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Thursday, July 7, 2016

Blanch and Day Reach Wimbledon Junior Semifinals; Eight American Juniors into Doubles Quarterfinals

©Colette Lewis 2016--

For the first time in nine years, the United States will have both a boy and girl in the Wimbledon Junior Championships singles semifinals, with Kayla Day and Ulises Blanch earning wins Thursday on another rain-free day of competition at the All England Lawn Tennis Club. The last time the US had juniors in both singles semifinals was 2007, when Donald Young won the title and Madison Brengle was a finalist.

Blanch, the No. 2 seed, took out No. 8 seed and French Open boys champion Geoffrey Blancaneaux of France 6-3, 6-2, his fourth straight-set win this week.

Although he was broken for the first time in the tournament, by then Blanch had already taken the first set 6-3 and was up 3-1 in the second set, with his greater power on the serve and ground strokes keeping Blancaneaux on the defensive.

Blanch had beaten Blancaneaux twice before, on both grass and clay, last year.

"I had played against Geoffrey a couple of times already, so I already knew how he played, but that was before he was French Open champion," said the 18-year-old, who lives and trains in Argentina. "I thought maybe something changed. But I knew how to play him, and since I was playing well, I was able to do what I wanted."

Blanch said he had to choose the right time to be aggressive.

"He's very solid from the baseline, so I needed not to be impatient, wait until I have the right ball to rip," said Blanch. "Then just ripping to the open court works out."

Blanch's ability to hold serve has been a key part of his success this week.

"The confidence I have when I start a service game is huge," said Blanch, who had one serve clocking in at 134 mph on the Court 12 radar gun. "I was 3-1 up and serving when he broke me. I think I got a little bit nervous, and I was feeling a bit too comfortable. I didn't want the moment to slip and I hit two silly shots out and he did a good point. I was able to maintain my focus and get it right back, and I was fine from there."

Blancaneaux, who had six double faults, double faulted on game point to give Blanch a 4-2 lead in the second set, and that break was plenty for Blanch, who held at love and allowed Blancaneaux only one point in the Frenchman's final service game.

Several of the other US boys born in 1998--Michael Mmoh, Stefan Kozlov, Frances Tiafoe--have stopped playing ITF junior tournaments, but Blanch says he is not comparing himself to them.

"I just want to focus on myself," said Blanch, who had not gotten past the second round of a junior slam in five previous attempts. "If they're doing well, which they are, props to them, but I don't want to get distracted from my own journey. I'm focusing on myself, improving, and I'm not going to kid myself. The junior level is very high, in my opinion, and [I am getting] experience, matches, doing well in slams.  I think I have time to play pros after juniors. I don't want to jump into pros without having done something excessively well in juniors, so I'm taking my time."

Blanch will play No. 7 seed Alex De Minaur of Australia in Friday's semifinal, after De Minaur defeated No. 3 seed Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada 5-7, 7-6(5), 6-2.

Blanch and De Minaur have split their two meetings, both on clay, both last year.

"He plays very well on grass and his game is very tuned in for this surface," said Blanch. "We'll see. I'm playing well and I've played him a couple of times so we each know how the other guy plays."

The other boys semifinal will feature top seed Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece against No. 5 seed Denis Shapovalov in a battle of one-handed backhands.  Tsitsipas advanced when No. 11 seed Jurabeck Karimov of Uzbekistan retired leading 6-3, 1-2 after a fall on the court and a long medical timeout after.  Shapovalov, who reached the semifinals at Roland Garros last month by with a win over Tsitsipas, defeated No. 4 seed Mate Valkusz of Hungary 6-4, 6-2.  Tsitsipas beat Shapovalov at the Orange Bowl last December in their other meeting.

Like Tsitsipas, Day advanced via a retirement, when wild card Gabriella Taylor of Great Britain retired down 4-6, 1-1.  Taylor said, after her win Wednesday over No. 2 seed Rebeka Masarova of Switzerland, that she had been suffering from food poisoning prior to her match, but she later tweeted that it turned out she had a virus, not food poisoning, with its persistence leading to her retirement today.

Day had heard about the food poisoning, but had no indication that Taylor was still under the weather when their quarterfinal match started.

