Saturday, August 24, 2019

Latvians Bartone and Ozolins Claim ITF Grade 1 Titles in College Park

©Colette Lewis 2019--
College Park, MD--

Latvia is not known as a tennis powerhouse, but 17-year-olds Kamilla Bartone and Karlis Ozolins put the country on top of the junior tennis world Saturday with roller coaster victories in the finals of the ITF Grade 1 Prince George's County International Hard Court Championships at the Junior Tennis Champions Center.

The unseeded Ozolins defeated Micah Braswell of the United States, also unseeded, 6-4, 4-6, 6-2, while No. 2 seed Bartone overcame a second set collapse to beat No. 15 seed Mai Nirundorn of Thailand 6-2, 3-6, 6-0.

Ozolins admitted the nerves he felt in his first Grade 1 final made it difficult for him to focus, and he was unable to serve out the first set at 5-3. But Braswell, who was also competing in his first Grade 1 final and was not playing his best, dropped serve for the second time in the set to put Ozolins ahead.

Ozolins took a 3-1 lead in the second set, but again he was unable to hang on to it, with Braswell breaking right back, then breaking Ozolins at love to go up 5-4, and holding for the set.

Double faults were a significant liability for Ozolins, although he credited Braswell for some of the problems he was having with his serve.

"I feel like my serve could be better today, because I feel I was serving better throughout the whole week than today," the 6-foot-4 Ozolins said. "But still I feel at the very important moments I focused and made good serves. The double faults could be less, but a lot of times I was risking second serves, because he was returning pretty good, always deep, so I can't just put it in. I would be in trouble then."

In the third set, Ozolins again jumped out to a 3-1 lead, and this time he consolidated for 4-1, but the critical game of the set came with Ozolins serving at 4-2. Down 15-40, Ozolins saved those two break points and two others when Braswell had the advantage to take a 5-2 lead.

"That was a tough game and a really important hold for me," said Ozolins, who trains at the Alexander Waske Tennis-University in Germany. "Saved a couple of break points with some big serves, and I feel if I lose it, we would still be playing."
Although he too felt he had played better in the matches leading up to the final, Braswell regretted not taking advantage of his opportunities in the third set.

"I had some chances to keep it closer in the third set, which was disappointing that I didn't win those points," said Braswell, a 17-year-old from Florida. "He hit some big shots, some big serves. He just played a little bit bigger at bigger times today than I did I think."

That feast or famine style from Ozolins also took its toll on Braswell.

"His game style was throwing me off a little bit," Braswell said, agreeing that he couldn't find his rhythm as he had in earlier matches. "That's the kind of player I am, so that was tough for me."

Despite the disappointment of losing in the final, Braswell found the positives he'll take from the week.

"This is my best tournament so far, I think," said Braswell, who had played sparingly on the ITF Junior Circuit. "It gives me confidence to know that I can beat some top players in the world. Beating two seeds at a Grade 1 gives me confidence, and hopefully I can build off that."

Ozolins is heading to the Grade 1 in Canada and although he is currently a few places outside of qualifying at the US Open, hopes to compete in New York as well.

"This feels great," Ozolins said. "I can't really rest, because I will probably play in Canada tomorrow, but, no, it means a lot. I was preparing a lot for this trip here and it feels great."

In the girls final, Bartone was cruising along up 6-2, 3-0, with break points to take a 4-0 lead, when she had a mental lapse.

"In the second set, I already thought I won," said Bartone, who also trains in Germany. "I don't know what happened, but I relaxed in my mind. The girl was down, but when she saw that she could still compete with me, and win as well, she started to play better. And it was hard for me to concentrate and be consistent."

Nirundorn had come back from a set and a break down against No. 4 seed Abigail Forbes in the semifinals, winning ten games in a row at one stage, so when she gets rolling, she can hit plenty of winners.

"I was trying to stay inside the baseline," said the 17-year-old, who was born in the United States and lived here until moving to Thailand four years ago. "She was making a lot of errors and I was taking advantage. In the third set, I was attacking the ball, but she was defending really well and I wasn't able to hit the ball as much through the court."

Bartone also took advantage of one her favorite weapons, the drop shot.

"My coach saw some of her last matches and she said Mai is really good on the baseline, but running forward, she's not bad, but it's not her best," Bartone said.

"It's definitely tough," Nirundorn said. "Not a lot of girls play that many drop shots in the match."

After losing six straight games and the second set, Bartone took a bathroom break, which helped her regain her focus.

"I went to the bathroom, put my thoughts together," said Bartone. "I was mentally stronger, so my tennis becomes better."

Nirundorn continued to battle in the final set, but with Bartone's focus back and her unforced errors rare, she couldn't win any of the many close games and Bartone collected her second ITF Grade 1 singles title.

"It will be good for me for the next tournament," said Bartone, who is also headed to Canada. "And winning a G1, it's good for my career, I become stronger and I can play and I can compete at this level. It's a big step for me."

Bartone was not finished for the day, however, with the doubles final and a chance for revenge on the schedule shortly after her singles win. Playing with JTCC's Robin Montgomery, Bartone defeated the team that had denied her the Wimbledon girls title, Abigail Forbes and Savannah Broadus, 6-3, 7-5.

Bartone lost the Wimbledon doubles final playing with Oksana Selekhmeteva of Russia, who did not enter College Park. Montgomery was also without a partner after a withdrawal, so she was happy to be asked by Bartone.

"We played against each other in France, and played against each other in doubles at Wimbledon," Montgomery said. "She asked me to play, surprisingly."

"I knew she was a good player, so why not ask?" said Bartone, who beat Montgomery in the third round in singles this week.

Bartone and Montgomery had not come close to losing a set all week, but they fell behind 4-0 in the second set against the Wimbledon champions.

"They were playing really well in the beginning," Montgomery said. "But I knew they weren't going to be able to do that every game in the second. I was definitely a little nervous, because we went down pretty quick, but at the same time, I was feeling confident that we would be fine."

"I knew they were a good team, but I had a good doubles partner, so I knew we had good chances to win," Bartone said. "She hits hard, she's lefty and has good serve," Bartone said of Montgomery. "She's like a wall at the net."

"She's crafty," Montgomery said of Bartone. "She hits those drop shots and drop volleys that people aren't expecting. It's a good combo, because I hit big and she can finish it with a drop volley."

Following up their success in College Park will have to wait, with Bartone partnering with Selekhmeteva at the US Open and Montgomery playing with Polina Kudermetova of Russia.
The boys doubles title went to No. 2 seeds Arthur Fery of Great Britain and Peter Makk of Hungary, who beat unseeded Benjamin Kittay and Cash Hanzlik of the United States 4-6, 6-3, 10-8.  Like the girls doubles champions, Fery and Makk were playing together for the first time.

"I played against him in April in a tournament in Morocco and I just asked him to play this week," said Fery, 17. "It's been a great week. We played quite well. We quickly got to know each other. Today wasn't our best match I think, but we managed to pull through."

Makk was impressed by the American team.

"They played unbelievable," said Makk, 17. "In the first set, they made zero mistakes and we didn't feel our returns as good as we did in the second set and the tiebreaker."

Fery and Makk led 5-3 in the tiebreaker and continued to hold the lead, with Fery's ace giving them three match points at 9-6. Hanzlik won both his serves, with Kittay finishing at the net to put the pressure on Makk, but he hit an excellent first serve that Kittay couldn't return to clinch the title.

"He serves bigger than me, so that helps," Fery said. "I've got the return, so we complement each other quite well."

For the complete draws, see the tournament website.