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Friday, August 25, 2017

My Conversation with USTA's Bill Mountford; Gauff and Fourlis Reach Girls Final, Roommates Geller and Mejia Play for Boys Title at G1 International Hard Courts; Liu and Seven Other Americans Qualify for US Open Main Draw

©Colette Lewis 2017--
College Park MD--

Before I get into today's semifinal action at the ITF Grade 1 Prince George's County International Hard Court Championships, here is the link to an interview I did during the Kalamazoo Nationals with USTA Director of Junior Tournaments Bill Mountford for the Tennis Recruiting Network.  Although the changes to the USTA National Junior Competition schedule aren't drastic they are important, and I think Mountford provides some useful background information on them. Those of you interested in how Universal Tennis Ratings may be used by the USTA should also check out the interview, published today.

Saturday's singles finals here at the JTCC will showcase two roommates in the boys final, and in the girls final, two players at opposite ends of their junior careers.

The girls final will feature 13-year-old wild card Coco Gauff against No. 7 seed Jaimee Fourlis, with Gauff playing in only her third ITF event and Fourlis, who turns 18 next month, playing in her first junior tournament since 2016 Wimbledon.

Fourlis displayed serious grit in defeating top seed Elena Rybakina of Russia 5-7, 6-4, 7-5, coming back from 3-0, two breaks down, in the third set to steal the victory.

"I had to dig deep and fight really hard," said Fourliss, who won a round in the Australian Open as a wild card recipient and also earned a spot in the women's main draw at this year's French Open by winning a Tennis Australia playoff. "She had a great serve and she hits the ball really big, so I just had to trust my game."

Rybakina had a game point to go up 4-0 in the final set, but she didn't convert it. Fourlis saved a break point in the next game to close the gap to 3-2, and she got the second break back after Rybakina couldn't hold at 4-3 from 30-0 up.  After Fourlis held at 30 to go up 6-5, Rybakina immediately went down 0-40, and she was unable to escape as she had in her first and third round matches.  This time Rybakina was the one trying to hold at 5-6, and she could not, double faulting to give Fourlis the win.

"I know what I'm capable of, and yeah, she was serving great and she does have big serve, but I knew I could do it," Fourlis said. "I just had to be positive and trust myself. I knew it would be a tough match; she's a really good player."

Fourlis received entry based on her WTA ranking, saying that a visit to the United States was part of the reason she came back to junior tennis.

"I've only been to America once, so it was a little bit of a change to come here, get a lot of matches with top junior girls," said Fourlis, who entered the Grade 1 next week in Canada as well, but will need a wild card to play the US Open Junior Championships. "I just wanted to see how it would go, and so far, it's going really well."

Although Gauff has only been allowed to play ITF tournaments since her 13th birthday in March, Fourlis disputed the suggestion that Gauff was a relative unknown.

"I think most people know about her," said Fourlis, whose WTA ranking is 330. "I think everybody knows about her.  She's a great player and she's proven she can definitely play very smart on the court. I'm looking forward to tomorrow."

Gauff has certainly produced buzz at the JTCC club, and after her 6-0, 6-1 win over No. 14 seed Alina Charaeva of Russia, the fourth straight seed Gauff has eliminated, no one is discounting her chance to win the title.

Gauff struggled in her first service game, but finally held after nearly 10 minutes, and then broke Charaeva when the 15-year-old double faulted at 30-40.

Charaeva has unorthodox strokes, which Gauff admitted confused her at first.

"It's kind of weird playing it, but after the first game, I was just running for the ball," Gauff said. "Sometimes I didn't know where it was going, sometimes I did, but mostly she went cross court on her back hand, because her stroke is weird and it's hard for her to go line, so I just covered the cross court more than the line."

Gauff sensed Charaeva's belief ebb after that lengthy first game.

"I think her confidence dropped a little bit and she was not hitting as hard as she was in the first game," Gauff said. "After I got used to her ball, I was just going for my shots."

Gauff said she watched Fourlis defeat Rybakina and was impressed with their level.

"I thought both players played well and it could have gone either way," said Gauff, who has lost only 20 games in her first five victories. "It's really exciting and I'm excited to see what happens tomorrow."

Top seed Axel Geller of Argentina and No. 11 seed Nicolas Mejia of Colombia have been rooming together throughout the travels in Europe this summer and have been practicing together at the IMG Academy when not on the road, but Saturday's final will be their first official meeting.

"We met when he was 11 and I was 12 in a South American tournament," said Geller, who defeated No. 2 seed Sebastian Korda 6-2, 6-4 in Friday's semifinals. "We've trained and roomed together and he's like my little brother, I love him. We've played approximately 50 or 60 sets, and he knows me very well. He knows what I don't like, so he has that advantage, but I also know him very well."

Geller was able to save two early break points against Korda and found the rhythm on his serve, breaking Korda twice, the second time to secure the first set.

Korda took a 3-1 lead in the second set, but serving at 3-2, couldn't save the last of the five break points he faced.

