Friday, August 26, 2016

Wang Shocks Top Seed Potapova, Crawford Wins Three-Hour Battle but Unable to Compete in Final of ITF Grade 1 International Hard Courts; Six Americans Qualify for US Open

©Colette Lewis 2016--
College Park, MD--

Temperatures in the 90s and a heat index over 100 greeted the semifinalists Friday at the ITF Grade 1 International Hard Court Championships, with Claire Liu and Oliver Crawford winning tough three-setters over fellow Americans to advance to Saturday morning finals.  Due to an ankle injury to Crawford in the doubles semifinal that followed his singles match, Crawford is unable to compete in the final, however, with Serbia's Miomir Kecmanovic, the No. 2 seed, taking the title in a walkover.

Prior to the unfortunate injury to Crawford, No. 7 seed Xiyu Wang of China created the biggest buzz of the day's action, surprising top seed Anastasia Potapova 6-1, 6-2, to end the Russian's ITF junior winning streak, which stretched back to June, at 16.

The two 15-year-olds had met twice before, back in late 2013 and early 2014 at the Junior Orange Bowl 12s semifinals and Les Petits As third round, with Potapova winning both in straight sets.  Wang, who speaks little English, said she was ready for this meeting, and was not overjoyed by the win over the ITF No. 1 and reigning Wimbledon girls champion, calling it "normal."

Wang, a tall left-hander, hit with great power and depth, but usually that style doesn't pose any problem for Potapova.  On this day, however, Potapova was making bunches of unforced errors, while Wang continued to tee off on Potapova's second serves, hitting one winner after another.

After a first set to forget, Potapova was broken serving at 2-3 in the second.  The expected comeback may have hinged on Wang's next service game, when she saved two break points to consolidate the break.  In the last game, Potapova's return game totally deserted her, failing to get the ball in play three times, the last when she netted a return at 40-15.

"My body is stronger, my fitness is better," Wang said through a translator, describing the reasons she was able to reverse the previous outcomes. "My serve is very good, I think, and was good today."

Like Potapova, No. 2 seed Liu had her own difficulties today, playing unseeded 14-year-old Hailey Baptiste, but Liu somehow managed to fight through stretches of lackluster play for a 6-4, 4-6, 6-2 victory.

"My first serve percentage was really low," said Liu, 16. "I don't know, it was just not a good day.  Every game I served in that first set, she had a break point."

Liu went up a break twice in the first set, at 3-2 and 4-3, but was broken back both times.  Liu got a third straight break to go up 5-4, and although she was forced to save a break point, she did hold to take the lead.

"She's really good," said Liu. "She has a huge forehand. She was pounding it, and she has a really good serve, hitting her spots really well. I think she's really good, and I got a little lucky, tried to fight."

In the second set, Baptiste went up 3-0, but lost that advantage. She went up 5-3, but couldn't serve out the set, although she took it with a chip return and great lob with Liu serving at 4-5, 30-40.

After the 10-minute heat rule break, Liu was able to take control of the match, breaking Baptiste's serve three times en route to a 5-1 lead.

"In the first few points of the games it was really crucial to get ahead," said Liu. "Especially in the third, I think I did better winning the first point, to start me off better."

Liu was looking forward to playing Potapova, who beat her in three sets at Roehampton back in June, admitting to surprise at the result of that semifinal.

"I know she's a lefty, and she hits pretty hard, is aggressive," said Liu of Wang. "I think maybe I practiced with her three years ago, but I don't really know her game."

Liu, the fifth American Wang will have played this week, is just hoping to play better in the final than she did in the semifinal. "I've played better matches this week, and she[Baptiste] played well. I just tried to hang in there."

Kecmanovic started his match against No. 3 seed Youssef Hossam of Egypt an hour after Crawford took the court against Gianni Ross and finished an hour before Crawford and Ross's marathon ended. Kecmanovic, the 2015 Orange Bowl champion, needed just an hour and ten minutes to defeat Hossam 6-1, 6-2.

Crawford, seeded 16th, and Ross, seeded 12th, played for 3 hours and five minutes, with Crawford grinding out a 6-4, 5-7, 6-3 win to advance to his first Grade 1 final.

Crawford was up two breaks in the first set, but managed to hold on to one to take the lead. He was up a break twice in the second set, but was unable to consolidate either time, with Ross breaking Crawford at love at 5-6 to claim the second set.

