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Saturday, September 7, 2013

Black Storms into US Open Girls Final Against Konjuh; Kokkinakis Faces Coric for Boys Championship; Redlicki Wins Doubles Title

©Colette Lewis 2013--
Flushing Meadows, NY--

Tornado Alicia Black says she has a good luck charm, but luck hasn't played much of a role in her run to this year's US Open girls final.  In Saturday's 7-5 6-3 semifinal win against No. 7 seed Antonia Lottner of Germany, Black demonstrated a consistency and intensity that her experienced opponent couldn't match, earning the 15-year-old wild card a place in Sunday's championship match.

Black's good luck charm is Madison Bourguignon, a friend who trains with her at the L'Academie de Tennis in Boynton Beach, Florida, and has stayed around since losing in qualifying to help prepare Black for her matches.

Bourguignon isn't 6-foot-1 like Lottner, but the German's size advantage didn't prove much of a factor in Saturday's contest. Twice in the first set Lottner had a break advantage, but Black broke right back until Lottner consolidated for a 5-3 lead. Black held to force Lottner to serve out the set, and at the changeover asked for a medical timeout, leaving the court for treatment. Lottner hit a few serves while Black was gone, but that didn't help her when play resumed, as she made four forehand errors to get broken once again. Black held for 6-5, but Lottner's unforced error count continued to mount and she was broken for the fourth time in the set when Black hit a cross court angle passing shot that Lottner couldn't handle.

Lottner took a 2-0 lead in the second set, but lost five straight games, and also took a medical timeout to have her right knee taped.  Lottner, who was a semifinalist in New York last year and a finalist at the French Open this year, finally held serve to force Black to serve out the match. Black needed three match points to get it done, but Lottner netted a backhand and missed a return wide to end the one hour and 45 minute match.

Although Lottner's forehand was a liability, Black said she didn't direct any extra attention to that side.

"I was just trying to focus on hitting the ball," said Black. "She's really tall, and was acing me and hitting a lot of winners, so I had to try to play the point smart."

Black realizes that not everyone expected this breakthrough from her, after a poor grass season and limited play on hard courts coming into the US Open.

"I think a lot of people are surprised I'm in the final as a wild card," Black said. "But I'm really happy that I am."

Black will meet No. 2 seed Ana Konjuh of Croatia in the final, after Konjuh defeated Mayo Hibi, a Japanese citizen who lives and trains in California, 6-3, 6-3. Konjuh, who like Black is 15, is one of the few international juniors who have played Black, beating her in the second round in New York last year, and in the first round of the Orange Bowl in December.

Konjuh's serve was the difference in her match with Hibi, as she got early breaks in both sets, and was frequently under pressure in her service games.

"I'm taller, bigger, I have much more strength to serve better," said Konjuh, whose coach helped her prepare for the one-handed backhand slice Hibi uses to disrupt an aggressive baseline game. "But she's a really good player, she's like the old-school, so I really want to wish her good luck in the future."

"Honestly, my opponent played really great today," said Hibi, 17. "Her serve was going very well. I was missing too many returns, but she was serving well. I just have a lot of things to work on. She hits very hard, and I have to get used to the pace so I can do more stuff when we get into rallies. And I hope I can get more free points off my serve."

Konjuh was cautious about assuming Black is the same player she defeated twice last year.

"She improved a lot through the year for sure," said Konjuh, the reigning Australian Open girls champion. "My coach went to see the match with Antonia, and if she beats Lottner, she has to be good. So I'm really hoping I can play my best tomorrow."

Croatia has an opportunity to sweep the singles titles, with 16-year-old Borna Coric competing for the boys championship.

The fourth-seeded Coric outlasted top seed Alexander Zverev of Germany 4-6, 6-3, 6-0 and will face unseeded Thanasi Kokkinakis of Australia in Sunday's final. Kokkinakis beat French Open boys champion Christian Garin of Chile 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 to reach his second junior slam final of the year.

Coric said Zverev's level in the first set caught him off guard.

"Zverev was playing really good in the first set," said Coric, who is mentored by former Wimbledon champion Goran Ivanisevic. "I was actually a little bit surprised with his game. He was playing really fast, ripping the ball. I was a little bit insecure on the court in the first set."

Coric adjusted in the second set, getting an early break, then saving a break point when serving for the second set.

"He had a break point for 5-4, but I played a good three points in a row, and I think that's the key for the match," said Coric, who trains in England with Ryan Jones. "In the third set, I felt I'm playing better now, and I can win this match. I broke him in the first game, and that's it."

