Sponsored by IMG Academy

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Opelka Takes ITF Grade 1 International Hard Courts Title in Third Set Tiebreaker; Kalinskaya Sweeps Girls Championships

©Colette Lewis 2014--
College Park MD--

Top seed Anna Kalinskaya of Russia earned her ITF Grade 1 International Hard Courts singles title quickly Saturday, with No. 2 seed Gabby Ruse of Romania retiring down 6-2, 2-1 in the girls final.  The brevity of that final was more than compensated for by the boys final on the adjacent court, with unseeded Reilly Opelka defeating No. 2 seed Tim Van Rijthoven of the Netherlands 4-6, 6-4, 7-6(4) in a match lasting two hours and 30 minutes.

Morning showers forced play indoors at the Junior Tennis Champions Center for the second straight day, but Ruse said she had been suffering from problems with her right leg long before she called the trainer down 5-2 in the first set.

"In the second round I felt something in my leg, but today it was so bad," said the 16-year-old Ruse, who is entered in next week's Grade 1 in Canada, but is not sure whether she will play. "It was a good match and Anna played good, but I couldn't move. When I was serving it was a problem, and on the forehand, and I didn't want to retire at the US Open. It's much better to rest for a few days and play better at the US Open."

Kalinskaya said she didn't notice Ruse having any problems as a result of her injury, but the 15-year-old was wary of the delay halting her momentum.

"When she had the medical timeout, I thought don't relax, just continue to play," said Kalinskaya, who is training now with Robert Gomez at Tier One Tennis in Coral Gables, Florida. "I played really good and fast and I think I played very focused, so maybe it helped."

Kalinskaya held easily to take the first set, and when Ruse didn't get treatment at the set break and held to open the second set, a retirement didn't seem imminent. But after Kalinskaya held and Ruse was broken to fall behind 2-1, she approached the chair to announce she was retiring and shook Kalinskaya's hand.

Kalinskaya, who lost in her only other appearance in a Grade 1 final, was happy to collect her first title at that level less than 10 days from the start of the US Open Junior Championships.

"Now that I won this tournament, I feel more confident for the US Open," said Kalinskaya, who added she felt no disappointment about the way the match finished, "just happy to win."

The boys final was early in the second set when the girls match finished, but Opelka had just collected the break he needed, indeed his only break of the match, to take a 3-2 lead. Although Opelka had to work on his service games, he did manage to keep the lead without facing a break point, and when it came time to serve out the set, he did it with style, hitting three consecutive aces to give himself three set points.  Van Rijthoven handled the next kick serve and Opelka missed a volley, but a service winner on the next point evened the match at a set apiece.

Opelka had been broken in the opening set serving at 4-5, but he had also come from a set down against top seed Michael Mmoh in the semifinals, so there was no sign of panic from him.

In the third game of the final set, Van Rijthoven kept himself in the match by saving five break points.

"Every chance I had on his serve, he played unbelievable," Opelka said. "I had a love-40 game in the third and I didn't touch a ball. Both of us played phenomenal, I think, in the third set."

Van Rijthoven knew his chances to break Opelka would be few.

"I was kind of hoping to rally with him a little more," said Van Rijthoven, who was playing in his first Grade 1 final. "But he was serving amazing, and I had a disadvantage with my one-handed backhand. He was using that well, by kicking on my backhand."

After failing to break Van Rijthoven in the third game, Opelka faced a break point in the fourth, but saved it with that kick serve to the backhand and closed out the game with two winners.  Holds were routine until Opelka served at 5-6.  Up 40-15, Opelka missed a forehand long and it was deuce when Van Rijthoven rifled a forehand pass by Opelka at the net.  Van Rijthoven didn't get all he wanted on his forehand on the deuce point and Opelka responded with an angled forehand that forced an error to give Opelka another game point.  For the eighth time in the game, Opelka missed his first serve, and Van Rijthoven had him on a string blasting a forehand to one side of the court and then directing the response to the open court.  Opelka then came up with the shot of the tournament, somehow getting to the ball on the far sideline and hitting a running backhand passing shot by a startled Van Rijthoven to force the tiebreaker.

"It was probably kind of lucky," Opelka said of the shot, which spectators were still talking about long after the match was over. "But it was probably one of the best shots I could have hit from there."

Although Opelka celebrated with a loud yell, he knew he had to find the balance from the adrenaline produced from that shot.

"I was definitely excited after that point, but I also had to kind of realize that that point's over, we're tied." Opelka said.

Opelka lost his first service point in the tiebreaker to go down 2-0, but got the mini-break back and then took a 3-2 lead with a forehand winner. Opelka stepped up his serve then, getting his final four first serves in and Van Rijthoven couldn't defend against the forehands Opelka was generating in the rallies.

"After the first two points, it was pretty much flawless from me," said Opelka, who will be 17 next week. "I didn't miss a return, I stepped in on a lot of balls, played some good defense.  I played really well from the baseline today. I didn't serve as well as I have throughout the whole week, but it was good to win without doing what I'm used to doing."

Opelka said he isn't concerned about how the win will affect his ITF ranking but is happy to be heading to the US Open in good form.

"I don't really get caught up with the ITF ranking to be honest," said Opelka, who trains with Eric Nunez at the USTA's Boca Raton Center. "It's awesome that I won, I'm really excited, but I don't really look in to the rankings too much. It's a big confidence builder and I'm really excited to go to New York. Hopefully I can translate this over there and play like this."

The girls doubles championship was the final title decided Saturday, with No. 2 seeds Evgeniya Levashova and Kalinskaya defeating unseeded Gabby Andrews and Mia Horvit 6-3, 7-5.

Andrews and Horvit were up a break in the second set at 3-1 and 4-3, but couldn't keep the advantage.  The Russian pair took leads of 5-4 and 6-5, and Horvit was broken to end the match.

Levashova and Kalinskaya, who said they play together often, were ready for a tough match, knowing that Andrews is a two-time junior slam doubles champion.

"They play exactly like men," said Levashova, also 15 years old. "They go every time to the net, good serve, good return. So before the match we decided to put more pressure in these doubles, because we know it's going to be a hard match."

"They are very good, they played very aggressive," said Kalinskaya. "We tried to go to net and play more aggressive than them."

Despite their success this week, Kalinskaya and Levashova are not planning to play together at the US Open, but they will return to Miami to practice together next week to prepare for the Junior Championships.

For complete results, see the tournament website.