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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Fifteen-year-old American Boys Make Mark at Orange Bowl

©Colette Lewis 2013--
Plantation, FL--

Four American boys have reached the last 16 at the Metropolia Orange Bowl, and three of them, all seeded, are 15-year-olds who have grown up together, playing and winning important international junior titles in the 12s and 14s age divisions.

On another warm and sunny day at the Frank Veltri Tennis Center, No. 4 seed Stefan Kozlov, No. 6 seed Michael Mmoh and No. 13 seed Francis Tiafoe, all born within a month of each other in 1998, posted straight set victories to advance to Thursday's third round.

Kozlov, who won the Eddie Herr 12s title in 2009, defeated Nicolas Frunza of Romania 6-2, 6-2. Tiafoe, the 2012 Les Petits As champion, downed Guy Orly Iradukunda of Burundi for the second time in two weeks, this time by a 6-2, 6-4 score, and Mmoh, the Junior Orange Bowl 12s and 14s champion in 2010 and 2012, beat Deiton Baughman 6-3, 6-2.

Mmoh, who won his first Grade A title at the Osaka Mayor's Cup in Japan back in October and is now No. 19 in the ITF junior rankings, said the rivalry has helped him.

"It pushes you a lot," said Mmoh, who is the oldest of the trio by 10 days. "If I was the only one inside the Top 20 and the others were outside I wouldn't want to get as high in the rankings as I would if there are other people my age. It's good motivation."

Kozlov, who is now at a career-high No. 7 in the junior world rankings after his quarterfinal showing at the Eddie Herr, and Tiafoe, at No. 35, also a career high, have continued to push Mmoh and vice versa.

"It's good competition," said Mmoh, who along with Tiafoe, won the ITF World Junior Tennis team competition title for the United States last year. "I jumped a lot to get to the Top 20 and now I have to go even more."

Against Baughman, who was a semifinalist at the Eddie Herr last week, Mmoh felt his advantage came from the previous day's match, with Baughman playing a long three-setter with Australian Omar Jasika, then competing in doubles until after 8 p.m.

"I hit with him a lot and really knew his game," said Mmoh, who trains with Baughman at the IMG Bollettieri Academy. "I also knew he wasn't going to be 100 percent fit, he'd be tired, because he had a long match yesterday. He was missing a lot, but I was playing really well, and I didn't miss a lot. I played a good game plan against him."

Mmoh admits that he never cared for clay, but is beginning to warm to it.

"I'm starting to like it more," Mmoh said. "I used to hate clay, but I'm starting to improve my movement, and just my overall game on clay has gotten a lot better."

Mmoh will play No. 9 seed Marcelo Zormann of Brazil Thursday, after Zormann came back from the brink to defeat Henrik Wiersholm 6-1, 6-7(5), 7-5, after Weirsholm had served for the match at 5-4 in the third, only to be broken at love.

Tiafoe's opponent on Thursday is No. 3 seed Filippo Baldi of Italy, who ground down Maxime Janvier of France 2-6, 6-3, 6-2.  Kozlov will play one of only two unseeded players remaining in the boys draw, Weiqiang Zheng of China. Kozlov defeated Zheng 6-0, 6-2 in the first round of the Eddie Herr last week.

The other unseeded player in the boys draw is 16-year-old wild card Reilly Opelka, who defeated No. 15 seed Nino Serdarusic of Croatia 6-4, 6-4. Opelka will take on No. 2 seed Johan Sebastien Tatlot of France in Thursday's third round.

Top seed Alexander Zverev of Germany was down a break in the third set to Phillip Gresk of Poland, but won the final four games of the match for a 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 victory.  Eddie Herr finalist Andrey Rublev of Russia and champion Kamil Majchrzak of Poland also recovered from dropping the opening set to record victories. Rublev beat Martin Redlicki 4-6, 6-2, 6-2 and Majchrzak defaeted Dan Kerznerman 3-6, 6-4, 6-1.

Only two US girls remain in the 18s draws--No. 3 seed Tornado Alicia Black and unseeded Sofia Kenin.  Black picked up a routine 6-3, 6-2 victory over Jacqueline Cabaj Awad of Sweden and Kenin got past wild card Gabby Castaneda 7-6(1), 6-2.  Black will play No. 13 seed Renata Zarazua of Mexico Thursday in a rematch of their three-set semifinal at the Pan American Closed in October. Kenin will take on unseeded Siqi Cao of China.

Top seed Varvara Flink of Russia had no difficulty with Ilka Csoregi of Romania, taking a 6-1, 6-3 decision, but No. 2 seed Ivana Jorovic of Serbia again needed three sets to record a win over a wild card. Jorovic defeated Emma Higuchi 6-7(2), 6-1, 6-1, after the much smaller and less powerful Higuchi eventually tired herself out getting every big Jorovic groundstroke back in play.

The 16s competition early in the day produced only two three-set matches, both in the boys draw.  No. 2 seed Chan-Yeong Oh of Korea came back to post a 3-6, 6-1, 6-2 win over Kalman Boyd and will play Eddie Herr champion Alfredo Perez in the quarterfinals Thursday. Perez beat No. 5 seed Ulises Blanch, a wild card, 6-3, 6-3.  The other three-set victory belonged to Eduardo Nava, who also came from behind. Nava outlasted No. 13 seed Tadas Babelis of Lithuania 4-6, 6-3, 6-3.

The top remaining seed in the girls 16s draw is No. 4 Lisa Ponomar of Germany. She will play Eddie Herr 14s champion Sofia Sewing, the No. 6 seed, in the quarterfinals.  Unseeded Alexis Nelson, Jada Hart and Dominique Schaefer join No. 7 seed Meghan Kelley in the quarterfinals, giving the US five of the remaining eight players.

The first round of 18s doubles was completed Wednesday, with US Open boys champions Redlicki and Majchrzak falling to Fajing Sun and Zhe Zhou of China 6-3, 7-5.

For complete draws and news from the Orange Bowl, see the tournament website.


USA said...

Great to see so many young american boys winning many matches in the 18s event.

The College Park, Maryland center keeps producing junior players year after year. Maybe they should teach the USTA Player Development their method.

I am looking forward to seeing this young crew chase each other over the next few years and into the pros.