Liu Looks for Second Junior Orange Bowl Title, Black Reaches 12s Final; Qualifier Geller Meets de Minaur in Boys 14s Final
©Colette Lewis 2013--
Coral Gables, FL--
Claire Liu had already played six and a half hours of tennis in beating fellow Americans the past two days, so when she dropped the first set to unseeded 12-year-old Abigail Desiatnikov of Ohio on a hot and sunny day at the University of Miami's Neil Schiff Tennis Center, the 13-year-old from Thousand Oaks, California knew she faced an uphill climb.
But the No. 2 seed found a source of motivation at a key point in the second set.
"I actually kind of thought I was going to lose," said the 2011 Orange Bowl champion, who went on to post a 4-6, 7-6(1), 6-3 victory. "I was playing horrible and she was playing well. In the second set, I still wasn't playing well at all. But [serving] at 4-5, there was one point when everybody started cheering for her, and I got really mad. And I started playing better I guess."
Liu, who is usually not notably emotional on court, let out a huge c'mon when she held in that game, and broke Desiatnikov at love to give herself a chance to serve out the set. But even then Liu couldn't quite shake the errors; it wasn't until the tiebreaker that she really raised her level, with good first serves, volley and ground stroke winners, even a drop shot, helping her dominate that game.
Up 3-1 in the final set, Liu again couldn't put away Desiatnikov, the 2012 Junior Orange Bowl champion. Liu admitted she had trouble with Desiatnikov's game.
"She plays really different from other people," said Liu. "It's a flat ball and she doesn't give you any rhythm, so it's hard to play against her. You know it's going to be tough, because almost nobody plays like that."
Liu held for 4-3, then broke Desiatnikov in a three-deuce game, primarily by attacking Desiatnikov's second serve. Liu's forehand return winner denied Desiatnikov the game, and then at deuce, she moved five feet inside the baseline when Desiatnikov missed her first serve. Liu's backhand return from that position was too strong and deep for Desiatnikov to handle, and even a good first serve couldn't save her on the next point, with Liu hitting another huge backhand return to take the game.
As often as Liu had been broken throughout the match, it was by no means over, but Liu closed out the two-hour and 37-minute match with a love game, getting all her first serves in play.
Liu will play top seed Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic, who lost her first set of the tournament, but recovered to defeat unseeded Vanessa Wong of Canada 6-2, 3-6, 6-0.
"It was a really tough match," said the 14-year-old left-hander, who is playing the Junior Orange Bowl for the first time. "I was tired, and second set was bad."
When Vondrousova returned to the court after the 10-minute break required between the second and third sets, she was back to the form she had displayed all week.
"I play good this week and I enjoy this week," said Vondrousova. "It's a great tournament. A lot of great players here, they're so good."
The No. 1 and No. 2 seeds will play in the girls 12s final too, with Anastasia Potapova of Russia and Hurricane Tyra Black of the United States reprising their Eddie Herr final, which Potapova won when Black had to retire due to a hip injury sustained in the first set of match.
Potapova earned her chance at the rare Eddie Herr/Orange Bowl double with a convincing 6-0, 6-0 win over Xiyu Wang of China, a No. 5 seed, on spectator unfriendly Court 4.
Black, who has lost only 10 games in her five victories, beat No. 4 seed Amanda Anisimova of the United States 6-1, 6-0, using her slice forehand to keep an impatient and error-prone Anisimova off balance. Black had lost to Anisimova in the semifinals of the 12s Spring Championships earlier this year, but Black believes the surface was a factor in that loss.
"Last time I played her I wasn't playing my best," said the 12-year-old from Boca Raton, Florida. "I wasn't running very well on the clay court. On a hard court I thought I was ready to play her, because yesterday, I was playing very well. So today I had a lot of confidence coming in. I'm finally playing as good as I was hoping to play."
Black joins her older sisters Nicole Pitts, the 2000 girls 14s champion, and Tornado Alicia Black, the 2011 girls 14s runnerup as a Junior Orange Bowl finalist.
"It was a little more my mom's dream for me, but I did really want to come and play this tournament," said Black. "It really didn't have much to do with my sisters, I just wanted to do it."
As for facing Potapova again, Black said the hip is fine and she is ready, although she has detected a change in Potapova's strategy this week.
"At Eddie Herr, any time you hit a hard ball, she would hit it harder back, just absorb the pace," Black said. "At this tournament, I think she's attacking a lot, so I'm going to have to be ready to keep it deep."
