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Saturday, October 11, 2014

Raveena Kingsley Claims ITF Pan American Closed Girls Singles Championship, Michael Mmoh Sweeps Boys Titles

©Colette Lewis 2014--
Tulsa, OK--

A year ago, Raveena Kingsley lost in the first round of the ITF Pan American Closed, battling for over three hours before falling to to Madison Bourguignon in a grueling match that finished under the lights. This year she return to Tulsa and claimed the title, defeating unseeded Claire Liu 6-1, 6-4 on the indoor courts of the Michael D. Case Tennis Center at the University of Tulsa.

Michael Mmoh was a semifinalist and doubles champion last year; his return to Tulsa resulted in not one, but two titles, taking the doubles with Taylor Fritz and beating No. 9 seed William Blumberg 7-5, 6-3 for the singles championship.

Kingsley, the third seed, had dropped only one set in her march to the final, and she played well from the beginning against the 14-year-old Liu.

"Everything that's been working for me throughout this tournament helped me in the final," said Kingsley, who went up 5-0 in the first set before Liu got on the board. "My serve started out great, sort of dropped in the middle, but then I picked it back up again."

After taking the first set in 35 minutes, Kingsley faced a tougher challenge from Liu, who fought back from 2-0 down in the second set, only to get broken the next two times she served.  Kingsley was taking advantage of Liu's frequent second serves, taking control of the point if the return wasn't an outright winner.

"I didn't really play that well," said Liu, who had lost to Kingsley in the third round of ITF Grade 1 International Hard Court Championships back in August. "My first serve percentage was really low. I had chances, in the second set, to get even with her and I didn't convert them."

With Kingsley serving at 4-3, Liu had two break points at 15-40, but Kingsley won four consecutive points, with her serve a major factor, to stay in front.  Liu fought back from 0-30 down in the next game to hold, but Kingsley showed no sign of nerves closing out her first Grade 1 title, hitting out and going for the lines whenever she had an opportunity.

As for the strides she made in the past 12 months, Kingsley singled out her serve, but added, "everything is improved from last year. I've been working a lot on everything."

Kingsley, who turned 16 in July, is now at the Dent Academy in Southern California and she will be returning there to train next week. Although her ITF ranking, now 47, will rise substantially with this title, she is not focusing on a number now.

"It's not about the ranking for me," said Kingsley, who reached the third round of the US Open junior championships last month. "It's about me improving. I want to improve to the point where I'm doing well in grand slams and then hopefully I can gradually go into the pros. That's my goal."

Liu, nearly two full years younger, is on her way to the qualifying of the $25,000 Pro Circuit women's tournament in South Carolina, where she'll be in the qualifying starting Sunday. She is happy with her week in Tulsa, but not satisfied.

"I'm just focusing on the matches that I played well and try to learn from this one--and get better," said Liu, who beat three seeds en route to her first ITF Grade 1 final.

Although Mmoh was the top seed, he lived on the edge of defeat throughout the week. He trailed Nathan Perrone 6-4, 3-0 in his first round match, saved two match points in his 7-5, 5-7, 7-6(4) quarterfinal win over No. 10 seed Tommy Paul and was down a set and a break to No. 3 seed Sameer Kumar in the semifinals Friday before posting a 3-6, 7-5, 6-1 win.

In the final, Mmoh looked certain to go down a set against Blumberg, with Blumberg serving at 5-4 40-0 in the first.  Blumberg missed a forehand wide on the first set point and on the second, Mmoh stayed in the point until he finally took control of it, then hit an overhead winner. On the third set point, Blumberg decided to serve and volley on his second serve, and Mmoh put the return at his feet, which Blumberg couldn't handle.  A netted Blumberg backhand made it four straight points for Mmoh who roared loudly when he won his fifth, another overhead winner, to make it 5-5.

Mmoh recognized he possessed a decided psychological advantage after Blumberg lost that game.

"It's always tough," said Mmoh. "Even when we played last time in the 14s, I had two match points at 5-4 and those next two games at five-all, you can't play your game. That's what makes those top guys amazing, because they forget about it and just play. But us juniors...he just went totally off his game and I could tell he was thinking about it a lot. And because of that, I kind of put the pressure on him a little more, and it's so tough, but he did crack."

