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Friday, July 8, 2016

Potapova and Yastremska Advance to Saturday's Girls Final at Wimbledon; De Minaur and Shapovalov Reach Boys Championship Match; Three US Girls in Doubles Semifinals

©Colette Lewis 2016--

Fifteen-year-old Anastasia Potapova of Russia and 16-year-old Dayana Yastremska of Ukraine will meet Saturday in the girls Wimbledon final after three-set victories on a cool and overcast Friday at the All England Lawn Tennis Club.  The finalists for the boys championship on Sunday were also decided today, with Alex De Minaur of Australia and Denis Shapovalov of Canada earning semifinals wins over the No. 2 and No. 1 seeds.

The fourth-seeded Potapova, who reached the quarterfinals of this year's Australian Open and the semifinals of last month's French Open, defeated No. 5 seed Kayla Day 5-7, 6-2, 6-0, picking up her game in the final two sets after struggling with Day's serve and her own erratic play at the start.

Day got a break in the fifth game of the opening set, but wasn't able to serve out the set at 5-4, with two set points slipping away, one on a double fault. But Potapova, who hadn't lost a set in her first four matches, was broken again, with a slew of unforced errors, and with her second opportunity, Day served it out.

The first two games of the second set went a long way toward deciding the match, with Potapova winning a five-deuce game to hold and Day losing an eight-deuce game to fall behind 2-0.

"Very important first game, because we play like 10 or 15 minutes," Potapova said. "It was so important to start the set.  And I don't know why, but she started not to play as in first set. Maybe she is tired, I think she's tired. But I said to me, I can't be tired, I must do it."

Day managed two more holds in the second set, but once Potapova found her form, and Day started to have trouble with her own serve, the challenge proved too much.

"I served really well in the first set, and I think that helped me win it," said Day, a 16-year-old from Santa Barbara, California. "But in the second and third set, I was really struggling with my first serve and I was double faulting quite a bit. It's really hard on grass, when you're not serving well. I think we both started the [second] set a little bit shaky, but she was able to play better, and that's why she won."

Potapova is looking forward to playing on Court 1 Saturday, although she admitted there's a chance to get "a little bit confused."

"But I love it," said Potapova, who has won the Junior Orange Bowl and Les Petits As titles, showing no sign of shrinking from the big stage on those occasions. "I love everything here. I love the atmosphere here, I love grass and I like to play here so much."

Asked if she was concerned about playing in front of such a large crowd, Potapova acknowledged it would be her first experience on a stage that big.

"But I will try to focus on the tennis, and not the public," said Potapova, who won the ITF Grade 1 in Roehampton last week. "It's hard, but I will try."

No. 7 seed Yastremska, who defeated top seed Olesya Pervushina 7-6(4), 6-7(2), 6-3, is not shrinking from the limelight either.

"I hope the huge court and crowd will help me," said the 16-year-old from Odessa. "I love having people supporting, screaming, I just get so much energy. I love to play under the pressure, against the pressure. I don't care, I like this atmosphere."

Yastremska, who did not play Roehampton, but rather practiced for Wimbledon on what she said is the only grass court in Ukraine, lost her first set of the tournament, but went on to beat Ioana Minca of Romania 8-6 in the third.  She has steadily improved her play with every match and against Pervushina, Yastremska looked the more confident of the two players in the final set.  After saving two break points to take a 3-2 lead, Yastremska got the break for 4-2, with Pervushina contributing two double faults. A one-break lead against the top seed with a chance at a junior slam final on the line is always going to be tenuous, but Yastremska finished confidently and without any drama.

"Everything was going perfect, as I wanted," said Yastremska, who has split two meetings with Potapova, in the 12s and 14s divisions. "Three sets, difficult, but still I get through it. I think I did everything better. Serve, returns, forehands, backhands, everything I did better than her. And of course, mental. That's the thing that works."

Yastremska has no doubt she will prevail against Potapova on Saturday.

"She's a good player, but I'm confident that tomorrow I'll show my best game," Yastremska said. "I played her already a couple of times and I know her very good. I know her weaknesses, her strengths, so I know how play against her and I'm really ready for her."

While the girls finalists have played before, the boys finalists will be facing off for the first time on Sunday.

De Minaur had reached the semifinals of two of the last three junior slams, so his 6-3, 6-2 win over Ulises Blanch was a big step for the 17-year-old Australian, who now trains in Spain.

"I thought it was due to come," said De Minaur. "I went on court thinking it was just another match, didn't think about the result, didn't think about the court, didn't think about what round I was in. So I went out there and played it as if it was a first round."

De Minaur had a match point in the first round of here last year against Reilly Opelka, who went on to win the title. That what-might-have-been loss popped into De Minaur's head again when he played his third round match on the same court.

"I won it 7-6, 6-4, but I was 5-3 up and had a match point," De Minaur said of his win over Daniel Altmaier of Germany. "I felt a little bit of the nerves then, hit a pretty easy return, missed it wide, and had [last year] a little bit on my mind, but it's all good."

