Mmoh and Opelka Reach Eddie Herr ITF Final; Galfi and Ruse Meet for Girls Title; Ho, Kenin Win Girls Doubles; Seven Americans in Finals of 12s, 14s and 16s Divisions
©Colette Lewis 2014--
Boys Eddie Herr 18s champions are rare enough--four in all since 1997--but one is a certainty this year, with Sunday's Grade 1 ITF final at the IMG Academy featuring two Americans for the first time ever. No. 2 seed Michael Mmoh and unseeded Reilly Opelka will meet for the third time since August after both posted straight set victories in Saturday's semifinals.
Saturday's weather, as it had been throughout the week, was warm and sunny, with no wind to cause any problems, as the two Americans competed side by side on the Academy's Har-Tru courts.
Mmoh's opponent, No. 3 seed Seong Chan Hong of Korea, was 0-3 against Mmoh with two three-set losses this year, including in the final of last month's Grade A in Mexico City. Hong started quickly, extending Mmoh's first service game for 15 minutes, hitting the ball deeper than Mmoh and keeping the 16-year-old American on the defensive, although there were no breaks until Mmoh was broken in the seventh game. After three straight breaks of serve, Hong was up 5-4 and serving for the set, but he played a ghastly game, with two unforced errors and a double fault after Mmoh had hit a winner to go up 15-0 in the game.
After Mmoh held for 6-5, Hong needed to do the same to force a tiebreaker, but at 30-all he missed two forehands and Mmoh had the set. Any belief the 17-year-old Korean might have had evaporated and Mmoh cruised through the second set for the 7-5, 6-2 win.
"I definitely think he believes he can beat me, but I think after he lost the first a lot of things were going on through his head," Mmoh said. "He kind of washed away completely in the second, maybe thinking I don't want to go three sets with this guy and lose again in the third set. I've been 0-3 against players, like [France's Johan Sebastien] Tatlot, and it's definitely not an easy thing going into the match, belief-wise and confidence-wise."
A straight-set win is a rarity for Mmoh this week, with Saturday's only his second, but Opelka has yet to require a third set, after saving a set point in his 6-4, 7-6(7) win over No. 8 seed Hubert Hurkacz of Poland.
The 6-foot-10 Opelka rarely drops serve, so early break point opportunities need to be seized. Unfortunately for Hurkacz, he was unable to convert either of his two break points in the opening game of the match and he got almost no chances after that.
"I didn't miss many serves after about 3-all," said the 17-year-old from Palm Coast, Florida. "I got lucky, honestly, to break him in the first set, hit an unbelievable passing shot on the dead run. The only way I could have gotten it by him was to hit a lob or the sideline, and I hit the sideline, which gave me 15-40. At 30-40, I neutralized the point, moved the ball around, had a ball I liked and kind of stepped in and that was it."
In the second set, Opelka's serve made for some easy holds, while Hurkacz got fewer free points.
"In the second set he had zero chance of breaking me," Opelka said. "Maybe he won three points on my serve, maybe six returns came back. But the breaker was tough."
With the server winning every point, Opelka faced a set point serving at 5-6. He didn't get a first serve in, but saved it instead with a running forehand crosscourt pass. A good backhand gave Opelka a match point, but Hurkacz saved it when Opelka forehand went just wide. At 7-7 Hurkacz finally blinked, double faulting to gave Opelka another match point, converted when Hurkacz's forehand went wide.
Mmoh defeated Opelka 6-4, 6-2 in the round of 16 at Kalamazoo and a few weeks later Opelka toppled Mmoh, the No. 1 seed, in the semifinals of the ITF Grade 1 International Hard Court Championships in College Park, Maryland 6-4, 4-6, 6-1.
"It'll be tough," said Opelka. "I'm expecting him to serve a lot better than he did in Maryland for sure. He's playing well, he has a ton of confidence, obviously, as anyone should after four straight finals." (Actually Mmoh has a semifinal Futures loss this fall, making it four finals in five tournaments played).
"Two Americans in the finals of 18s, two Americans in the finals of 16s, Bellamy, Khan, Garcia, Americans are having a great tournament," Opelka said.
Mmoh is looking forward to the rematch.
"When we play, we both have really good serves, it's always tough to break each other," Mmoh said.
As for Opelka's success and affinity for clay, Mmoh admits to being puzzled by it.
"It actually surprises me a lot," Mmoh said. "He always told me he was better on clay than on hard, but I didn't really listen. Watching him play, yesterday especially, he was hitting really well from the back, moving pretty well, I was really shocked to be honest."
The winner of Sunday's match, which will follow the girls 9 a.m. final, will be the first American boys ITF winner since Denis Kudla in 2009, when the tournament was played on hard courts.
The girls final will feature No. 5 seed Gabby Ruse of Romania against No. 7 seed Dalma Galfi of Hungary.
Just as in her quarterfinal upset of top seed CiCi Bellis Friday, Ruse was down two breaks late in the match, only to put on a late surge. This time against No. 4 seed Fanni Stollar of Hungary, Ruse needed just two sets, coming from 4-1 down in the second set for a 6-3, 6-4 victory.
"Yesterday 3-0, today 4-1, my mental, it's good this week," Ruse said. "In the second set, I was a little bit tired, but I thought I could [come back] if I win the game at 4-1. I tried to play more aggressive, stay more in the court, just to play better."
Stollar was showing increasing frustration as her lead slipped away, tossing her racquet and receiving a warning for its abuse after double faulting in a long game service game at 4-3. Ruse hit big without making errors, and Stollar eventually succumbed to the pressure, with Ruse cracking a backhand return winner on her second match point.
