Friday, October 11, 2013

Tiafoe Meets Fritz for Boys Title; Black and McCarthy Play for Girls Championship at ITF Grade B1 Pan American Closed

©Colette Lewis 2013--
Tulsa, OK--

One top seed survived, but one did not on a blustery semifinal day at the ITF Grade B1 Pan American Closed at the Michael D. Case Tennis Center on the campus of the University of Tulsa.

Girls No. 1 Tornado Alicia Black needed nearly three hours to earn her spot in the final, overcoming No. 4 seed Renata Zarazua of Mexico 6-0, 4-6, 6-3, while boys No. 1 Michael Mmoh fell to friend and doubles partner Francis Tiafoe, the No. 3 seed, 6-2, 2-6, 6-4.

Black will play No. 13 seed Kaitlyn McCarthy in the final, after McCarthy ended the run of unseeded 14-year-old Katherine Sebov of Canada 7-5, 7-5. Tiafoe's opponent in the championship match is unseeded Taylor Fritz, who took out No. 4 seed Danny Kerznerman 6-0, 7-6(4).

Black appeared to be cruising to yet another straight-set win when she took the first set from Zarazua, who struggled with the windy conditions, in 30 minutes. Zarazua, a semifinalist here in 2011, didn't have a game point in the first set, but she got her first one with Black serving to open the second set and won the game, only to immediately lose her advantage.

But the 16-year-old Zarazua began to execute her strategy of bringing Black into the net and passing or lobbing her, and as Zarazua began to gauge her drop shots better in the wind, she took control of the second set, taking a 5-2 lead.  She was unable to serve out the set at 5-2, but succeeded in her second attempt, converting her third set point on a deft cross court drop shot that Black got to, but netted.

Black's frustration with the chair umpire and a medical timeout for a neck problem contributed to the 75-minute length of the second set, but the cat-and-mouse points also played a role.

"In the second set I think I was holding back a little bit, and she started playing better, hitting the ball more," said Black, 15. "For me the second set was more mental, I think. She's a really crafty person, drop shots, but I think her backhand was a lot more solid today. She was making forehand errors and I was trying to pressure her with the forehand and pull her out to the backhand to get the ball I want sometimes."

In the third set, Black took a 3-1 lead, lost her serve, but again Zarazua was unable to pull even and Black took a 5-2 lead. Yet even from that comfortable position, Black struggled to finish, needing five match points, with Zarazua coming up with passing shots and lob winners that served to frustrate Black even more.

Black has been working on her on-court composure, but she had her problems overcoming her anger at some of the line calls.

"There was some pretty bad calls with me I thought, and some really bad calls for her I thought also," said Black. "So maybe I overreacted a little bit, but I'll stay calm next time."

McCarthy set up her first meeting with Black by coming from 4-2 down in the second set to defeat the hard-hitting young Canadian.

In the first set, Sebov double faulted on game point at 5-5 and McCarthy served out the set. In the second set, Sebov had two game points to take a 5-2 lead, but didn't convert them, and as the pressure to win the second set mounted, Sebov began making more unforced errors, while McCarthy made fewer.

Serving at 5-5, Sebov made five unforced errors in the game to lose it, and McCarthy didn't haven't to do much to in the final game, with Sebov pressing even more. Sebov saved one match point, when McCarthy's backhand went long, but on the next one, Sebov sent her forehand long to give McCarthy the win.

"The with-the-wind side was where most of the games were won in the match for sure," said McCarthy. "It was about who could capitalize on the against-the-wind side.  I thought maybe I could get it to 4-all and look for my opportunity, and that's actually what ended up happening. At 4-5, I was on the with-the-wind side, so I thought my chances to hold my serve were pretty good, so I able to capitalize, and I think that frustrated her.  She gave me a couple of quick points to win the game, even though it was still close."

McCarthy lost to US Open girls champion Ana Konjuh in the second round in New York, and now she is facing the US Open finalist in Black.

