Monday, July 4, 2016

Five US Juniors Join Sunday's Six Winners in Wimbledon Junior Championships Second Round

©Colette Lewis 2016--

Fourth of July fireworks were at a minimum for American juniors playing their first round matches at Wimbledon Monday, but three boys and two girls advanced on an ostensibly summer day in London that started out sunny but ended with heavy clouds and chilly temperatures.

The top seeds took the courts for the first time today, and both were forced to earn their way into the second round. Boys No. 1 Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece raised his game at the key moments in his 7-6(3), 7-5 win over British wild card Alexis Canter, while girls No. 1 Olesya Pervushina of Russia fought back a determined challenge from Maria Mateas to record a 4-6, 7-6(1), 6-2 victory.  Pervushina hit 16 aces in the match, and her return, which was erratic in the opening set, improved as the match went on.

One of the most intriguing matches of the day saw qualifier Will Blumberg take on No. 5 seed and Roehampton champion Denis Shapovalov of Canada, a rematch of a third round match last year at Wimbledon, which Blumberg won 6-4, 6-2.  This time Shapovalov emerged the winner, taking a 6-3, 6-4 decision to extend his winning streak on grass to seven matches.  Even though Roehampton is played on the same courts as the Wimbledon men's and women's qualifying, Shapovalov knew he would need to make adjustments for his first match at the All England Lawn Tennis Club.

"It was very difficult for me, playing on these grass courts today because they're almost too perfect," said Shapovalov, who is seeded in the juniors based on his ATP ranking of 374.  "I am so used to the bad bounces and there's barely any grass at Roehampton, so I was kind of adapting to my shots, accelerating at the last minute. Here you have so much time, I felt almost like too much time, that the court was slower."

Shapovalov admitted that he was not relishing another match with Blumberg.

"Before the tournament we were discussing it, and he said, yeah, I'm playing qualifying, and I went, oh, I'm playing a qualifier, maybe we can have a rematch," Shapovalov said. "And we were both like, no, hopefully not."

Blumberg didn't have much trouble identifying the reason he lost that rematch.

"Well, today, I served 39 percent," said Blumberg, who also had seven double faults. "I return well, usually make people play a lot of balls, but Denis today served a couple of good games."

"I think he played off the ground very well today," said Shapovalov. "I think the serve was the biggest difference today. I was having a lot of looks on the second, and I managed to serve pretty well, so I think that was the biggest key."

No. 16 seed John McNally was one of the three US boys advancing, picking up a 7-6(6), 6-2 win over qualifier Riccardo Balzerani of Italy in his first match at the All England Lawn Tennis Club.

McNally was expecting a tough match from Balzerani, whom he had beaten in the first round at the Grade A in Milan back in May.

"He's beaten a couple of Americans the past couple of weeks (Oliver Crawford and Gianni Ross), so I knew it wasn't going to be a match that would be easy," McNally said. "I played a pretty good tiebreaker, a pretty solid volley I hit on set point," McNally said of his backhand slice volley that landed just inside the baseline. "After that first set, I definitely loosened up a little bit, held my serve a lot easier," said McNally, who won all 15 of his first serve points in the second set. After getting the break to go up 5-2, McNally had to deal with a lengthy delay, as Balzerani, who had asked for a medical time out at the 3-2 changeover, was allowed to receive treatment for his leg.

In the chilly conditions, that could have proven a challenge for McNally, but he played a brilliant return game, breaking Balzerani at love to take the match.

"You've just got to try to stay warm and stay focused," McNally said. "If he's hurt or he's not hurt, if he's calling a medical timeout, something's not going right, so you've got to use that to your advantage, really push to the finish line there."

While other juniors were getting on and off the courts, No. 2 seed Ulises Blanch and Casper Ruud were waiting, and waiting, and waiting. After a nearly three-hour second round men's doubles match and a quick women's doubles match, Blanch and Ruud found themselves behind the men's third round doubles match between Jamie Murray-Bruno Soares and Michael Venus-Mate Pavic. After the first two rounds were trimmed to best of three, the third round went back to best of five, and after nearly five hours of play, the match was suspended for darkness, unfinished at 13-13 in the fifth.

