Saturday, October 12, 2013

Black and Tiafoe Post Convincing Victories to Earn Pan American Closed Championships

©Colette Lewis 2013--
Tulsa, OK--

Tornado Alicia Black won her first pro tournament just two weeks ago, while Francis Tiafoe was more than 18 months removed from his last significant championship. There was no such contrast in the finals of the ITF Grade B1 Pan American Closed however, as both claimed titles with emphatic victories at the Michael D. Case Tennis Center on the campus of the University of Tulsa.

Top seed Black defeated No. 13 seed Kaitlyn McCarthy 6-0, 6-0, but No. 3 seed Tiafoe's 6-3, 6-0 win over unseeded Taylor Fritz was actually over more quickly, with Tiafoe needing only 48 minutes to secure the win.

The first four games of the boys final went to the server, but Fritz was broken in the fifth game, and he managed only one more hold of serve after that.  Although Fritz had displayed an effective serve all week, Tiafoe's serve was the better of the two on Saturday.

"This is the best I've served all week," said Tiafoe, who didn't face a break point in the match. "I was serving very well and moved him around, didn't let him camp too much, because his forehand is crazy good. I was trying to go 1 and 1 or 2 and 1 and move my forehand down the line or inside out, then backhands down the line to get him off balance, and it was working pretty well. He wasn't really liking it."

After beating the No. 2 seed Spencer Papa and the No. 4 seed Danny Kerznerman on consecutive days, and coming straight from Wichita Falls, where he had won the Grade 4 title, Fritz could obviously cite fatigue for his lackluster performance. But he brushed off that suggestion.

"I think it was pretty obvious that I wasn't playing anywhere near how I usually do, or how I have been this tournament," said Fritz. "I knew I had to play just like yesterday and the day before that if I wanted to win this match and I just played nowhere near my expectations. Sometimes you have those days."

Fritz, who will be 16 later this month, said he thought Tiafoe played well, but continued to express disappointment with his own level.

"The points I did make him work for, he still came up with the good shots," Fritz said. "Like match point, I thought I played fine. But I would have liked to have played not horrible to see if I could have done a little better."

Tiafoe showed off his creativity several times, once hitting a perfectly sliced forehand overhead winner, as well as a powerful serve and forehand.  On match point, he executed a backhand volley with such backspin it bounced on Fritz's side of the net, then lurched back into it.

"It was one of the better match points I've ever had," said Tiafoe, a 15-year-old from College Park, Md. "He went at my feet, and I was like, let's see if this goes over, and it went in."

Since winning the international 14s tournaments Teen Tennis and Les Petits As in February of 2012, Tiafoe has claimed only one other tournament title, a USTA regional level in the 18s this summer.

"It's not like I've been having bad tournaments, I've been going semis and quarters, most of them ITFs, so it's been tough," said Tiafoe. "But it's good now I've finally got a tournament under my belt. It's hopefully a confidence booster, so yeah, winning this tournament means a lot to me."

With that confidence boost, Tiafoe is looking to play some Futures tournaments this fall in the US before returning to the junior ranks for the Eddie Herr and Orange Bowl.

In the girls final, Black was at the top of her game, much more comfortable and aggressive than she had been in her three-hour, three-set semifinal win over Renata Zarazua.

McCarthy had two break points in the second game of the match, but was unable to convert either one, and Black never looked back. Striking every ball with authority and seizing the opportunities McCarthy gave her, she didn't lose her focus as she collected game after game.

"I had watched her a few games the other day," said Black, who wasn't familiar with McCarthy's game, or even her name, before the US Open juniors this year. "I went out there trying to hit angles. She left the court open for me to go down the line a lot, so I took advantage of that. I played really aggressive today."

McCarthy agreed.

"She did pretty much what I expected," said the 15-year-old McCarthy, a Cary, North Carolina resident. "She defended really well, she played pretty aggressively, she kept most of the balls in the court. I just wasn't ready to play today, unfortunately. You have those days sometimes, every athlete does. It just wasn't really coming off the racquet right today. She played really well on top of that so it made for a very quick match."

In an hour and three minutes, Black had her first ITF Grade 1 title, which she believes puts her into the Top 10 in the rankings.

"It took me my third Tulsa to win," said Black, from Boca Raton, Florida. "I think I'm Top 10 in juniors, so I'm really excited about that. I don't look at the points and rankings, but my mom, I guess she does. She told me on the phone, oh if you win, you're Top 10, and I'm like, oh, no pressure, thanks. I prefer not knowing, but sometimes she opens her mouth on the phone."

Like Tiafoe, Black is planning to play professional events this fall, but because she is only 15, Black is subject to the WTA age rules, which restrict her to only 10 ITF Women's Circuit or WTA tournament appearances this year, although as a junior slam finalist, Black gets an extra one, for a total of 11. So she is planning to continue playing junior competition, including the Eddie Herr and Orange Bowl this year.

"I can't play all pro," said Black. "I'll play the junior slams, just focus on some of the big junior tournaments, and some more pro events, but I'm not sure about any of the other tournaments."

Black fell short of sweeping the titles in Tulsa when she and partner Mia Horvit, the No. 4 seeds, fell to unseeded Gabby Andrews and Dasha Ivanova 7-6(6), 7-6(4) in the final Saturday afternoon.  Of the 12 games in the first set, eight went to the deciding point in the no-ad format.  Andrews and Ivanova both served for the first set, at 5-4 and 6-5, but didn't secure it until Andrews poached and putaway the volley on her team's third set point.

In the second set, it was Black and Horvit who twice served for the set, again at 5-4 and at 6-5, but neither could get a set point on serve. The pattern ended in the second set tiebreaker, when Andrews and Ivanova ran out to a 5-0 lead and held on, with Ivanova blistering a forehand return winner off a Black second serve to secure the title.

Playing together for the first time, Andrews and Ivanova were happy with their improvement as they advanced during the week.

"The first round match we were struggling a little bit, but we were still having fun," said Andrews, a two-time junior slam doubles champion. "We didn't let one another get too down--we got down, but we didn't get too down."

"We're always pumping each other up," said Ivanova. "I think we make a great combo," said Andrews. "Yeah," added Ivanova, "I actually do."

Ivanova and Black both train at L'Academie de Tenis in Florida, but were on opposite sides of the net today.

"Since we practice everyday, we know each other's games pretty well by now," said Ivanova, who turned 17 on Friday. "It's all mental, you know. One's trying to beat the other, she just won the singles, probably wants to go for the doubles too. But you've just got to play fair and see what happens."

"I played her in doubles in Maryland (ITF Grade 1 International Hard Courts) and I won there," said Black. "She won here. We go on and off. We play each other a lot. But she played with Gabby and Gabby's won all the junior slams. She really knows how to play doubles, so I just went out there and did my best."

At just under two hours, the girls doubles final was longer than both the singles finals combined.

The boys doubles final between top seeds Tiafoe and Michael Mmoh and No. 2 seeds Papa and Kerznerman was not played. Due to a back injury, Papa was unable to compete in the final, so Tiafoe and Mmoh won the title via a walkover.

For complete results, see the USTA ITF tournament home page.