and Quentin Halys of France in the other semifinal.
Konjuh and partner Carol Zhao of Canada, who won the Australian girls title this year, reached the semifinals, where the No. 3 seed will play No. 2 seeds Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova of the Czech Republic. Unseeded Domenica Gonzalez of Ecuador and Beatriz Haddad Maia of Brazil will meet No. 8 seeds Alice Matteucci of Italy and Nina Stojanovic of Serbia in the other semifinal Friday.
Sandy Harwitt has more on Louisa Chirico and Antonia Lottner in her article at the ITF Junior website. Complete draws are at the Roland Garros website.
The men's draft for the ITA Kick-off Weekend was held today, and unlike the women's draft, all Top 50 teams in the national rankings participated.
No. 15 Vanderbilt's site filled up first, with No. 19 Wake Forest, No. 22 LSU and No. 23 Texas headed for Nashville in January. The next site to fill was at No. 10 Mississippi, where No. 21 Clemson, No. 24 Illinois and No. 26 Michigan will play for a chance to compete in the ITA National Team Indoor in Houston next February. No. 11 Mississippi State will also host three top teams, with No. 18 South Carolina, No. 20 Memphis and No. 28 Harvard traveling to Starkville.
The last regions to fill were Virginia, UCLA and USC, although unlike the women, all teams competing in the January Kick-off weekend are ranked, with No. 68 Santa Clara the last team placed.
Not participating in the draft (or passing) were: Princeton(51), Cornell(54), Miami(55), Yale(56), Arkansas(59), Texas A&M-Corpus Christi(66) and East Tennessee State(67).
And because I'm often heard complaining about this or that in college tennis, I want to say what a great idea I think this draft is. It requires a coach to project possible opponents' strength now, while allowing him or her to select a site that is geographically suitable. It undeniably makes some regionals very competitive and others less so, but there's no committee to take the heat for that, as it's self-selected. If these two dates didn't count toward the NCAA maximum, it would be close to perfect, and I think innovations like this one are proof that creative thinking is welcomed in the college game.
The complete draft is available at the ITA website page.