Blumberg said the level of his game in the first set was all he could have hoped, at least until those three set points.

"I was serving well in the first set, a solid first serve percentage, playing solid points, battling for points," said the 16-year-old from Connecticut. "Then 5-4 40-0, I miss every first serve, I did not battle for points. I missed a bunch of quick points just trying to end the set fast. When something like that happens, it's tough to regain, get back in that set. But credit to him, he's an unbelievable player."

After losing the first set and the first two games of the second, Blumberg could have packed it in, but he didn't, breaking Mmoh at love in the third game and holding for 2-2. But Mmoh picked up his serving, broke for 4-2 and held for 5-2 to regain control.

Blumberg saved a match point serving at 2-5 with a huge forehand winner and served out the game with two aces.  Mmoh trailed 15-30 in the final game but won the final three points to claim the title.

"I know for a fact that Will's an unbelievable competitor," said Mmoh, who recently won the ITF Junior Davis Cup team title with Blumberg. "He'll never give up. I've known him forever and seen him play a lot of matches. No matter what happens, he's always going to come back. He's playing really well, and to be honest, first set, he was playing a lot better than me. He's playing really aggressively, and it's good to see that."

Blumberg is returning home to Connecticut, but plans to play the Grade A in Mexico next month as well as Eddie Herr and Orange Bowl. Mmoh is also expected to play those junior events, but is not defending his Grade A title in Osaka Japan later this month. Instead Mmoh is heading straight to the $15,000 Futures in Mansfield Texas, where he has been given a main draw wild card.

"I'd like to finish Top 10 again, that would be really good," said Mmoh. "I'm a lot more confident now than I was earlier in the year, and I think if I keep playing my game, I should be fine."

The girls doubles title went to Canada's Charlotte Robillard-Millette and Marie-Alexandre Leduc, the No. 7 seeds who defeated No. 6 seeds Abi Altick and Ellyse Hamlin 6-0, 7-5 in the final, also played indoors.  After two walkovers in the quarterfinals and semifinals, Altick and Hamlin were understandably rusty, but they took a 5-2 lead in the second set, only to see Robillard-Millette and Leduc roar back, winning two key deciding points.

With Hamlin serving at 5-4 in the second set, Robillard-Millette and Leduc took the deuce point when Altick missed a first volley at the net. With Altick serving to force a second set tiebreaker, she and Hamlin had three game points, but the final one, the deuce point, went to the Canadian pair when Hamlin's poach didn't clear the net.

Robillard-Millette and Leduc had come back from 5-1 down in the second set in their quarterfinal match with Meghan Kelley and Gabby Pollner to win it 7-5, and they took the title without being forced into a match tiebreaker.

"We've had some pretty good comebacks this tournament," said Robillard-Millette. "We've been good under pressure, handling the pressure pretty good, so I think that was in our favor today. We focus on what we have to do, and not the score or anything, and that's what we did today."

Although they've played together previously, it wasn't until this week that their partnership clicked, according to Robillard-Millette.

"This is the first tournament where everything was falling into place," said the 16s Orange Bowl champion. "The volleys were more sharp and it's the first time we've really connected."

As for playing indoors, that required no adjustment.

"It's fine," said Leduc, who is from Quebec. "We play indoors all winter."

The boys doubles final closed the tournament, with Mmoh and Taylor Fritz, playing together for the first time, defeating No. 4 seeds Alfredo Perez and Alejandra Tabilo of Canada 6-2, 6-3.

None of the matches the top seeds played went to a third set, and they didn't surrender more than five games in any of the ten sets they won.

"I was surprised how easily we got past every single match this week," Mmoh said. "We really kept focus every single point. Returns, serves, we just really worked well together. I wasn't expecting it to go this smoothly the first time."

Fritz, who is heading to the Grade A in Osaka, which begins on the 20th, said he and Mmoh were able to build on their big games.

"I feel like when I made a good return to start off the game, Mmoh would back it up and we would just keep going," Fritz said. "I felt like we got a lot of early leads in games."

"We were just playing freely," Mmoh added. "We weren't nervous or anything, just hitting our shots. We're for sure going to play again with each other based on this week."

Complete draws can be found at the ITF junior website.