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Friday, September 5, 2014

Qualifier Dolehide Celebrates Birthday with Trip to US Open Girls Semifinals; Tiafoe Defeats Top Seed Rublev; Stewart Rolls to Semis; Giron and Kobelt, Elbaba and Loeb in American Collegiate Invitational Final Saturday

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

Caroline Dolehide will celebrate her 16th birthday tonight with a dinner in Manhattan, but that's not her only reason to celebrate.  The Hinsdale, Illinois resident gave herself a gift today, defeating No. 4 seed and 2013 finalist Tornado Alicia Black 6-3, 7-5 to reach the semifinals of the US Open Junior Championships, the first junior slam she's played.

Dolehide is one of three Americans in the semifinals, with No. 6 seed Francis Tiafoe beating No. 1 seed Andrey Rublev of Russia 6-1, 5-7, 6-4 to reach the boys semifinals, and Katerina Stewart rolling into the girls semifinals with a 6-2, 6-0 victory over unseeded Greetje Minnen of Belgium.

Dolehide trailed Black 3-1 in the first set, but found her range and her offensive game, taking five games in a row to snare the first set.

"I just had to stay mentally strong," said Dolehide, who has beaten the No. 10, No 6 and No 4 seeds this week. "That's what helped me get back. She started playing more defensive and I capitalized on that."

Dolehide credited her serve for getting out of tight situations.  In her final two service games, at 4-5 and serving for the match at 6-5, Dolehide was down 0-30 in each, but big serves on those crucial points helped her get out of trouble.

"That was really big for me, to make those two serves at 0-30," Dolehide said of her ace and service winner at that stage of the final game.

Black agreed Dolehide's attitude and serve were keys to her win.

"She stayed tough at points when she was down, so I have to give her credit for that," said Black. "I thought I was making too many errors during the match. And she was serving really good throughout the whole match, she hit some aces, it was good."

Dolehide has now won six matches in the past eight days, including two in qualifying, but she still can't quite grasp that's she reached the semifinals.

"I really think this is a surprise," Dolehide said. "I knew I could get this far, I had self confidence that I could get here, but now that I'm here, I can't believe it."

Dolehide said she will take advantage of what's available at the Open, with an ice bath and a massage on the schedule before the birthday celebration with her mother and family friends who flew in this week from Illinois.

Dolehide's semifinal opponent is unseeded 16-year-old Marie Bouzkova of the Czech Republic, who defeated No. 11 seed Anna Kalinskaya of Russia 6-2, 6-2 and has yet to drop a set in the tournament.

Tiafoe reached his first junior slam semifinal with a roller coaster of a match against ITF world junior No. 1 Rublev that should have produced some deja vu for him but didn't.

Up 6-1 in 16 minutes, playing sparkling tennis, the 16-year-old from Maryland didn't let up, taking a 5-1 lead in the second set. He failed to serve out the match at 5-2, never getting to match point, but he did have two match points with Rublev serving at 3-5.

The large and pro-American crowd gathered on Court 11 was poised to celebrate a stunningly simple win when Tiafoe cracked a forehand return at 15-40, but it landed just long. Tiafoe then missed a backhand return on a second serve, and despite the rhythmic clapping of the crowd trying to boost Tiafoe's energy, Rublev held.

Visibly discouraged, Tiafoe attempted to serve out the match again but he couldn't convince himself that he could.

"Serving for it at 5-4, I knew I was getting broken," said Tiafoe, who lost that service game and the next one on double faults. "I was starting to get a little tight, and I'm not 100 percent, so that doesn't help either. After the serve, just kind of hitting the ball as hard as I can. I'm still surprised I even won, to be honest. I thought he was going to roll over me in the third. But I just kept battling, just tried to stay with him. It was not easy."

Tiafoe said he felt like he was going to throw up and was struggling physically, adding that the medical time out he took at 1-1 in the third set was to get some rest, not for any real elbow injury.

Rublev saved two break points serving at 2-2, but Tiafoe got two more in Rublev's next service game.  Rublev saved those with a forehand winner and an ace, but he made a unforced error, netting a backhand on the third break point and Tiafoe had a 4-3 lead. Rublev then elected to take a medical time out, receiving treatment on his right shoulder, which Tiafoe said he doubted was the real reason.

The delay didn't disrupt him however, as he held at love, but Rublev held to force Tiafoe to serve it out.

In his third round win over Marcelo Zormann on Thursday, Tiafoe had had two match points serving at 5-4 in the second set before losing the set in his 6-4, 5-7, 6-3 victory, but he said that never occurred to him today.

Serving out the match after failing to do so twice in the second set was bound to be tense, and it was.  On his third match point, Tiafoe netted a forehand and on the fourth, Rublev passed him after retrieving a poor drop shot.  Tiafoe had to save a break point with a good first serve out wide, and then with ace, reached match point number five.  He went for a forehand and made it, and he immediately sent his racquet high in the air, raised his arms and took his time walking to the net for an embrace with Rublev. He peeled off his sweat-soaked shirt and acknowledged the crowd's effort on his behalf.

