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Monday, December 23, 2013

Americans Liu and Black Claim Junior Orange Bowl Titles; Argentina Sweeps Boys Championships

©Colette Lewis 2013--
Coral Gables, FL--

Second seed Claire Liu collected her second Junior Orange Bowl title Monday with a 6-4, 6-2 victory over top seed Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic in the girls 14s final. For second seed Hurricane Tyra Black, the road to her 12s championship was tougher, but she came back to defeat top seed Anastasia Potapova of Russia 0-6, 6-2, 6-4.

Liu, the 2011 12s champion, said she believed her experience on the courts at the University of Miami's Neil Schiff Tennis Center helped her at the start of the match.

"In the beginning, I already knew, from two years ago, what it would feel like, about nerves and stuff," said the 13-year-old from Thousand Oaks, California. "So I was a lot better."

Liu trailed 3-1 in the opening set, but found her rhythm and her form against Vondrousova, getting the break back immediately and playing aggressively when she got another break chance at 4-4.  With Vondrousova serving at 30-40, Liu swung away, immediately putting Vondrousova on the defensive and when Liu got the short ball, she put it away with an overhead.

Serving well, Liu played a confident game at 5-4, with a good serve and an excellent forehand giving her the set.

Liu had played three consecutive three-set matches to reach the finals, spending more than nine hours on the court, and she referred to her some of her play in the quarterfinals and semifinals as "not good" and "horrible."  Speaking after Monday's final, she conceded that she had played "really well."

"I was playing my game, hitting more to her backhand, attacking and moving her a lot," said Liu.

Liu has no fear of the net when she gets the opportunity, and she had great success there, putting away overheads and volleys with regularity, despite a tricky breeze on the warm and sunny day.  Liu began the second set with two breaks of serve, leading 3-0, but Vondrousova got one of them back and held serve to make it 3-2.

Admitting it was difficult to avoid thinking ahead with a set and a two-break lead, Liu gave herself a pep talk.

"It was really hard," said Liu. "I had to tell myself to focus, to stay on the court, because I was thinking, oh what's going to happen when I win."

Once Liu held for 4-2, it was smooth sailing for her, with Vondrousova becoming more error prone with each rally, while Liu was gaining confidence from her ability to force them. After breaking Vondrousova to take a 5-2 lead, Liu closed out the second set as she had the first, getting first serves in and hitting out. At 40-15, she hit yet another good first serve, and when Vondrousova's return went long, she gave a loud c'mon and pumped her fist before jogging to the net for the handshake.

Liu, who said this win was even sweeter than her victory in 2011, is going to celebrate by sleeping in, and not playing tennis "for like a day." Then she'll return to the practice courts in Carson, California, where she trains with USTA National Coach Leo Azevedo and, among others, three girls who made the quarterfinals this week--Kayla Day, Kylie McKenzie and Ashley Lahey. In January, Liu will head to Europe with the USTA team playing the major European tournaments in England and France.

Vondrousova gave credit to Liu, but was disappointed with her own level of play in the final.

"She played very good at the net, I not good," said the 14-year-old left-hander. "And I don't like the wind here. It was problem for me."

While Liu closed out her match in less than 90 minutes, Black required a much longer time to work her way back from a poor start. Although many of the first six games went to deuce, Potapova won them all, attacking Black's second serve and staying patient in the often soft-paced rallies.  Black slipped fell to the court several times in the first set, bringing to mind the last time she and Potapova played, when Black retired at 4-3 in the first set after a fall.  Unhappy with the line calls, and a vocal group of Russian Potapova supporters, Black seemed unable to focus, when something clicked.

"I just really wanted to win," said Black, citing her loss to Potapova at the Eddie Herr as the source of her motivation. "When I want to win, I come back and I do a lot better. Down 0-5, I just started playing a lot better and I decided I wanted to come back in the second set. I wanted to hit the ball harder in the second set, and I thought it would be better if I would just hit, because I wasn't doing that well with the slice. I was hitting a little soft in the first set too."

Black won a long first game on serve to open the second set, while Potapova held at love. But that was the last time Potapova would hold serve in the set, with Black taking control. Potapova's unforced errors piled up, and she looked uncomfortable dealing the Black's forehand slice, often failing to get her replies back over the net.

Black continued to baffle Potapova at the start of the third set, going up 3-0 but Potapova stuck around, getting a hold and a break to get back on serve.  But with an untimely double fault and an inability to play the offensive game she preferred, Potapova was broken twice more, with Black serving for the match at 5-3.

Black didn't get to match point, with several unforced errors costing her, but the sixth straight break of the match gave her the win. Potapova,  increasingly desperate to avoid the long points Black was constructing, made two unforced errors and tried a drop shot that came nowhere near clearing the net to give Black two match points.  She only needed one, winning a long point when her backhand caught the baseline, handcuffing Potapova.

