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Saturday, June 10, 2017

Osuigwe Beats Liu to Claim French Open Girls Title, Popyrin Wins Boys Championship; Venus and Harrison Take Men's Doubles; Ostapenko Adds French Women's Title to Wimbledon Junior Crown; Embree vs Collins in Bethany Beach Final

Although Claire Liu was the No. 6 seed and Whitney Osuigwe the No. 7 seed, Osuigwe's 6-4, 6-7(5), 6-3 win in today's French Open Junior Championships was a bigger surprise than the seeding would indicate.
At 15, Osuigwe is two years younger than Liu, and was playing in only her second junior slam, while Liu was playing her eighth.  Throw in Liu's 6-1, 6-1 demolition of Osuigwe in the semifinals of the Easter Bowl in early April, and Liu's two consecutive $25,000 tournament titles coming into the French and there's little argument about who was the favorite.

After Osuigwe fell behind 3-1 in the opening set, Liu's prospects for a sixth consecutive straight-sets win looked promising, but Osuigwe got the break right back, held, broke and held to go up 5-3.  Serving for the set, Osuigwe saved a break point and closed it out.

Osuigwe was twice up a break in the second set, and served for the match at 5-4, but was broken at 15.  Serving at 5-6, Osuigwe saved two set points to force a tiebreaker, in which she led 4-2, but Liu won five of the next six points to send it to a third set.

Rather than get frustrated, Osuigwe took inspiration from the three three-set matches she had won earlier in the week.

"...My first three rounds were three-setters, and I was down in most of them," Osuigwe said in her post-match press conference. "I just told myself to keep fighting and I did what I did and pulled it."

It wasn't quite that simple, with Osuigwe taking a 5-1 lead in the third set, and Liu fighting back, saving two match points with Osuigwe serving at 40-15, then saving two more from 15-40 down on her own serve to make it 5-3.  But on her third opportunity to serve out the match, Osuigwe didn't falter, holding at love to claim the first French Open girls title for the United States since Jennifer Capriati won it in 1989.

Osuigwe has said many times that clay is her favorite surface, and with two ITF Grade 1 titles and this one, her results have shown it.

"It slows the ball down so I'm able to get to more balls," Osuigwe said when asked why she preferred it.  "I like sliding...I mean, I think it's more the movement. I'm fast, but I can't get everything back. But on clay it allows me to get more balls back than I could on grass or hard."

Liu said she was not surprised at the turnaround from the Easter Bowl result.

"I was expecting it," Liu said. "I mean, I beat her, like, fast at Easter Bowl, but that was on hard. And I knew she would learn from that match. So I was expecting her to play well, and she did."

With the title, Osuigwe will move to No. 2 in the ITF junior rankings. 

The boys title went to No. 3 seed Alexei Popryin of Australia, who defeated No. 11 seed Nicola Kuhn of Spain 7-6(5), 6-3 to become the first Australian boy since Phil Dent in 1968 to win the junior championship.  For more on both of the finals, see the Roland Garros website and the ITF junior website.

Kuhn did leave Paris with a title however, winning the boys doubles championship with Zsombor Piros of Hungary.  The top seeds defeated unseeded Vasil Kirkov and Danny Thomas 6-4, 6-4, with Kirkov and Thomas constantly called on to win deciding points on their own serves to keep the match close. The Americans finally got to a deciding point on their opponents serve with Kuhn and Piros serving at 5-4 in the second set, but that was after they had had failed to convert three break points, and they lost that fourth one to give the title to Kuhn and Piros.

The girls doubles title went to top seeds Carson Branstine and Bianca Andreescu of Canada, who beat No. 2 seed Anastasia Potapova and Olesya Pervushina of Russia 6-1, 6-3.  The Canadians have now won both junior slams played this year, but Andreescu has said she is done with junior tournaments, so a grand slam in the juniors may not go any farther than these two titles.

Former LSU star Michael Venus of New Zealand and Ryan Harrison, longtime friends, but relatively recent doubles partners, won the men's doubles title, beating Mexico's Santiago Gonzalez and Donald Young 7-6(5), 6-7(4), 6-3 in the final between unseeded teams.  It was the sixth consecutive three-set win for Venus and Harrison. For more on their friendship, see this article from the tournament website.

Unseeded Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia won the women's title, becoming the first woman to follow up a junior slam with a women's championships since Victoria Azarenka, who won the second of her two junior slam titles at the US Open in 2005.  It took Azarenka seven years to win her first title at the Australian Open in 2012, while the 20-year-old Ostapenko won the Wimbledon girls title less than three years ago, in 2014.

The singles final is set at the $25,000 USTA women's Pro Circuit event in Bethany Beach Delaware, with top seed Danielle Collins facing unseeded Lauren Embree for the title.  Collins defeated Alexandra Mueller 6-2, 6-0 and Embree beat Ashley Kratzer 6-3, 6-2. This is Collins' third final since the beginning of May, but she has lost the last two. It's Embree's first final since she returned to the tour after retiring briefly last year. Embree and Collins were teammates at Florida for one season, 2012-2013, when Collins was a freshman and Embree was a senior. Collins didn't play much in dual matches that year before transferring to Virginia; Embree was the Gators' No. 1 player that year.

In the doubles final, No. 4 seeds Sabrina Santamaria and Abigail Tere-Apisah beat top seeds Mueller and Sophie Chang 6-4, 6-0.  It's the eighth pro doubles title for Santamaria, the 2013 NCAA doubles champion, the second for Papua New Guinea's Tere-Apisah, and their first as a team.