Opelka Defeats Mmoh for Eddie Herr ITF Title; Galfi Beats Ruse in Girls Final; Riffice, Sewing Claim 16s Championships
©Colette Lewis 2014--
Usually when an unseeded player reaches the final against the No. 2 seed, he can count on the crowd's usual support for the underdog. But at 6-foot-10, Reilly Opelka isn't playing David to anyone's Goliath, especially against IMG's own Michael Mmoh, who drew a large group of Academy students and employees to Court 1, hoping to cheer him on to a title in the tournament's first all-American ITF final.
Mmoh played well, but Opelka used his serve and his touch to earn a 6-4, 6-4 victory over the streaking 16-year-old, who won both the Grade B1 Pan American Closed and the Grade A Abierto Juvenil Mexicano, as well as a $15,000 Futures tournament in the past two months.
Opelka didn't drop serve in the first set, hitting three aces in a row in his second service game and breaking Mmoh at love for a 3-2 lead, which held up, as he served out the set at love.
Mmoh, who had lost in three sets to Opelka in the semifinals of the Grade 1 International Hard Courts in August, battled through a difficult first game in the second set, and had four break points in the second game, but couldn't convert. Opelka had some luck, with one break point saved with a net cord winner, but he continued to hit the ball aggressively and move forward, even when he was on the verge of dropping serve.
"It was part of the plan to come in," said Opelka, a 17-year-old from Palm Coast, Florida, who did not drop a set in the tournament. "Making volleys is part of it. Even missing it is no big deal, because if I'm finding my way to the net, there's constant pressure on him. Making passing shots on the run, especially in big points in the match, continuously is not easy to do. If he can, then that's too good. That's the mentality I had."
Mmoh actually did break Opelka once with that very running forehand pass, but he was already down a break when that happened, and immediately was broken in the next game, when Opelka made a clever cross court pass after Mmoh had moved in to finish the point.
After each held, Opelka served for the match at 5-4, and the hundreds of fans who had surrounded the court, with standing room only even with the extra temporary seating added for the final, couldn't have asked for a more exciting finish. Opelka, who was nearly perfect with his volleys, opened with a backhand volley winner, but Mmoh countered with a backhand passing winner for 15-15. Opelka showed great hands in winning the next point, a cat-and-mouse exchange at the net that ended with a volley winner by Opelka.
"I guessed," Opelka said of what appeared to be his uncanny anticipation during the point. "It was pick a side and get lucky, and I got lucky. And not only did I guess right, but I might make that volley two out of ten times. It was lucky, a hundred percent."
Undeterred, Mmoh stepped up and ripped a running forehand pass on the next point to make it 30-30. On the next, Opelka missed his first serve, but hit an excellent second one and moved forward for an easy putaway. At that stage, Mmoh said "the guy doesn't miss a volley, what can I do?", and the answer wasn't obvious, when Opelka hit a great first serve out wide to close it out.
"He was playing really well in the big points," said Mmoh, who lost for just the second time in his last 27 matches. "He was volleying really well, putting a lot of pressure on me and playing a lot more aggressive than me on the big points. It was tough for me to do anything, especially in his service games."
Both Mmoh and Opelka will head to Plantation for the Grade A Orange Bowl, but Opelka will make a stop first at a nearby Great Clips, where USTA National Coach Brad Stine will make good on a promise to shave his head if one of the three players he was with this week (Opelka, Tommy Paul and Alex Rybakov) won the tournament.
The girls final, played prior to the boys on an overcast and cool morning, saw No. 7 seed Dalma Galfi of Hungary defeat No. 5 seed Gabby Ruse of Romania 6-4, 7-5 to earn her second major junior title in three weeks.
The early games of the first set were lengthy, with neither girl establishing any dominance. Both saved break points but held serve until Ruse served at 3-4 and was broken at love. Serving for the set, Galfi was broken at love, mostly due to her unforced errors rather than any great play by Ruse.
Ruse, who had beaten Galfi in their last meeting in the Grade 1 Canadian Open in August, went up 40-15 in the next game, but her normally reliable backhand let her down and after saving a set point, she double faulted to give Galfi another and an unforced forehand error gave Galfi the set.
In the second set, Ruse started with a break of serve and held, but in the fourth game she appeared to suffer some sort of injury to her left thigh that hampered her side-to-side movement. After she lost the game, the chair umpire asked if she needed a trainer immediately, but she said she would wait for the changeover. But at 30-all, Ruse again pulled up in pain and a trainer was called immediately. She received treatment laying on a towel on the court and continued to play without any more apparent pain.
