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Thursday, September 7, 2017

Six US Players Reach Quarterfinals at US Open Junior Championships; NCAA Champions Fall on Opening Day of American Collegiate Invitational; Keys and Stephens Reach US Open Final

©Colette Lewis 2017--
Flushing Meadow NY--

The USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center was buzzing with anticipation Thursday with both women's semifinals all-American contests.  The US Open Junior Championships also have four Americans in the quarterfinals after Thursday's third round action, but the distribution doesn't allow for a similar star-spangled quartet.

Two wild cards playing their first junior slam will face off in one of the quarterfinals, with 15-year-old Katie Volynets meeting 13-year-old prodigy Coco Gauff.  Volynets defeated Anastasia Kharitonova of Russia 6-3, 7-6(4), while Gauff closed out the night on the Grandstand Court with a 6-4, 6-3 win over yet another wild card, Dalayna Hewitt.

While fans were filing into Arthur Ashe Stadium for the Venus Williams - Sloane Stephens semifinal, Gauff and Hewitt were playing in a mostly empty Grandstand. With the changeover music, the Hawkeye system and the serve speed display, there was plenty for a young junior to get used to, but despite some patchy play in the opening few games, Gauff said she adjusted quickly.

"I actually adjusted right away, right after the warmup," Gauff said. "I really liked the court, the atmosphere was good, with the music playing on the changeovers and all that, I really liked it."

Gauff was familiar enough with Hewitt's powerful game to know that long rallies were not going to be a regular occurrence.

"I think I played well from the start and after I got used to her missing and making, I think I just needed to hit more balls," said Gauff, who fell behind 3-0 in the second set, but won the final six games of the match. "We didn't hit many balls today; we probably hit more balls in practice than in the match. I knew going in it was going to be short rallies--I think our longest rally was like six balls. It was win or miss today."

Gauff is not old enough to play pro events, but recognizes that Hewitt hits the ball as powerfully as most pros.  Dealing with and creating pace has never bothered her however.

"I'm pretty sure she hit more winners than me, but she made a lot more unforced errors," Gauff said. "I knew I could handle the power, that's never really been a problem for me, handling power or hitting with power. When I was 10, I was working on my consistency, because I was error-prone, but now my consistency is better and I want to be a good ball striker."

Gauff and Volynets met in the semifinals of the 18s Clay Courts in July, with Volynets winning 6-2, 6-2.

"I think she's really consistent and she doesn't get pumped up or down," said Gauff. "And she wears shades too, so you don't know if you're aggravating her or not. She doesn't have any weapons, she doesn't hit that powerful, compared to Dalayna, so I think if I don't make too many unforced errors and go for safer targets, hopefully I'll be able to pull out a win."

No. 4 Amanda Anisimova, the only seeded American girl in the quarterfinals, is set to face No. 8 Olga Danilovic of Serbia in the sole match between seeds in the girl matches Friday.  Anisimova, who has not dropped more than three games in a set in her three victories this week, had no trouble with qualifier Paula Arias Manjon of Spain in a 6-3, 6-2 win.

Anisimova had not played Arias Manjon before, so she was prepared to concentrate on her own side of the net before determining if any adjustments would be necessary.

"I sometimes adjust if my opponent is playing some type of way I don't like," said the 16-year-old, who is ranked in the WTA Top 200 after a successful summer on the USTA Pro Circuit. "So if they're going to be more aggressive, as she was a little bit today, then I just step a little bit back and hit heavy.  If I see an opportunity, then I just come in and play my game."

The winners of the only three-set matches in the girls third round Thursday will play on Friday, with Emiliana Arango of Colombia facing Elysia Bolton.  Arango ended the run of wild card Kelly Chen 4-6, 6-1, 6-2, while Bolton followed up her win over No. 2 seed Marta Kostyuk with a 6-3, 5-7, 6-4 victory over No. 15 seed Sofya Lansere of Russia. Bolton had defeated Lansere earlier this year in the semifinals of the Grade 1 in Morocco, but with a first junior slam quarterfinal appearance on the line, closing out Lansere wasn't easy, although she did serve out the match on her second attempt.

The other girls quarterfinal will feature Argentina's Maria Carle against No. 3 seed Elena Rybakina of Russia.

Four American boys reached the third round with two advancing to the quarterfinals, No. 11 seed Oliver Crawford and DJ Thomas.

Thomas came back from a break down in the second set to oust qualifier George Loffhagen of Great Britain 6-1, 7-6(5) and will take on unseeded Timofey Skatov of Russia in the quarterfinals.  Crawford needed only 52 minutes to cruise past Uisung Park of Korea, a welcome performance after two difficult three-setters earlier in the week.

"I had a tough first two rounds, didn't play my best but managed to get through," said the 18-year-old from South Carolina. "I knew the more opportunities I could give myself, the better I could play and I did all right today."