Another early Crawford break, this in the first game, gave him some breathing room, but although that one break held up, it wasn't easy for Crawford to protect it.

"I obviously like to play from ahead, serve first in all the sets," said the 17-year-old from South Carolina. "I like to play with a bit of a lead, makes me feel a bit more comfortable. Playing from behind is a bit more pressure, in my opinion."

Crawford had a chance to go up two breaks with Ross serving at 1-3, but Ross held, and Crawford had to save two break points serving at 4-3, 15-40. But Ross missed a backhand volley, and a forehand and Crawford held.  Ross didn't force Crawford to serve again, dropping his serve at love to give Crawford the victory.

"It's never easy to close it out, especially someone like Gianni," said Crawford. "Gianni competed all the way until the end. Someone with his game style, who makes a lot of balls and hits very heavy and plays aggressively when he's ahead in the rallies is definitely not easy to close out. I knew I had to play my best tennis all the way through the match to beat him."

The boys final Saturday will not take place however, after Crawford rolled his ankle in his doubles semifinal in the afternoon.  He continued to play, but was limping noticeably throughout the remainder of the match, which he and Patrick Kypson, the No. 7 seeds, lost to unseeded Danny Thomas and William Woodall 6-7(4), 6-3, 14-12.

Thomas and Woodall will play unseeded Sebastian Korda and Nicolas Meija, who beat unseeded Yshai Oliel of Israel and Andrew Fenty 2-6, 6-3, 10-5, in Saturday morning's boys doubles final.

The girls doubles final will be played after the girls singles final, with Liu and Sofia Sewing taking on No. 8 seeds Morgan Coppoc and Victoria Emma.  Liu and Sewing defeated No. 4 seeds Caty McNally and Natasha Subhash 1-6, 6-1, 10-8, while Coppoc and Emma took out unseeded Victoria Flores and Kate Paulus 6-3, 6-2.

Complete draws are available at the tournament page.

Twelve Americans, six men and six women, reached the final round of qualifying for the US Open, with three of each advancing to the main draw.

CiCi Bellis defeated Alison Van Uytvanck 6-2, 6-7(5), 6-2, avenging two three-set losses to the Belgian back in July.  Bellis, who made her US Open debut at age 15 as the National 18s champion back in 2014, will play Viktorija Golubic of Switzerland in the first round.

Jessica Pegula, the No. 28 seed in qualifying, advanced to the main draw with a 4-6, 6-0, 6-3 win over Riza Ozaki of Japan. Pegula has drawn No. 4 seed Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland.  Taylor Townsend beat fellow American Jennifer Brady 7-5, 6-4 and will face Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark.

Both Christian and Ryan Harrison advanced to the main draw of the US Open.  Ryan, the No. 11 seed, defeated Henri Laaksonen of Switzerland 6-3, 6-2 and will play Adrian Mannarino of France in the first round. Christian, who has suffered through years of injuries, illness and surgery, will make his slam debut against Paul-Henri Mathieu of France after defeating Steven Diez of Canada 1-6, 6-4, 6-2 in the final round of qualifying.

Jared Donaldson, the No. 14 seed in qualifying, beat Santiago Giraldo of Colombia 6-2, 6-2 and has drawn No. 14 seed David Goffin of Belgium in the first round.

The draws were released today, with 17 US men in the main draw. Unfortunately, four of them play each other, with No. 20 seed John Isner facing wild card Frances Tiafoe and No. 26 seed Jack Sock meeting Taylor Fritz.  NCAA champion Mackenzie McDonald will play qualifier Jan Satral of the Czech Republic and Kalamazoo champion Michael Mmoh has drawn Jeremy Chardy of France in the first round.

Even with Sloane Stephens' withdrawal early today, the US has 22 women in the main draw.  As with the men, there are two all-US first round matches, with No. 8 seed Madison Keys facing Alison Riske and Madison Brengle meeting San Diego champion Kayla Day.  NCAA champion Danielle Collins got a much better draw this time around, after getting No. 2 seed Simona Halep in 2014, when she also won the NCAA title.  Collins will play Evgeniya Rodina of Russia, who is currently ranked 102.  Last year's San Diego champion Sonya Kenin, who earned a wild card this year in the USTA's Wild Card Challenge, drew No. 10 seed and Cincinnati champion Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic.

The men's draw is here, the women's draw is here. Play begins Monday, with the order of play for Monday likely to be posted Saturday.