Saturday, January 31, 2015

Safiullin, Mihalikova Capture Australian Open Junior Titles; Les Petits As Finals Set; Pro Circuit Update

View image | gettyimages.com Tereza Mihalikova

Roman Safiullin of Russia and Tereza Mihalikova of Slovakia became the first players from their countries to raise the winners trophies at the Australian Open Junior Championships Saturday in Melbourne.

The unseeded Mihalikova defeated No. 14 seed Katie Swan of Great Britain 6-1, 6-4 capping a run that saw her grow in confidence with each win.  After defeating No. 2 seed Jil Teichmann of Switzerland 5-7, 7-5(5), 7-5 in the second round and unseeded Sara Tomic of Australia 7-5, 2-6, 6-2 in the third round, the 16-year-old Slovak played with increasing confidence, defeating two unseeded players--Charlotte Robillard-Millette of Canada and Greet Minnen of Belgium--in straight sets to face Swan.

Swan's gritty comeback in the semifinals against No. 5 seed Dalma Galfi of Hungary, in which Swan saved three match points, may have left her without the physical tools to challenge Mihalikova in the final, and Swan, a 15-year-old who lives in Wichita Kansas, did require a lengthy medical timeout just when she had seized the momentum in the second set, leading 3-0.  Mihalikova won the next five games, and Swan could be seen testing her leg after any point requiring more than a couple of shots.  Swan held after saving two match points in the ninth game, but despite Mihalikova going down 0-30, the Slovak recovered with some good first serves. On her third match point, and the first one of her serve, Mihalikova hit a good first serve that Swan could only return feebly, and a forehand winner ended the match.

In addition to Swan's physical problems, or maybe because of them, she made more errors than usual, while Mihalikova was able to hit more winners, particularly when she came in, winning 17 of 22 of her points at the net.  Mihalikova is the third straight unseeded girl to win a slam title, and she had to qualify to get into the main draw of the US Open Junior Championships just six months ago.

Highlights of the girls final can be found at the tournament website. Swan discusses her fine run at the tournament with the BBC here.

View image | gettyimages.com   Roman Safiullin

While Mihalikova was certainly an unexpected winner, having never been past the quarterfinals at a Grade 1 or Grade A tournament, Safiullin was a clear favorite for the title with his six Futures titles in 2014, although he had never gone past the third round in his previous three junior slams.

The 17-year-old was facing an in-form Seong Chan Hong of Korea, seeded No. 7, who won the Grade 1 Traralgon warmup the week before.  Although slight of build, Hong is fast and creative, and his defense and return have frustrated many a bigger and more powerful opponent.  Safiullin came away with a 7-5, 7-6(2) victory, but the 17-year-old Hong made him earn it.

Safiullin broke in the fifth game of the first set, but he was unable to serve it out at 5-4.  Hong had a point to take a 6-5 lead, but lost the next three points and given a second chance, Safiullin took it, hitting good serves and clean winners to hold easily. He hit one serve at 130 mph (212 kmh) and averaged nearly 10 mph more on his serves than Hong.

Hong was broken to start the second set, but again Safiullin couldn't hold on to his break, losing it with a loose sixth game.  Serving to reach a tiebreaker at 5-6, Safiullin double faulted to give Hong a set point at 30-40, but Hong sent a routine forehand long and Safiullin closed out the game with two big serves.

Safiullin started the tiebreaker with an aggressive volley winner and took control and a 5-1 lead by keeping the pressure on.  Safiullin committed his only unforced error, a netted forehand, on the next point, but Hong's missed pass gave the Russian a match point, which he won when Hong's backhand sailed long.

Safiullin, already 338 in the ATP rankings, is in the main draw of the $50,000 Burnie Australia Challenger next week, so he'll have little time to savor his junior slam title.  For more on the finals, see the ITF website.

Roman Safiullin earlier in the week (courtesy photo)
Congratulations to Serena Williams on slam title number 19, moving her past Martina Navrilatova and Chris Evert into second place behind Steffi Graf's 22 (in the Open era).  Chris Clarey of the New York Times has more on her 6-3, 7-6(5) win over Maria Sharapova in this article.

The finals are set for Les Petits As, with top seed Anastasia Potapova of Russia, who has already won the Eddie Herr and Junior Orange Bowl 14s in the past month, facing No. 4 seed Olga Danilovic of Serbia in the girls championship match.  Potapova defeated No.14 seed Kamilla Rakhimova, also of Russia, 6-4, 6-1 in the semifinals, while Danilovic stopped No. 2 seed Iga Swiatek of Poland 6-4, 6-0.  Potapova can already claim one Les Petits As title, as she and partner Maria Novikova, the No. 7 seeds, defeated No. 4 seeds Siwatek and partner Maja Chwalinska 6-4, 6-3 in the girls doubles final.

The boys singles final has wild card Chun Hsin Tseng of Taiwan, the No. 5 seed, playing No. 2 seed Timofey Skatov of Russia.  Tseng, who has not lost a set, and only 17 games in five victories, beat No. 11 seed Nicolas Alvarez Varona of Spain 6-4, 6-1 in the semifinals, while Skatov needed three sets to get by No. 9 seed Nini Dica of Romania.

Dica and partner Filip Jianu, the No. 2 seeds, won the boys doubles championship over the unseeded team of Tseng and Wociech Marek of Poland 7-5, 5-7, 10-7.

Live streaming of the finals should be available through the tournament website beginning around 8 a.m. Eastern time.

Sachia Vickery, who won her first pro title at the $25,000 tournament in Plantation two weeks ago, has an opportunity for a second Sunday when she meets 18-year-old Spaniard Sara Sorribes Tormo in the $25,000 Sunrise final. The 19-year-old Vickery, the No. 7 seed, beat Natalia Vikhlyantseva of Russia 7-5, 4-6, 6-2 in today's semifinals, while Sorribes Tormo defeated Darya Kasatkina of Russia, who beat her last week, 6-0, 6-0.

Katerina Stewart and Anna Kalinskaya of Russia won the doubles title, beating Paula Goncalves and Beatriz Haddad Maia of Brazil 7-6(6), 5-7, 10-6 in the final.

Tommy Paul lost to Patricio Heras of Argentina 7-6(3), 7-6(6) in the semifinals of the Palm Coast Futures, and No. 2 seed Connor Smith was beaten by Benjamin Balleret of Monaco 6-1, 6-0.

At the $10,000 ITF women's circuit event in Guadeloupe, unseeded Nicole Frenkel has reached the final, defeating Dasha Ivanova 6-2, 4-6, 6-1 in today's semifinal. She will play No. 2 seed Sherazad Reix of France for the title.

The qualifying draws for two big Pro Circuit challengers next week are out, with the men's Dallas $100,000 qualifying beginning today, and the women's Midland $100,000 qualifying beginning on Sunday.  I will be in Midland for several days beginning Monday to cover that event. Three wild cards were announced today, with Lauren Embree, Bernarda Pera and Caroline Dolehide joining Sara Daavettila, who won the wild card tournament, in the main draw.

The main draw wild cards in Dallas went to Connor Smith, Eric Quigley, Thai Kwiatkowski and Ryan Sweeting.