Galfi held serve in that game and Ruse held for 3-3, but Galfi was broken to give Ruse a 4-3 lead, and hope. But she lost a six-deuce game to put the set back on serve and Galfi began to find the range on her ground strokes and get more first serves in play.
Serving at 5-6 to reach a tiebreaker, Ruse double faulted and when Galfi blasted a backhand winner, it was 0-30. Whether it was due to her injury or to Galfi's more aggressive play, the points were shorter, and Ruse hit a backhand wide early in the rally to go down three match points. Eliminating any drama from the final game, Galfi hit a backhand return winner, initially called out but overruled by the chair umpire with no complaint from Ruse, to claim the championship.
Galfi believes that her great results in the past two months, with two $10,000 Futures titles and the Grade A championship in Mexico City, stem from a better attitude.
"It's more mentally," said the 16-year-old Galfi, who is coached by Csaba Babos, father of current WTA pro Timea Babos, and credits him with her improved results. "I was really weak mentally there in Canada, I don't know why. And I'm a little bit more confident now, after the two $10Ks and Mexico. That helps."
Ruse admitted that Galfi played much better than in their previous encounter and that she was unable to summon the game that had resulted in her quarterfinal win over top seed CiCi Bellis.
"My form was not good today," said the 17-year-old Ruse. "She played better, her backhand was better today, and I couldn't play my backhand because it was hurting my leg."
Ruse hopes to recover fully for the Orange Bowl, while Galfi will have plenty of time to enjoy her Eddie Herr title, the first title for Hungary in 18s since Aniko Kapros won it in 1999, as she is not playing the Orange Bowl.
After three straight weeks of competition, in which she won two singles titles, reached the semifinals in the Grade 1 Yucatan Cup last week and won the doubles, Galfi is going home to Hungary before heading to Australia for the Grade 1 and Australian Open Junior Championships next month.
"It feels really good," said Galfi, who didn't lose a set in taking the title. "I didn't expect to win, so it's a surprise for me also. So I'm really happy."
In the younger age divisions, US players captured both the 16s titles, but the three US finalists who played international competition came up short.
Unseeded Jungwon Park of Korea became the third Korean to win the boys 12 title, joining Hyeon Chung(2008) and Duckhee Lee(2010). Park beat No. 1 seed Zane Khan of the US 7-5, 6-2.
Russia's Anastasia Potapova won the only three-set final of the day, defeating No. 6 seed Caty McNally of the US 6-4, 4-6, 6-3. The top-seeded 13-year-old won the 12s title last year and is the first player to win those two divisions back-to-back since Great Britain's Laura Robson did it in 2006 and 2007.
Fifteen-year-old Sofia Sewing also collected her second straight Eddie Herr title. After winning the 14s championship last year, No. 2 seed Sewing became the first player in tournament history to win the 16s the following year with her 6-2 7-6(5) win over doubles partner and friend Dominique Schaefer, the No. 4 seed, also of the US.
"I was playing against my good friend, so it was exciting and tense," said Sewing, the sixth straight American girls 16s champion. "I feel more relaxed when you're playing a friend. You have these intense points, and you want the best for the both of you. So it was nice."
Sewing said the Eddie Herr is her favorite tournament, and she will go for the 18s ITF title next year, but as far as comparing her title last year to this one, she isn't sure she can.
"It's the same feeling, but last year was the first time and I was so excited," said Sewing, who trains full-time with Robert Gomez at the Metropolia Tier One Academy in Coral Gables, Florida. "This is just amazing. Winning this two years in a row is really unbelievable, and I'm very happy."
Sam Riffice became the third No. 1 seed to collect an Eddie Herr title this year, coming back to defeat unseeded Patrick Kypson 76(3), 6-1.
"He came out really hot and went up 3-0 and 5-2," Riffice said of his fellow 15-year-old. "It was a really good first set, we had really good points. In the second set, I think he might have hurt his ab a little bit, so it wasn't as physical, but it was a really good match I thought."
Riffice said his decision to play 16s rather than 18s wasn't really a decision, as his ITF ranking only shot up after the acceptance deadline, with two Grade 4 titles this fall.
"Honestly, I didn't think I'd get my ranking up high enough to get into the 18s so I didn't sign up," Riffice said. "But 16s were still really tough. There were a lot of close matches and I could have easily lost before the finals, and I'm happy to have won. It's amazing."
Riffice, who will start play in the Orange Bowl 16s as the No. 2 seed on Monday, credits USTA National Coach Sylvain Guichard with his recent success.
"At the beginning of the year it was pretty tough for me, I wasn't doing great, and he just kept believing in me and working with me. Without him I wouldn't be anywhere near where I was. I'm really thankful for having him."
Complete draws can be found at the tournament website.