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Friday, December 22, 2006

McHale, Asami Play for Junior Orange Bowl Titles Saturday

©Colette Lewis 2006--
Coral Gables, FL

Christina McHale of New Jersey and Reo Asami of California earned a chance at Junior Orange Bowl titles with victories Friday at the University of Miami Neil Schiff Tennis Center.

McHale defeated Floridian Sloane Stevens 6-0, 6-3 and now gets her chance to derail the locomotive that is top seed Hanna Orlik of Belarus. Orlik defeated Chloe Babet of France 7-5, 6-0. Asami eliminated John Richmond of South Carolina 7-6 (4), 6-4 and will face Edward Nguyen of Canada in the final.

The unseeded McHale, 14, hasn't played a 14s tournament since April, and has had success at the 16s level, winning the USTA clay courts this summer. In the quarterfinals at the Biltmore Tennis Center Thursday, she upset No. 2 seed and Eddie Herr finalist Ajla Tomljanovic of Croatia 1-6, 6-2, 6-3.

"She played really well in the first set," McHale said. "In the second set, I started going for my shots more, got more aggressive."

On Friday she changed tactics against Stephens.

"I was mixing it up, hitting heavy and then attacking, but not just power," McHale said. "Sloane is very powerful, but inconsistent. I just kept the ball in play and let her miss."

Orlik, 13, won the 2005 Eddie Herr and Junior Orange Bowl 12s titles and earlier this month captured the Eddie Herr 14s. She had lost only nine games in her five matches prior to Friday, but Babet took a 5-3 lead in the first set.

"My game is to attack," Orlik said. "I just wait for her errors, and I'm down 3-5. But then I play better."

Winning the next ten games with a combination of pace, consistency and competitive zeal, Orlik showed her best tennis when she got behind. Instead of Tomljanovic, whom she defeated in the past two Eddie Herr finals, Orlik now gets a new opponent, one that she has little history against.

"We only played in doubles," said Orlik, "in Europe, and my partner and I win. My coach talks with me later about how to play tomorrow."

Asami, like McHale, is unseeded, but he took hope from the 2005 Junior Orange Bowl results.

"Last year no one in the semifinals was seeded," said Asami, who trains at the Woodbridge Tennis Club in Irvine, California. "It feels great to be in the final."

Asami and Richmond struggled holding serve in the first set of their match, with Asami twice serving for the set, at 5-4 and 6-5. With no free points from the serve from either player it was difficult to read any advantage at any time, so even when down 3-1 in the first set tiebreak, Asami was far from out.

At 4-3 in the tiebreak, Asami stepped up his play, hitting two winners to deflate the left-hander from Pawley's Island and take control of the match.

"The unforced errors were the difference," said Asami, who has yet to lose a set in the tournament. "I made just a few less than he did."

Nguyen, his opponent in the finals, had been equally impressive all week at Tropical Park, using his power to breeze through match after match. But on Friday, he found himself in an unusual position against Norway's Johan Skattum--playing from behind. Skattum took the first set 6-4, Nguyen the second 6-1. After the ten minute break, Skattum came out with the momentum and took a 5-2 lead. Serving for the match at 5-3, Skattum couldn't finish it, and at 5-5 Nguyen broke him at love to give himself the opportunity that Skattum had wasted.

Nguyen never faltered, smashing overheads and drilling ground strokes in the final game.

"I believed in myself," said Nguyen, who trains indoors in Canada, but came to Florida a week before the Eddie Herr to get accustomed to the wind and heat. "Anything can happen as long as you just try. My approach shots, putaway volleys and overall net game was good today."

Nguyen and Skattum have played doubles together and Nguyen admitted that his slow start had something to do with that.

"I was kind of nervous and tight. He's my close friend, and at the beginning I couldn't execute my shots."

Asami did his own scouting of his opponent and acknowledged that he "hits really big." But the Californian then mentioned his own strength. "I'm good at passing shots."

The boys 14s final is between No. 12 seed Bernard Tomic of Australia and No. 8 David Souto of Venezuela. Souto outmuscled unseeded Giacomo Miccini of Italy 6-1, 6-3, while Tomic sliced through Nikoloz Basilashvili of Georgia 7-5, 6-1.

At 1-1 in the first set, Souto won the next five games, and Miccini was unable to find any rhythm for his usually effective first serve and forehand. Souto rarely missed and kept the ball deep, but played more aggressively than that sounds, with Miccini making plenty of errors, but many of them forced.

The second set also started 1-1, but serving at 30-40, Miccini was given a point penalty for audible obscenity (in Italian) and he was behind again, and again unable to recover.

Basilashvili was up a break at 4-3 in his first set with Tomic, but the Australian immediately broke back and held his next two service games to take a 6-5 lead. The Georgian couldn't handle the pressure of serving to reach a tiebreak, double faulting at set point, and when he was broken in the fourth game of the second set, the match was decided.

Tomic seemed content to hit slices and off-pace shots, even when his money shot, the backhand down the line, was available. Basilashvili used his drop shot effectively, but not often enough to truly worry Tomic, who remained composed throughout a very tense first set.

The girls 12s final will be contested Saturday morning on the clay courts at Salvadore Park, with No. 1 seed Jessica Ren of Great Britain meeting No. 1 seed Christina Shakovets of Germany. Ren, a semifinalist last year, defeated Laura Robson of Great Britain 4-6, 6-1, 7-5, while Shakovets overcame Michelle Dandik of Canada 3-6, 6-3, 6-2.

For complete results, including consolation draws, see TennisLink.