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Monday, December 17, 2007

Junior Orange Bowl Day 1: No. 1 Seeds Struggle in 12s; Kiick, like Dolphins, Gets a Win

Coral Gables, FL--

Winter arrived in south Florida on Monday, with temperatures holding in the 60s all day, but the Junior Orange Bowl competitors hardly noticed, so intent were they on their opening round matches.

Four of the 16 seeds in the boys' 12s (all seeds in the 12s are No. 1 seeds), failed to get by their first round opponents at Tropical Park, and U.S. players were responsible for the demise of all of them. Qualifier Thai Kwiatkowski of Charlotte, NC had no trouble with No. 1 seed Haru Inoue of Japan, with his 6-0, 6-1 decision and Dan Weiner of Houston, Tex., also a qualifier, posted precisely the same score in his win over No. 1 seed Vasily Kichigin of Russia. No. 1 seed Georgi Mirchev of Bulgaria was no match for Karim Arem of the U.S., losing 6-0, 6-0 and No. 1 seed Igor Smilansky of Israel couldn't hold off Mackenzie McDonald of the U.S., falling 1-6, 6-3, 6-4.

The sole No. 1 seed from the U.S., Joe Di Giulio of Newport Beach, Calif., faced a dangerous qualifier in Stefano Napolitano of Italy, who had lost only one game in his three qualifying round wins, but Di Giulio came through 6-1, 6-4.

"He had a pretty big forehand," said Di Giulio, who won the Eddie Herr last month. "I just wanted to keep it solid and deep because if I hit the ball short, he would run around it. So I wanted to keep it mostly to his backhand."

Di Giulio also lobbed effectively, causing Napolitano to think twice about stepping forward, but up a set and 3-0, Di Giulio admitted that he took his foot off the accelerator.

"He started playing better and I sort of let my footwork down, thought it was over." said Di Giulo, who broke the Italian to close out the match. "I should have kept on him the whole time."

On the clay courts of Salvadore Park, the top half of the girls 12s draws was played Monday, and four No. 1 seeds were sent packing there, including three from South American countries where the surface should have favored them. Erin Routliffe of Canada dispatched No. 1 seed Laura Ucros of Columbia 6-3, 6-0; Estelle Cascino of France took down No. 1 seed Alejandra De Lasa of Peru 7-6 (1), 6-1 and Gabriele Sinskaite of Lithuania, a quarterfinalist at the Eddie Herr, defeated No. 1 seed Carla Bruzzesi Aveliva of Argentina. Julia Shupenia of Belarus eliminated No. 1 seed Carina Chen of Hong Kong 6-2, 6-0.

Alexandra Kiick, of Davie, Fla., a semifinalist in the Eddie Herr 12s, was again facing Laura Gulbe of Latvia, whom she'd beaten in the second round in Bradenton last month. Kiick, who prefers hard courts to clay, knew she needed to change her strategy if she wanted to repeat that result.

"I definitely needed to be more patient," said Kiick, the daughter of former Miami Dolphin running back Jim Kiick. "Last time she made a lot of mistakes."

Kiick, who began playing tournament tennis three years ago, excelled at soccer, baseball, even flag football, according to her father.

"She was the best one out there," said Kiick. "I remember one time she ran, and this kid had an angle, but she's got a lot of speed. And the coach came up to the kid and the kid says 'that kid's fast' and the coach said sarcastically, 'yeah, well, it's a girl', and the kid responded, 'well, I don't care, he or she, fast is fast.'

Kiick, who still plays on her grade school basketball team, decided to pursue tennis when her best friend took up diving.

"I wanted to play a single sport like her, so I can get credit when I do something," Kiick said.

Her father sees some obvious differences between the sport he played and the one his daughter has chosen.

"Tennis is so much mental," says Kiick, a member of the undefeated Dolphins team of 1972, who was in attendance Sunday when the team notched its first victory of the season. "And the concentration is so much on the individual. In football, if you get angry, you can hit somebody harder; in tennis, if you get angry, you end up hitting into the net, so you've got to learn to control yourself."

And that goes for the position of tennis parent that he is now assuming.

"It's difficult being a tennis fan or spectator because obviously I'm used to people yelling and screaming and throwing hot dogs and beer," said Kiick who can be found sweating through all his daughter's matches, cell phone in hand. "There's obviously more manners in tennis."

In the girls' 14s at the Biltmore Tennis Center, No. 2 seed Grace Min of Lawrenceville, Ga. was the last match on the court and as the chill descended and the lights came on, she was unable to counteract the positive energy of Christine Kandler of Austria, losing 2-6, 6-2, 6-2. Kandler, who hits both forehand and backhand two-handed, was outplayed in the first set, as Min used all her net skills and her superior variety to establish control of the match. But Kandler, who never once wavered in thinking positively, talked to herself after every point, bounced and focused relentlessly and eventually wore Min down with the pace and disguise on her ground strokes.

For complete results, visit the Junior Orange Bowl Tennis Link site.