"I think it should be a good experience, I'm kind of excited, actually," said McCarthy. "She plays really good defense and she can put all the balls in the court. She can be aggressive, she can pretty much do it all--she can volley, she can slice, so she's more of an all-around player. It will just be about execution and the crucial moments. If we have a close match, which I hope we do, then it will come down to the big points."

In the boys semifinal between Tiafoe and Mmoh, Tiafoe seemingly needed no time to adjust to the wind, playing near flawless tennis in the opening set.  Returning Mmoh's big serve confidently, hitting huge forehands, deft lobs, the occasional volley, and serving well himself, Tiafoe was in the zone.

That Tiafoe couldn't sustain that level in the second set was no surprise. Mmoh began to adjust to Tiafoe's level and once he recovered from an early break, it was Mmoh who began to dictate play. In the third set, after an early exchange of breaks, Mmoh lost his serve at love to make it 4-3, and that was all Tiafoe needed to close out his friend and doubles partner.

"In the first set, I played really, really well," said Tiafoe, 15. "I kind of lost focus there in the second, and in the third, I picked it up again, playing the way I wanted to, playing my strategy pretty well, and I guess that's why I won."

Tiafoe and Mmoh spend a lot of time together, although Mmoh trains at the IMG Bollettieri Academy and Tiafoe at the Junior Tennis Champions Center.

"It's tough," said Tiafoe. "We're really tight and we were talking a lot the morning before, the night before, the whole week, hanging out all the time. Plus, since we travel together as the 1998's, it's tough. But as soon as you get on the court, we both know it's a battle and you just compete."

Fritz's win over Kerznerman started much differently than his win over No. 2 seed Spencer Papa on Thursday, when Fritz was quickly behind 3-0.

"I took what I learned from yesterday," said Fritz, who will be 16 in two weeks. "Not try to overplay in the beginning, but still coming out playing my game, just rip. I started out playing well, got the first break, and I just told myself get the second break, that's a huge safety net in the set, because I don't feel I'm getting broken twice in a set."

Kerznerman, who had not lost a set in his previous four matches, came out strong to start the second, breaking Fritz and holding for a 2-0 lead. Fritz evened the set with a break for 2-2, and there were no breaks after that, although Kerznerman did face match points when he was serving at 4-5 and 5-6.  At 4-5, 30-40, a long rally ended when Fritz's backhand slice caught the net, but he wasn't discouraged about missing an opportunity.

"I thought I played a really solid point," the 6-foot-3 right-hander said. "I'd feel confident doing that on any match point I played. He straight up got me on that point. I can't be frustrated about my play on that point."

The second match point Kerznerman saved, at 5-6, was with an ace, but that stroke let him down in the tiebreaker. He double faulted at 1-1, at 4-2 and at 5-4, giving Fritz two more match points. Fritz only needed one, hitting a backhand winner to secure his eleventh straight ITF junior singles match in the past two weeks.

With his limited international experience, the Rancho Santa Fe resident could be considered at a disadvantage, but he doesn't look at that way.

"I think it's helping me," said Fritz, who will be playing Tiafoe for the first time on Saturday. "I have nothing to lose, really. And those are the kind of stakes I like."

The doubles finals are set, with both Black and Tiafoe going for sweeps on Saturday.  Black and her partner Mia Horvit, the No. 4 seeds, will play unseeded Gabby Andrews and Dasha Ivanova for the girls title.  Black and Horvit defeated unseeded Ellyse Hamlin and Madison Westby 7-5, 5-7, 10-5 in the day's last match.  Andrews and Ivanova took out No. 2 seeds Marie Norris and Rianna Valdes 7-6(6), 6-1.

The boys doubles final will be No. 1 against No. 2. Top seeds Mmoh and Tiafoe, semifinalists here last year, defeated unseeded Fritz and Logan Smith 7-5, 6-4, while No. 2 seeds Kerznerman and Spencer Papa downed unseeded Grayson Broadus and Jake DeVine 6-3, 7-5.

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