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Thursday, August 24, 2017

Geller Saves Match Point, Mejia Ousts Second Seed Bryde to Reach ITF Grade 1 International Hard Courts Semifinals; Liu Among 13 Americans Through to Final Round of Qualifying at US Open

©Colette Lewis 2017--
College Park MD--

All the quarterfinal drama in the ITF Grade 1 International Hard Court Championships was in the boys draw Thursday as top seed Axel Geller of Argentina saved a match point to beat Alafia Ayeni 3-6, 6-3, 7-6(2) and Nicolas Mejia of Colombia took out No. 2 seed Trent Bryde 6-4 4-6, 7-6(4), although without saving a match point. Both matches, over two-and-a-half hours in length, were contested at the same time on an unseasonably cool morning at the Junior Tennis Champions Center.

Geller admitted his loss of the first set to No. 9 seed Ayeni was due to the Californian's perfectly executed serve and volley strategy.

"He came out to try to impose his game, and actually he did it really good," Geller said. "It's not that I played bad, but he played better. My passing shots were good, but he would do some weird thing and make the volley. It's really smart on his part, because he's really athletic and big, so it's hard to hit passing shots on him."

Geller said that changing balls only for a third set, rather than at 7 and 9 games, caused some of his struggles, as he fell behind 5-2 in the final set.

"Because of the balls, I really couldn't go for my down the line passing shots, so I had to go cross and get a second ball," Geller said. "But I guess it was a really smart play from his side. I'd say I kept my composure a bit more than he did when he served for the match."

After a love hold by Geller to make it 5-3, Ayeni served for the match and got an error from Geller to go up 30-15. But that was the last point Ayeni would win in the game, as his two backhand errors and a netted forehand put Geller back on serve. Geller held after one deuce to make it 5-5, and Ayeni came back from 15-40 down in his next service game, closing out the game with a overhead winner and an ace.

After Ayeni saved a game point with a backhand volley winner at 5-6, 40-30, Geller missed a forehand to give Ayeni a match point. But Geller got his first serve in, and Ayeni's return went just long. A forehand winner and an unforced error on the backhand side gave Geller the game, and he was rejuvenated.

"I didn't really give him an opportunity to play that point," Geller said. "I served body and that was it. I knew if I went body and made it, it was going to be point or an easy first shot.  When I was younger, I could have gotten into that trouble, but I didn't have that big of a serve, I wasn't developed, then I might lose those matches, without doing anything wrong. Now it's a bit better for me; I know I can go for my shots. I think it's how tennis works today, most of the good players do that."

Ayeni made a couple of unforced errors in the tiebreaker and fell behind 5-1.  He got one of the minibreaks back when Geller's drop shot attempt backfired, but Ayeni couldn't hold on either of his next two serves and Geller had survived.

"I'm happy with the way I reacted when I was down in the third," Geller said. "Up until then I was concerned with the attitude I had, my body language wasn't great and I couldn't get into the match. It's not that I didn't care, but maybe I was thinking I came here to get matches, not to actually win. But when I was about to lose, I could react."

Geller will face No. 7 seed Sebastian Korda in the semifinals, after Korda mounted a comeback of his own in a 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 win over unseeded Trey Hilderbrand.

Mejia said his first serve was not effective in the first two sets against Bryde, and when he served for the match, those woes continued, compounded by nerves.

"I got kind of tight, and I wasn't making too many first serves," said the 17-year-old, who trains at the IMG Academy in Bradenton. "But then at 5-all I was able to play loose, I made four first serves.  In the tiebreak I was 3-0 down and then won six straight points. He made a couple of mistakes, and I made my first serves. I got it right just in time."

Mejia will face No. 3 seed Sebastian Baez of Argentina, who won the only boys quarterfinal decided in straight sets. The 16-year-old Orange Bowl semifinalist defeated unseeded Lukas Greif 7-5, 6-4.

"I'm never played him, except in doubles," said Mejia, who will be playing in his first Grade 1 singles semifinal. "I know he goes for his shots, and I've just got to stay with him. Hopefully he'll give me some chances and I'll take advantage of them."

