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Sunday, September 1, 2013

US Girls Go 7-0 as US Open Junior Championships Begin

©Colette Lewis 2013
Flushing Meadows, NY

Seven US girls took the court for their first round matches Sunday at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, and all seven left the court winners.

With Taylor Townsend's withdrawal for personal reasons, 10th seed Louisa Chirico is the only seeded American girl in the draw, and she cruised to a 6-1, 6-3 win over Great Britain's Harriet Dart, but five wild cards stepped up to earn victories.

The two most dramatic wins were Brooke Austin's 7-5, 5-7, 7-6(2) decision over Kristina Schmiedlova of Slovakia and Kaitlyn McCarthy's 5-7, 7-6(6), 6-2 win over Fiona Ferro of France, in which she saved three match points.

In her junior slam debut, the 15-year-old McCarthy sensed she had an advantage over her 16-year-old opponent, despite seeing her own 4-2 lead in the second set disappear, then failing to serve out the second set at 5-4.

"She came back and pushed really hard to try to win the set," said McCarthy, from Cary, NC. "She was starting to get tired a little bit, so she was pushing really hard to get off the court. I tried to stay relaxed, and the crowd was amazing--they were behind me and after every game it was like, let's go Kaitlyn."

Serving at 5-6, to get into a tiebreaker that she had to win, McCarthy got down a match point, but saved that one. Her chances to win the match looked slim when her 4-1 lead in the tiebreaker evaporated, with Ferro winning five points in a row for a 6-4 lead. But McCarthy saved those too, winning the final four points of the tiebreaker to force a third.

The heat and humidity were oppressive, and the match was just shy of three hours long, but McCarthy didn't show any sign of fatigue, while Ferro was flushed and missing numerous balls into the net.

"When you see someone's tired, your energy level goes up," said McCarthy. "You're like, okay, I'm not tired, forget that. You're tired, I'm not tired. Also, I have played a couple really long three-setters recently, so I'm used to it. I've played those matches and I'm ready for them. Also the adrenaline was kicking in, and my fitness obviously helped too."

McCarthy will play No. 2 seed Ana Konjuh of Croatia in the second round, after Konjuh escaped with a 5-7, 6-4, 6-4 win over Jelana Ostapenko of Latvia. Konjuh trailed 4-2 in the second set, but found her form just in time.

"I'm looking forward to it," said McCarthy. "She's number two in the world, really high, and those are the matches you come for, right?  I'm just going to do the same thing I did coming out for this match--just enjoy it, play the match, and keep it close, hopefully, and if I get my opportunities, capitalize."

CiCi Bellis also had a successful debut in her first match at a junior slam, defeating Shilin Xu of China 7-5, 6-7(2), 6-0.  Like McCarthy, Bellis looked much the fresher of the two after the second set, with Xu cramping and unable to chase down Bellis' forehand winners.

Bellis admitted to some nerves in the first set, but settled down in the second set, and was able to take advantage of Xu's physical issues.

"I wasn't really tired at all during the match," said the 14-year-old from Atherton, Calif. "I told myself in the third set I had to go for my shots and be free."

Bellis also gained confidence in her ability to perform under pressure last month in the Czech Republic, where she led the US 14-and-under team to the World Junior Tennis competition championship.

"I think it definitely helped me with experience, and playing with pressure," said Bellis, who went undefeated in five singles and two doubles matches. "Now I just want to do the best I can do, and have fun."

Michaela Gordon, who was also on the team with Bellis, joined her in the second round of the US Open with a 6-3, 6-2 win over Katherine Ip of Hong Kong.

Katerina Stewart and Christina Makarova also advanced, with Stewart defeating Ayaka Okuno of Japan 6-1, 6-3 and Makarova taking out No. 15 seed Ipek Soylu of Turkey 2-6, 7-6(3), 6-2.

The US boys had less success with only four of the eight in action on Sunday advancing to the second round.

Martin Redlicki and Dan Kerznerman had impressive wins, with Redlicki defeating Matej Maruscak of Slovakia 6-3, 6-4 and Kerznerman, a New Yorker with plenty of support on Court 8, downing Harry Bourchier of Australia 6-1 6-3.

The only seeded US boy, No. 5 Stefan Kozlov, showed little energy in his puzzlingly routine 6-1, 6-2 loss to Lucas Miedler of Austria, and wild cards Tommy Paul and JC Aragone went out quickly to seeded players, but two other wild cards,  Kalamazoo champion Collin Altamirano and Mackenzie McDonald posted victories in late afternoon matches.

Altamirano suffered something of a letdown midway through the first set of his match with Korean Duck Hee Lee, but rededicated himself in the second set to post a 7-6(4), 6-1 victory.

"I got too comfortable in the match," said the 17-year-old from Yuba City, Calif. "I felt I could serve my way through the first set and not have to work as hard, and it was just sloppy.  He just kind of stuck around, and I was playing sloppy points and sloppy games, but credit to him, he played good points. I got the tiebreaker and then got my head straight. I played a good couple of games in the second, and he was done."

Altamirano had 10 aces in the match, and even well into the second set, Lee, 15, couldn't read it.

"He had a really tough time with my serve," said Altamirano, who didn't know that Lee is deaf. "I don't know exactly what it was, but it was like he couldn't see it. I got him so many times when he didn't move, and it made me feel kind of good about myself, but yeah, he had a real tough time picking up my serve."

McDonald was facing his doubles partner and No. 7 seed Guillermo Nunez of Chile in his first round match, but the confidence he has gained this summer, particularly in qualifying for the ATP Masters in Cincinnati last month, led him to a come-from-behind 3-6, 7-6(5), 6-3 win.

"It's just all mental, I feel," said the 18-year-old from Piedmont, Calif. "I'm just happy I was able to stay focused and pull it out."

McDonald also appreciated the support he received during the match from USTA head of men's tennis Jay Berger and head of coaching Jose Higueras.

"I stepped it up in the tiebreaker," said McDonald. "I got pumped up, and I knew I had to. I think the crowd helped me a little bit in the tiebreaker. I saw Jay over there, and Jose, and that kind of bumped me up. Jay was very supportive, saying let's go Mackie, and Jose, and that actually did help me in the tiebreaker for sure."

The last game was a struggle for McDonald, who saved multiple break points before finally converting, with McDonald again giving credit to his mental approach.

"I felt I'm playing good tennis and as long as I can keep focus and keep playing good points and construct them and put them back-to-back together, I think I'll be fine. On the ad-out point, all I had to do is relax and I told myself that, and I won the next one, two, three points."

Sixteen more Americans, including all seven qualifiers, are scheduled to play on Monday, and the top seeds--Switzerland's Belinda Bencic and Germany Alexander Zverev--also take the courts for their first round matches.

The doubles draws were also released today, with a few first round doubles matches on the schedule for Monday.

See usopen.org for the draws.


Accountable said...

It's great that Jay Berger and Jose were watching Mackie McDonald in the juniors but for the first time in history we have no Americans in the second week of our home slam. PD has spent +/- $100mm over the past 5 years including exorbitant salaries for a director and head coach who don't even work full time for the program. It's time for some accountability.