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Sunday, December 8, 2013

Majchrzak Takes Eddie Herr ITF Title in Thriller, Ostapenko Wins Girls Championship; Americans Neff, Sewing, Altick and Perez Claim Titles

©Colette Lewis 2013--
Bradenton, FL--

Looking ahead to his Sunday ITF Grade 1 boys final against Andrey Rublev, Kamil Majchrzak predicted a "great show." The 17-year-old from Poland looked clairvoyant and then some when he and Rublev battled for three hours and 20 minutes in the midday Florida sun before Majchrzak claimed a 7-6(4), 6-7(4), 7-6(5) victory.

Seeded No. 9, Majchrzak looked on his way to duplicating his previous victory over the Russian last year, serving well in the opening set and hitting his backhand with authority.  Rublev, who won the 16s Orange Bowl last year and the European 16s championship in July, looked to be suffering from the effects of two consecutive three-setters in the quarterfinals and semifinals. Although the No. 11 seed indulged in a few half-hearted racquet tosses and monologues in Russian, Rublev seemed to be conserving his emotional energy, with his only warning coming when he lost his serve to open the second set.

Majchrzak had his sixth consecutive straight-set victory in sight when he broke Rublev to take a 4-1 lead in the second set.  Rublev called for a trainer for treatment on his left leg, and after the three-minute delay, Majchrzak was promptly broken at love, although after the match Majchrzak said he couldn't recall anything about that stage of the match.

At 5-3, Rublev was serving to stay in the match, and Majchrzak was just a point away from victory when he hit a forehand pass for a winner at deuce.  Rublev came up with a big first serve and an immediate forehand winner to save that match point, and went on to hold, forcing Majchrzak to serve for the match.

He didn't get any closer than deuce, let down by his poor first serving percentage, and when Majchrzak's backhand went just long on break point number three, Rublev let out a loud roar of "Yah, C'mon" while pumping his fist.  The large standing room crowd gathered on the John Wooden Center porch overlooking court one urged the Russian on, wanting to see the match, and the tournament, continue for one final set.

After four deuces and two break points, Rublev held for 6-5, and Majchrzak held easily for another tiebreaker, the fourth Rublev had played in the past two days.  Trailing 3-0, Rublev picked up his serving, while Majchrzak couldn't get a first serve or a forehand in, and Rublev reeled off six consecutive points. Majchrzak saved one set point, replayed due to a popped ball on his service winner, but Rublev put away a rare volley to secure the second set.

By this time Rublev, who is slender and not yet physically mature, began receiving on-court treatment on the changeovers for cramping. Majchrzak was aware of Rublev problems, but he was having physical difficulties of his own after two and a half hours of play. The third set began with seven straight holds, with neither player extending themselves once the server got a 30-0 lead.  After Majchrzak held for 4-3, hitting two consecutive aces to end the game, Rublev again had a brief treatment for cramps and staggered noticeably when he got up from his chair.  His first serve had nothing of its usual pop, and Majchrzak stepped up his use of the drop shot, which had been quite successful all match long, breaking Rublev on a good drop shot that Rublev nearly reached, despite his cramping.

Serving for the match at 5-3, Majchrzak took a 30-0 lead, but Rublev hit two backhand winners, forced an error, and Majchrzak double faulted at 30-40.  Majchrzak, who was now showing signs of cramping himself, continued to miss backhands and Rublev held for 5-5. It was Majchrzak's turn let out a yell when he held from 0-30 down, and leading 6-5, Majchrzak had cramping treatment from the busy trainer during the changeover. Rublev held for 6-all, and he and Majchrzak, their faces flush from the hot sun and the exertion, were headed to yet another tiebreaker, this one to decide the championship.

Up a mini-break at 2-1, Majchrzak went to the drop shot well once too often and Rublev stroked a winner when he reached it for 2-2. Majchrzak got four of five first serves in play to take a 5-4 lead, then crushed a backhand winner to give himself two more match points, seemingly days after he had his first back in the second set.

The next point was so tense the crowd was squealing with delight and amazement while it was still in progress, with Majchrzak hitting a good drop shot that Rublev somehow got back over the net, then Majchrzak's pass finding the netcord and popping up for Rublev, who calmly put the volley away.

At 6-5, Majchrzak again got a good first serve in, and made no mistake on the weak return, hitting a forehand winner, then turning to his friends and coach with both hands raised high above his head in celebration and relief. As the spectators who weren't already standing rose to enthusiastically applaud them, he and Rublev embraced at the net, with Rublev slumping in his chair with a towel over his head for several minutes as he waited for the award ceremonies to begin, while Majchrzak accepted the congratulations of his friends and coach.

"I think we both played an excellent match," said Majchrzak, admitting he was still somewhat dazed by his victory. "Andrey changed his tactics and I was a little bit confused, I didn't know what to do. He stopped playing full power, just played very light balls, and I didn't know what to do. I had a little bit problems with my health in the end, but fortunately the trainer helped me, and I couldn't give up. I promised a show."

Rublev didn't take much consolation from his part in the memorable final.

"It was a great match from my opponent, he played really good today. I was so tired after the Futures," said Rublev, having won a three hour final to take his first Pro Circuit title just two weeks ago at the IMG Bollettieri Academy. "Here at Eddie Herr I had a lot of matches in three sets and getting to the final, I was so really tired. It was 7-6 in the third, so I don't know, it's pretty tough. It was fantastic match, but I lost, and nobody cares about the loser."

Majchrzak was still processing his first Grade 1 title.

"I couldn't imagine this," he said. "I hoped to make quarterfinal, and I would be happy, but I couldn't imagine that I could win this tournament."

