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Thursday, July 11, 2019

Americans Noel, Navarro and Damm Advance to Wimbledon Junior Semifinals; Williams Reaches Fourth Wimbledon Women's Final in Past Five Years

©Colette Lewis 2019--

For Martin Damm and Emma Navarro, reaching the semifinals of a junior slam is nothing new, with both earning wins today to equal what they accomplished at the French Open Junior Championships last month. But for 16-year-old Alexa Noel, her performance at this year's Wimbledon Junior Championships constitutes a breakthrough.

"It's great," said the 16-year-old from New Jersey. "I've played all the slams and hadn't got past the third round, so making the semis is amazing."

Noel has yet to lose a set this week, and in today's quarterfinals defeated unseeded Priska Nugroho of Indonesia 7-6(4), 6-2, making the most of her unconventional game.

"It's for sure different," Noel said. "You don't see as much slice, trying to come to the net. At least everyone that I play just tries to hit through the court, and I don't try to do that."

Noel understands that power does have its place, but she considers others adapting to her game style, rather than vice versa give her the upper hand.

"I know there are shots, of course, you step in and rip, but not a lot of people are used to my game, so it's an advantage for me," Noel said. "Me being able to change the pace, go a little faster if I need to, that's good for me, because it's my choice."

Noel says the biggest change in her game from last year, when she lost in the second round, is in her attitude.

"I think I'm a lot mentally stronger," said Noel, who is now training in Kansas City with David Span. "Obviously my game has improved, but I trust myself a lot more now. I just think I'm better at dealing with difficult situations--when it's close, when I'm nervous, when the score's tight, when the girl's playing well--I think I deal with it a little bit better."

Noel will face her first seed in Friday's semifinal, No. 4 Diane Parry of France, who beat compatriot Elsa Jacquemot 6-1, 6-4. Noel and Parry have split their previous two meetings, both on clay, with Parry winning at last year's Youth Olympic Games and Noel winning at the Grade 1 Yucatan Cup in 2017.

"Both were pretty close matches," said Noel, who feels an affinity with the game style of World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty. "I'm just going to try play my game and embrace that I'm in the semis of Wimbledon."
Navarro's 4-6, 6-1, 6-1 win over No. 6 seed Natsumi Kawaguchi followed a familiar pattern, with the top seed dropping the first set for the third consecutive match.

"I think it's a combination of me being a little slow and them coming out firing," said Navarro, who lost the first set to Katrina Scott 6-0 on Wednesday before again finishing with two 6-1 sets in her favor. "It's kind of a bad habit of mine to work my way into matches, to come out and see what they are going to do, and against good players, they'll come out swinging like she did, playing big, and if I'm not ready for that and completely committed to what I'm doing, they'll take control of every point."

With Navarro's success on the pro tour this spring and her run to the French Open girls final, the 18-year-old Duke recruit has seen plenty of big hitting, and she ranks the 17-year-old left-hander's power in that top category.

"It's similar," said Navarro. "On every shot she's going big and she's either going to make it or miss it. It depends on my ability to be able to push back against her pace and neutralize it, because most girls can't hit four or five shots like that in a row."

While Kawaguchi managed to do that in the first set, Navarro began to make her hit more shots as the match wore on and the unforced errors came in bunches, with Kawaguchi committing 60 in total.

Navarro will play unseeded Daria Snigur of Ukraine for a place in her second consecutive slam final, after Snigur defeated qualifier Polina Kudermetova of Russia 6-2, 6-4. Snigur, who won the Roehampton Grade 1 last week, and Navarro are meeting for the third consecutive junior slam, with Snigur winning in the third round in Australia 3-6, 6-4, 6-2 and Navarro winning 6-7(6), 6-3, 6-2 in the quarterfinals at Roland Garros.

"She's a very good player," said Navarro, who also beat Snigur on clay last year. "She has unconventional strokes and looking at her, it's frustrating to play against. She doesn't look as good as the other girls, look like she's moving as good as other girls, but she hits big and flat and low and it'll be tough on grass."

As with the girls quarterfinals, the boys produced only one three-setter, with Carlos Gimeno Valero of Spain defeating Dalibor Svrcina of the Czech Republic 4-6, 6-3, 7-5. Gimeno Valero will face No. 17 seed Harold Mayot of France, who beat unseeded Illya Beloborodko of Ukraine 6-4, 6-4.

