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Friday, May 1, 2015

US Teams Secure Spots in ITF Junior Davis Cup, Junior Fed Cup and World Junior Tennis Finals; Tiafoe Wins French Open Wild Card by Reaching Tallahassee Final; Stewart Makes Charlottesville Semis

©Colette Lewis 2015--
Boca Raton, FL--

As for drama, there was none, but the US got what it came for, securing spots in the world finals of the 16-and-under and 14-and-under team competitions on a picture-perfect spring day in South Florida.

The four US teams have won all eight of the their matches by 3-0 scores, with only one set lost over the first two days.  Three of the four teams will take on their Canadian counterparts in Saturday's final day of competition, with nothing more, or less, than national bragging rights on the line.

In the girls 14s World Junior Tennis qualifying, the US and Canada played on day one Thursday, so technically there is still a chance one of those two teams will not qualify, but given the results so far, that scenario appears unlikely.  Canada will need to defeat Mexico to finish 2-1, and the US will be heavily favored to down Guatemala, currently 1-1, to finish 3-0.  In today's 3-0 win over Mexico, Hurricane Tyra Black defeated Daira Cardenas 6-0, 6-2, and Caty McNally secured the win with a 6-3, 6-1 win over Aida Garcia Mendez at No. 1 singles. Amanda Anisimova and McNally won the dead rubber in doubles 6-1, 6-0.

Brandon Nakashima earned the first point for the US boys in the 14s, beating Oscar Barranca 6-1, 6-1 and Adam Neff clinched their place in the Czech Republic competition in August with a 6-1, 6-3 victory over Eduardo Molina. Govind Nanda and Nakashima won the doubles 6-0, 6-0.

The Mexican teams were more competitive in the Junior Davis and Junior Fed Cup contests with the USA.  Gianni Ross started out with a 6-0, 6-0 win over Alejandro Hernandez Serrano that was not as lopsided as the score, and Sam Riffice, who did not play singles on Thursday, was pushed in the second set by Alan Rubio before taking a 6-1, 6-4 victory.  Riffice and Vasil Kirkov won the doubles against Serrano and Rubio 6-2, 6-1. 

In the only truly tense match of the day, Denis Shapovalov clinched Canada's Junior Davis Cup spot in Madrid this September with a 6-7(3), 6-4, 6-1 win over Patrick Sydow of Aruba. With Shapovalov's victory, all the matches were decided prior to the doubles competition.

In Junior Fed Cup play, Kayla Day lost the plot a bit in the second set, but recovered for a 6-1, 6-4 victory over Katia De La Garza of Mexico. CiCi Bellis had breezed on Thursday, but she got the match play she was looking for today in her 6-1, 6-2 win over Maria Jose Portillo.  Bellis and Michaela Gordon dropped the only set the US has lost the past two days to open the doubles match, but recovered to beat Portillo and Mixcoatl Trabulse 3-6, 6-1, 6-3.

Canada's Junior Fed Cup team got wins from Vanessa Wong, who beat Laura Quezada of the Dominican Republic 6-0, 6-1 and Katherine Sebov, who topped Penelope Abreu 6-2, 6-2 to earn their place among the 16 teams in Madrid.

Last year, with host Mexico getting an automatic bid, the other three Junior Davis Cup and Junior Fed Cup teams were playing for just one spot, and the US, playing qualifying in Canada, won them both. This year, the Europe qualifying will result in one less European team earning a place, with Spain hosting, so the pressure is off in the final matches Saturday here in Boca, but US Junior Fed Cup coach Adam Peterson believes his players competitive instincts will take over.

"You wonder how it might have changed if the draw had us playing [Canada] first, with somebody getting a loss right away," Peterson said. "But I still think it will be highly competitive, absolutely. They're a good team, we're a good team. I'm sure in the back of their minds, both teams know they're in, but I think pride takes over.  Nobody wants to lose this match, even though they know if they lose, they're still in. Even though it's a dead tie, it's just as important to the players."

Complete results can be found at the ITF's tournament website.

Frances Tiafoe won the USTA's French Open main draw wild card today, defeating Tennys Sandgren 1-6, 6-4, 7-6(1) in the semifinals, while Jared Donaldson, the last American with a chance to win it with a title in Tallahassee, fell to No. 5 seed Facundo Arguello of Argentina 6-3, 6-2.  In his three career Challengers, all in the past three weeks, Tiafoe has made the quarterfinals, semifinals and now finals, and will be inside the ATP Top 300 when next week's rankings are released. 

Tiafoe admitted to livestream announcer Mike Cation that he did not expect this level of success, but mentioned his stint as a practice partner for the Davis Cup team back in March as a significant boost to his confidence.  He also mentioned that his success these past three weeks will necessitate a revision in his schedule, with Futures play no longer necessary.

Jonathan Kelley of the On the Rise blog, points out that in 2015, Tiafoe is an incredible 21-2 in three-set matches on the Pro Circuit (including qualifying). He also has won all seven tiebreakers he's played these last three weeks in Challengers, including three third-set tiebreakers. He told Cation that he's committed to "playing to win. You don't want to leave the court knowing you played not to lose."

Another 17-year-old is in the thick of things for the USTA's French Open wild card, with Katerina Stewart reaching the semifinals of the $50,000 Charlottesville tournament, the second of the three tournaments that will determine the women's wild card.

Stewart defeated Francoise Abanda of Canada 6-4, 6-4 and will play unseeded Florencia Molinero of Argentina in Saturday's semifinals.  Allie Kiick also reached the semifinals in Charlottesville, where she'll play qualifier Elizaveta Ianchuk of Ukraine.

At the $10,000 Futures in Vero Beach, Michael Mmoh and Wil Spencer have reached the semifinals.  Mmoh, the No. 5 seed, will play No. 3 seed Facundo Mena of Argentina, while Spencer faces No. 4 seed Maximiliano Estevez of Argentina.