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Sunday, July 3, 2016

Six US Girls Advance to Second Round at Wimbledon Junior Championships on Middle Sunday; Eleven More Americans Take Courts for First Round Matches Monday

©Colette Lewis 2016--

Sunday was a rare day at this year's Wimbledon, with not a single drop of rain disrupting play. But even more rare was play on the Middle Sunday, traditionally a day of rest for all players, but necessary this year to get the tournament back on schedule.

Twenty-nine junior matches were scheduled for Sunday, with nine of them involving players from the US. Six of the seven American girls on the schedule advanced, while both US boys were eliminated. Those playing in their first Wimbledon, like Alexandra Sanford and Taylor Johnson, might not realize how different today's crowds were from the usual throngs, with the All England Lawn Tennis Club electing to sell only 10,000 grounds passes and allowing no queuing for the first Middle Sunday featuring matches since 2004.

"It was quieter," said 16-year-old Michaela Gordon, a quarterfinalist at the last two Wimbledon Junior Championships. "It was a lot less crowded walking around. That was the only difference I noticed. I was glad that I played today, and that my match didn't get cancelled because of the rain and finished before it got dark."

Gordon, who defeated 18-year-old lefthander Chihuro Muramatsu of Japan 6-2, 6-4 in one of the day's last junior matches, viewed her run to the quarterfinals of last week's Grade 1 in Roehampton as ideal preparation for another deep run at Wimbledon.

"It definitely helped a lot," said Gordon, who did not play Roehampton either of the previous two years. "I played really well last week, had a few really good matches, so I think that is definitely giving me confidence for this tournament."

No. 9 seed Usue Arconada prepared for her first grass court match of the season by playing on indoor carpet, as she elected not to play Roehampton, but instead competed in two $25,000 Pro Circuit events in the United States, qualifying and winning a round in both tournaments.

"I went to Nottingham last week to train there, so I did get some grass court hitting in, but it was raining a lot," said the 17-year-old from Maryland. "I had to hit on indoor carpet, but that's really fast too, so it was really helpful."

Arconada, like Gordon playing in the Wimbledon Juniors for the third time, needed all her experience and two hours and 24 minutes to get past 15-year-old Iga Swiatek of Poland 6-4, 4-6, 9-7 late Sunday afternoon.  Arconada served for the match three times in the final set--at 5-2, 5-4 and 6-5--before she got her first match point, which she converted, at 8-7.

"It was a really tough match," said Arconada, who reached the round of 16 last year, losing to eventual champion Anna Blinkova of Russia. "I was happy with how I played at the end. I fought really hard, which I'm glad about. I tried to push myself to be aggressive, but she was hitting way too well there [when Arconada served for the match]. It was quite the match for a first round."

Sanford played her first match on grass two weeks ago at the Maureen Connolly Cup in Eastbourne and after some initial trepidation, found the surface perfect for her game.

"Once I got the hang of it, after one practice and the first match I played, I really enjoyed it, really had fun," said Sanford, who defeated Wushuang Zheng of China 7-6(4), 7-6(5).  "I thought at first I would struggle moving on it a little bit, but I knew it would fit my game style. I like to play close to the baseline and hit aggressive. But I actually found that movement wasn't really an issue. It really complements my game, and I enjoy playing on it."

Sanford had a 4-2 first-set lead and points for 5-2, but Zheng stormed back with three straight games to serve for the set. Zheng couldn't reach set point, and Sanford took the ensuing tiebreaker with a good second serve return on her second set point.

In the second set, both players held until 5-5, when Zheng was broken at love to give Sanford an opportunity to serve it out. She returned Zheng's favor, getting broken at love to set up a second tiebreaker.

"I think I was thinking about it too much," Sanford said of those four quick points to Zheng at 6-5. "I think I got a little too far ahead of myself. And the sun was bothering me on the opposite side, so I got broken pretty easily, which was a bummer."

Down 3-1 in the tiebreaker, Sanford won the next four points, but missed a forehand for 5-5. She won the next point when Zheng's forehand sailed long, earning her first match point, and when Zheng missed her first serve again, Sanford smacked a forehand return winner to stay out of a third set.

"It's definitely tough when you think about the 5-all point," Sanford said. "It can go either way, and it's the difference between winning the match and having to stay out and play a third. On that 6-5 return, I just thought, go for it, no regrets, but still play with big targets, and it paid off."

No. 8 seed Sonya Kenin defeated wild card Ali Collins of Great Britain 6-1, 6-1 in 50 minutes.  No. 5 seed Kayla Day advanced with a 7-5, 6-3 win over Dominique Schaefer of Peru and Wimbledon rookie Johnson picked up her first junior slam win, beating wild card Eden Richardson of Great Britain 6-4, 6-3, as Johnson's coach Rosie Casals and Billie Jean King looked on.

Morgan Coppoc lost to British wild card Gabriela Taylor 6-3, 6-1, while JJ Wolf and Sam Riffice were beaten in their openers.  Riffice lost to his doubles partner this week, Nicola Kuhn of Spain, 7-6(9) 6-3, failing to convert on three set points in the first set, while Wolf, up a set and a break, fell to Ryan Storrie of Great Britain 6-7(5), 6-3, 7-5.

The only boys seed to fall in today's play was No. 13 seed Benjamin Sigouin of Canada, who lost to Evan Furness of France 7-6(8), 2-6, 6-4.  No. 11 seed Yuki Naito of Japan was the sole girls seed eliminated Sunday. She lost to Anastasia Zarytska of Ukraine 7-5, 6-4.

Eleven US juniors will play their first round matches on Monday: qualifier Chirara Lommer, Maria Mateas, No. 3 seed Amanda Anisimova, Caty McNally, Claire Liu, qualifiers William Blumberg, Alafia Ayeni and Nathan Ponwith, Vasil Kirkov, No. 16 seed John McNally and No. 2 seed Ulises Blanch.

I will be concentrating on Blumberg's match with No. 5 seed and Roehampton champion Denis Shapovalov of Canada, a rematch of a third round encounter last year, which Blumberg won.  I also plan to see as much as I can of Blanch's match with 18th-ranked Casper Ruud of Norway, a former junior No. 1. The two split two matches on clay last year, with Blanch pulling off the upset in the third round at the Orange Bowl in December.

The doubles draws were released, but there are no junior doubles on Monday's schedule.  US Open boys champions Felix Auger-Aliassime and Shapovalov head the boys draw, with Olesya Pervushina and Anastasia Potapova the top seeds in the girls draw.