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Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Ercan and Wong Make History with Junior Orange Bowl 14s Titles; Americans Ngounoue and Quan Claim 12s Championships

©Colette Lewis 2018--
Coral Gables FL--

Turkey's Melisa Ercan and Hong Kong's Coleman Wong earned their countries' first Junior Orange Bowl titles in the 14s divisions Tuesday, while top seeded Americans Clervie Ngounoue and Rudy Quan earned the 12s titles as the 57th annual edition of the tournament concluded under clear blue skies at the University of Miami and Salvadore Park.

Ercan earned a 6-3, 6-1 victory over unseeded 12-year-old Victoria Mboko of Canada, closing out her title with a seventh consecutive straight-sets victory.

The fourth-seeded Ercan, who reached the semifinals of the Eddie Herr, was confident coming into the final, not only due to her recent success, but also due to her previous win over Mboko in the final of a U14 tournament in Germany this summer.

"Before we play and I won, so I'm more focusing," said the 13-year-old, adding that previous win helped keep her nerves under control. "I'm believing in myself and I played my best I think today. She played so good too; it was very good match and I hope we will play a lot of finals."

Mboko was not able to put any pressure on Ercan in the second set, and her string of three-setters ended at three as Ercan decisively closed the door.

"I thought she played pretty good, but I don't think I played as well as I did the other days before," said Mboko. "I wasn't awake, I wasn't there, I don't know, I just wasn't feeling it today. I was a little bit nervous, because it was my first international final and I know she's really good."

Ercan was smiling and taking photographs with the Turkish flag, enjoying the moment with her coaches from ProWorld Academy in Delray Beach, where she has been training prior to these big junior events in Florida. Ercan was well aware that she had an opportunity to become the first Orange Bowl winner from Turkey, and excited to have accomplished that.

"I'm the first Turkish player," Ercan said. "It's an honor to be here, and I'm so happy. This is such a big tournament. It's very important for Turkey, first time Eddie Herr (Togan Tokac won the boys 14s), first time Orange Bowl. I think after this time, Turkey is so proud and I'm so proud for my country."

Ercan will return to Turkey for the holidays and then prepare for Les Petits As.

After defeating top seed and 2016 Junior Orange Bowl 12s champion Victor Lilov 7-6(3), 6-4, Wong donned a Nike Hong Kong T-shirt to celebrate his country's first Junior Orange Bowl title, which he said would be "really big" news in his home country.

"It's unbelievable," said the 14-year-old, seeded No. 3. "I never think I can win this tournament. It's a 128 draw, it's really tough, every opponent is really good."

Wong discovered that in his quarterfinal match against unseeded Sebastian Gornzy of the United States, who held a match point at 6-5 in the third set tiebreaker, only to see Wong win the next three points for a 4-6, 6-2, 7-6(6) victory.

Against Lilov, Wong started out well, breaking Lilov to open the match and holding serve with little difficulty until faced with serving out the set at 5-4.  Failing to get a single first serve in six attempts, Wong was broken when Lilov took advantage of the first break point he had seen in the match and then held for his first lead at 6-5. Wong saved four set points in the next game, then dominated the tiebreaker.

"I don't want to take credit away, but we both played a very bad game, both of us, unforced error after unforced error," Lilov said of that 12th game. "I feel I should have won that game, but that's tennis, and then the tiebreaker he just played a better game than me. I missed too many returns."

Lilov is not accustomed to being on defense, but Wong's huge forehand gave Lilov no opportunity to attack.

"He was absolutely crushing the ball, hitting every ball really hard," said the 14-year-old Lilov, who trains with Kyle Spencer in Raleigh North Carolina. "Today was his day, I was too defensive to win, but that's just what happened."

In the second set, Wong ran out to a 4-1 lead, but Lilov stayed in the match, and with Wong serving for the match at 5-3, broke him after saving four match points. One match point was won by Lilov, but the other three were lost on Wong's errors, which were coming with more frequency as the tension rose.

"I was so nervous," said Wong. "I just don't know what to do there. I just want to serve in."

Wong didn't hang his head after failing to convert those four match points and a devastating drop shop winner put him up 0-30 with Lilov serving at 4-5. Two points later he had the title.

"I was so happy," said Wong. "I never thought I could win this, but at last, I won. I can't use words to describe the feeling."

Wong is scheduled to compete in a Futures tournament next week in Hong Kong, before returning to ITF Junior Circuit events. Lilov is not sure what his schedule will be for the first few months of 2019.
Clervie Ngounoue had already proven herself in the 14s division, winning the USTA Clay Court title and reaching the USTA Nationals and the Eddie Herr finals in that age group.  Yet winning the Junior Orange Bowl 12s remained a goal, although she recognized that securing the title would be easier if she did not focus on it.