In the top half, No. 4 seed Damm will take on IMG friend and training partner Shintaro Mochizuki of Japan, the No. 8 seed, after both scored straight set victories Thursday.

Mochizuki, who, like Damm, reached the French Open semifinals last month, took out the last British junior in singles, beating Anton Matusevich 6-3, 6-3. Damm was at the top of his game in the first set of his 6-1, 6-4 win over No. 10 seed Carlos Alcaraz Garfia of Spain, but went down 4-1 in the second set before rebounding to win the last five games of the match.

Damm double faulted twice at deuce in his first service game of the second set, but did not show his frustration. That equanimity has not always been evident in the emotional 15-year-old's past, but he was determined not to lose control with so much on the line.

"That game was tough, and it cost me a lot of energy, but thankfully it didn't cost me the set," the 6-foot-6-inch left-hander said. "I had a game point, missed a forehand approach then two double faults. Obviously I was fuming inside, but I knew I had to forget about it real quick to get that break back. Even though I didn't get it that game, I stayed pretty positive, held at 0-3 and was able to break at 2-4."

Damm's serve is among the best in junior tennis, and he hit one that read 131 mph on the Court 12 display, but Damm avoided the temptation to attach outsized importance to his service speed.

"I've had it [access to a serve speed display] a couple of times, but I think this was the most legit one," Damm said. "But I didn't really pay any attention to it. If I hit a good, clean serve, I looked at it like three times the whole match, but it doesn't say much to me. Not every serve do I hit as hard as I can, less spin, more spin, sometimes slower on purpose. Obviously, when I hit an ace T as hard as I can, I'll have a look."

Although Damm and Mochizuki have met only once in ITF Junior Circuit play, with Mochizuki winning the Grade 1 final in Costa Rica over Damm this year, they are intimately familiar with each other's games from many years of training together at the IMG Academy in Bradenton Florida.

"We're really good friends," Damm said. "It's me Toby(Kodat) and Shintaro. We're always together at IMG, we do fitness together every day, we're around each other five, six hours every single day. We practice a lot, obviously. I'm very happy we're both in the semis. He got the better of me in the beginning of the year, but I'm feeling pretty confident and we have a good game plan, and hopefully I can play well again tomorrow."

Damm and Navarro have also reached the quarterfinals in doubles, so will be playing two matches on Friday.  They are among the eight Americans still alive in the doubles draw.

Damm and Kodat, the No. 3 seeds, beat Andrew Paulson of the Czech Republic and Eric Vanshelboim of Ukraine 6-3, 6-4. Brandon Nakashima and his partner Valentin Royer of France reached the quarterfinals with a 6-3, 6-1 win over Flavio Cobolli of Italy and Dominic Stricker of Switzerland. No. 7 seeds Liam Draxl of Canada and Govind Nanda advanced to the quarterfinals with a 6-4, 6-3 win over Baptiste Anselmo and Loris Pourroy of France.

Navarro and Chloe Beck, the No. 7 seeds, defeated the British wild card team of Holly Fischer and Matilda Mutavdzic 6-3, 5-7, 6-4. Unseeded Savannah Broadus and Abigail Forbes moved into the quarterfinals with a 6-4, 7-5 win over Waronika Baszak and Martyna Kubka of Poland.

Thursday’s junior singles quarterfinal results featuring Americans:

Emma Navarro[1] d. Natsumi Kawaguchi(JPN)[6] 4-6, 6-1, 6-1
Alexa Noel[10] d. Priska Nugroho(INA) 7-6(4), 6-2
Martin Damm[4] d. Carlos Alcaraz Garfia(ESP)[10] 6-1, 6-4

Friday’s junior singles semifinals:

Emma Navarro[1] v Daria Snigur(UKR)
Alexa Noel[10] v. Diane Parry(FRA)[4]

Martin Damm[4] v. Shintaro Mochizuki(JPN)[8]
Carlos Gimeno Valero(ESP) v. Harold Mayot(FRA)[17]

Serena Williams defeated unseeded Barbora Strycova of the Czech Republic 6-1, 6-2 in today's semifinal and will face Simona Halep of Romania in the final on Saturday. Williams, who has reached the Wimbledon final every year she's played it since 2015 (she missed 2017 while pregnant), goes for her 24th major singles title. See this article from Liz Clarke at the Washington Post for more on today's women's semifinals.