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Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Four US Girls Reach Wimbledon Junior Quarterfinals, with Liu Defeating Anisimova 13-11 in Third; Blanch Earns Place in Boys Final Eight

©Colette Lewis 2016--

Four US girls advanced to the quarterfinals of the Wimbledon Junior Championships Wednesday, with the day's action highlighted by Claire Liu's 4-6, 6-2, 13-11 win over No. 3 seed Amanda Anisimova in the all-American third round match.

Liu had difficulty staying with French Open girls finalist Anisimova in the opening set, falling behind 5-1 after errors early in points cost her. When Anisimova went up 2-0 in the second set, the likelihood that the match would end in a marathon third set seemed remote.

"In the first set she was playing really well," said Liu, who turned 16 in May. "I was making a few errors, so I just buckled down, got a few more balls in and got it back to 5-4. Even though she won the first set I had a little momentum, and it was easier to come back in the second."

Liu said the six straight games she won to take the second set was a combination of better play from her, and more errors from the 14-year-old Floridian.

"I got a few more balls in, added a little more spin to my shots, and I just played better."

After dropping serve in the opening game of the third set, Liu won five of the next six for a 5-2 lead.  Serving for the match at 5-3, Liu didn't get to match point, saying nerves played a role in her inability to finish it there.

"She's a good player and I got nervous," said Liu, who beat Anisimova in the semifinals of the Grade 1 International Spring Championships in Carson back in April. "I think I let that get to me. She only had to get like one ball in and I would just miss, though she played well too.  At 5-all I think I relaxed a little bit, I mean I was up 5-2, so if I lose, okay, whatever.  I just forced myself to keep hitting balls, keep accelerating, keep being aggressive."

Liu ended up dropping serve however, giving Anisimova her opportunity to serve for the match.  She didn't get to match point in that game, and Liu held at love for 7-6 to put the pressure right back on Anisimova.  Liu had her first match point at 30-40, but netted a backhand return and after an Anisimova double fault, she got a second match point and a second serve to work with.  Given the previous double fault, a good deep second serve was partially responsible for Liu's return missing, but she wasn't happy with herself.

"I didn't play the way I had played to get me to that match point," said Liu. "I was playing well, staying in there with her and I just missed two returns, which was not good. But I forgot about it, forced myself to think next point, next point after."

At 9-9, Liu won a 10 deuce game in which she saved six break points, and Anismova, playing in just her third junior slam, began to show her frustration at line calls she didn't agree with, blinking back tears on several occasions.  Liu finally won the game with an ace, and four more holds brought the score to 12-11, with Anisimova once again serving to stay in the match.  Another backhand error by Liu at 30-40 let Anisimova off the hook once more, but Anisimova couldn't convert on either of her game points, double faulting both times to send it back to deuce. Liu then hit a forehand winner for her fourth match point, which she converted, hitting an aggressive backhand and following it into the net.  When Anisimova's forehand pass went long, Liu had earned her first quarterfinal appearance in a junior slam.

"I wasn't even thinking of coming into the net," said Liu. "I just hit a good backhand, and thought, it's a pretty good shot, maybe I should go in. And when she hit her forehand, I thought, oh my god, it's going long. I was so happy."

Liu will play No. 7 seed Dayana Yastremska in the quarterfinals, with the 16-year-old from Ukraine advancing with a 6-0, 6-4 win over No. 10 seed Olga Danilovic of Serbia.

No. 8 seed Sonya Kenin moved into the quarterfinals with a 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 victory over qualifier Mariam Bolkvadze of Georgia. The US Open girls finalist will play top seed Oleysa Pervushina of Russia, who beat unseeded Alexandra Sanford 6-2, 7-6(6). Pervushina beat Kenin last year in the first round of the Roehampton Grade 1, and their match is the only girls quarterfinal with a previous meeting between the players.

No. 9 seed Usue Arconada had made the third round of a junior slam three times before, but now has earned her first quarterfinal appearance with a 6-2, 6-2 win over Bianca Andreescu of Canada. Although like most juniors she hasn't played much on grass, the 17-year-old says it's her favorite surface, and she has looked increasingly comfortable on it since going 9-7 in the third set in the opening round.

"Each year I feel like I do better on it," said Arconada, who reached the round of 16 last year, after losing in the first round in 2014. "This year, I'm doing very well, staying low and being aggressive. I just love the flat game, I guess."

Leading 4-1 in the second set, Arconada had to withstand a delay when Andreescu called for a medical timeout, but even though she lost her subsequent service game, she took the interruption in stride, seeing the advantage she gained from the break.

"It gave me a little breather, time to think about how to play the next few games," Arconada said. "I didn't really mind it, it gave me a break to refuel. I just wanted to stay aggressive and if I lost the next few games, I was still going to play my game like I played the whole match."

