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Saturday, October 15, 2016

Day Repeats as Pan American Closed Girls Champion; Unseeded Brown Claims Boys Title at ITF Grade B1 in Tulsa

©Colette Lewis 2016--
Tulsa, OK--

Defending a junior title is never easy, particularly if you are the No. 1 player in the world. Top seed Kayla Day met that challenge this week at the ITF Grade B1 Pan American Closed, beating No. 5 seed Ellie Douglas 6-1, 6-4 in Saturday's final, coping with both windy conditions and the weight of expectations.

"It's really easy to play good when nobody expects you to win, because you have no pressure," said Day, a 17-year-old from Santa Barbara, California. "It's a little bit of relief, yeah. I'm happy I could come here and do what I needed to do, because it's hard, a lot times, to play as the favorite."

Douglas was unable to take advantage when Day went down 0-40 to open the match, with Day winning five straight points to hold, then breaking Douglas twice for a 4-0 lead.

"In the first set I had so many unforced errors, I didn't even give myself a chance," said Douglas, a 16-year-old from McKinney, Texas. "In the second set, I started playing a little bit better, had a bunch of game points in several different games that I didn't convert."

Douglas got her first two holds of the match in the first and third games of the second set, and even took a 3-1 lead briefly, but gave the break back in the next game with a double fault.  One of the missed opportunities she mentioned came in Day's next service game, with Day saving a break point for 3-3, but Day then broke Douglas at love to take a 4-3 lead. Day gave the break right back, missing a backhand on her second break point, but she hit a backhand winner in the next game to get the fifth and last break of the second set to go up 5-4.

"The points were really quick in the first set--either I'd hit a good serve or a winner or she'd miss," said Day, who agreed that the wind and Douglas's errors made it difficult to establish any rhythm. "In the second set, there were a lot longer points and she was getting it high to my backhand, and making more balls."

With more than half the games in the match won by service breaks, Day was hardly a lock to serve out the match, but at 30-30, Douglas made an forehand error, then was unable to get Day's serve back in play on match point, giving Day her 19th consecutive junior victory.

"I think I was able to be a little bit more aggressive at the end," said Day, who has been coached in 2016 by Henner Nehles of the USTA. "I don't think it was the best set, because there were so many breaks, but I'm happy that I was able to win."

Day had been planning to play this coming week's USTA Pro Circuit stop in Florence, South Carolina before it was cancelled due to Hurricane Matthew, so she will return home to California for a week of training, which she missed prior to the Pan American Closed due to a stomach virus.  Day is planning to play the three $50,000 tournaments in Macon, Scottsdale and Waco in the three weeks after that, with an eye toward a place in the women's Australian Open qualifying, before returning to junior competition for the last two Grade A championships in Mexico City and at the Orange Bowl.

Douglas is also heading to Macon, for the qualifying.

"It's my first pro tournament," said Douglas, who recently began working with coach Mariano Puerta of Argentina, the 2005 French Open finalist, who was with her in Tulsa. "I've been hurt a lot, so I couldn't play them. Then I'm playing the Grade A in Mexico City and Eddie Herr and Orange Bowl."

The boys final had its share of twists and turns, with Alex Brown defeating wild card Lukas Greif 6-4, 7-6(4).

The first set featured just one break, with Brown getting that at 2-2, then saving two break points to consolidate a 4-2 lead.  Greif saved four set points serving at 3-5, but Brown had no difficulty serving out the set, with the 6-foot-4 left-hander holding at love.

After holds by each player to open the second set, Greif was broken, but despite not breaking Brown in the first set, he wasn't discouraged.

"I knew I could come back," said the 16-year-old from Newburgh, Indiana. "I just had to stay positive, change up my return tactics, take it early and get ahead in the point, because he was serving really well."

That attitude and strategy served Greif well, as he got the break back immediately then held and broke to take a 4-2 lead.  But Brown indulged in what was for him a huge show of frustration, then broke Greif right back.

"I let out a loud 'come on'," said the mild-mannered Brown, a 17-year-old from Urbandale, Iowa. "That helped clear my brain of all the bad things, and that worked pretty well to get it back on track."

At 3-4, Brown had to save three break points, and serving at 5-6, he had to save two set points, with his serve again proving invaluable in getting him out of trouble.