"I thought I was going to play around 3 or 4," said Blanch, who defeated Ruud 7-6(5), 6-2 after taking the court after 7 p.m."The first match was like three hours, the second match was quick but then the third match, I saw it was getting longer and longer. I was there at 5:30, with Casper in the locker room, waiting and waiting. The scary part was the light. We didn't want to play tomorrow, we just wanted to change courts and eventually they did change courts and the light was fine."

Ruud, a former ITF junior No. 1 who has an ATP ranking of 556 and is still Top 20 in the juniors, is no seed's idea of a good draw.

"Obviously, it's very tough for a first round," said the 18-year-old, who beat Ruud in the third round of the Orange Bowl last December. "But my thoughts were positive. I know how he plays, and if I can play a good match and pull through, it can work in my favor for the rest of the tournament."

Blanch had only three break point chances in the first set, while Ruud had only one, and all were saved.  Although chances were not abundant, Blanch was confident heading into the tiebreaker.

"When I went into the tiebreak I was very comfortable," said Blanch, who reached the semifinals last week in Roehampton. "I was winning a lot of points on his serve and I was serving pretty well. I played well and served well in the tiebreak."

Blanch, who was cracking his serve and using his forehand to push Ruud back behind the baseline, benefitted from a couple of backhand errors by Ruud to get the first break of the match to take a 4-2 lead in the second set.

"Every game I returned, I was closer to breaking him," said Blanch, who did not face a break point in the second set. "When I broke him, I think that's when the match kind of cleared up for me, because I don't think he thought he had a lot of chances of breaking me. I felt very comfortable after that."

Blanch held for 5-2 and earned two match points with Ruud serving at 15-40. Blanch shanked a backhand on the first, but he teed off on a flat forehand on the second, catching the line to put an exclamation point on the win.

Blanch, who trains in Argentina and only plays on grass, like most juniors, during these two weeks, said playing the LTA Trophy Challenge in Nottingham in a team event versus British juniors the week before Roehampton helped him prepare.

"I was a whole year without playing on grass, so you kind of lose it," said Blanch. "I trained in Argentina on some really fast hard courts, which were kind of the same. But for sure, playing in the great conditions and playing against British players, who know the grass really well, helped. Playing some good matches there and going to Roehampton with match rhythm and confidence helped me a lot."

The third US boy to reach the second round was Vasil Kirkov, who defeated Gabriel Decamps of Brazil 7-6(4), 6-3.

Only two boys seeds were eliminated in first round play--No. 14 Jurij Rodionov of Austria and No. 13 seed Benjamin Sigouin of Canada.

Two US girls joined the six Sunday winners in Tuesday's second round. No. 3 seed Amanda Anisimova beat Panna Udvardy of Hungary 6-2, 6-2 in 46 minutes and Claire Liu made similarly short work of No. 15 seed Elena Rybakina of Russia. Liu, who reached the third round here last year, needed only 50 minutes to complete her 6-1, 6-3 win.

No. 12 seed Katie Swan of Great Britain retired with an ankle injury at 6-5 in the 1st set against qualifier Mariam Bolkvadze of Georgia and No. 13 seed Kaja Juvan of Slovenia lost to qualifier Lucrezia Stefanini of Italy 6-3, 6-7(6),6-2. With No. 11 seed Yuki Naito's loss on Sunday, four girls seeds have been eliminated in the first round of play.

Tuesday's schedule contains all 32 second round singles matches and 16 doubles matches, which is half of the first round.

Americans in singles action are Alexandra Sanford, Sonya Kenin(8), Taylor Johnson, Michaela Gordon, Amanda Anisimova(3), Usue Arconada(9), Kayla Day(5), Claire Liu, Vasil Kirkov, John McNally and Ulises Blanch.