"I tried not to put too much pressure on myself, I just went on the court with focus every single point," said the 12-year-old from Washington DC, who uses meditation and visualization in her pre-match routine. "So I came into the tournament with bigger plans, of course, but I took it as every other tournament."

In the final against Brooklyn Olson, the No. 2 seed, Ngounoue said she kept her nerves under control and was able to play well from the beginning of her 6-3, 6-0 victory.

"I knew what I had to do," said Ngounoue, who beat Olson in the Easter Bowl 12s semifinals back in March and went on to win that title. "I had to go on the court, put everything together and keep my focus."

Ngounoue went up 5-1 but could not serve out the first set, with Olson finding ways to disrupt her rhythm and redirect some of Ngounoue's shots to unexpected places. But Ngounoue was able to break Olson to take the set, hitting a backhand winner on her second set point.

The first game of the second set presented Olson with an opportunity to change the momentum, but she was unable to convert her break point opportunity.

"That kind of threw me off," said Olson, who trains with Ashley Hobson at Inspiration Tennis Academy in Bradenton Florida. "I was like, Brooklyn, you had it, you had a few points and you could have got the game. I tried to focus on the next point, but she got it."

Olson said she couldn't counteract Ngounoue's forehand.

"She's improved tremendously," said Olson. "At Easter Bowl, her forehand wasn't as big, it was flat. Now she has spin. She would just move me out wide, I'd be in the alley and she would open up the court so well and then slap a winner. I was just wow, amazing shot."

Once Olson was broken in the second game of the second set, the question was whether Ngounoue could keep her focus with the finish line in sight. She did.

"I had the momentum, I knew that, and I just wanted to push it a little more," Ngounoue said.

Ngounoue closed out the title to join her friend Coco Gauff on the list of girls 12s champions, with the recent ITF Orange Bowl champion attending the final.

"Coco trains sometimes at the Mouratoglou Academy in Nice France, where I train as well," said Ngounoue, who also trains with her father Aime at Sport Fit Bowie in Maryland. "I saw her a few weeks ago, and before my match she said she would come watch me."

After returning to Washington DC for the holidays, Ngounoue will be going to Mouratoglou for a training block.

"I'm going to France in January, practice a little bit, and then I'll be back here in February," said Ngounoue, who is not sure if she will be playing the Les Petits As tournament at the end of January in Tarbes.
Quan finished one of the best years in USTA junior tennis history with a 6-1, 6-4 victory over fellow American Santiago Muhala, a No. 9 seed, on the Har-Tru courts at Salvadore Park.

After winning the 12s division in the USTA Winter Nationals, Easter Bowl, Clay Courts and National Championships this year, Quan went into the Eddie Herr as the overwhelming favorite. But he suffered his only loss of the year in his age division in the semifinals to eventual champion Maximus Dussault.

"I guess that was just a good learning experience for Orange Bowl, because I hadn't lost in a while," said the 12-year-old from Roseville California.

Quan didn't lose a set throughout the tournament, with the most games he lost in any set coming in the second set against the powerful Muhala.

"I was just trying to stay aggressive and hit every ball," Quan said. "Santiago played really well; he gave me a run for my money and I had to fight hard to win the match."

Muhala said he was impressed with Quan's demeanor throughout the match.

"Rudy is really mentally tough, to beat him is really tough," said the 12-year-old from Houston Texas. "He's a good kid, a good player. I think we both played really well, but in tennis, there's not a tie, so I think he took it today."

Quan was especially pleased with his Junior Orange Bowl title, because he had not played an international event until Eddie Herr, and he was able to close out his career in the 12s division with one of the most prestigious titles in junior tennis.

Muhala, who lost in the first round at the Junior Orange Bowl last year, put his run to the final in perspective.

"First of all it's amazing just to participate in the Orange Bowl," Muhala said. "Getting to the finals is amazing, something anyone would want to do, and it was just great, coming here and playing people from around the world."

Third Place and Consolation Finals:
Third place: Kaylan Bigun[7](USA) def. Antonio Voljavec[3](CRO) 6-3, 6-1
Fifth place: Petr Brunclik[9](CZE) def. Benjamin Kreynes(USA) 2-6,    6-1, 12-10

Third place: Bruno Kuzuhara[2](USA) def. Ozan Colak[9](USA) 6-4, 4-6, 7-5
Fifth place: John Kim[7](USA) def Evan Wen(USA) 6-2, 7-6(4)

Third place: Hayu Kinoshita[Q](JPN) def. Shanice Roignot(FRA) 6-3, 1-6, 6-1
Fifth place: Valerija Kargina[3](LAT) def. Ena Koike(JPN) 6-1, 6-2

Third place: Alexis Blokhina[9](USA) def. Violeta Martinez[9](USA) 3-6, 2-1 ret. injury.
Fifth place: Eleana Yu[2](USA) def. Katja Wiersholm[3](USA) 6-4, 6-4

For complete draws, see the TennisLink site.