"Today the wind was a big factor, especially serving and returning," said Brown, who trains with Elliott McDermed at the KCUT Academy in Overland Park, Kansas. "I thought I did a pretty good job using it to my advantage for the most part, except the two games I got broke.  I pulled him out wide, and hit more kick serves and slice serves with the wind. Against it, I hit the flat serve really well, and that was pretty successful."

"With the wind, he was getting the ball up, so it was hard to attack," said Greif, who trains with Bryan Smith at the Smith Academy in Indianapolis. "He served really well today; it was tough to break."

In the tiebreaker, Brown was up a mini-break at 3-2, but Greif got it back to 4-3 with a forehand winner off a short ball.  Two consecutive Greif backhands that caught the tape changed the momentum quickly however, with Brown now holding three match points, two on his serve.  A shanked forehand wasted one, but when Greif's forehand went just wide on the second match point, Brown had his first ITF junior title.

"Coming here I honestly didn't have any expectations," said Brown, who was the last boy into the main draw with his ITF ranking of 732. "But making it to the last day and then winning, that's a huge plus. Another positive was that I played better throughout the week, and I hope I can keep doing that whenever I come to these long tournaments."

Brown's next goal is his first ATP point and he will play three Futures tournaments this fall in pursuit of it.  The University of Illinois recruit has qualified twice in Futures tournaments, but lost in the first round both times.  As for junior events, he is hoping that his performance in the two big ITF events in California next spring can set him up for the junior slams next summer.

With his points from this week, Greif can probably gain entry into the Grade A and Grade 1 in Mexico, but is not sure if he'll play those.

"I might play them, but Eddie Herr and Orange Bowl for sure," Greif said.

Greif ended his tournament on a positive note, taking the boys doubles title with Danny Thomas with a 6-1, 6-3 win over No. 2 seeds Nicolas Mejia of Colombia and Sebastian Korda.

The unseeded Greif and Thomas defeated the No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 seeded teams in their run to the title and didn't surrender more than four games in any of the ten sets they won.

Although they hadn't played together since the 12s, Thomas said their comfort level was high from the beginning.

"We played together a lot, a while ago, but we have good chemistry," Thomas said. "I think we're just a good pair."

Thomas, who won two Futures doubles titles last month in Israel and had won the College Park Grade 1 doubles title in August with William Woodall, certainly had the credentials, if not the seeding, to win Tulsa.

"We won a lot in the 12s back then," said Greif. "We came here and expected to do well. I knew I had a pretty good partner," Greif said with a laugh when asked about Thomas's Futures wins. "Decent. It's great having him, he's an unbelievable doubles player and unbelievable guy. It's awesome to win this event."

Thomas's win in College Park was over Mejia and Korda in the final, so he knew what to expect.

"They are two good players together and they've played a lot together and are pretty good chemistry-wise," Thomas said.

"I thought we played our best match today," Greif said. "We stayed focus and returned really well. We broke them a few times so that gave us confidence in our service games and we played aggressive, played well."

In the girls doubles final, top seeds Kayla Day and Sofia Sewing held off defending champions Ann Li and Natasha Subhash, seeded No. 5, 6-2, 3-6, 10-7.

Day and Sewing had not played together before, but when Day knew she was going to play Tulsa, she asked Sewing to be her partner.

"I knew she was a good doubles player," Day said of Sewing, who, like Thomas, also won the College Park Grade 1 doubles title, with Claire Liu. "I didn't know that many people playing here and those I knew already had partners."

Sewing knew she and Day would have to play well to oust the defending champions.

"I'm good friends with them and I know they play really well together," said Sewing of Li and Subhash. "It was a hard match.  I think we were aggressive on the court, but we let each other play how we usually play, so it was good."

The match tiebreaker that decided the championship saw Day and Sewing go up 5-2, but then lose four straight points, two of those on Day's serve. There were no more mini-breaks until Subhash lost her second point on serve to give Sewing and Day an 8-7 lead, and Day won both points on her serve to close it out.

For Day, who had suffered a painful loss in the doubles finals of the US Open Junior Championships with Caroline Dolehide, it was an especially sweet victory.

"It feels really good, especially to get the doubles title too," said Day, who needs as many points as she can accumulate in her quest to hold off Russian Anastasia Potapova for the title of year-end World Junior Champion. "At the US Open, I had that awful finish to the doubles, so yeah, it feels really good."