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Sunday, December 9, 2012

Konjuh and Djere End Grueling Two Weeks With Orange Bowl Championships; Andrews and Townsend, Garin and Jarry Earn Doubles Titles

©Colette Lewis 2012--
Plantation, FL--

Ana Konjuh of Croatia and Laslo Djere of Serbia ended a stretch of 12 singles matches in 14 days Sunday with Orange Bowl titles, summoning all their mental and physical strength on a warm and brutally humid South Florida day to end their years with the coveted Grade A titles.

Konjuh, who won the Eddie Herr International Grade 1 title last week, and Djere, who reached the final in Bradenton, managed to survive the smothering conditions at the Frank Veltri Tennis Center by winning in straight sets. The seventh-seeded Konjuh eliminated No. 2 seed Katerina Siniakova of the Czech Republic 6-3, 6-2, while No. 10 seed Djere downed No. 12 seed Elias Ymer of Sweden 6-4, 6-4.

The girls final was first up on Stadium Court, and Siniakova got off to an awful start, trailing 5-0 in the opening set before winning the next three games.  Points were short, even when Konjuh wasn't hitting aces, with Siniakova unable to find the court with any of her shots in the first five games.

Konjuh, who said she relaxed a bit with the big lead, failed to convert on four set points serving at 5-1. The 14-year-old right-hander collected herself after Siniakova put together a strong service game to make it 5-3 however, putting away a backhand volley at 40-15 to claim the first set.

Both girls took a bathroom break after the first set, needing a change of clothes in the drenching humidity that drove the several hundred spectators into any available shade.

The break didn't change the tenor of the match however, with Konjuh taking a 4-0 lead in the second set, using not just her impressive power, but her slice and her drop shot to keep Siniakova off balance.

Siniakova, who had lost to Konjuh in a close three-setter in the Eddie Herr semifinals, said she was not expecting to deal with the slice.

"I wanted to play different, but she played different too," said Siniakova, 16. "She played more slice, and I couldn't make something with it. We know each other, but it was a little bit different than the last match."

Siniakova also conceded that nerves may have led to some of her errors.

"I made a lot of mistakes," Siniakova said. "Last match she made lots of winners, but this match it was my fault a little bit more."

Konjuh again saw her concentration waiver up 4-0, but again she recovered, winning a long game to break Siniakova for 5-2. She served out the match without any difficulty, again showing impressive variety for someone with her power, including a drop shot winner that gave her match point.

"I have to mix it up," said Konjuh, the first Croatian to win an Orange Bowl title. "She's really good, so I had to play drop shot, slice, go to the net."

Konjuh's coach Kristijan Schneider believes, barring injury, she is capable of reaching the WTA Top 5, but with the age restrictions she faces at that level, she is planning to play all the junior slams next year, and may even play a few ITF Grade A tournaments, in addition to Fed Cup in February.

But first, Konjuh is looking forward to resting. She will spend a couple of days relaxing at the Nike Junior Tour International Masters in Port Saint Lucie, a tournament she won last year before heading back to her hometown of Dubrovnik.

"I'm sure I have a lot of confidence right now, but I'm also tired and I have to relax a bit right now," said Konjuh, who joins Lauren Davis as the only player to win the Eddie Herr and Orange Bowl in the same year since 1993.  "I played a lot of matches. I'm going to go home, spend a lot of time with my family, practice and prepare for Australia."

Konjuh, who lists her tennis idols as Roger Federer and the recently retired Kim Clijsters, doesn't have anything in particular on her Christmas list, or on her wish list for her birthday, which is two days later. Nor does she have a celebration planned for her two major junior titles, which have raised her profile dramatically among those looking for the next women's tennis star.

"I just want to spend time with my family," said Konjuh, who trains in Zagreb. "There's a lot of us, so we just want to hang out together, spend some quality time together."

Unlike Konjuh, Djere had something to prove to himself in the final. At the Eddie Herr, he was unable to close out Christian Garin of Chile in the final, despite a 6-0, 4-1 lead, so he was determined to seize his chances against Ymer.

"It would be a bad feeling to lose two finals," said the 17-year-old right-hander. "I give my best to win this final."

