Saturday, July 11, 2015

Zhuk Claims Girls Wimbledon Title Saturday; Opelka Faces Ymer in Boys Championship Match Sunday, Advances to Doubles Final

©Colette Lewis 2015--

Fifteen-year-old Sofya Zhuk may have been competing in her first Wimbledon this week, but she handled playing on Court 1 in front of a near-capacity crowd like a seasoned veteran, defeating fellow Russian Anna Blinkova 7-5, 6-4 to claim the girls title.

The eight or nine thousands fans had barely settled in on the warm and sunny afternoon when the unseeded Zhuk ran out to a 4-0 lead, but the 12th-seeded Blinkova began working her way back into the set, getting one break back for 4-1.  Zhuk served for the first set at 5-3, but Blinkova played her best game of the match, sandwiching a forehand winner between two great returns.  Blinkova held for 5-5, but made a mess out of her next service game, with a poor drop shot, a double fault and an unforced error giving Zhuk the first set.

Blinkova fell behind 3-0 in the second set, but after the trajectory of the first set, she was by no means out of the match.  Zhuk did not surrender her lead and stayed aggressive, holding her court position and also defending well, but Blinkova was not done.

Down a match point at 5-2, Blinkova took the initiative, hitting a good first serve and drilling a forehand winner. Another forehand winner and an ace, and Blinkova had forced Zhuk to serve out the match, which she could not do.

Missing five of six first serves in the game, Zhuk double faulted on game point, but Blinkova could not seize the opportunity.  She went up 40-15, but lost the next three points when Zhuk got her forehand going. Blinkova saved a second match point with a good first serve, but Zhuk won a long rally with another forehand winner, and claimed the title on her third try, when Blinkova's forehand went long.

Zhuk dropped to her hands and knees behind the baseline, her forehead to the court, which no longer featured anything resembling grass. Only the second Russian girls champion, and the first since Vera Dushevina in 2002, Zhuk took the traditional winner's lap around the court, but in addition to the excitement and happiness there was also relief.

"In middle of second set, I started to have lot of cramping in the calves," said Zhuk, who lives in Moscow, but splits her time between there and the Justine Henin Academy in Belgium.  "I was trying to stay focused because I know if I will lose the second set, third set I cannot play because I'm really dead and stuff like that."

Blinkova said she was unable to adjust to the conditions on Court 1.

"I was a bit shocked when I saw a huge court with a big crowd there, shouting," said the 16-year-old, playing in her first junior slam final. "It even looked different. When I hit the ball I didn't see the fence. It was very different. I just tried to fight for every point, fight to the end, but she was better than me. She played very powerful and very quickly and she moved me around the court. I think I hit too much in the center of the court. Unfortunately, I couldn't show my best tennis today."

Zhuk, who made her junior slam debut last month at the French Open, losing to CiCi Bellis 8-6 in the third in the second round, had an entirely different view of the Court 1 experience.

"I'm just in love when it's so much people, everyone is supporting me, they're clapping their hands when there's a good point," said Zhuk, whose celebration plans include Sunday's Wimbledon Champions Ball, but nothing else at the moment. "I don't know what's up to her, maybe she don't like it to play like that.  I was in love and it really helps me a lot."

Zhuk plans to play the US Open juniors in September, and because she doesn't turn 16 until December and is subject to the WTA age restrictions for two more years, she may play a mix of pro events and junior slams next year as well.

The doubles semifinals for both boys and girls were held Saturday, with the top seeded teams in both divisions eliminated.

Girls No. 1 seeds Marketa Vondrousova and Miriam Kolodziejova of the Czech Republic, who had won the Australian and French girls titles, lost to No. 3 seeds Fanni Stollar and Dalma Galfi of Hungary 7-6(2), 6-4, ending their quest for a Grand Slam.

Stollar and Galfi will play unseeded Vera Lapko of Belarus and Tereza Mihalikova of Slovakia, who beat the unseeded wild card team of Anna Brogan and Freya Christie of Great Britain 6-4, 7-5.

Fourth-seeded Reilly Opelka and his partner Akira Santillan of Japan, who decided to team up for Wimbledon just last month at the French Open, beat top seeds Taylor Fritz and Michael Mmoh 6-3, 6-4.  They will play No. 8 seeds Nam Hoang Ly of Vietnam and Sumit Nagal of India, who outlasted No. 5 seeds Miomir Kecmanovic of Serbia and Casper Ruud of Norway 7-6(5), 3-6, 12-10.

Before he competes in the doubles final, Opelka will take on No. 12 seed Mikael Ymer of Sweden in the singles championship match.  Both Opelka and Ymer have played outstanding tennis all week, yet were close to being out of the tournament early--Ymer before it started, and Opelka in the first round.

Ymer had forgotten to enter, and so was in the position of needing a wild card from the All England Lawn Tennis Club, which was granted.  Opelka saved a match point in his first round encounter with Australian qualifier Alex De Minaur before escaping with a 4-6, 6-3, 13-11 victory on Monday.

For more on Ymer's route to the final see Wimbledon.com.

The match is scheduled for 1 p.m. on Court 1 and should be available in the United States via Watch ESPN.