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Friday, December 7, 2012

Townsend Survives Zhao in Orange Bowl Quarterfinals, Clinches Year-End ITF World Junior Champion Title; Ouellet-Pizer, Paul Reach 16s Finals

©Colette Lewis 2012--
Plantation, FL--

Top seed Taylor Townsend looked on the verge of tears when she shook hands with No. 5 seed Carol Zhao after their three-hour, forty-nine minute match Friday afternoon in the Orange Bowl quarterfinals.

On a picture-perfect afternoon at the Frank Veltri Tennis Center, Townsend had seen a 5-1 lead in the third set slip away. But somehow she gathered herself to come away with a 7-5, 5-7, 7-6(2) victory, and with it, the title of ITF World Junior Champion.

"I was emotionally spent, definitely," said Townsend. "The match was so up and down, there were so many shifts in momentum, shifts in everything. At the end, I was just kind of praying for it, 'please god, help me'. I was up 5-1 and just cruising, and she started playing better and I started playing worse. There was a lot of things going on, and I was just happy that I was able to pull it out."

Townsend's first serve, usually reliable, was nowhere to be found when she failed to serve out the match at 5-1 and 5-3. She had two match points at 5-1, but double faulted on the first and netted a volley on the second.

Townsend had two more match points at 5-3, but Zhao saved one with a winner and Townsend wasted the fourth with a backhand slice long. Zhao held to win her fourth straight game to make it 5-5, and Townsend finally reasserted herself, making several first serves, which allowed her to control the points. At 5-6, Zhao confidently held to 15, making all her first serves and forcing the tiebreaker with an ace on game point.

As the crowd gathered around court 1 for the final tiebreaker, no one would dare predict how it would end, especially if they had seen the previous 36 games.

The first five points went to the server, with Townsend getting the first mini-break with the drop shot, which she had used throughout the match. The speedy Zhao picked it up, but sent her reply wide to make it 4-2 at the change of ends.  Townsend broke Zhao again when she picked up a Zhao drop shot and guided the reply past the Canadian. Even with a 5-2 lead, there was no expectation that Townsend could finish it, given her struggles earlier, but the next point sealed it for her. Townsend was at Zhao's mercy at the net, but anticipated where Zhao would go with her second pass attempt and hit a forehand volley winner of her own.

Although Townsend had trouble with her serve in the final two sets, her overhead was as solid as always, and she converted her fifth match point with an overhead winner.

Zhao and Townsend had played a similar match in the second round at the French Open junior championships this year, so Townsend wasn't surprised by what happened Friday.

"It was about three and a half (hours) at the French," Townsend said. "So I knew it was going to be a grind, especially on clay. She's a good player."

Zhao said she felt fine physically, but losing another close one to Townsend was difficult.

"It's not just long, but tough, every single game, every single set, lots of deuces," Zhao said. "But it's really disappointing to lose this kind of match. I don't think anyone can think about what can happen at 5-1, but I was just keeping my head down and working. It got me back in the match and I had a shot at it in the end, but it's tennis, so anything can happen."

With the win and No. 2 seed Katerina Siniakova's loss in doubles, Townsend clinched the ITF World Junior Championship for 2012, the first American to do so since Gretchen Rush in 1992.

"It's definitely in the back of my mind," Townsend said of finishing the year as No. 1. "I try to push it back, try to focus on my matches. When I step on the court, I just play tennis. If I play well, and do what I know I can do, everything else will take care of itself."

Townsend's semifinal opponent is No. 7 seed and Eddie Herr champion Ana Konjuh of Croatia, who beat No. 4 seed Belinda Bencic 6-4, 6-2 in the quarterfinals.

Konjuh, who was in the crowd watching Townsend and Zhao, spent considerably less time on the court, having already lost in doubles, while Townsend was on the court until 7:30 p.m. in her doubles quarterfinal.

"I'll be fine," said Townsend, who, with Gabby Andrews, saved two match points in a 6-2, 3-6, 11-9 win over Sweden's Rebecca Peterson and Indonesia's Aldila Sutjiadi. "I just need to get a good meal and stretch a lot and take a hot shower, and I'll be fine. Get the joints real loose."

The other girls semifinal will feature No. 2 seed Siniakova, a 6-1, 2-6, 6-2 winner over No. 8 seed Chalena Scholl of the US, against No. 6 seed Marcela Zacarias of Mexico. Zacarias defeated unseeded Natalia Vajdova of Slovakia 6-3, 6-4.

While the girls top seed survived, the boys top seed did not. Gianluigi Quinzi of Italy was beaten by Eddie Herr finalist Laslo Djere of Serbia in another long match 6-7(2), 6-2, 6-1.  No. 10 seed Djere's semifinal opponent is No. 9 seed Thai Kwiatkowski, who won the only two-setter in the boys quarterfinals 6-2, 6-2 over fellow American Deiton Baughman.

