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Friday, September 6, 2013

Lottner Ends Bencic's Pursuit of Third Straight Junior Slam; Wild Card Black Reaches Semifinals at US Open Junior Championships

©Colette Lewis 2013--
Flushing Meadows, NY--

Antonia Lottner hadn't taken a set from Belinda Bencic in their two previous meetings, and when she arrived on Court 10 for their quarterfinal match on a crisp and clear morning at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, Lottner was undeniably an underdog.

Bencic, a 16-year-old from Switzerland who had won both the French and Wimbledon girls titles this summer, was 15-0 in junior slams coming into her match with Lottner, and quickly took a 4-1 lead in the first set.  Lottner double faulted three times in her first service game, admitting she was "really nervous and tight. I said to myself, just keep trying, because you will get into the match. You don't want to go off the court and be frustrated that you didn't give everything you had."

Lottner, a 17-year-old from Dusseldorf, Germany, got the break back and then some, winning the final five games of the first set and the first two games of the second set en route to a 6-4, 6-2 win.

After losing to Bencic in the final of the French back in June, the 6-foot-1 inch right-hander was satisfied with her win on another major stage.

"It is a good feeling," Lottner said, phrasing her response carefully when asked how it felt to end the streak. "We are good friends. I played really good today. She's No. 1 and she has two grand slams, so I was really nervous. But I got into the match and just played my game. I broke her and won the match. I don't know how, but I just played really good, and I'm happy about that."

Although Lottner, who reached the semifinals last year, losing to eventual champion Samantha Crawford, was the underdog against Bencic, the No. 7 seed will vacate that role on Saturday, when she takes on wild card Tornado Alicia Black, whose previous best showing at a junior slam was the second round at last year's US Open.

The 15-year-old from Boca Raton, Florida defeated unseeded Iryna Shymanovich of Belarus 7-6(3), 6-4 Friday, making no mistakes when it really mattered. Shymanovich recovered from a 4-1 deficit in the first set, taking the next four games to serve for the set, but Black broke her at love, then played flawlessly in the subsequent tiebreaker. Shymanovich didn't win a point until Black was up 5-0 in the tiebreaker, and at the changeover, chants of "Let's go Ali" began.

Black, who said she was often teased about her name, but is accustomed to it now, said she didn't know who it was that began the chants, but she enjoyed the support, even though she wasn't sure who her fan club consisted of.

"I thought it was pretty cool," said Black. "I didn't really pay attention to too much outside of the court, so I didn't really get a good look at them."

As for her surge this week, Black credits her desire for "a trophy" and motivation from last year's loss in the second round. She also cited her training at L'Academie of Tennis in Boynton Beach, where she has been for the last several months.

"The coaches push me really hard," Black said. "There's a lot of good kids training there and I like it a lot. I live at home, so that's really good for me."

Black is also drawing motivation from Serena and Venus Williams and their run at this year's Open.

"I was practicing next to them yesterday, so that was really cool," said Black, who has never met either sister. "I was taking selfies, trying to get them in there."

Prior to her run this week, Black's best result came at the ITF Grade B1 Easter Bowl, where she reached the final, losing to Mayo Hibi.

A rematch is still a possibility in the final, after Hibi, the No. 11 seed, beat No. 3 seed Katerina Siniakova of the Czech Republic 6-2, 7-5.

Hibi, who lives and trains in Irvine, California, but represents Japan, where she was born, trailed 4-0 in the second set before her serve got back on track.

"I was just making way too many unforced errors at the beginning of the second set," Hibi said. "I couldn't get a good first serve in either, but in the middle of the second set, I got my first serve back and I was able to control the points more off my serve. I thought about simple things--getting low, move your feet, watch the ball--and this week I've been having a lot of comebacks, especially in the second sets and in doubles, so I knew I could come back this time too."

Hibi will play No. 2 seed Ana Konjuh of Croatia, who eliminated No. 10 seed Louisa Chirico 6-3, 6-2 in less than an hour.

Despite serving less than 50 percent first serves, Konjuh, the reigning Australian Open girls champion, was happy with her level.

"I played really well, better than the days before," said the 15-year-old, who has now reached the semifinals of the past three junior slams. "Louisa's a really good player, and I'd never played her before, so I made really good tactics for today, stayed with it and did it well."

Konjuh, who said she will probably not play any more junior tournaments, unless she decides to defend her title in Australia, where she will be traveling to use the women's qualifying wild card the junior champion receives.

"I'm happy to be in New York, to play the juniors," said Konjuh. "This is my last tournament, and I really want to do well here. I'm really sad to leave juniors. It's been a great time, I've had a great experience here, and hopefully I will finish with a title."

Because Hibi has played sparingly on the international junior stage, Konjuh doesn't know much about her, but does know Hibi's game is unusual.

