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Saturday, August 31, 2013

Seven Americans Qualify for US Open Junior Championships Main Draw

©Colette Lewis 2013--
Flushing Meadow, NY

The coaches at the Junior Tennis Champions Center in College Park, Maryland have a few more gray hairs after the final round of qualifying for the US Open junior championships was completed today.  All three of their players competing on Saturday at the practice courts outside the East Gate--Raveena Kingsley, Usue Arconada and Francis Tiafoe--won in third-set tiebreakers to advance to the main draw, which begins Sunday.

Tiafoe's win was the most dramatic, as he saved three match points with Adrian Ortiz of Mexico serving at 6-5 in the final set, going on to take the match 6-2, 6-7(3), 7-6(6).

At 5-5 in the third set Tiafoe was broken, hitting a routine backhand long after a couple of failed drop shots earlier in the game had signaled his fatigue. Ortiz, who at 18 is three years older than Tiafoe, also seemed to move less freely than he had earlier in the match, tugging at his thigh as the match moved to its final stages.  Ortiz managed a 40-15 lead, but hit a routine forehand long to lose his first match point, and he double faulted to squander the second.  He earned a third match point with a backhand volley winner, but Tiafoe saved it by rifling a backhand pass that went directly at Ortiz's head. He ducked, but the ball landed inside the baseline to make it deuce again. Tiafoe, whose shirt and shorts were completely soaked with sweat, won the next two points, with an overhead winner and a netcord that went against Ortiz.

The tiebreaker was every bit as close as the match, with the score 3-3, 4-4 and 5-5. Tiafoe had his first match point at 6-5, but Ortiz showed his speed and determination by running down a sure winner and flicking a backhand cross court that Tiafoe got his racquet on for a winning volley, but instead netted it.

Tiafoe came up big on the next point, hitting an ace down the T to earn his second match point. When Ortiz sent a forehand long, Tiafoe had qualified, after falling in the final round of qualifying last year.

Tiafoe admitted he was looking ahead when he served for the match at 6-2, 5-4.

"I'm thinking about it a little bit," Tiafoe said. "Main draw, it's on my racquet. I played an awful game there, and then the guy started playing really well. At 5-5 in the third, both of our legs started to go away a little bit, got broken and played a few sloppy points and got broken."

When Ortiz double faulted, Tiafoe knew he had a chance.

"After he doubled, I knew he was going to get tight," said Tiafoe, the No. 3 seed in qualifying. "At 6-5 (in the tiebreaker) he made an unbelievable get, an unbelievable shot, so I was pretty tight then. But at 6-all it was hit the serve as hard as you can, and luckily it hit the line, and then he hit a forehand long, so I stayed in there, and I'm so happy I qualified."

Raveena Kingsley picked up her 6-2, 2-6, 7-6(4) win over fellow wild card Emma Higuchi the hard way, watching a 5-1 lead in the third set disappear.  Higuchi won five games in a row and served for the match at 6-5, but Kingsley broke her at love, and once the tiebreaker began, took control, keeping her deep flat strokes in the court to build a 5-2, and 6-3 lead. Higuchi didn't go easily, saving her sixth match point to make it 6-4, but the 15-year-old Kingsley hit a forehand winner to end it.

Kingsley said she relaxed and took her time when she got to tiebreaker.

"I calmed down and played the point," said Kingsley. "I told myself I'm going to swing freely because I'm going to trust my training in everything I did. And it paid off."

The third JTCC player to win via a third-set tiebreaker was Usue Arconada, who also broke back when her opponent, No. 7 seed Beatrice Lombardo of Italy, was serving for the match at 5-4 in the third set.  Arconada, who went on to post a 3-6, 6-4, 7-6(5) victory, also trailed 5-4 in the tiebreaker, with Lombardo having the match on her racquet with two serves. She lost them both, netting a forehand to give the 14-year-old Arconada a match point. Lombardo's forehand caught the tape and bounced well wide to put Arconada in the main draw.

Arconada is not the youngest girl in the draw however, with Claire Liu taking that honor.  The 13-year-old from Southern California, who received a wild card into qualifying, beat No. 14 seed Rianna Valdes of the US 6-3, 6-3 after taking out the No. 6 seed Friday, also in straight sets.

In addition to Tiafoe, the three other US boys in the final round of qualifying also won: Alex Rybakov, and wild cards Taylor Fritz and Reilly Opelka. Rybakov defeated No. 10 seed Jumpei Yamasaki of Japan 6-4, 6-4, while Fritz defeated No. 7 seed Luis Valero of Colombia 6-3, 6-4.

Opelka had more of a challenge, coming from a set down to beat No. 12 seed Piotr Lomacki of Poland 3-6, 6-2, 6-3.  Lomacki used the drop shot effectively early in the third set, but after missing one, he didn't go back to it, and Opelka was more consistent in the baseline rallies. At one stage in the match there were five straight breaks, but the 6-foot-7 Opelka got his hold when it was most important at 5-3 in the third, hitting a sizzling running backhand winner to end it on his first match point.

The order of play for Sunday's first round on the outside courts has not yet been posted, but the draws are out.  Canada's Francoise Abanda, who has not played a match since March, is making her return to tennis here after a shoulder injury, and she has drawn No. 6 seed Taylor Townsend in the first round. Abanda has had great success against Townsend in the past, beating her at Roehampton and Wimbledon last year, but without any warmup tournaments, the 16-year-old from Montreal will be understandably rusty.

In the boys draw, No. 3 ranked Nikola Milojevic of Serbia was a late withdrawal, allowing one lucky loser to reach the main draw: Carlos Lopez Villasenor of Mexico.  Spencer Papa of the US was also still on the acceptance list as of Wednesday, but is not in the draw.

Both top seeds have drawn US qualifiers, with Switzerland's Belinda Bencic playing Kingsley and Germany's Alexander Zverev facing Fritz.


Dopey said...

Just saw where the next US prodigy of the moment Kozlov got his butt kicked first round. Not a good showing at all. Definitely more work to do before he's ready to compete against his peers.

Tennisforlife. said...

Kozlov is clearly a talented player and while its way too early to declare a crisis I imagine the powers that be must be concerned that he performed this poorly here and a KZoo - the first tournaments he was under any real pressure as a seeded player. A lot of tennis is between the ears.