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Saturday, January 25, 2014

Zverev and Kulichkova Claim Australian Open Junior Titles; Liu Reaches Les Petits As Final

Alexander Zverev of Germany and Elizaveta Kulichkova of Russia saved their best tennis for last on Saturday, rolling to Australian Open championships on Rod Laver Arena.

Top seed Zverev, who was 0-4 against Kozlov coming into the match, started shakily, but once he got over his nerves, the 16-year-old raised his level, taking a 6-3, 6-0 victory.

Kozlov failed to take advantage of any of his ten break point opportunities, and once he rolled his left ankle down 2-0 in the second set, needing medical attention in mid-game, there wasn't much doubt about the outcome.

Zverev's serve was particularly effective; in addition to eight aces, he also came up with some excellent second serves when he needed them. On the Orange Bowl Har-Tru courts, where Kozlov had beaten Zverev 7-6, 6-0 last month, Zverev's serve didn't have the same impact as it did on the much faster hard courts in Melbourne. Kozlov's drop shot, which is usually effective against baseliners, wasn't particularly good the few times he used it, with Zverev's frequent trips to the net keeping Kozlov guessing.

The highlight for Kozlov probably came with Zverev serving in the sixth game of the first set, when he got four consecutive Zverev overheads back into play during a 28-shot rally, which Kozlov ended up winning. That made the score deuce, but rather than get frustrated by that amazing defense, Zverev won the next two points, helped by his big serves.

Kozlov was asked about that point in the press conference.

Q.  You had that one good point against him where you returned four overheads and won that point.  You remember that?

Q.  Was that a first for you, returning four overheads?

STEFAN KOZLOV:  No.  I do that once a week.

Of course Kozlov was joking; no one does that once a year, let alone once a week, but it was yet another demonstration of his extraordinary court sense and anticipation.

A year older than Kozlov, Zverev, who has already won the ITF World Junior championship for 2013, may be done with junior events after bagging his first junior slam title.  Once his ankles (he turned his right ankle in the semifinals) are back at 100%, Kozlov will concentrate on pro events until this summer, but is still expected to play the remaining three junior slams this year.

Girls champion Kulichkova, who beat unseeded Jana Fett of Croatia 6-2, 6-1, will turn 18 in April, is unlikely to play another junior event, having already reached 264 in the WTA rankings. Using a good first serve and some powerful groundstrokes, the fourth-seeded Kulichkova overcame the pressure of being the favorite and the unfamiliar surroundings to play freely.  From the transcript:

But I was surprised that I didn't feel any pressure.  I felt like I'm exactly where I should be.  I felt really good on court. 

Like I said, I felt I'm going to do this.  I was pretty sure.  I was really confidence.  I was the girl who was expected to win.

I suspect the confidence she got from winning a $25,000 ITF Women's tournament earlier in the month in Hong Kong also was a factor, and Kulichkova fully expects to return to the Australian Open next year in the women's draw.  As the girls champion, she will automatically receive a qualifying wild card, should she need it. Last year's champion Ana Konjuh, who, like Kulichkova won both singles and doubles, used her qualifying wild card to earn her way into the main draw. Kulichkova says her goal for 2014 is top 100; if she reaches that and stays there, she won't need to play qualifying.

The four transcripts from the junior press conferences are available at the Australian Open website, and I recommend you read them all. Zverev's comments on the difference between the pros and the juniors (not much) are especially interesting.

Also take some time to read the interview with doubles champions Robert Lindstedt and Lukasz Kubot, who defeated Eric Butorac and Raven Klaasen 6-3, 6-3 in the final.  Lindstedt, who played college tennis at Pepperdine, had reached three straight Wimbledon finals with Horia Tecau from 2010-2012, losing them all, before breaking through for his first slam title this year in Melbourne, at age 36.

