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Friday, August 29, 2014

My US Open Junior Preview; Six American Juniors Reach Final Round of Qualifying at US Open; Mmoh and Tiafoe's Week with Pros Comes to End

©Colette Lewis 2014--
Flushing Meadows, NY--

My preview of the US Open Junior Championships can be found today at the Tennis Recruiting Network.  There's been one late change: wild card Nathan Ponwith suffered an injury and Sameer Kumar was awarded Ponwith's wild card, taking Kumar out of qualifying, where he was the No. 11 seed. 

Two American boys, both wild cards, and four American girls, two of them wild cards, advanced to Saturday's final round of qualifying.  Gianni Ross defeated No. 3 seed Lloyd George Harris of South Africa 6-3, 6-4 and Kalamazoo 16s finalist Connor Hance defeated No. 6 seed Domagoj Biljesko of Croatia 6-3, 5-7, 6-1. Hance led 5-1 in the second set, only to lose six straight games, but he was able to get himself into the same situation in the third set and finished off the win.  

Wild cards Caroline Dolehide and Alexandra Sanford also took out seeded players, with Dolehide beating No. 9 seed Emily Arbuthnott of Great Britain 6-2, 6-4 and Sanford defeating No. 14 seed Ojasvinee Singh of India 6-3, 6-2.  Madison Bourguignon downed No. 6 seed Ioan Petroiu of Romania 7-5, 6-4 and Johnnise Renaud eliminated No. 12 seed Destanee Aiava of Australia 6-4, 6-3.

The finals round of qualifying begins at 10 a.m. on Saturday on the practice courts outside the East entrance gate and I will be there covering those six matches.

Although I didn't get settled in until nearly all the first round of junior qualifying matches were completed Friday, I did get an opportunity to see the second round men's doubles match with Michael Mmoh and Francis Tiafoe playing Scott Lipsky and Rajeev Ram.  The age disparity was remarkable, with Lipsky 33 and Ram 30, while Mmoh and Tiafoe are both 16.  The experience gap was obvious during the match, with the veterans earning the win by a 6-1, 6-4 score in front of a sparse crowd on court 17.

"We've never really played people like that who are constantly doing different stuff on the doubles court, switching on every serve," said Mmoh.  "They really played real doubles, compared to in juniors, when we never play anybody anywhere near like that. It was tough, and we obviously didn't play our best."

Mmoh and Tiafoe had beaten Victor Estrella of the Dominican Republic and Teymuraz Gabashvili of Russia 6-3, 6-4 on Wednesday, but that team didn't present the same challenges.

"They didn't play doubles," Tiafoe said of their first round opponents. "We were rallying crosscourt a lot. They would come in sometimes and one guy had pretty good hands, but there was no switching, mainly rallying a lot. We played unbelievable, got a lot of rhythm from the baseline, passing well, serving great. We were hoping that would happen today, but those guys weren't having baseline rallies."

The second set was much closer than the first, with no breaks of serve until Tiafoe was broken at 4-4.  Ram then served out the match, with aces on the last two points, although the first one had to be confirmed by Hawkeye, the first challenge by either team in the match.

"We kind of forgot about it," said Tiafoe, who had been on a court with Hawkeye once before, at the Citi Open last month. "There wasn't many close calls," Mmoh added. "They were calling them pretty well," Tiafoe said. "I tried to challenge at 40-15 too, but they didn't allow me to do that, it was pretty disappointing, I thought the serve could have been long."

"At the Citi Open I tried to challenge a couple times and I was always late," Tiafoe said. "You have to do it right away. I'm usually arguing with the ref, so I'm not dong it right away."

Another perk of playing on Court 17 is the serve speed indicator, with Mmoh taking fastest serve honors with a 131 mph bomb in the sixth game of the first set.

"It was probably one of the only good things in the match," Mmoh said.

But despite the loss, Mmoh and Tiafoe have enjoyed their week in New York and the status that comes with a main draw player's credential.

"First off, the locker room is humongous compared to the juniors'," Tiafoe said. "It's night and day. You have the past champions. You see all these pros live and you're so used to seeing them on TV. It's like you're dreaming kind of. At first, me and Mmoh only talked to each other we were so out of place.  You have a lot more access too. You are able to hit on the inside courts before the juniors can, we can pretty much go wherever we want.  You're much more respected and I've signed a lot of autographs--way more than we would if we were playing juniors."

"It's really amazing to see these guys every day," said Mmoh, who mentioned a conversation with Gael Monfils as a memorable moment during the week. "The experience was probably the best I've ever had at a tournament."

Both Mmoh and Tiafoe have hit with John Isner this week, and Tiafoe has had an opportunity to renew his acquaintance with Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, who he met back in March at an exhibition at Madison Square Garden.

"I had a pretty deep conversation with Novak yesterday," Tiafoe said. "That was pretty exciting, and me and Andy have been talking a lot. So the fact they exchange conversations with me means a lot to me and I'm happy to have the experience this week."

Mmoh and Tiafoe will now prepare for the Junior Championships, "back to reality" as Tiafoe put it, with Saturday an off day for them.

"We'll probably sleep in a little bit, get here at a decent time. We'll probably hit with each other, sign in for the tournament, get ready for the juniors. We've both been playing pretty well, so I think we'll go on a good run here, try to go out strong with the US crowd."

Complete draws and Saturday's schedule can be found at usopen.org