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Sunday, December 4, 2005

Twelve-year-old Captures Girls 16s Title at Eddie Herr; Escobar, Dimitrov and Hendler Also Crowned Champions

Twelve-year-old Captures Girls 16s Title at Eddie Herr; Escobar, Dimitrov and Hendler Also Crowned Champions ~~~
©Colette Lewis 2005
Bradenton FL--

With Portugal, Belgium, Eucador, Bulgaria, Slovak Republic and Croatia winning Eddie Herr titles on Sunday, the global community of tennis that the tournament's late namesake envisioned was resoundingly affirmed.

In girls 16 singles, twelve-year-old Michelle Larcher de Brito of Portugal not only beat Nadja Gilchrist 6-3, 6-4 in Sunday morning’s final but surpassed former Bollettieri prodigy Maria Sharapova as well.

"I tried to beat Sharapova’s record because Sharapova won the 16s when she was 13 (in 2000), and I won it at 12, so I guess I broke her record," de Brito said.

Down 3-0 and two service breaks at the start of the match, the Bollettieri-trained de Brito shook off her nerves and adjusted to Gilchrist’s power, taking control of the match by winning the next six games.

"She stepped it up," said the fifteen-year-old Gilchrist, who as a qualifier, was playing her ninth singles match in ten days. "She just played better. I tried different shots, but on some of her shots I just said ‘how does she hit those?'"

Gilchrist, from Rochester New York, managed to reverse the momentum and get to 4-4 in the second set, but her double fault at game point gave de Brito the opportunity to serve for the match.

Down 0-30 and then break point in that 10th game, de Brito hit a laser-beam forehand winner at deuce and closed out her first match point by coaxing an error from Gilchrist. Her large Bollettieri-based support group cheered loudly, celebrating de Brito’s second Eddie Herr championship trophy of the weekend. She and Mallory Cecil won the girls 16 doubles title of Saturday.

"It means a lot," de Brito said of her first major junior singles title. "I’ve been working so hard for this, and I’ve got it."

Again following in Sharapova’s footsteps, de Brito was named the recipient of the Eddie Herr "Rising Star" award, the same honor bestowed upon Sharapova after her title in 2000.

In the girls 14s singles final Tamaryn Hendler of Belgium and Valeria Solovieva of Russia met in a rematch of last year’s Junior Orange Bowl 12s championship, which Solovieva won 6-1, 6-2.

On Sunday morning, Hendler turned the tables, and defeated her doubles partner by the identical score, a result the Bollettieri-trained thirteen-year-old attributed primarily to the difference in surfaces, clay and hard.

"I'm much more comfy on the hard courts," said Hendler, who speaks excellent English in addition to her native French. "I had a couple butterflies, but I played much better today than yesterday (where she dropped the first set before winning the next two 6-0, 6-1 against the number five seed)."

Now in her fourth year at the IMG Bollettieri Tennis Academy, Hendler visits her home in Belgium every few months, but admitted that the cloudless skies and mild temperatures of Bradenton this time of year are a definite attraction. "I’d say the weather is a lot better."

She and Solovieva will both head for the Junior Orange Bowl, where they’ll seek the opportunity to break the tie in major international titles.

The doubles title was won by twin sisters Lvudmyla and Nadiya Kichenok of the Ukraine, who downed Great Britain’s Tara Moore and Carling Seguso (USA) 8-3.

In boys 16s, the thirteenth seed was a lucky one for Gonzalo Escobar of Eucador, who defeated Radu Albot of Moldova 6-4, 7-6 (2).

Escobar, a lefthander with a Nadal-like ability to turn defense into offense, was serving for the match at 5-4, but let that opportunity slip away.

"I went to the net without a plan," said the sixteen-year-old of his gamble on game point, "and those kind of mistakes are so expensive."

But he gave Albot credit as well. "He was..." Escobar said and paused, seeking the appropriate English word while making a gesture as to lift something, “elevating his level during the match.”

"I had to play my best in the tiebreak to win," Escobar said, "and I did."

The sixth seeded Albot, playing his first tournament in the United States, was not happy with his performance. "He is lefty, which made it uncomfortable for me," said the sixteen-year-old who is the European Tennis Association’s second ranked 16 and under player.

"But he’s really very good. I thought I was attacking and then he was attacking me."

Albot will head to the Orange Bowl with one championship trophy, however, as he and partner Alin Constantin, the top seeds, won the doubles title on Saturday, defeating Chris Price and Rhyne Williams of the United States 8-2.

With Nadja Gilchrist falling earlier in morning, Florida’s Alex Domijan was the last opportunity for the United States to win a second singles title, but he was unable to sustain the level that brought him to the final, and succumbed to the boys 14’s number two seed, Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria, 6-1, 6-1.

A downcast Domijan, who is ranked 18th in the USTA’s 14 and under rankings, was disappointed in this showing. "I just didn’t play well today,” said the fourteen-year-old who trains at Saddlebrook. "He did."

Dimitrov, the number one ranked player by the ETA in the 14 and under age group, disagreed.

"I just played my game," said Dimitrov, 14, who has recently made his first trip to the United States to train at Mark Weil’s Academy in Ojai California. "I didn’t play so good, but I’m glad for me to win my match today."

Dimitrov displayed a rock solid one-handed backhand throughout the match and Domijan’s crosscourt forehand didn’t produce the errors that he forced with that shot in his upset of top seed Borut Puc in the semifinals.

Asked if he’d always had a one-hander, Dimitrov, who has been playing for over ten years said, "Always. I never had two hands. I just work on the forehand."

Dimitrov heads for Prince Cup, where he’ll play in the 16s and the Junior Orange Bowl where he’ll attempt to win that prestigious title in the 14s division.

The doubles championship on Saturday saw top seeds Nicolas Pastor and Juan Vazquez-Valenzuela of Argentina prevail 8-3 over the U.S. team of Adam Bernstein and Harry Fowler.