"The crowd was great today," Tiafoe said. "17 is a good court (and the site of his third round match Thursday) but I didn't really feel the energy. But today it was great. It was pretty packed. That probably helped me, because I was dying and they just kept pulling for me. That always helps."

Tiafoe began cramping after the match, "pretty much full body" as he described it, delaying his press conference by several hours, but he is looking forward to playing in the semifinals, against France's Quentin Halys, who beat him 6-0, 6-2 last year in the first round.

"He's been playing great," Tiafoe said of the 18-year-old Halys, although he went on to say that he really wanted to play Stefan Kozlov, who retired down 3-1 in the first set against Halys with foot pain. "After [Halys] handled me last year, I really got serious about tennis, I thought, started working a lot harder, not joking around on the practice courts, trying in fitness. I got stronger and taller and now I'm really going after this."

The other boys semifinal is between two unseeded players, with Australia's Omar Jasika taking on Germany's Jan Choinski.  Jasika defeated No. 7 seed Duck Hee Lee 6-4 7-5 and Choinski ended the run of qualifier Mikael Ymer 6-2, 3-6, 6-2.

The second girls semifinal is between Stewart and No. 9 seed Anhelina Kalinina of Ukraine, both of whom have yet to drop a set in the tournament.  Kalinina ousted No. 3 seed Iryna Shymanovich of Belarus 6-4, 6-3, while Stewart needed only 53 minutes to dismiss Minnen.

"Obviously I was expecting a tougher match," said the 17-year-old Stewart, who said Court 17, the site of her victory was her favorite court and 17 her lucky number. "I was really focusing on being consistent, playing my game. I was really loose out there, I'm getting really comfortable out there and basically I just played better than her today."

Stewart said she was told she and Minnen had similar games and was expecting along match, since "grinder versus grinder usually takes five hours," she said.

"She thinks the same way that I do, she wants to create the points, doesn't go bang, bang like everybody else does," said Stewart. "I just have a different swing path, I guess, compared to her. She just hits lower."

Stewart, who received a wild card for winning the USTA Girls 18s Clay Courts this year, has had a tremendous season, so her performance this week is not unexpected.

"I'm so happy the summer's been so great," said Stewart, who won two $10,000 Pro Circuit tournaments before winning the Clay Courts. "I couldn't have asked for a better summer. All the hard work pays off--it takes time and no one wants to wait, but at least it's coming together and I'm going to keep working hard and see if I can keep going in this tournament."

The doubles finals are set for Saturday with unseeded teams playing No. 6 seeds in both the boys and girls championships matches.  The unseeded Brazilian team of Rafael Matos and Joao Menezes will play No. 6 seeds Naoki Nakagawa of Japan and Jasika of Australia for the boys doubles title. Matos and Menezes defeated unseeded Viktor Durasovic of Norway and Nicolae Frunza of Romania 6-4, 6-3.  Jasika and Nakagawa defeated unseeded Filippo Baldi of Italy and Lucas Miedler of Austria 2-6, 6-1, 13-11.

Unseeded Vera Lapko of Belarus and Tereza Mihalikova of Slovakia will play No. 6 seed Ipek Soylu of Turkey and Jil Teichmann of Switzerland. Lapko and Mihalikova defeated Maia Lumsden of Great Britain and Fanny Stollar of Hungary 6-3, 6-3. Soylu and Teichmann downed No. 7 seeds Viktoria Kuzmova and Kristina Schmiedlova of Slovakia 6-3, 6-1.

The semifinals begin at 11 a.m. on Saturday.  Draws are available at usopen.org.

The American Collegiate Invitational finals are set for Saturday, with top seeds and ITA Players of the Year Jamie Loeb of North Carolina and Marcos Giron of UCLA aiming for the US Open wild card, in qualifying or in main draw, that goes to the winner.

Loeb, who beat NCAA champion Danielle Collins 6-3, 6-1 in Friday's semifinals, will play fellow New Yorker Julia Elbaba of Virginia in the girls final.  Elbaba defeated Kristie Ahn of Stanford 3-6, 6-1, 6-1. In their only meeting in college last season, Loeb beat Elbaba 6-1, 7-5.

Giron will play Ohio State's Peter Kobelt, who got by No. 2 seed Clay Thompson of UCLA 7-6(6), 7-6(2).  In a rematch of the 2013 NCAA final, Giron outlasted Pepperdine's Alex Sarkissian 1-6, 6-1, 6-4.

Saturday's winners will receive main draw US Open wild cards if the men’s champion is ranked 250 or above and the women’s champion is ranked 150 or above at the entry cutoff date for the 2015 US Open. If they have not reached those rankings, the winners will receive 2015 US Open qualifying wild cards. The champions will also get wild cards into two USTA Pro Circuit events, while each runner-up will get one.

Steve Pratt is covering the tournament for the USTA and his story on today's matches is here.  Additional coverage can be found at usopen.org.