Potapova said she played "good in first set, bad in second set, and in third set, not good and not bad. But I don't like to play her way, I like to hit more. But she's a very good player."

Although her sister Tornado Alicia Black, who was at the match Monday, lost in the 14s final two years ago, and her sister Nicole Pitts won the title in 2000, Black said she was happy to win for other reasons, not just as a part of a family legacy.

"I really wanted to win this tournament when I came out here, because I had to default at Eddie Herr," said Black. "So I just wanted to win Orange Bowl a lot just to prove that I'm better than some people thought I was. For me the family part doesn't really matter, I just wanted to come out and win this tournament, for me, not just for my whole family."

While the United States was sweeping the girls titles, Argentina was also going for two Junior Orange Bowl winner's trophies Monday.  Juan Cerundolo, a No. 9 seed in the boys 12s, had eased past unseeded Wojciech Marek of Poland 6-2, 6-2 at Salvadore Park Monday morning, but his compatriot in the boys 14s final, Axel Geller, was down a set and break, with Alex de Minaur of Australia serving for the match at 5-4 in the second set before Geller came back to post a 6-7(2), 7-5, 6-2 victory.

In that crucial 5-4 game, de Minaur, a No. 17 seed, saved one break point to make it 30-40, but was the victim of an unusual circumstance on the second.

"I played well that game," said Geller, who, as a qualifier, was playing his tenth match in ten days. "At 30-40, I hit a forehand which bounced on top of another ball. He had missed his first serve and didn't clear the ball, and I had a bit of luck."

Geller said he was putting all his effort and energy in the last few games of the second set.

"My body was just destroyed," said Geller, whose excellent English is a result of his attendance at a Scottish school in Argentina. "I just said, you've got to battle to the end, and if you lose, he's a good winner, but try to win."

Although he's not a serve-and-volleyer, de Minaur had been successful coming into the net throughout the match, rarely missing a volley, while putting constant pressure on Geller to come up with a passing shot or lob. But serving at 5-6 in the second set, de Minaur missed a forehand volley wide on set point, and that marked the beginning of the end for him.

"I think I got stuck by hoping for him to miss instead of playing my game and trying to attack," said de Minaur, who recently won the Australian National 14s championship. "That cost me badly. He was obviously really tired, he's played so many matches in a row, but I should have took advantage of that and got through that in two sets."

The third set was on serve until the sixth game, when de Minaur double faulted three straight times to give Geller a 4-2 lead. Geller held for 5-2, and when de Minaur double faulted again, then missed a forehand and a backhand volley in the next game, Geller had two match points. Geller netted a routine backhand on the first, but he won the second when de Minaur's backhand went wide, setting off a chorus of Argentina's national anthem by several family friends watching from the bleachers above the court.

Geller was well aware that the last player from Argentina to win the boys 14s title was 2009 US Open champion Juan Martin del Potro.

"I really like him, how he plays," said Geller. "He serves really great and he has the best forehand ever, I think. He doesn't make mistakes on his backhand, so I think it is very difficult to beat him, only the top players can. He's a bit of a model, and some day I would like to be like him."

Geller was also keenly interested in how Cerundolo, a diminutive left-hander, was doing in his championship match at Salvadore Park. "We know each other, and both were wishing good luck to each other, but we didn't even see each other, just [results] by the computer. I am really happy for him. When I won the second set, there was ten minutes [a mandatory break] and we were talking about my match, but then I asked how he had done. They told me he won, and I said, well then there will be two Argentina guys winning."

Geller and his family, including his 11-year-old sister Ana, who reached the round of 16 in the girls 12s, will vacation in South Florida for a few days before returning to Argentina after Christmas.

The consolation finals and the third place matches were also decided on Monday.

Kayla Day of the United States won the girls 14s consolation feed-in, with Hannah Lairmore, also of the US, unable to play in the finals due to illness. Vanessa Wong of Canada finished in third place when Abigail Desiatnikov of the United States did not play due to injury.

In the boys 14s, Sam Riffice of the United States won the consolation tournament, beating Yshai Oliel of Israel 6-4, 6-1. Serbia's Miomir Kecmanovic took third place, defeating Kyrylo Tsygura of the United States 6-0, 6-0.

In the girls 12s, the consolation winner was Thasaporn Naklo of Thailand, who beat Ekaterina Makarova of Russia 6-2, 6-3.  Amanda Anisimova of the US finished in third place when China's Xiyu Wang did not compete.

In the boys 12s, Chun Hsin Tseng of Taiwan took the consolation title, beating Alexander Zgirovsky of Belarus 6-2, 6-2. Sebastian Grundtvig of Denmark finished third when Nicolas Alvarez Varona of Spain did not play.

For complete draws, see the TennisLink site.