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Friday, July 4, 2014

Rubin, Fritz and Kozlov Make History in Reaching Wimbledon Boys Semifinals

Taylor Fritz beats Filippo Baldi in three sets to advance to semifinals

©Colette Lewis 2014--

They may be missing a major summer holiday back home, but Noah Rubin, Taylor Fritz and Stefan Kozlov celebrated with fireworks of their own on the Fourth of July, with all three winning tight matches to advance to the Wimbledon boys semifinals.

The United States has had two boys semifinalists on numerous occasions, most recently in 2009, but this is the first time since 1975 that three Americans have made the final four.

Unseeded qualifier Rubin defeated unseeded Tim van Rijthoven of the Netherlands 7-6(6) 7-6(5) to earn his first junior slam semifinal berth. He'll meet unseeded Taylor Fritz, who won the final four games of the match against unseeded Fillipo Baldi of Italy to claim a 7-5, 6-7(5), 7-5 victory.  No. 6 seed Kozlov advanced with a 6-4, 7-6(6) win over No. 2 seed and 2013 finalist Hyeon Chung of Korea, winning the final four points of the tiebreaker to advance to his second junior slam semifinal. The 2014 Australian Open boys finalist will play No. 8 seed Johan Sebastien Tatlot of France Saturday.

Rubin had beaten van Rijthoven 6-0, 6-2 in the first round of qualifying at the French Open juniors last month, but the surface change made this encounter much, much closer.

"He obviously didn't play his best on clay, but he's a big guy with a tremendous serve," said Rubin, and 18-year-old from New York. "I knew it was going to be a close one. I hit a couple of good shots, it's 0-30, and three aces. That's it, it's 40-30, and there goes the game. You just have to keep focus and know it's going to happen, understand that. And I think I did that pretty well."

Van Rijthoven had ten aces in the first set, and Rubin suffered his only service break of the match in the fourth game. Van Rijthoven held for a 4-1 lead, but Rubin got the break back in the seventh game, the last break of the match, and won a tense tiebreaker from the 17-year-old right-hander.

Noah Rubin will meet Fritz in Saturday's semifinal
The second tiebreaker also came down to just a few points, with van Rijthoven unable to capitalize on a 3-0 lead. He double faulted for only the second time in the match at 4-2 to give back the minibreak, and at 5-5 missed a simple forehand volley when he was less than two feet from the net to give Rubin a match point. Rubin converted, with van Rijthoven's forehand going long.

"There's nothing you can say about it," Rubin said of van Rijthoven's missed volley. "I've played matches in the past where I've done it. It's just one of those days. I could have lost the next point and it would have been 6-all. I knew I had to get that point, probably my last opportunity, so I just took it, and wanted to relax after that."

In facing Fritz on Saturday, Rubin faces a similar challenge, and a similar history, having defeated Fritz 6-1, 6-0 in the first round of a Futures tournament in Spain at the end of May.  But he knows the surface will again give the serve extra importance.

"A big server can come out on any given day, and that can be it," said Rubin, playing in his third Wimbledon Junior Championships.

Fritz is playing in his third junior slam, with the 16-year-old from Southern California having made his debut at last year's US Open.  He was certain that with his serve, grass would be his best surface, and after reaching the semifinals in the Roehampton Grade 1 last week, he again has demonstrated his affinity for the surface.

In his two-hour win over the 18-year-old Baldi, Fritz did not have his best serving day, despite 18 aces. He made only 52 percent of his first serves and up a break twice in the second set, he couldn't consolidate either time.

"To be up a set and up a break two different times and to get broken right afterwards, I was so mad," Fritz said. "If I break twice in a set, it's inexcusable for me not to win it. If I break once, on grass, I should win the set. But I give him credit, he caught on and was doing some very smart things on my serve. He'd hit a strategically short, low ball on the return that I couldn't do anything with. It was just very confusing to deal with."

Baldi served for the match at 5-4 in the third set, but was unable to get more than one point in the game.

"I made all my returns, came up with a couple of big deep returns," said Fritz. "And then he gave me a mistake at the end, which I expected. I had heard he would make mistakes and he hadn't been missing at all, so it had to be sometime."

At 5-5 in the third, Fritz's serve didn't give him his usual lift.

"I want to say I served ten points that game and I missed all my first serves," Fritz said. "The sun was awful.  But I can't believe I held that game, I shouldn't have held."

With Baldi serving at 5-6, Fritz earned two match points at 15-40, but Baldi saved the first.

"He played a very good point," Fritz said. "I have to give him that. He came to the net, made volleys. On the match point I won, I told myself to do a little pattern change. I took it flat and went line and got him really out of position and he barely got the ball over the net. I told myself to just put it in down the line and make him pass you on the run. He just swatted at it, there was no chance," Fritz said of Baldi's reply, which sailed way long.

As for facing Rubin again, Fritz said he has already put the May loss out of his mind.

"I just struggled to put balls in the court," said Fritz. "Certain matches, you just have those days. It doesn't hurt my confidence going into playing him the next time at all."

Stefan Kozlov reaches the semifinals with win over Chung
Kozlov's win over Chung was built on a strategy of playing aggressively from the start.