Kokkinakis also had to rebound, dropping the first set for the second straight day, after defeating No. 2 seed and Wimbledon boys champion Gianluigi Quinzi of Italy in three sets on Friday.

"I seem to make them go three sets by not really focusing in the first set," said the 17-year-old Australian. "Same story as yesterday, except I thought I served a bit better in the first set today, but I was just missing forehands I thought I should make to really finish the point. He was giving me a lot of high forehands and I wasn't doing enough with them."

Garin had a small group of vocal supporters that helped lift him in the third set, when he went down two breaks at 4-1, dumping an easy volley into the net.

"If I'd gotten that 4-1 game, if I'd been solid and not let him in it, he was going to go away for sure, he was going to give me that match," said Kokkinakis. "But I played a couple of points, willed a few forehands rather than hitting it, and his country helped him there. But I'm happy with how I focused and controlled, thought about my serving."

Kokkinakis served well in his next service game to take a 5-3 lead, and had three match points on Garin's serve in the next game, but Garin held, forcing Kokkinakis to serve it out.

Garin hit a forehand into the net on the first point, which was all Kokkinakis needed to relax and finish the match.

"I think there's always a little bit of nerves, but once you get the first two points, you feel pretty good. You've just got to be solid and not do something too stupid," Kokkinakis said. "He actually gave me the first point, so that was good for me, and my ace helped, which is what happened yesterday, so I'm very happy with that."

Kokkinakis, who has now defeated the Wimbledon and French boys champions on back-to-back days, also has a victory over Coric, in this year's Australian Open semifinals.

"He's a solid player, very fit and quick, a good backhand," said Kokkinakis. "Pretty similar to players I've played the past few days. I think the last two guys have had a bit more firepower than Borna, but I think Borna is a bit more consistent, so I'll have to work for the points and stay patient and keep my head mentally, like I have the last few matches."

The boys doubles championship featured two unseeded teams, with Martin Redlicki of the United States and Kamil Majchrzak of Poland taking the title 6-3, 6-4 over Quentin Halys of France and Frederico Silva of Portugal.

Redlicki and Majchrzak had never played together before this tournament, meeting at the Grade A in Milan this spring while discussing Redlicki's Polish heritage.

When Redlicki and Majchrzak defeated the top-seeded team of Coric and Stefan Kozlov in the first round in a match tiebreaker, they were happy, but knew the title was still a long way off.

"It was still four matches away from winning the tournament," said Redlicki. "Everyone who's here is here for a reason. They're all very, very good, so beating the one seeds first round definitely got us thinking, but the tournament, the title, it was a little out there still."

As it turns out, their first match was the only one that went to a match tiebreaker, and in the final, Redlicki and Majchrzak demonstrated their ability to make the most of their opportunities.

Break chances were difficult to come by for either team, with Halys and Silva getting a look at only one break point in the entire match. Redlicki and Majchrzak had only three, but converted two, and Redlicki served it out with an ace on match point, much to the delight of a vocal group of Polish supporters, who made their loyalties known after every point.

"My godfather lives in Flushing Meadows," said Redlicki. "He knows people here and obviously they were able to get together an unbelievable support team. I don't know if we would have been able to do it without them, to be honest."

The girls doubles championship went to the top-seeded Czech pair of Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova, who added the US Open to the French and Wimbledon titles they won this summer.  Krejcikova and Siniakova defeated No. 3 seeds Belinda Bencic of Switzerland and Sara Sorribes Tormo of Spain 6-3, 6-4, finishing 2013 undefeated as a team.

Krejcikova and Siniakova, who did not play together in Australia (Krejcikova reached that final with Oleksandra Korashvili of Ukraine), were cruising along at 6-3, 5-1 in Saturday's final, but Bencic and Sorribes Tormo fought back, breaking Siniakova when she served for the match at 5-2. After Sorribes Tormo held, she and Bencic had three break points to make it 5-5, but on the deciding point in the no-ad format, Siniakova poached and put away the volley to secure the win.

"It was before Roland Garros that I asked her, because I couldn't find someone for playing doubles," Krejcikova said of their decision to play together. "She said okay, I have no one, so we tried it, and it's working."

Krejcikova and Siniakova said they could not translate into English what makes them such a good team, but they hope to play together in pro tournaments in the future, adding to the collection of trophies they have in their rooms.

"I have a special place for them," said Krejcikova, who is in her last year of junior competition. "I see them from my bed. I wake up every morning, and they are still there. There'll be another one, it's great."

For complete draws, see usopen.org.