Crawford, who is a freshman at Florida and spent Wednesday night writing a paper that was due today, gives credit to the sideline coaching he is receiving from head coach Bryan Shelton.

"It's obviously the first time I've ever had that and it's obviously the first time they've ever done this at an ITF event," Crawford said. "He's been a tremendous help, to get through these matches. He's done a great job of keeping me cool, telling me some good key points that I wouldn't have come up with on my own and figured out. Obviously it's easier to figure out from the sidelines and with a coach like him, it's even easier. It's been a great help. In the first round, I went down a 3-0 early, a double break in the first set and he managed to help me figure out a few things. He said, let's do this, this and try this, and it started paying off.  I got it back to 4-3, got a break and won 6-4 in the first."

Crawford's opponent on Friday is No. 2 seed Yibing Wu of China, who he has never played.

"I practiced with him once this week actually, but other than that, I don't know much about him," Crawford said. "I'll ask a few people and see how it goes."

Top seed Axel Geller took out Crawford's Florida teammate Duarte Vale 7-6(2), 6-2 and will face unseeded Naoki Tajima of Japan in the quarterfinals. No. 10 seed Sebastian Baez of Argentina defeated wild card Trey Hilderbrand 4-6, 6-2, 7-5 and will play Emil Ruusuvuori of Finland, who eliminated Sam Riffice 4-6, 6-4, 6-2.

The boys doubles semifinals are scheduled for Friday, with Trent Bryde the only American participating. He and Vale, the No. 3 seeds, will face unseeded Toru Horie and Yuta Shimizu of Japan.  The girls doubles quarterfinals are scheduled for Friday, with Ann Li and Bolton, the No. 8 seeds, the only US players still in the draw. They will play No. 4 seeds En Shuo Liang of Taiwan and Xin Yu Wang of China.

The American Collegiate Invitational began today, with top seed Christopher Eubanks of Georgia Tech and NCAA champion and defending ACI champion Thai Kwiatkowski of Virginia both bowing out.

Eubanks lost to Arkansas's Michael Redlicki 6-2, 6-4 and Kwiatkowski was beaten by Stanford's Tom Fawcett 7-6(5), 6-4.  Redlicki will face Brandon Holt of USC, a 6-2, 6-2 winner over William Bushamuka of Kentucky, in Friday's semifinals, while Fawcett will play Florida's Alfredo Perez, who beat No. 2 seed Alex Rybakov of TCU 7-5, 6-3.

In the girls draw, top seed Francesca Di Lorenzo of Ohio State rolled past North Carolina's Sara Daavettila 6-1, 6-2 and will play Ena Shibahara of UCLA, who eliminated NCAA champion Brienne Minor of Michigan 6-1, 6-3.  Ingrid Neel of Florida took out No. 2 seed Hayley Carter 4-6, 6-4, 6-2 and will face Vanderbilt's Sydney Campbell, who outlasted North Carolina's Alexa Graham 4-6, 6-1, 7-6(6) in the day's best match.

I am interviewing all the ACI participants and will have more coverage for both the Tennis Recruiting Network and on Zootennis in the coming weeks.

Thursday Round 3 matches featuring Americans:

Katie Volynets def. Anastasia Khartionova(RUS) 6-3, 7-6(4)
Coco Gauff def. Dalayna Hewitt 6-4, 6-3
Amanda Anisimova[4] def. Paula Arias Manjon(ESP) 6-3, 6-2
Emiliana Arango(COL) def. Kelly Chen 4-6, 6-1, 6-2
Elysia Bolton def. Sofya Lansere(RUS)[15] 6-3, 5-7, 6-4
DJ Thomas def. George Loffhagen(GBR) 6-1 7-6(5)
Sebastian Baez(ARG)[10] def. Trey Hilderbrand 4-6, 6-2, 7-5
Emil Ruusuvuori(FIN) def. Sam Riffice 4-6, 6-4, 6-2
Oliver Crawford[11] def. Uisung Park(KOR) 6-2, 6-2

Friday’s quarterfinal junior matches featuring Americans:

Emiliana Arango(COL) v Elysia Bolton
Katie Volynets v Coco Gauff
Amanda Anisimova[4] v Olga Danilovic(SRB)[8]
Timofey Skatov(RUS) v DJ Thomas
Oliver Crawford[11] v Yibing Wu(CHN)[2]

The US Open women's final is set, with No. 15 seed Madison Keys taking on Sloane Stephens.  Stephens defeated No. 9 seed Venus Williams 6-1, 0-6, 7-5 and Keys downed No. 20 seed CoCo Vandeweghe 6-1, 6-2. Both Keys and Stephens had reached the semifinals of a major before, but Saturday's match will be the first final for the 24-year-old Stephens and the 22-year-old Keys.