Galfi ended the run of wild card Caroline Dolehide, posting her fifth consecutive straight-set win in a 6-2, 6-3 victory.
Galfi, who won the Grade A Abierto Juvenil Mexicano last month, didn't know much about Dolehide, but was far from intimidated by the American's power.
"I'd never played her before, but knew she was playing pretty strong, which is good for me," said the 16-year-old right-hander. "I like playing against this kind of players. I'm trying to play my game, play with variety and it helps me."
Galfi admitted she was feeling a bit tired after winning the Grade A two weeks ago and reaching the semifinals in singles and winning the doubles at the Grade 1 in Yucatan last week.
"But I'm playing better than last week, and I'm playing with no pressure, because I already did well in the last tournaments, so I'm pretty happy to play here and play well."
Galfi and Ruse played in the quarterfinals of the Grade 1 Canadian Open in August, with Ruse, the eventual champion, taking a 6-4, 6-2 decision.
"She's playing very good," said Ruse, "but I just want to enjoy my game, like always, and to be aggressive."
In the doubles finals played on Saturday, first-time partners Jessica Ho and Sonya Kenin took the title, with the No. 8 seeds beating No. 4 seeds Naiktha Bains of Australia and Luisa Stefani of Brazil 6-1, 6-1.
Ho and Kenin had committed to play together at both the Eddie Herr and next week's Orange Bowl, believing they would need a few matches before they could work well as a team. But they were forced into only one match tiebreaker in their five wins, and on Saturday morning they thoroughly dominated Bains, last year's champion, and Stefani.
"We thought maybe at Eddie Herr we could get used to each other, Ho said. "But we won, so we got used to each other good," Kenin said. "She asked me for Eddie Herr and Orange Bowl, so we could get more matches and get used to each other, instead of just doing one, so it was a really good idea from her," Ho said.
Kenin had a ready explanation for why she thought they would make a good team.
"We're both really solid from the back, have good volleys," Kenin said. "We're pretty smart on court."
"We're almost the same players," said Ho. "So we thought maybe we'd give it a try. We'd played well together pretty much every day, but today was the best."
The boys doubles championship went to top seed Hong and Yunseong Chung of Korea, who beat No. 6 seeds Domagoj Biljesko of Croatia and Alejandro Tabilo of Canada 7-6(6), 6-2. It was the second title as a team for Hong and Chung, who won the Grade 2 in Canada in September.
In the younger age divisions, seven Americans have reached singles finals, with both the girls 16s and boys 16s all-American contests.
Top seed Sam Riffice will play unseeded Patrick Kypson, last year's 14s finalist, for the boys 16s title. Riffice received a walkover when No. 3 seed William Tutecky of Canada withdrew due to illness. Kypson defeated No. 6 seed Vasil Kirov 6-2, 6-4 in Saturday's semifinal.
Doubles champions Sofia Sewing, the No. 2 seed, and Dominique Schaefer, the No. 4 seed, will decide the girls 16s title Sunday. Both are seeking their second Eddie Herr title, with Sewing last year's 14s champion and Schaefer winning the 12s in 2011. Sewing defeated No. 3 seed Sofia Munerez-Sanchez of Colombia 6-1, 6-4 in the semifinals and Schaefer downed unseeded Victoria Emma 7-5, 6-0.
Unseeded Brian Shi will take on No. 12 seed Nicolas Mejia of Colombia in the boys 14s final. Mejia beat No. 8 seed Roscoe Bellamy 6-4, 7-6(4), and Shi defeated No. 10 seed Patrick Sydow of Venezuela 6-2, 6-2 in Saturday's semifinals.
Caty McNally, seeded No. 6, will play for the girls 14s title after she blanked No. 8 seed Nicole Conard 6-0, 6-0. Her opponent is Anastasia Potapova of Russia, last year's 12s champion, who needed over three hours to get past No. 3 seed Maria Carle of Argentina 6-7(2), 6-4, 7-5.
Top seed Zane Khan is looking to add an Eddie Herr title to his USTA Clay Courts and Hard Courts titles in the 12s after beating No. 3 seed Dawid Taczala of Poland 6-2, 6-2. Khan will play unseeded Jungwon Park of Korea, who defeated No. 4 seed Nicholas Garcia 6-3, 6-4.
The girls 12s final is the only one not featuring an American. Top seed Himari Sato of Japan, a 5-7, 7-5, 6-4 winner over No. 13 seed Qinwen Zheng of China, will play unseeded Helene Pellicano of Malta. Pellicano topped No. 2 seed Luisa Meyer auf der Heide of Germany 7-5, 6-4.
All singles finals in the 16s, 14s and 12s will begin at 9 a.m. Sunday.
The doubles champions in all divisions were determined on Saturday and are listed below:
Boys 16s: Vasil Kirkov and Sam Riffice(1) def. Vale Duarte (POR) and Patrick Kypson(7), 6-2, 1-6, 10-8
Girls 16s: Dominique Schaefer and Sofia Sewing(1) def. Ally Bojczuk and Madeline Meredith, 6-4, 6-2
Boys 14s: Roscoe Bellamy and Keenan Mayo(2) def. Andrew Fenty and Brian Shi, 7-6(6), 6-2
Girls 14s: Wiktoria Rutkowska and Iga Swiatek (POL) def. Nicole Conard and Caty McNally(1), 6-4, 6-4
Boys 12s: Faris and Zane Khan(1) def. Mikolaj Lorens and Dawid Taczala(3) (POL), 6-0, 4-6, 10-5
Girls 12s: Himari Sato and Sena Takebe(5) (JPN) def. Whitney Osuigwe and Victoria Hu(2), 7-5, 6-4
For complete results, see the tournament website.