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Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Six US Girls, Two US Boys Reach Wimbledon Junior Championships Round of 16; Liu and Anisimova Meet for Place in Quarterfinals

©Colette Lewis 2016--

With grass such a rare surface for juniors, who play on it, at most, two weeks a year, upsets are not uncommon at the Wimbledon Junior Championships.  Two years ago unseeded qualifier Noah Rubin took the boys title, and last year Reilly Opelka was the second consecutive boys champion from the US who was unseeded.

This year, however, form has held throughout the first two rounds, with all eight top seeds in both the boys and girls draws advancing to Wednesday's round of 16 matches.

Eight of those 32 players are are from the United States, with six girls and two boys winning second round matches today on a cool but dry day of competition at the All England Lawn Tennis Club.

US Open girls runner-up Sonya Kenin, one of three girls in the draw who have made a junior slam final, showed her experience on the big stage in a routine 6-3, 6-2 win over 2015 Orange Bowl 16s champion Maria Carle of Argentina.

The eighth-seeded Kenin, who won the Grade A Orange Bowl in 2014, was comfortable on the Wimbledon grass after playing the Maureen Connolly Trophy Challenge in Eastbourne two weeks ago, and making the Grade 1 Roehampton quarterfinals last week.  Kenin has no doubt she can reach another junior final if she continues to play the aggressive, error-free tennis she has displayed in her first two victories.

"I definitely can get to the finals here, as long as I'm playing my best game," said the 17-year-old Floridian, who reached the Wimbledon Juniors third round last year. "I'm playing well, I'm fighting and I feel good on grass. I can do good drop shots, when they're working of course, and attacking, finishing some balls at the net."

Kenin went up 3-0 in both sets against the 16-year-old Carle, who plays more slice and spin than many junior girls. Kenin lost her early break in the first set, but never trailed, breaking Carle again for a 4-2 lead and closing out the set with no further difficulty.

Carle trailed 4-0 in the second set before she got on the board, and with Kenin saving the only break point she faced, Carle's chances were limited.

"I'd never played her, but I heard from a lot of people that she was very crafty," Kenin said. "She gets a lot of balls back, hits slices and drop shots. At the beginning, it was a little tough with the slices, but I adjusted and didn't miss anymore, and I was getting to all of her drop shots."

Kenin's opponent in the third round is qualifier Mariam Bolkvadze of Georgia, who defeated Karman Thandi of India 4-6, 6-2, 6-2. Bolkvadze, the only qualifier still remaining in the draw, and one of just four unseeded girls, received entry into the qualifying based on her WTA ranking of 486.  The 18-year-old left-hander has never played a junior slam before and had played only one ITF junior event ever prior to last week's Grade 1 in Roehampton. Kenin, who has played only high level junior events in addition to competing on the USTA Pro Circuit, has a WTA ranking of 328.

Kenin is one of four US girls in the top half of the draw.  Alexandra Sanford, one of the four unseeded players left in the draw, defeated No. 16 seed Mai Hontama of Japan 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 to set up a meeting with top seed Olesya Pervushina of Russia.  After a close call yesterday against Maria Mateas, Pervushina had no trouble with Tatiana Pieri of Italy, winning 6-1, 6-2 in 48 minutes.

The other two US girls in the top half play each other, with unseeded Claire Liu taking on No. 3 seed Amanda Anisimova. Liu needed just 51 minutes to get past qualifier Lara Salden of Belgium 6-2, 6-2, while the 14-year-old Anisimova also advanced in less than an hour, beating Jamie Fourlis of Australia 6-3, 6-4.

Anisimova reached the French Open final in just her second junior slam, a result that even she found a little hard to believe.

"It was an amazing experience," Anisimova said. "I never thought I would get that far in the tournament, but it was just amazing. I can't even express the feeling, it was just so great, especially because of my age."

Much like Kenin, Anisimova looked in control of her match from the start, and although she failed to serve it out at 5-2, she played a confident game at 5-4, holding at love, to close it out.

"I think my first serve percentage was low today (47%), maybe because of the wind," said Anisimova. "I tried to start off aggressive and focused, and I thought my serve was better in the first set, but it started getting worse throughout the match. I tried to hold my return, and just get those games.  I practice returns a lot, and I like stepping in on second serves."

Liu and Anisimova played recently in the semifinals of the ITF Grade 1 in Carson, with Liu taking out the top-seeded Anisimova 7-6(4), 1-6, 6-4.

"Hopefully I can just start out the match well and stay focused every point," said Anismova. "That match was just so up and down, and I didn't play that well. Hopefully tomorrow, I can start out stronger."

Anisimova believes the grass suits her game style.

"I think I'm really aggressive, so the ball sits low," said Anisimova. "It's easier to finish the point faster, and that's what I like to do."

The bottom half of the girls draw has two seeded US girls, with No. 9 Usue Arconada advancing with a 6-2, 6-3 win over Lucie Kankova of the Czech Republic, and No. 5 Kayla Day coming back for a 4-6, 7-5, 6-1 win over Francesca Jones.  Jones, a wild card from Great Britain, has only three fingers on each of her hands. For more on her inspirational rise in tennis, see this article from The Guardian.

Arconada will play No. 6 seed Bianca Andreescu of Canada. Andreescu, the 2015 Orange Bowl champion, returned to action last week for the first time since an injury forced her out of the third round of the Australian Open Junior Championships. Today she defeated qualifier Paula Arias Manjon of Spain 6-4, 6-4. Day, whom Andreescu beat in the Orange Bowl final, faces unseeded Varvara Gracheva of Russia. Day defeated Gracheva in two tough sets in the second round of the French Open last month.

Second seed and French Open girls champion Rebeka Masarova will face the fourth unseeded girl and the only British player in either draw, Gabriella Taylor. The 18-year-old, who won a round as a wild card in the women's qualifying, hasn't played a junior tournament since Wimbledon junior qualifying last year. Her current WTA ranking is 419.

Four unseeded boys have also advanced to the round of 16: France's Evan Furness, Germany's Daniel Altmaier, Poland's Piotr Matuszewski and Khumoyun Sultonov of Uzbekistan. Today Altmaier, who won his first career Futures title last week on Belgian clay, beat No. 9 seed Genaro Olivieri of Argentina 6-2, 5-7, 6-4 and Sultonov topped No. 15 seed Yibing Wu of Chinga 6-4, 7-5.

Sultanov's next opponent is No. 2 seed Ulises Blanch, who defeated wild card Ewan Moore of Great Britain 6-2, 7-6(6). Blanch has yet to drop serve in his two wins this week, saving all four break points he has faced.

Top seed Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece won a topsy turvy match from Vasil Kirkov 6-1, 3-6, 6-1 to advance against Furness, who beat Tsitsipas last year on clay. Kirkov tried to use his all-court game to pressure Tsitsipas, but the world junior No. 1's passing shots were solid throughout the final set.

Matuszewski will play No. 3 seed Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada. Auger-Aliassime, who beat Nicola Kuhn of Spain 7-6(5), 6-3, has beaten Matuszewski the previous two times they've played, both on clay.

The other US boy in the third round is No. 16 seed John McNally, who defeated Australian Blake Ellise 6-4, 7-6(5).  McNally will play No. 4 seed Mate Valkusz of Hungary, who defeated wild card Luke Hammond of Great Britain 7-5, 6-1.

Half of the first round of doubles matches were played today, with the other half scheduled for Wednesday.

Today I saw TV cameras operating on Court 17, so check WatchESPN or ESPN3 for possible coverage of the three junior matches, including Anisimova and Liu, scheduled for that court.