"I thought that was one of the only ways I could beat him," Kozlov said of his nemesis from their younger junior days. "He's a solid player, and I knew if he took control I would be in trouble. There was a little fatigue and I didn't want to do all the running, and I thought there was a better chance for me if I played more aggressive, the way I did."

After seeing a 4-1 lead slip away in the first set, Kozlov came up with a big shot at a big time to steal the set. After Chung led 40-15 serving at 4-5, Kozlov got a gift from Chung in the form of a missed drop shot, then converted his only set point with a strong backhand forcing an error.

Trailing 3-1 in the second set, Kozlov got the break back and took a 6-5 lead, earning two match points at 15-40.  But Chung saved them both with putaways on short balls and held to force a tiebreaker.

Errors by both players kept the tiebreaker close, but Chung earned two set points at 6-4. Kozlov hit a forehand winner to save the first, on Chung's serve, then cracked one of his four aces to save the second, after the lineswoman corrected her initial call of out.

At 6-6, more aggressive hitting from Kozlov forced a forehand error from Chung to give Kozlov match point number three. Kozlov's relief was evident after Chung's forehand went long, as he fell face down on the baseline dirt and stayed there for several seconds after the 72-minute set came to a close.

"The whole match I was really emotional, to be honest," said Kozlov, 16. "I was a little nervous going into it and there were a lot of ups and downs. To come back from 6-4 down in the breaker, I was just really happy to win. I thought the match was slipping away, to be honest. I'm not going to say I got lucky; I played very well when I needed to and I'm just very happy to be through."

Tatlot, an 18-year-old who defeated wild card Joshua Sapwell of Great Britain 7-6(5), 6-1 in a featured match on Court 18, has split his two meetings with Kozlov, both on clay last year in South America.

"A lot has changed since then," Kozlov said. "I won one and lost one, so tomorrow it's just going to be whoever competes better and has a better day."

The girls singles semifinals do not feature any US players, with No. 3 seed Tornado Alicia Black and qualifier Michaela Gordon falling in straight sets today.  Black was beaten 6-3, 6-1 by unseeded Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia, who won Roehampton last week, while Gordon lost to No. 8 seed Kristina Schmiedlova of Slovakia 6-3, 6-3.

Ostapenko will meet 15-year-old Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic, who has reached the semifinals in the French and at Wimbledon, her first two junior slam. Vondrousova, the No. 12 seed, defeated unseeded Paula Badosa Gibert of Spain 6-3, 6-2.

Schmiedlova's opponent in the semifinals is Elena Ruse of Romania, who is playing in just her second junior slam at age 16, the first being last month's French Open.

Two Americans remain in the doubles semifinals.  Kozlov and Andrey Rublev of Russia, the top seeds, avenged their 2013 Orange Bowl finals loss to Baldi and Lucas Miedler of Austria with a 7-6(5), 6-2 victory Friday afternoon.  They will play No. 7 seeds Petros Chrysochos of Cyprus and Nino Serdarusic of Croatia, who won their quarterfinal match over Rafael Matos and Joao Menezes of Brazil 6-2, 6-7(1), 9-7.

Naoki Nakagawa and van Rijthoven upset top seeds Tatlot and Quentin Halys of France 6-3, 7-6(7) to earn a place in the semifinals against No. 3 seeds Orlando Luz and Marcelo Zormann of Brazil.

Unseeded Usue Arconada and her partner Fanny Stollar of Hungary won their third straight three-set match, beating No. 4 seeds Katie Boulter of Great Britain and Ivana Jorovic of Serbia 7-6(5), 5-7, 9-7.  They will play unseeded Tami Grende of Indonesia and Qui Yu Ye of China, who upset top seeds Anhelina Kalinina of Ukraine and Iryna Shymanovich of Belarus 7-6(3), 7-5. 

The only seeded team remaining in the girls semifinals is No. 2 Priscilla Hon of Australia and Jil Belen Teichmann of Switzerland, who advanced with a 6-3, 6-1 win over Katherine Sebov of Canada and Leticia Garcia Vidal of Brazil.  They will play Maria Bouzhova of the Czech Republic and Dalma Galfi of Hungary, who defeated No. 3 seeds Black and Naiktha Bains of Australia 6-1, 2-6, 6-3.

For complete draws and Saturday's order of play, see the Wimbledon website.


Brent said...

So, we have three Americans in the Wimbledon doubles finals, we are dying for some Americans to cheer for, and ESPN chooses to show a Djokovic/Dmitrov replay instead of a live finals? What in the world?

russ said...

you could've seen it on ESPN3. Great match, loved watching it. Congrats to Jack and vasek. It might be available on replay, btw.

russ said...

PS: Also saw portions of Rubin v Fritz on ESPN 3. My guess is that it will be available tomorrow as well.

Brent said...

I did watch it on ESPN3. Doesn't change the point that the programming decision was still ridiculous. Chris Fowler tweeted that they were actively campaigning to show the doubles but were ignored.

Congrats to Rubin, Kozlov, and Fritz for a great showing!

Russ said...

I actually enjoyed watching the live streams from British TV far more than ESPN commentary. The ESPN crew simply can't shut up. Not that they're any different from any other American TV sports coverage. It really drives me crazy and at times I have a hard time deciding which is more annoying: Sharapova's shrieks or American TV commentary.