Junior Orange Bowl champion Claire Liu of the United States has reached the final at Les Petits As, the prestigious 14-and-under competition in Tarbes, France.  Liu, the No. 4 seed, beat Katarina Zavatska of Ukraine 6-2, 6-4. The 13-year-old from Thousand Oaks will play No. 12 seed Bianca Andreescu of Canada in the final, after Andreescu came back to post a 2-6, 6-2, 6-4 win over unseeded Elysia Bolton of the US.

The boys final will be between unseeded wild card Rayane Roumane of France and No. 11 seed Nicola Kuhn of Germany.  Roumane defeated Canadian Nicaise Muamba of Canada 7-6(4), 1-6, 7-6(4), while Teen Tennis champion Kuhn topped No. 12 seed Roscoe Bellamy of the US 7-5, 6-1. 

Roumane already has one title, winning the doubles, again as an unseeded wild card, with Hugo Gaston. Roumane and Gaston defeated No. 8 seeds Evzen Holis and Tomas Jirousek of the Czech Republic 7-5, 2-6, 10-6. The girls doubles title went to top seed Olesya Pervushina and Anastasia Potapova of Russia, who beat Andreescu and Maria Tanasescu of Canada, the No. 3 seeds, 7-6(4), 6-2.

For complete draws, see the tournament website.


Jenny LeSerf said...

That point about court speed being a factor is kind of deceiving. The courts really weren't fast at this year's Oz Open so it shows you how slow they were playing at the Orange Bowl. That lack of speed gave Koz a huge advantage because right now he's just a grinder and a counter-puncher and when Zverev wanted to be aggressive the courts were holding him back.

We're all really surprised that you'd think Zverev would be done with the juniors. He'll only have just turned be 17 before the French and he could get a lot more sponsorship value out of doing well in Paris and at Wimbledon.

Kov will do better at the French, if the courts play real slow. Wouldn't be surprised to see him win there.

Colette Lewis said...

Good points, although I'm not sure "just" is warranted. Grinders and counter-punchers are not lesser tennis players, as Djokovic, even Nadal, have proven.
I hope Zverev continues to play juniors, and he may, if he doesn't have notable results in Challengers, Futures, ATP Qualifying.

Ausopen said...


Are you saying Novak and Rafael are counterpunchers?

Colette Lewis said...


Ausopen said...

Then could you tell me who would be an aggressive baseliner or all court player? Nadal probably hits one of of not the biggest fh on tour (when I say biggest heaviest). So if these guys are counter punchers then who would be an aggressive baseliner? These guys have very good court position and dictate play with speed, spin, power, as well as position.

I personally don't think there is such thing as a counterpuncher on tour anymore. The closest today might be a Simon. I would love to get others thoughts....

ptwahoo said...

I'd say Berdych and Wawrinka could be considered aggressive baseliners in contrast to Novak and Nadal being counterpunchers. But I agree with you, Ausopen, that there isn't really such thing as the traditional counterpuncher in pro tennis anymore. Even Simon can hit scorching winners when he wants. The line is so fine that the only thing capable of really classifying Nole/Rafa in the counterpuncher category would be their far superior abilities to absorb pace and turn defense in to offense.

But I'd have to say that I don't think one could survive at the top of Junior tennis as a counterpuncher either. Kozlov has "very good court position and dictate[s] play with speed, spin, power..." control, angles, change of pace, etc... He's not exactly an aggressive baseliner but calling him "just a grinder and a counter-puncher" is vastly underestimating him. If that were true he should be getting eaten alive in futures and junior grand slams because he's not exactly the most physically built or fast and athletic kid out there. He must be doing something right.

USA Tennis said...

Just because you are a great defender doesn't make you an obvious "counterpuncher". Rafa is an aggressive baseliner. A counter puncher will change his game/patterns according to who he is playing. Rafa will look to take control of the point as early as he can with his forehand.

I would say that Murray is more of a counter puncher than Novak and especially Rafa.

The courts were actually medium fast at the Australian open. The Show courts were playing a little slower than the outside courts.

Kozlov relies on the pace of his opponents, which high majority will hit harder than him, so he is mostly a counter puncher, but that could change as he gets older, stronger, faster, etc.