Arconada got an assist from Andreescu, who is just returning from a long injury layoff, in the 4-2 game, donating two points with double faults. At 30-40, Arconada came up with a perfectly executed backhand cross court winner to get the break and after falling behind 0-30 serving for the match, she took the final four points for the win. Arconada will play No. 4 seed Anastasia Potapova of Russia, who beat No. 14 seed Katarina Zavatska of Ukraine 6-4, 6-3.

The fourth US girl in the quarterfinals is No. 5 seed Kayla Day, who reached her first junior slam quarterfinal with a 6-3, 6-2 win over Varvara Gracheva of Russia.

"I thought I played really well," said the 16-year-old from California. "It was the first day I felt really comfortable on the grass actually. I'm still getting used to it. Yesterday, I didn't play my best match, but I was able to get through in the third. After I played a good third set, I feel my confidence kind of grew a little bit. I started really well today and that put her off a little bit."

Day's opponent in the quarterfinals will be wild card Gabriella Taylor of Great Britain, who took out No. 2 seed and French Open girls champion Rebeka Masarova of Switzerland 6-1, 6-1.

Taylor was considering withdrawing when she woke up Wednesday morning with food poisoning, which she attributed to the pasta and chicken she had eaten onsite Tuesday night.

"This morning I've been sick," said Taylor, who has dropped only ten games in her three victories. "I've been up since 5 a.m., so I'm really surprised with the way I've performed today, but I'm really happy."

Taylor didn't practice due to her illness, but the fact that her match was scheduled on the same court as the Anisimova - Liu marathon was fortunate.

"It gave me more time to prepare myself," said Taylor, who admitted her lack of sleep--she likes to get 10 hours--was another reason she didn't expect today's result. "I think it was because I went out there and I had nothing to lose."

Taylor, an 18-year-old from Southhampton who lives and trains in Spain, also had a reservoir of confidence from her performance in the Wimbledon women's qualifying, where she beat Lourdes Dominguez Lino of Spain in the first round and lost to Vania King in three sets in the second round.

"That really boosted my confidence, because I had two really good matches and I thought I played some of my best tennis against former Top 50 WTA players," said Taylor. "Especially Vania King, in the third set I lost 6-4, and it was so close. Now that's obviously given me more confidence coming into the juniors."

The boys quarterfinals will feature one American boy, No. 2 seed Ulises Blanch, who reached his first junior slam quarterfinal with a 6-4, 6-3 win over unseeded Khumoyan Sultonov of Uzbekistan.  Blanch still has yet to drop his serve in three matches, although he came close today, going down 0-40 in the second game of the match before hitting two of his 10 aces on the way to a 2-0 lead. Those were the only three break points Blanch faced in the match, while he was a perfect 3 for 3 in converting his opportunities.

Blanch's opponent in the quarterfinals will be No. 6 seed Geoffrey Blancaneaux of France, the reigning French Open boys champion. Blancaneaux advanced with a 7-5, 1-6, 6-3 win over No. 12 seed Miomir Kecmanovic of Serbia.  Blanch is 2-0 against Blancaneaux, including a win last year on the Roehampton grass.

The other boys quarterfinal in the bottom half features No. 7 seed Alex De Minaur of Australia against No. 3 seed Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada.  De Minaur defeated unseeded Daniel Altmaier of Germany 7-6(5), 6-4 and French Open finalist Auger-Aliassime got by unseeded Piotr Matuszewski of Poland 6-0, 7-5.  Auger-Aliassime is 2-0 in his meetings with De Minaur, winning their semifinal contest in the Grade 1 in College Park last August, and the Eddie Herr final last December, with the 15-year-old Canadian saving match points in that match.

Top seed Stefanos Tsitsipas defeated Evan Furness of France 6-3, 6-3 to set up another junior slam quarterfinal encounter with Jurabeck Karimov of Uzbekistan.  No. 11 seed Karimov, who defeated No. 6 seed Yosuke Watanuki of Japan 7-6(4), 6-4, beat Tsitsipas in this year's Australian Open Junior Championships en route to the final.

No. 4 seed Mate Valkusz of Hungary advanced to the quarterfinals with a 6-3, 6-2 win over No. 16 seed John McNally. He will play No. 5 seed Denis Shapovalov of Canada, who beat No. 10 seed Yunseong Chung of Korea 7-6(2), 6-3.  Valkusz holds a 3-0 lead in the junior head-to-head with Shapovalov, although they have not met this year.

The girls and boys singles quarterfinals are scheduled for Thursday, as are all second round of boys and girls doubles matches. The weather forecast gives a slight chance for rain, but generally sunny skies and mild temperatures are expected.