Djere, who had beaten Ymer in the Eddie Herr semifinals, took advantage of Ymer's inexperience serving at 4-5 in both sets.

In the first set, with Ymer serving at 4-5, 30-30, Djere hit a forehand on the line to give himself set point. He controlled that point, standing much nearer the baseline than Ymer, and when he got a weak reply on one of his ground strokes, he approached the net and put away the forehand volley.

The second set saw neither server surrendering so much as a single break point until Ymer again was forced to serve down 4-5. Two unforced errors and a return winner quickly put Djere at match point. He didn't convert the first, but drew another error from Ymer on the second to claim the Orange Bowl championship.

"I was just so focused at that moment," said Djere, who will leave Monday to return to Serbia for the holidays. "I knew that I have to win in two sets, because the third set would be really tough. It's so hard to breathe, it was the hottest day, and I was not really prepared for this conditions, but it was the same for him. I did it better today." Ymer detected some fatigue in Djere by late in the second set, and even earlier both boys were conceding drop shots and not running down overheads or volleys. "In the second set, 4-all, we were both I think very tired," said the 16-year-old Ymer, who was given a warning for racquet abuse in that game. "Maybe that's why I showed some emotion." Ymer's forehand is smooth and powerful, and his two-handed backhand is solid, but he felt those shots were trumped by Djere. "His backhand is for sure better," said Ymer, who thought Djere played smarter than he did when it mattered. "It's been two pretty good weeks--semis at Eddie Herr and finals at Orange Bowl. I hope I can next year come again." Djere is unlikely to return, although he is planning on playing the junior slams as well as Futures and Challengers qualifying in 2013. Like Konjuh, rest at home is on his to-do list, although he said the adrenaline immediately following the match kept him from feeling any fatigue. "I'm very happy and excited," said Djere. "Right now I don't feel that I'm tired, but after a few hours, I will be tired." Djere's longtime coach, Miklos Palagi, said he knew Djere would come through this time in the final, because he had learned from his experience at the Eddie Herr. "When you are a set and 4-1 up, you just play," said Palagi. "You relax and just play, don't think about the score, the title. Just play, just play, just play. When I saw his footwork today, I knew he would make it."
Two unseeded doubles teams collected trophies today, although both were certainly favored given their previous accomplishments. Australian and US Open girls doubles champions Gabby Andrews and Taylor Townsend of the United States ended their year the way they began it, with a Grade A doubles title, beating No. 8 seeds Victoria Rodriguez and Marcela Zacarias of Mexico 6-4, 7-5. Andrews and Townsend, who lost in the Eddie Herr final last week, won the first set on a deciding point with Rodriguez serving, courtesy of a perfect forehand volley by Townsend. The Americans were down a break throughout most of the second set, but won the final four games of match to take the title. "We tried to remain positive, that was our main goal for the match," said Andrews. "We just kept on being aggressive, and like we usually do, when one's down, the other's picking her up." Andrews and Townsend saved two match points in their quarterfinal win Friday night, then won two matches in straight sets to give Townsend what she wanted from the tournament.
"I've played Orange Bowl like four times and never gotten a bowl of oranges," said Townsend, who clinched the ITF World Junior Champion designation this week. "And I finally got to take a picture with Obie."
In the boys doubles final, Christian Garin of Chile and Nicolas Jarry of the US won their third straight final, adding an Orange Bowl title to their wins at the Yucatan Cup and Eddie Herr ITF Grade 1 tournaments. Garin and Jarry defeated the unseeded team of Lukas Mugevicius of Lithuania and Alexander Vasilenko of Russia 6-2, 7-6(3). "We're happy, a little bit more than after the Eddie Herr," said Jarry, who is the grandson of former ATP star Jamie Fillol of Chile. "We can't be happier." Although Townsend and Andrews will not be defending their title in Australia, Garin and Jarry plan on taking their 15-match ITF winning streak to Melbourne next month, but they probably won't be seeded there either. The ITF combines the two players' overall ranking and divides by two, with the lowest number the highest seeded teams. "I'm still not at a good ranking right now," said Jarry, currently at 159 in the junior rankings. "Probably we'd have to have a little bit of luck." They certainly didn't need any of that commodity the past three weeks. For complete draws, see the tournament page at usta.com.