The girls quarterfinals were quick affairs, with only one upset. Thirteen-year wild card Coco Gauff continued her march through the draw with an impressive 6-1, 6-2 win over No. 6 seed En Shuo Liang of Taiwan. Liang had trouble finding the court in the first set, but the 16-year-old is a fine ball striker when she isn't under pressure.  Gauff stayed with Liang in all the long rallies and also displayed a savvy feel for the ball when a lighter touch was required.  But her serve was particularly impressive on Thursday. Although she was broken twice in the second set, she came back from 0-40 down to hold for 5-2, hitting two aces and two service winners to take control of the match again.

Gauff will attempt to defeat her fourth seed in succession when she takes on No. 14 seed Alina Charaeva of Russia.  Charaeva defeated unseeded Layne Sleeth of Canada 6-0, 6-2 in the quarterfinals.

Top seed Elena Rybakina has alternated between easy and difficult matches in her four victories this week, and a day after beating Hurricane Tyra Black 7-5 in the third, the 18-year-old Russian breezed by unseeded Lulu Sun of Switzerland 6-0, 6-1.  Rybakina will face No. 7 seed Jaimee Fourlis of Australia, who defeated unseeded Abigail Forbes 6-3, 6-3.

The doubles semifinals are set for Friday, with two seeded boys teams and the top three seeds in the girls draw remaining.

Top seeds Taylor Johnson and Sofia Sewing will face No. 3 seeds Fourlis and Great Britain's Emily Appleton. No. 2 seeds Rybakina and Alina Kharitonova of Russia will face the unseeded team of I-Hsuan Cho and Yi Tsen Cho of Taiwan.  Cho and Cho needed two hours and 15 minutes, an unheard length for a match with no-ad scoring and match tiebreaker in lieu of a third set, to defeat Sleeth and Argentina's Maria Carle 7-6(7), 6-4.

Defending boys doubles champion William Woodall has returned to the semifinals, although not with 2016 partner DJ Thomas. Woodall is playing with Lorenzo Musetti of Italy this year and the unseeded pair ended the run of 15-year-olds Alex Lee and Marcus McDaniel 6-1, 2-6, 10-5.  Woodall, who trains at the JTCC, will face his fellow students in No. 6 seeds Brian Cernoch and Andrew Fenty.  The other semifinal will feature Mejia and Korda, the No. 2 seeds, against unseeded Greif and Sangeet Sridhar.  Mejia and Korda won the rematch of the ITF Grade 1 Carson final today, beating unseeded Boris Kozlov and Karl Poling 7-5, 4-6, 10-8.

For Friday's order of play, see the tournament website.

The second round of US Open qualifying was completed today, with 13 of the 50 Americans competing for a spot in the main draw advancing to Friday's final round.  Seventeen-year-old Claire Liu was the last to book her place in the final round of qualifying, with the Wimbledon girls champion defeating Sesil Karatantcheva of Bulgaria 4-6, 6-4, 7-6(3). She will face Victoria Kamenskaya of Russia next.

Two of the women's final round qualifying matches will be US against US.  Allie Kiick and Vicky Duval, both of whom have had cancer and other serious health issues interrupt their promising young careers, will face off Friday, as will Sachia Vickery and Jamie Loeb.  Danielle Lao, Bernarda Pera[31] and Nicole Gibbs[14] are the other three US women advancing with victories today.

Five US men are through to the last round of qualifying, with Tim Smyczek, Mitchell Krueger and wild card JC Aragone winning today. Recent Virginia graduate Aragone, who received a last minute wild card, followed up his first round win Tuesday over No. 5 seed Marco
Cecchinato with another come-from-behind victory over another Italian, Riccardo Bellotti. Aragone defeated Bellotti 3-6, 7-5, 6-3 and will face Akira Santillan of Australia on Friday.

Either Evan King or Michael Mmoh will reach the main draw after both posted victories today and will play each other on Friday.  Former Michigan star King, a 3-6, 6-1, 6-0 winner over No. 13 seed Renzo Olivo of Argentina, has never played a main draw match at a slam.  No. 31 seed Mmoh, who has breezed through his first two matches, played in the US Open main draw last year after receiving a wild card for winning Kalamazoo and the Australian Open main draw this year after winning the USTA's reciprocal wild card race last fall.

Great Britain's Cameron Norrie, who recently turned pro after his junior year at TCU, is in the final round of qualifying, as is former Tennessee All-American JP Smith, who is Krueger's opponent on Friday. 2016 Wimbledon boys champion Denis Shapovalov of Canada is also through to the final round of qualifying.

Friday's schedule is available here.