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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Unseeded Chiang Captures Girls 14s Junior Orange Bowl Title; Hong and Nguyen Take Boys 12s and 14s Championships

©Colette Lewis 2009--
Coral Gables, FL--

Yuki Chiang's father Robert wasn't particularly confident of his daughter's chances to win the Junior Orange Bowl girls 14s championship before the tournament started, but he'll gladly be purchasing the previously promised iPhone after her 6-3, 6-3 upset of top seed Brooke Austin Wednesday morning at the Neil Schiff Tennis Center at the University of Miami.

"I asked my dad what round do you think I'll get past, and he said "I'll bet you lose first round,'" said Chiang, who admitted that her father was just trying to motivate her. "Then I won the first round, and the second round, and then he was like 'maybe I believe in you,'" she recalled. "I like proving him wrong."

The unseeded Chiang, who lives in Ojai, Calif. and trains at the USTA Player Development Center in Carson, proved that her championship run was no fluke, defeating the No. 2, No. 3 and No. 1 seeds along the way.

Against Austin in the first all-American girls 14s final since 1988, Chiang played an exceedingly clean and focused match. In her semifinal win Tuesday against the hard-hitting No. 3 seed Daria Lebesheva of Belarus, Chiang blew a big lead in the second set, lost the set in a tiebreaker, then prevailed in a tense third set 6-4.

Leading Austin 6-3, 3-0 and serving, Chiang again had a lapse, losing three straight games to give Austin a glimmer of hope. But she immediately broke Austin to get the momentum back on her side.

"I wasn't focused at all, but the reason was that she was attacking me really fast," Chiange said, relaying her thoughts in that seventh game. "She thinks I'm down, but I'm not, so I try to fight back. She would hit a shot, that was like, impossible, and I'd think, if I get this back, she's not going to get the next one, so I would try so hard to get it back. I was thinking one more ball than her."

In addition to playing better defense than Austin, Chiang also committed substantially fewer unforced errors and matched Austin in the positive body language department. Austin held her serve only once in the match, so when Chiang dropped her serve, she was confident she could recover in the next game.

"I knew her serve was her weakness," Chiang said. "She just gets her serve in, and then she can rally. But if she doesn't get her first serve in, I know that I have the advantage. She knew I was going to attack it, so she kind of got tentative."

Austin agreed that her serve was a liability early, but thought that she was finding her form.

"I felt it got better as the match went on," said Austin, who at 13, is eligible to compete in the 14s division for another year. "I didn't necessarily double fault, I just didn't get my first serve in."

Austin was impressed by Chiang's level of play in the final.

"Watching her play yesterday, she made a lot of errors," said Austin, who had never played Chiang before. "But today, she just didn't make any errors at all."

Both Austin and Chiang will be playing the USTA Winter Nationals next week in Scottsdale, with both competing in the 16s division, so a rematch could be just days away.

If it follows the script of the boys 12s final, Chiang should be ready for a very motivated opponent. Seongchan Hong of Korea had lost to American Stefan Kozlov in the Eddie Herr final 7-6(1), 7-6(5) and during the first set of their rematch in the Junior Orange Bowl final, it looked like it would be another long and closely contested encounter between the two No. 1 seeds. The first four games clocked in at 40 minutes, and the first set took well over an hour to complete. But unlike the Eddie Herr final, Hong wasn't content to stay back and wait for an error; he forced the action, and his aggressive play resulted in a 6-4, 6-2 victory.

Kozlov was cheered on by several dozen friends and family members, who had large hand-lettered signs reading Let's Go Stefan and Stefan The Champion as well as small American flags they would wave after important points. But Hong, who had his own smaller but still vocal Korean federation teammates supporting him throughout the match, didn't let any of the noise affect him, and he earned Korea's second consecutive Junior Orange Bowl boys 12s title.

"I was winning 5-2 at Eddie Herr," Hong said through an interpreter, Daniel Yoo. "But I wanted to win so much that I couldn't be aggressive. Today, I just keep with an aggressive strategy, from the beginning, I'm going to be aggressive today."