"This is the first time I've seen her," Konjuh said. "My coach just went to see her match. I saw she has a one-handed backhand, so she'll play a lot of slice. I'll try to practice to suit my game to slices, but my coach will do everything for me, maybe know some tactics and stuff."

Bencic wasn't the only Wimbledon champion to go out Friday, as No. 2 seed and boys Wimbledon champion Gianluigi Qunzi of Italy was eliminated by unseeded Thanasi Kokkinakis of Australia 3-6, 6-2, 6-2.

Kokkinakis had defeated Quinzi in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open in January, but a stress fracture in his back kept him from competing for five months, with his return coming on the grass at Roehampton and Wimbledon. Needing matches, Kokkinakis, who reached the final in Australia, entered the US Open junior championships, but his friend and doubles partner, ITF junior No. 1 Nick Kyrgios, did not."

"It was really good playing doubles with him at Wimbledon," said the 17-year-old Kokkinakis, who won his first junior slam title with Kyrgios there. "I was hoping he would come here and play the juniors, so I could play doubles with him, but that wasn't the case. He's over at Davis Cup now. I was going to go, but decided to play the juniors because I needed some matches and getting used to the competitive level rather than training and hitting balls, which I think I've done a little too much this year."

If Kokkinakis is to advance to his second junior slam title, he will again need to eliminate a reigning slam champion, French boys winner Christian Garin of Chile. Garin, the No. 3 seed, defeated No. 6 seed Johan Sebastien Tatlot of France 6-4, 7-6(7).

The other semifinal will feature top seed Alexander Zverev of Germany against No. 4 seed Borna Coric of Croatia. Zverev eliminated the last American in the boys draw, wild card Collin Altamirano, 6-4, 6-4, while Coric continued his domination of the field with a 6-3, 6-1 win over unseeded Quentin Halys of France.

Zverev pressured Altamirano's serve throughout the first set, but Altamirano saved six break points before Zverev finally converted one to take a 4-3 lead.

"From the beginning on, every game I had a break point against him," said Zverev, 16. "Maybe he was a bit nervous, but he played well on the important points, so it was pretty tough for me."

Zverev had not been pleased with his level in his early matches, but felt he has worked his way into top form now.

"I played well, better than the last couple of matches," said the French Open finalist. "First two rounds were not that great, but now I'm getting more and more confident."

Altamirano got his only break of the match to take a 3-1 lead, but Zverev broke back immediately, with a perfect drop shot and a backhand winner doing most of the damage. Altamirano played a poor game at 3-3, with unforced errors on the backhand leading to another break.

The Kalamazoo champion had opportunities in the next game, with two break points, but on both occasions, Zverev hit big serves that Altamirano couldn't get back in play.

"I've been working on my serve a lot the last couple of months," said Zverev. "I don't always serve like that on break points; if I would, I'd be very happy, but I'm happy that I did today."

Altamirano saved two match points in the next game, but Zverev had no trouble serving out the match, even after Altamirano called for a trainer at 5-4, with his left thigh receiving treatment.

"That's what people do when they're down a set and 4-5," Zverev said. "I was a little bit nervous on the first point (of the final game), but as soon as I won that, I was not nervous, I was confident."

Although both are 16 years old and have been playing junior tennis since the 12s, Coric and Zverev have never met.

"I've heard he's playing well now," said Zverev. "But I know I am as well, so it will be interesting tomorrow."

Although there is no American boy left in singles, Martin Redlicki will play for a US Open title in doubles on Saturday.  Redlicki and his partner Kamil Majchrzak of Poland, who are unseeded, will face Quentin Halys of France and Frederico Silva of Portugal in the championship match.  Redlicki and Machrzak defeated the unseeded German team of  Johannes Haerteis and Hannes Wagner 7-6(3), 6-4, while Halys and Silva downed Germany's Maximilian Marterer and Austria's Lucas Miedler, also unseeded 6-2, 6-4. Silva is defending the US Open boys doubles title he won with Great Britain's Kyle Edmund last year.

Belinda Bencic may have seen her attempt at three straight junior slam titles disappear today, but she has an opportunity to thwart that quest on Saturday. Bencic and Spain's Sara Sorribes Tormo, the No. 3 seeds, will play the top-seeded Czech team of Katerinia Siniakova and Barbora Krejcikova. Siniakova and Krejcikova won both the French and Wimbledon titles this year. Such is their dominance that they haven't been forced to a match tiebreaker (in the French and US Open format) or a third set (at Wimbledon) and are 23-0 in ITF junior doubles events this year as a team.  On Friday they defeated No. 4 seed Elise Mertens of Belgium and Ipek Soylu of Turkey 7-5, 6-4.  Bencic and Sorribes Tormo squeezed past No. 2 seed Ana Konjuh and Antonia Lottner 6-7(5), 6-2, 12-10.

For complete draws and Saturday's schedule, see usopen.org.