The bottom half semifinal is between No. 8 seed Filippo Baldi of Italy and No. 12 seed Elias Ymer of Sweden. Baldi trailed No. 3 seed Yoshihito Nishioka of Japan 4-1 in the final set, but took the final five games of the match for a 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 victory.  Ymer dropped his first set of the tournament to No. 2 seed Frederico Silva of Portugal, but  recovered for  6-1, 1-6, 6-1 win.

The 16s finals are set for Saturday, with No. 12 seed Tommy Paul of the US playing No. 4 seed Andrey Rublev of Russia for the boys title, and No. 8 seed Gloria Liang of Canada playing No. 16 seed Chloe Ouellet-Pizer of the US.

Paul took the first set of his semifinal match with unseeded Sameer Kumar of the US 6-0, but the second set was a battle. Kumar served for the second set at 5-3, then Paul served for the match at 6-5, lost that game, and lost the final three points of the second set tiebreaker after serving up 5-4.

"I got broken the first game (of the third set) and I thought oh my god, but I broke him back and I was okay, and I just kept playing," said Paul, 15. "I was kind of like on the edge. I thought I was going to tank the third set, but I didn't."

"I just played like unreal in the first set," said Paul who now trains at L'Academie de Tennis in nearby Boynton Beach after a stint at the USTA National Center in Boca Raton. "I played so well. Then in the second set, he started playing better. I don't think I really lost focus, he just started playing better."

Rublev defeated No. 14 seed Dennis Uspensky of the US 6-1, 4-6, 6-1 in the other boys 16s semifinal.

Ouellet-Pizer was a semifinalist at the Junior Orange Bowl 14s last year, but she is surprised to find herself in the final of the Orange Bowl 16s 12 months later after a 7-6(6), 7-5 win over unseeded Lisa Ponomar of Germany.

"I didn't think I was going to get through a round before this tournament," said Ouellet-Pizer, 15. "First I missed the deadline, so I had to get a wild card, and I didn't really think I was going to get it, but when I did, I was like, okay, I just want to win a couple rounds."

Ouellet-Pizer pointed to her win over Eddie Herr 16s champion Marie Norris in the third round as a turning point.

"I had a really tight second match, and then I feel like I just started playing better and better," said Ouellet-Pizer, who will face Liang in the final after Liang's 6-2, 6-3 win over No. 4 seed Usue Arconada of the US. "When I played Marie Norris, I had just played her at Eddie Herr and lost 0 and 1, and that was a tough match, and after I got through that it gave me some confidence."

Ouellet-Pizer and Ponomar played several 50 ball rallies with Ponomar serving at 5-6, and twice, on match point for Ouellet-Pizer, a ball came on their court from the Paul and Kumar match, meaning they had to play a let.

"I was just trying to stick with my game plan," said Ouellet-Pizer, who saved two set points in the first set. "I was just trying to keep it up high, because she really takes advantage of the low ball. I thought maybe she would bail first and go for the winner."

Ponomar, who was up 5-3 in the second set, showed admirable patience as match surpassed the two hour mark, but eventually the heat and Ouellet-Pizer's high looping balls did her in.

Ponomar did end her day and tournament on a high note, however, as she and Johnisse Renaud of the United States captured the doubles title 6-0, 6-1 over Marie-Alexandre Leduc and Liang of Canada.

Renaud, who was the No. 1 seed in singles, said she and Ponomar got together at the Eddie Herr, where they reached the quarterfinals in the 18s.

"It was a good warmup and we were pretty confident coming into this tournament, even though it was only our second time playing together," said Renaud. "We're both really aggressive players, pretty solid at the net, and we have a good chemistry together."

Ponomar agreed.

"It's just perfect. She's good at the net and I'm good at the baseline."

The boys doubles champions are Lamar Remy of the US and Alejandro Tabilo of Canada, who defeated top seed Sumit Nagal of India and  Uspensky 6-3, 6-3.

Remy and Tabilo, who train together at the IMG Bollettieri Academy and began playing together in October, have now won 15 matches in a row and their third straight title, adding the Orange Bowl to their title at the Atlanta and Evert Grade 4 ITFs.

"We're pretty good friends and we understand each other on the court," said Tabilo.

"Communication is key in doubles," said Remy. "Today we communicated well, and that's what got us the title. That and reacting to the ball today and our volleys at the net. Commanding the net was the biggest key point."

Remy and Tabilo anticipate continuing their partnership, and hopefully their winning streak, but not until next year.

"In January or February, we're going to start again," said Remy. "We've got a little time off now."

For complete results, including all the 18s doubles quarterfinals, see the tournament page at usta.com.