"Even if she was sick, she played a really good match yesterday," said the 16-year-old left-hander. "So I had to come out there with a normal mindset. I couldn't really tell and I was just really trying to focus on myself, and do the things I need to do to win the match and I think I did a good job, even though she wasn't feeling well."

Day got the only break she needed in the first set when Taylor double faulted on Day's second break opportunity, and didn't face a break point herself in the set.

Taylor doubled over several times in the eighth game, although she continued into the second set, holding serve after one deuce for a 1-0 lead.

"There were a couple of times, after long points, even when I lost them, she would bend over," said Day. "So I could tell, but I wasn't really trying to focus on that."

Day won her serve at love to make it 1-1, but after Taylor lost the first point in her next service game, she made her way to the net, telling the chair umpire she was retiring. He was reluctant to call game, set, match, radioing someone first, but after an awkward minute or two, he awarded the match to Day.

Day said she is serving and returning well this week, with the latter especially important to her success.

"My last couple of matches, I've been doing a good job with my returns," said the Californian, who also credits her lefty serve with opening up the court for her. "Getting them deep, making sure I stay low.  In the beginning I was having a little bit of trouble on grass, just because the ball goes so low."

Day will play No. 4 seed Anastasia Potapova of Russia, who beat No. 9 seed Usue Arconada 6-3, 6-2 to advance to her second straight junior slam semifinal.  Potapova, who reached the quarterfinals here last year as a 14-year-old, retired to Day in the semifinals of the Orange Bowl last December after Day had earned a third set. Potapova had fallen and hurt her wrist during the match, but the injury did not prevent her from playing the Australian Open, where she reached the quarterfinals.

"She's definitely playing really well on grass," Day said of the Roehampton champion. "She has a good grass court game, so it'll definitely be a tough match. I've got to keep serving and returning well. Her serve isn't too big; it's obviously good, but if I can get into the return games, then I think it will put me in a good position to win."

A second straight all-Russian girls final is still in play, with top seed Olesya Pervushina of Russia also advancing.  Pervushina, 16, breezed past Sonya Kenin 6-0, 6-0 in 48 minutes and will play No. 7 seed Dayana Yastremska of Ukraine, who defeated Claire Liu 6-1, 6-4.  Liu looked a step slow in the opening set, perhaps a bit tired after her 4-6, 6-2, 13-11 win over Amanda Anisimova and a three-set doubles match later in day Wednesday.  As she had against Anisimova, Liu began to find her form and extend the points, but the 16-year-old Yastremska, who stays very low for her flat groundstrokes, got a late break with a good return and held at 15 to reach her first junior slam semifinal.

The doubles quarterfinals are scheduled for Friday, with eight US juniors still competing for a Wimbledon title.  Caty McNally, playing with Mariam Bolkvadze of Georgia will play No. 2 seeds Anisimova and Alexandra Sanford for a place in the semifinals.  McNally and Bolkvadze defeated No. 8 seeds Jodi Burrage of Great Britain and Panna Udvardy of Hungary 6-4, 6-1, while Anisimova and Sanford needed more than two hours to subdue the British wild card team of Francesca Jones and Ali Collins 6-4, 3-6, 7-5.  Collins pulled something in her rib area early in the final game, but it still took Anisimova and Sanford six match points to get the victory.

Another girls quarterfinal match will feature three American girls, with Monika Kilnarova of the Czech Republic and Sonya Kenin, the No. 5 seeds, facing No. 4 seeds Liu and Arconada.  Kilnarova and Kenin defeated British wild cards Eliz Maloney and Nell Miller 7-5, 6-4, while Arconada and Liu took out Anastasia Detiuc of Moldova 6-0, 6-1.

The only US boys remaining in the doubles competition are Roehampton champions Blanch and Vasil Kirkov, who today defeated Gabriel Decamps of Brazil and Marvin Moeller of Germany 6-1, 6-3. They will play No. 2 seeds Tsitsipas and Kenneth Raisma of Estonia in the quarterfinals.

Friday's semifinals are scheduled on courts 12 and 18, which are TV courts, with radar guns and Hawkeye.  Streams should be available, so Check ESPN3 in the US beginning at 6 a.m. eastern time.