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Sunday, September 4, 2011

US Girls Take Eight of 12 Matches in Opening Round of US Open Juniors

©Colette Lewis 2011--
Flushing Meadows, NY--

The question of who's next in American women's tennis has been on everyone's lips this year at the US Open, and with the performance of Christina McHale, Irina Falconi, Madison Keys and Sloane Stephens, that question appears to have been answered. The theme of promising young women emerging continued Sunday in the first round of the junior championships, where eight of the 12 US girls in action won their opening matches, dispatching three seeds along the way.

Taylor Townsend, the 15-year-old from Atlanta who will be playing her third round match in women's doubles on Monday, had way too much game for No. 15 seed Jesika Maleckova of the Czech Republic. Townsend hardly missed a ball in the first set, which she won 6-1, and although she came off the boil a bit in the second set, her combination of power and touch overwhelmed the 17-year-old.

"I did a good job of putting my patterns together and making her work," said Townsend, who planned to watch her friend Donald Young's match after she finished with her interviews. "Honestly, I didn't have to do much to make her miss. I did a good job of not overplaying the ball, just hitting good solid shots and come in and stick them off. And I also served very well."

Townsend is juggling her schedule which includes singles and doubles in the juniors and the women's doubles, but she likes the status of continuing to compete in the latter.

"It's cool, because everyone's in the junior locker room, and I can go in the women's locker room, and distance myself from everyone," she giggled. "It's good. It's a way to keep my level of play really high."

Townsend's partner in women's doubles is Jessica Pegula, who won her match even more easily, defeating Petra Rohanova of the Czech Republic 6-1, 6-1 in 40 minutes. The 17-year-ol Pegula, the No. 14 seed, received entry and seeding based on her WTA ranking, and she looked like a women playing a girl today.

Another comprehensive win came from wild card Krista Hardebeck, who defeated No. 8 seed Natalija Kostic of Serbia 6-1, 6-1.

"I played pretty well," said Hardebeck. "The first game of the match, I served, and it was a really close game, so I had a good mindset. She held her serve, and that kept me on, and helped me play better."

The third player to take down a seed was wild card Hayley Carter, who was making her grand slam debut. The 16-year-old from South Carolina held her nerve in a very tight match to defeat No. 7 seed Montserrat Gonzalez of Paraguay 6-4, 3-6, 7-5.

Gonzalez served for the match at 5-4 in the third set, but although she saved four break points, she never had the advantage, and Carter broke for 5-5. Carter, who has one of the biggest first serves in junior tennis, struggled with it in the next game, although she did start with a service winner and an ace. Gonzalez was not able to capitalize on her looks at second serves later in the game however, and Carter held for a 6-5 lead.

Carter didn't have to do more than keep the ball in play in the final game, as Gonzalez couldn't rely on her backhand. At 30-15, she hit one way long, and when her backhand went wide on the next point, Carter had a match point.

Gonzalez got a strong first serve in, but Carter's return was even better, and a bit stunned by the force of the return, Gonzalez hit her backhand wide. The dozens of Carter supporters in the stands erupted in cheers, and Carter was obviously excited to have come through on such a big stage.

"I always thought I would be okay handling a big moment, but when you get out there it's a lot more nerve-racking than you ever imagined," said the 16-year-old from South Carolina. "But I figured I didn't really have anything to lose coming here, I'm not expected to go out and beat the seventh seed, so I could play without any pressure. I have a lot of friends and family here supporting me so it was a very fun moment."

The day's most dramatic match involved American Kyle McPhillips and Romanian Elena-Teodora Cadar. Cadar took the first set 6-1, and although McPhillips couldn't hold on to a 4-1 lead in the second set, she did manage to win a tiebreaker in the second 7-6(4). McPhillips then took a 5-0 lead and was serving for the match, but Cadar stormed back winning the next five games. This was not a case of McPhillips choking, as nearly every point in that stretch was won with a winner, and Cadar did not miss a ball in the 15-to-20-ball rallies. McPhillips had two match points serving at 5-4, but Cadar, whose lefty backhand was rock solid in the final games, brushed those aside, and McPhillips missed a couple of backhands to make it 5-5.

Cadar committed two unforced errors, which may have been the only two she made in the previous five games, to give McPhillips two break points, but again McPhillips was unable to convert. On the fourth break point, McPhillips ran down a drop shot and hit a winner, which meant she would serve for the match for the fourth time. She wasn't successful in that attempt either, dropping her serve at 15 to force a tiebreaker to decide the match.

Again there were long, scintillating points, with the tension building each time the ball passed over the net. McPhillips got the first mini-break to take a 5-3 lead, and coaxed an error from Cadar on a good sliced backhand to make it 6-4. But match point No. 3 eluded McPhillips when she didn't play a forehand near the baseline and there was no call from the line judge. The chair concurred with the line call, and McPhillips, who had shown absolutely no signs of frustration when game after game slipped away from her, briefly quizzed the chair umpire before returning for match point No. 4. A forehand wide from McPhillips made it 6-6, but again no frustration or emotion came out from either player. McPhillips hit a forehand winner for match point No. 5, but Cadar put away an overhead to save that too. At 7-7, Cadar brought McPhillips to the net with a drop shot, but the strategy backfired when McPhillips got there and surprised Cadar, who netted a backhand.

Match point No. 6 finally resolved the match, as Cadar's forehand went long after another multi-shot rally. The line judge signalled the shot good, but the chair umpire firmly announced it was out, and Cadar did not argue. Both players received appreciative applause from the several hundred fans gathered around Court 8 for the final few games, both for the quality of play and the attitudes they displayed throughout the intense competition.

Other US girls to win their opening round matches were Samantha Crawford, who defeated Viktoria Malova of Slovakia 6-3, 6-3, Stephanie Nauta, who beat Demi Schuurs of the Netherlands 6-2, 6-2 and Gabby Andrews, who downed Anna Danilina of Kazakhstan 6-3, 6-4.

The big story of the day on the boys side was the opening round loss of Wimbledon champion Luke Saville of Australia. Saville fell to Adam Pavlasek of the Czech Republic 6-4, 7-5, who had beaten him last week in the second round of the Grade 1 Canadian Open.

"I couldn't believe it," said the 16-year-old, when asked about drawing Saville again. "I played so good. It was a tough match with him. I was so nervous."

Pavlasek served for the match at 5-4 and was broken, but in the next game, Saville double faulted twice at 30-30 to give Pavlasek, playing in just his second grand slam, another chance to serve it out, and this time he didn't stumble.

French Open champion Bjorn Fratangelo of the US, the other boys junior slam winner in action today, had a better first match, beating Benjamin Ugarte of Chile 6-1, 6-3. It was Fratangelo's first win in New York in his sixth match, including junior singles and doubles and men's qualifying.

"It feels good to finally get past the first round here in something," said No. 3 seed Fratangelo, who admitted his inability to win at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center was starting to weigh on him. "Including the qualies I played here last week, I'm like 0-5 in singles and doubles, so to get a win here feels pretty good right now."

Other American boys were not as fortunate, as six of the nine in action lost their matches on Sunday. The two other winners were Alexios Halebian who took down No. 5 seed Thiago Monteiro of Brazil 6-3, 6-7(4) 7-5, and Connor Farren, who beat Diego Hidalgo of Ecuador 6-4, 6-4.

The remaining first round singles matches in the juniors will be played on Monday, with some junior doubles also on the Labor Day schedule.

Complete results at usopen.org.