The boys 14s final is an unexpected one, with qualifier Axel Geller of Argentina facing Alex de Minaur of Australia, a No. 17 seed.
Geller, who has now won nine matches in nine days, again posted a straight set victory, beating Kyrylo Tsygura of the United States 6-3, 6-3. Geller was up 6-3, 5-0 in the second set, failing to convert on two match points, and he admitted nerves were a factor.
"I was really, really nervous," said Geller, who cited his serve as the shot that bailed him out in the end. "It helped me close out the match, so I would say it was great."
Geller is perhaps the less heralded of the Argentinian boys of his age, but he attributes that to a shoulder injury that kept him out of competition for five months in 2012.
"I've played with Camilo Ugo [Carabelli] 14 times, with [Juan] Otegui I've played nine, with Etcheverry also I think nine," said Geller, who has yet to drop a set in the tournament, while the three boys he mentioned all lost before the fourth round. "So we know each other a lot. With Camilo, I've won nine and lost five. The last tournament we played twice and won one each. In Argentina, there are other guys at this level that couldn't come, but it's nice to have good competition, so we can come over here and be at the level of everyone."
It's a long trip from Argentina, but it's nothing like the distance that Australian de Minaur traveled just to play the Orange Bowl.
"It's pretty far away from everywhere," said de Minaur, who won the Australian National 14s at the end of November before making the trip to Miami. "It's 40 hours, just to play one tournament, it better be good."
It's been better than good for de Minaur, who took down Nike Junior Tour International Masters champion Max Stewart in the quarterfinals, and in today's semifinal, beat No. 2 seed and Eddie Herr champion Miomir Kecmanovic of Serbia 6-4, 6-2.
De Minaur said he beat Kecmanovic by not getting "sucked into his game."
"I like to attack, so I tried to attack his backhand, come in, mix it up with slices, not give him a lot to work on," said de Minaur, who lived in Spain for eight years, but now lives and trains in Sydney.
"I didn't expect to get this far, but now that I'm here, I'm here to win," said the 14-year-old, who is playing in his second Junior Orange Bowl.
The day's most dramatic match was at the boys 12s at Salvadore Park, where unseeded Wojciech Marek of Poland defeated Nicolas Alvarez Varona of Spain 7-5, 5-7, 7-6(7) in three hours and 50 minutes.
Marek was cruising along in the third set, serving at 5-2, 40-15, when the wheels came off. He netted a forehand and missed an overhead, and Alvarez Varona, who gave Marek no help with any unforced errors, went on to win the game. After his forehand went way long on game point for Alvarez Varona, Marek bounced the ball in anger high in the air, and it came down on court 1, where a consolation semifinal match was in progress. Because Marek had already received a point penalty for racquet abuse earlier, he was penalized a game, which meant Alvarez Varona didn't have to serve, but won the game to make it 5-4.
Marek still had an opportunity to serve out the match, but after a good loud cry at the changeover, he still wasn't fully recovered from the trauma, with a few sobs escaping after he double faulted to make it 30-all. At 30-40, Alvarez Varona played some world class defense, running back to the back fence several times to get the ball back in play, and Marek finally netted a forehand to make it 5-5.
Alvarez Varona couldn't hold serve in the next game, but neither could Marek serve out the match for the second time, so a tiebreaker would decide the finalist.
Marek had two more match points at 6-4 in the tiebreaker, making an error on the first. But Alvarez Varona came up big on the second one, and the fourth overall, with a huge inside in forehand winner to make it 6-6. When Marek's return went long on the next point, Alvarez Varona had a match point, but it was Marek's turn to be brave. He hit a forehand volley winner too good for Alvarez Varona to track down to make it 7-7. Marek won the next point when Alvarez Varona shanked a backhand, and after a long point on match point number five, Alvarez Varona netted a backhand to put Marek in the final.
Marek raised his arms in triumph, and Alvarez Varona, composed but disappointed, spent a moment with his face in his towel before heading to the net and then to his racquet bag.
Marek will play Argentina's Juan Cerundolo, a No. 9 seed, who came back to beat Sebastian Grundtvig of Denmark 3-6, 6-4, 6-3.
The boys 12s final will be played at 9:00 on Monday at Salvadore Park, while the girls 12s and girls 14s go on at the same time at the University of Miami, with the boys 14s to follow.
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