"There was a key game when he was serving at 3-2," said Geller. "I had five break points, but he made five first serves and played very good points. But he had an easy ball and he didn't know what to do and he missed, he tried to fake a drop shot and hit a slice and I think if he had won that game, it could have been different. I would have kept fighting but maybe he would have momentum."

Geller, who won Roehampton and was a finalist at Wimbledon last month, finished the match with a break, to earn his third straight final in an ITF Junior Grade 1 or Grade A.

For Mejia, Saturday's final will be a new experience, as he had never reached the semifinal of a Grade 1 before this week. But after an impressive 6-4, 6-1 victory over No. 3 seed Sebastian Baez of Argentina, Mejia is ready to play his roommate for the title.

"We've been rooming since French Open, every single tournament," said the 17-year-old, who, like Geller, won his quarterfinal match 7-6 in the third. "I'd rather play him in a final than in the first round. If we're in the final, we're the ones who have played better the whole, so that's going to be fun. We love it. I'm really excited and for sure our coach is also excited about the final."

Mejia fell behind a break in the first set, but was able to break right back and took advantage of a shaky service game from Baez at 4-5 in the first set, when he double faulted twice in a row from deuce to give Mejia the set.

Baez's unforced error count continued to rise and Mejia was up 5-0 before Baez could get on the board.

"It's not that I played really well, he just made a couple more mistakes than usual. That was good for me, because I was able to break him twice," Mejia said, acknowledging that Baez preferred surface is clay. "I think for sure that on clay he has a little more time. This surface for me, I like it a lot better than the clay. I would rather play on fast courts."

Although Mejia is playing his first Grade 1 singles final, he has a Grade A and 3 Grade 1 doubles titles, and has earned his way back to the doubles final for a second year in a row at College Park.  He and Korda, the No. 2 seeds, defeated Lukas Greif and Sangeet Sridhar 7-5, 4-6, 10-6 and will meet No. 6 seeds Brian Cernoch and Andrew Fenty in Saturday's final.  Cernoch and Fenty took out defending champion William Woodall and his partner Lorenzo Musetti of Italy 6-4, 6-2.

The defending doubles champion in the girls draw also went out today, with Sofia Sewing, playing this year with Taylor Johnson, losing to Fourlis and Emily Appleton. Sewing and Johnson, the top seeds, were beaten by the No. 3 seeds 6-1, 6-1.  Appleton and Fourlis will face the unseeded Cho sisters, I-Hsuan and Yi Tsen of Taiwan, after they defeated No. 2 seeds Rybakina and Anastasia Kharitonova of Russia 4-6, 7-6(2), 10-8.

Saturday's order of play can be found at the tournament website.

A year ago, Claire Liu was sweeping the singles and doubles titles at the International Hard Courts here in College Park. Today, as a wild card, the 17-year-old qualified for the US Open women's main draw, defeating Victoria Kamenskaya of Russia 6-3, 6-1 at the USTA Billie Jean King Tennis Center.  Liu, who will play Ying-Ying Duan of China in the first round, is one of five US women to advance to the main draw. Danielle Lao, the former USC star, defeated No. 20 seed Jana Fett of Croatia 1-6, 6-1, 6-2 and will face Risa Ozaki of Japan in her slam debut.  Allie Kiick advanced when Vicky Duval retired down 6-3, 1-0 and will face No. 25 seed Daria Gavrilova of Australia.  Sachia Vickery, the 2013 USTA 18s National champion, beat Jamie Loeb 6-3, 6-4 and will play Natalia Vikhlyantseva of Russia.  Nicole Gibbs[14] defeated Naomi Broady of Great Britain 6-4, 4-6, 6-2 in the final round of qualifying to advance to the main draw, where she will play Veronica Cepede Royg of Paraguay.

Three US men qualified for the Open, two of them wild cards, with recent Virginia graduate JC Aragone defeating Akira Santillan of Australia 6-3, 2-6, 6-3 and former Michigan All-American Evan King downing No. 31 seed Michael Mmoh 6-3, 6-3.  Aragone faces No. 28 seed Kevin Anderson of South Africa and King play No. 12 seed Pablo Carreno Busta of Spain. The third US man to qualify, Tim Smyczek, also drew a seed, No. 17 Sam Querrey. Smyczek defeated No. 20 seed Peter Polansky of Canada 6-3, 6-4 to advance to the main draw.

In addition to the Americans who qualified, TCU's Cameron Norrie of Great Britain and Tennessee's JP Smith of Australia also reached the main draw through qualifying.

2017 Kalamazoo 18s champion Patrick Kypson will face qualifier Adrian Menendez-Maceiras of Spain, who at 31, is 14 years older than Kypson. 2015 Kalamazoo champion Frances Tiafoe drew No. 3 seed Roger Federer. Tennys Sandgren drew No. 2 seed Andy Murray.

Ashley Kratzer, the USTA 18s National champion, drew Tatjana Maria of Germany as her first round opponent.  NCAA women's champion Brienne Minor will face Ons Jabeur of Tunisia and Thai Kwiatkowski, the NCAA men's champion, will play No. 23 seed Mischa Zverev of Germany

With the eight qualifiers, the number of US players in the main draw is 42--19 men and 23 women. Draws can be found at usopen.org.