Against Blanch, De Minaur returned exceptionally well, which he knew he had to do.

"He's got an amazing serve, and I actually had to return and make sure it was a good return or I'd get hurt on his next shot," said De Minaur, who had 8 aces to Blanch's 4. "I just tried to put as many returns in as possible, try to read where he is going to serve and try to block it quick into the court and find a way to end up winning the point."

"I felt I didn't do much correctly today," Blanch said. "I served sometimes well, but I didn't return too well and I didn't play too well from the baseline. I think the nerves got the best of me today--I haven't been in this situation before--and he's a great player, playing really well, very smart. Even though I had chances, which everyone has usually, it didn't work out for me today."

Among those supporting De Minaur in today's match were Australian greats John Newcombe and Lleyton Hewitt.

"It's just great to see them out supporting me," said De Minaur. "It means the world to me. It's a great feeling to know that you have such legends supporting you."

De Minaur says their attention doesn't come with any added pressure.

"I see it as any opportunity to prove myself, that I can play some good tennis," said De Minaur, who says grass is his favorite surface. "As you start winning more matches, you start playing on bigger stages with bigger crowds, so you've got to be able to know how to deal with all the crowds, and all this. I'm really thankful for them supporting me and coming out for every match."

While De Minaur has former slam champions at his matches, Shapovalov has this year's Wimbledon men's finalist Milos Raonic tracking his progress.

Although Raonic wasn't able to see the outcome of the match before he took the court against Roger Federer, he did mention Shapovalov's second set comeback against top seed Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece in his postmatch press conference. Shapovalov escaped with a 4-6, 7-6(5), 6-2 win, but candidly admitted that Tsitsipas was the better player on the day.

"I felt he played much better than me today," said Shapovalov, who reached the French Open semifinals last month. "He was serving very well today and I couldn't touch his serve up until he broke me for 6-5."

At 5-5 in the second set, Shapovalov committed three doubles faults, with the last two giving Tsitsipas a chance to serve out the match. He was broken at love however, double faulting on game point, and couldn't recover from that missed opportunity in the tiebreaker, although Shapovalov also benefited from a let cord winner at 5-5 in the tiebreaker.

After a long medical timeout for Tsitsipas after the second set, the match resumed, and the third set was close for the first four games. But after Shapovalov got a break, he coasted to the win, which didn't surprise him.

"I managed to get that break and as soon as I held the next game, I saw that he kind of mentally dropped," said the 17-year-old left-hander, who beat Tsitsipas in the quarterfinals in Paris. "It happened the last time too. I won the first set, and as soon as I broke him, he went away. I think I was mentally tougher today. I think he played better than me today, but my mental side was better."

Although Shapovalov hasn't played De Minaur before, his friend and doubles partner Felix Auger-Aliassime lost to him in the quarterfinals, and has two previous encounters with him in the past ten months.

"He's giving me all the secrets," Shapovalov said, smiling. "He said he's forehand is a little weaker, which is normal, I've seen that too. I'll play more to that side. I'll serve big, go for my shots. Honestly, I'm still going to stick to my game plan, but just a couple of things he told me I'm going to focus on in the match.

While Raonic is playing Andy Murray for the Wimbledon men's title Sunday afternoon, Shapovalov will be going for the boys title on Court 1. He joked that Raonic "is probably going to be too distracted, because the fans are going to be cheering me so loud."

But regardless of the novelty of the situation he finds himself in, Shapovalov is determined to enjoy it.

"It's going to be a new experience," said Shapovalov, who learned yesterday he had received a wild card into the ATP event in Washington later this month. "It's my first final, so I'm just going to have fun. Win or lose, I'm going to stay positive."

Unlike Raonic, Shapovalov will be on the court on Saturday, playing in the doubles semifinals.  He and Auger-Aliassime, the top seeds, will face No. 3 seeds Miomir Kecmanovic of Serbia and Casper Ruud of Norway, who were also boys doubles semifinalists at Wimbledon last year.  The bottom half semifinal features No. 4 seeds Benjamin Sigouin of Canada and Louis Wessels of Germany against No. 2 seeds Kenneth Raisma of Estonia and Tsitsipas.  Tsitsipas and Raisma defeated Blanch and Vasil Kirkov 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 in this afternoon's quarterfinals.

Three US girls are still alive for a girls Wimbledon doubles title.  No. 4 seeds Usue Arconada and Claire Liu defeated No. 5 seeds Sonya Kenin and Monika Kilnarova of the Czech Republic 6-1, 6-7(2), 6-3 and will play top seeds Pervushina and Potapova in the semifinals.  No. 3 seeds Kaja Juvan of Slovenia and Olga Swiatek of Poland will face unseeded Mariam Bolkvadze of Georgia and Caty McNally in the other semifinal. Bolkvadze and McNally defeated No. 2 seeds Alexandra Sanford and Amanda Anisimova 7-5, 6-7(5), 6-3.

Saturday's schedule has junior doubles second on after 11:30, with the girls singles final at 1 p.m.