Watching his compatriot Hyeon Chung win both the Eddie Herr and Junior Orange Bowl last year, Hong, who was also competing in both tournaments, saw what he needed to do to follow in Chung's footsteps.

"I wasn't really aggressive back then, now I make fewer mistakes, and my forehand has improved, is more aggressive," Hong said.

The usually talkative Kozlov, who on Tuesday called the pressure of going for both the Eddie Herr and Junior Orange Bowl titles "crazy," was subdued after the loss.

"I didn't play how I was supposed to play," said the 11-year-old from Pembroke Pines, Fla. "I just missed more today, and didn't play as aggressive."

The boys 14s final, which began just as the boys 12s final was ending, showcased just how much difference two years makes in boys' development. Thien Nguyen's 7-6(2), 6-0 win over Mackenzie McDonald was a display of mature and varied tennis, and the 14-year-old from Vietnam gave one-handed backhand aficionados plenty to savor.

Nguyen, the No. 8 seed, fell behind 2-0 in the first set, and he admitted that nerves were the primary reason. But once he broke back in the third game, Nguyen became more comfortable and showed no jitters when serving down 4-5 and 5-6 in the first set. In the tiebreaker, McDonald couldn't find the court, making five unforced errors, and Nguyen took control of the match with a break in the second game of the second set.

"In the first two games I was back far from the baseline, so he was controlling the point a lot," said Nguyen, who trained in California for three years. "So from the third game I started to play inside the baseline and take the ball early."

Once Nguyen's confidence rose, he played even more aggressively, hitting winners from some unlikely positions on the court and missing very little, even though he was often going for risky shots. He sensed that McDonald, a former doubles partner, was discouraged after the tiebreaker.

"In the second set he was kind of down a little bit," said Nguyen, who is the first player from Vietnam to claim a Junior Orange Bowl title. "That was my advantage to control the match."

McDonald, a No. 9 seed from Piedmont, Calif., didn't disagree.

"In the second set, there wasn't enough energy out there," said McDonald, who had won a three-hour battle with Kyle Edmund of Great Britain in the semifinals. "I kind of let up a little bit. He gave me nothing, threw in those slice backhands, and didn't give me anything to work with. He just made a ton of balls and fought hard on every point."

For Nguyen, the excitement of winning his first major international match left him shaking, unable to comprehend the achievement.

"I don't know when I'll realize it, but now, I still can't believe it."

The third place matches and the consolation finals--this year for first round losers only due to rain for two days early in the tournament--were also held on Wednesday morning, except for girls 12s, which finished on Tuesday. In boys 14s, Nikko Madregallejo, a 17 seed, defeated Kyle Edmund of Great Britain, a No. 9 seed, 6-3, 6-4 for third place. In the consolation final, Spencer Papa of the U.S. beat Drew Dawson, also of the U.S., 6-4, 7-5.

In girls 14s, No. 3 seed Daria Lebesheva of Belarus defeated No. 4 seed Domenica Gonzalez of Ecuador 6-1, 3-6, 6-2 for third place. Amanda Lin of the US was the consolation winner when Joanna Savva of Cyprus was unable to play in the final.

In the boys 12s, third place went to Alexander Zverev of Germany, a No. 1 seed, who beat unseeded Spencer Furman of the U.S. 7-6(5), 6-2. Duck Hee Lee of Korea, a No. 1 seed, was the consolation winner, defeating unseeded Vince Tabotabo of the Philippines 6-2, 6-1.

The girls 12s consolation winner was Fiona Ferro of France, who defeated Matilda Fernandes of Portugal 6-1, 3-6, 10-7. Third place went to unseeded American Tornado Ali Black, who beat Mathilde Armitano of France, a No. 1 seed, 6-3, 3-6, 6-1.

For complete results, see the TennisLink site.


Man in the Moon said...

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to each and everyone (and their families) who reads Zoo Tennis and of course, Colette!!!