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Friday, October 14, 2016

Douglas Earns Place in Final Against Defending Champion Day; Unseeded Brown and Greif to Decide Boys ITF Grade B1 Pan American Closed Title

©Colette Lewis 2016--
Tulsa, OK--

It was deja vu for top seed Kayla Day Friday in her ITF Grade B1 Pan American Closed semifinal match with unseeded Ann Li.  In their last meeting, in the third round of the 2016 ITF Grade 1 International Spring Championships, Li had come out on fire, taking the first set, before Day found her game and posted a 4-6, 6-4, 6-1 victory.

Today, Day dropped the first set 6-2, but no sign of frustration or panic was evident, as the USTA girls 18s National Champion and US Open girls champion confidently worked herself back into the match to post a 2-6, 6-2, 6-1 victory.

Day, who has now won 18 straight junior matches since losing in the semifinals of the Wimbledon Junior Championships, said she didn't think about her previous match with Li until she again dropped the first set.

"I didn't really think about it before, but I guess during," said Day, who was broken three times in the first set. "I was like, well, the same thing kind of happened in Carson and I won the next two sets.  But yeah, she came out really hot and I think I came out really flat. I wasn't moving well and she was really on the ball, so it was hard for me to get into it."

Day gave an early break right back in the second set, but she took the lead for good with a hold for 3-1 and began to get more points on errors from Li.

"I started the set better--I still wasn't playing great--but I think she dropped her level," Day said. "I was just a little bit off the whole match today, but I played really well the last two games."

Li was broken to open the third set and again in the next game, but she got one of the breaks back for 3-1.  But the 16-year-old from Pennsylvania lost a three-deuce game, with Day converting her forth break point, then getting another break to end the match.

Day's opponent in Saturday's final is No. 5 seed Ellie Douglas, who defeated No. 11 seed Dalayna Hewitt 7-5, 6-4.

Easter Bowl finalist Douglas was happy to be back in a Grade B1 final, but she was not pleased with her play, and she was back out on the practice court with her coach immediately following the match to prepare for Saturday's final.

"It reassuring to know that not playing my best I can still be in the final," said Douglas, a 16-year-old from Texas. "But I would like to be playing how I'm practicing at home, so it's a little disappointing, but tomorrow I'm hoping to bring my game out to the court."

Douglas got a break in the first set and then held for 5-3, but she was unable to serve it out at 5-4, hitting three consecutive double faults from 30-0 up, then making an unforced backhand error.  Hewitt, a 15-year-old from Ohio, couldn't take advantage of that poor game however, as she was broken in the next game and Douglas seized her second chance to serve for the set.

The second set started with four straight breaks, with Hewitt the first to hold for a 3-2 lead.  In the seventh game, Hewitt saved five break points, but lost the sixth and Douglas held for 5-3. Hewitt's forehand and serve are dangerous, and she saved a match point with a big forehand serving at 3-5, but Douglas closed out the match on a positive note, hitting an ace and forehand winner from 30-all.

Douglas believes her lack of match play may account for some of her struggles.

"Definitely that's a part of it," said Douglas. "I haven't had much competition and I just finished five weeks training. But also it's a little bit mental. I just need to go out on the court and relax, swing my racquet like I practice."

Despite long and noteworthy junior careers, Douglas and Day have never played. Douglas is looking forward to seeing how her game stacks up against the No. 1 junior player in the world.

"It's really a good opportunity to play my game and see where I am," Douglas said. "I think I can do really good if I play how I've been practicing."

The finalists in the boys championship match are also playing for the first time, with unseeded Alex Brown and Lukas Greif earning semifinal victories over seeded Mexican opponents on Friday.

Brown defeated No. 3 seed Alan Rubio Fierros 6-4, 6-2, holding on to the first set after failing to serve it out at 5-0 and 5-2.

"I was just hitting the ball well and clean," Brown said of his fast start. "I was dictating most of the points and that took him out of his rhythm, but he found it again when I got up 5-0. I missed a few more balls in the net and he came back a bit, but I closed it out with some big serves, which is what I'm looking to do."

Brown's serving stayed at that level in the second set, with the 17-year-old left-hander not facing a break point, while breaking Rubio in the third and fifth games.  Once Brown earned the second break and held for 5-1, he no longer felt he needed to guard against a Rubio comeback.

"Once I got up 5-1 I felt pretty comfortable," said Brown, who is from Iowa, but currently trains with Elliot McDermed at KCUT Academy in Overland Park, Kansas. "I felt I wasn't going to let my level drop again. I didn't feel as much pressure then."

Brown, who has beaten No. 2 seed Trent Bryde, No. 11 seed Danny Thomas and now No. 3 seed Rubio Fierros, said those particular wins weren't necessarily surprising, but the progression was unusual for him.

"Usually I'll have a good win, but I won't follow it up with a good match," Brown said. "So being able to follow each win and have another good win right after that, that's probably the biggest difference for me. I've been happy with it."

While also in straight sets, Greif's 7-6(4), 6-2 win over No. 7 seed Juan Hernandez Serranos was markedly different from Brown's, with Greif off his game at the beginning of the match and needing nearly as long to win the first set as Brown did to complete his two sets.

Overnight thunderstorms left the courts wet Friday morning, so the semifinalists warmed up indoors, which Greif thought may have contributed to his slow start.

"Because it rained this morning, we had to warm up indoors, so going outdoors, my timing was a little bit off the first few games," said Greif, who was down 3-1. "But yeah, the first set was a battle."

Greif earned his first set point with Hernandez serving at 5-6 in the first set, but an unforced error off the backhand cost him, and Hernandez held.  Trailing 3-1 in the tiebreaker, Greif won five of six points, the last when Hernandez missed a forehand after a long, physical rally. At 6-4, Hernandez had an opportunity to put the pressure back on Greif, but he netted another forehand to give Greif the set.

"He was playing very solid off of both sides, playing good defense," Greif said. "I was missing a few too many balls, but he was playing well the first set, giving me trouble. After I won the first set, I knew I would have to play a strong first game to get ahold of this match, and I did that."

After breaking to open the set, Greif stormed out to a 4-0 and 5-1 lead, but he couldn't convert on three match points with Hernandez serving at 1-5, losing six straight points in that stretch.  Greif had to save two break points serving for the match at 5-2, but that's when his serve proved valuable.

"I hit two good serves to get me a match point, and then I hit another good serve and he missed a forehand," said Greif, a 16-year-old from Indiana, who trains with Bryan Smith at the Smith Tennis Academy in Indianapolis. "But it was good to finish it there."

Much like last year's champion Brandon Holt and finalist JJ Wolf, Greif and Brown have limited experience in ITF tournaments, with both reaching their first final at the Grade 1 level.  Greif will play in a second final on Saturday, as will Day, in the doubles championships.

The unseeded team of Greif and Danny Thomas advanced by defeating top seeds Trent Bryde and Brian Cernoch 6-2, 6-4, their fourth consecutive straight-sets win.  They will face No. 2 seeds Sebastian Korda and Nicolas Mejia of Colombia in the final, after Korda and Mejia came back to beat Chih Chi Huang and Nicaise Muamba of Canada 4-6, 6-1, 10-5.

Day and Sofia Sewing, the top seeds, defeated unseeded Salma Ewing and Peyton Stearns 6-2, 7-6(4) and will play defending champions Ann Li and Natasha Subhash, the No. 5 seeds.  Li and Subhash downed No. 7 seeds Malkia Menguene and Alana Smith 6-1, 7-6(6).

The singles finals will be played simultaneously at 9 a.m. CDT Saturday, with the doubles finals to follow after suitable rest.