Both Rublev and Majchrzak will play in the Orange Bowl next week in Plantation.

The girls final also went to three sets, with No. 10 seed Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia defeating No. 12 seed Sandra Samir of Egypt 6-1, 3-6, 6-3.

Ostapenko bolted out to a quick 4-1 lead in the first set, as Samir struggled with her serve, and only 20 minutes into the match, Ostapenko was halfway to her third ITF Grade 1 title.

But Samir had come from a set down twice during the week, and she picked up her level, while Ostapenko's dropped in the second set.  The games were closer and the points were longer, but Ostapenko, who had beaten top seed Varvara Flink Saturday afternoon, was not able to find her rhythm. Samir stayed in the points longer leaving Ostapenko vulnerable to unforced errors.

In the third set, just as in her third set against Flink, there were five consecutive breaks of serve, and during that stretch Ostapenko double faulted three consecutive times to be broken for 1-1.  But it was the 16-year-old Latvian who got the first hold, and with another break, with Samir double faulting on game point, Ostapenko was serving for the match at 5-2.

Samir had a brief visit from the trainer at the changeover at 5-2, but there was no delay to disrupt Ostapenko. She failed to get to match point, double faulting at 30-30 and sending a backhand long on the next point.

Samir badly needed her first hold of the third set to put the pressure back on Ostapenko, but she missed two backhands and watched an Ostapenko forehand winner whiz by her. Samir saved two of the match points by forcing an error on the first and putting in a good first serve on the second, but Ostapenko made no mistake on the third, hitting a big backhand into the corner and putting away Samir's reply with a short angled forehand.

"In the beginning I started really well," said Ostapenko. "In the second set, she played really good, but I didn't play my best tennis. In the third set, I had to come back, because it was the final, and it was important to win this match."

Ostapenko recalled her match two years ago on the same court, where she lost to wild card Danielle Collins 3-6, 6-4, 6-4 as a 14-year-old playing the 18s.

"I remember losing to American girl, who had wild card, and I lost in three sets, it was a really good match," Ostapenko said. "I was crying after the match, I was so sad that I lost. Now I am so happy, this is a really nice tournament and a lot of good players were playing. The girl I played against today is also a really good player."

Samir was philosophical about her loss in the final and pleased with her tournament overall.

"I should have ended better than that, but I'm learning," said the 16-year-old, who has trained at the Advantage Academy in Irvine, California for more than a year. "My serve gave me a little bit of trouble, but overall I think I played good, and next week is going to be better. Every match I win or I lose gives me stuff to learn. I think I'm going to learn what I did wrong in this match, and I'm not going to do it again next week."

All the finals of the younger age divisions featured at least one American participant, and four of them collected the prestigious Eddie Herr titles.

In the 12s, No. 2 seed Adam Neff used the support of his hometown crowd to record a 6-3, 1-6, 6-3 victory over No. 4 seed Adrian Andreev of Bulgaria.

"He got off to a very fast start, but I kind of figured out some of his weaknesses and the crowd really helped me," said Neff, who lost in the first round of the Eddie Herr last year. "I had about 75 or 80 people cheering for me, and that's one of the greatest feelings I've ever had."

As he prepared to close out the match, Neff admitted he felt mixed emotions.

"There was some nervousness, some happiness--I was scared a little bit," said Neff. "But then when it was over, I was so relieved and so happy to know that I'd won one of the biggest 12s tournaments of the year. I still haven't quite grasped it yet. I'm trying to figure out what I just did."

Neff will be heading to Port Saint Lucie for the Nike Junior Tour International Masters, where he is the top seed in the 12s, with Andreev seeded No. 3.

The girls 14s champion, Sofia Sewing, will be heading to the Orange Bowl to compete in the 16s draw.  The second-seeded Sewing, who did not lose a set in the tournament, beat No. 12 seed Olesia Pervushina of Russia 6-3, 6-4 in Sunday morning's final.  Sewing has already played the Eddie Herr four times, calling it her favorite tournament.

"I was 10 when I first started in the 12s," said Sewing, who lives in Doral, Florida. "Last year in the 14s I lost in the first round. This year, I've really improved a lot, and I started playing ITFs. It's different--everyone's older and hits harder, so it helps."

Sewing led 5-2 in the second set, but lost two straight games, giving herself some anxious moments.

"It was difficult towards the end," said Sewing, 14. "I was up 5-2, then it got to 5-4, 40-30 and I hit this winner just barely on the line. It was definitely difficult.  It still feels unreal. It's so exciting."

In the girls 16s, top seed Helen Altick, who is know as Abi to everyone, again recovered from a slow start and claimed the championship with a 1-6, 6-1, 6-1 win over compatriot and No. 3 seed Sydney Riley.  Altick, who lost the first set 6-1 to Jaclyn Switkes in the semifinals on Saturday, said she drew confidence from that.

"Yesterday was a good comeback, and so I felt like I could do the same today," said the 15-year-old from Louisiana. "I found my rhythm and I started playing better. I was just trying to stay focused on each point and not think about the title or anything."

As the No. 1 seed, which is also her position at the 16s Orange Bowl next week, Altick was able to stand up to the pressure and enjoy what she called her biggest tournament title.

"It's been a really good week and it feels amazing to win," said Altick. "I kept fighting every match and I pulled it out."

In the boys 16s final, wild card Alfredo Perez defeated No. 1 seed Yunseong Chung of Korea 7-6(3), 6-2 to collect his first major tournament title.

Perez, who can hit the ball as hard as anyone, decided to switch tactics in order to give himself the best chance to beat Chung, who has an ITF junior ranking of 58.

"I played smarter than him and made more balls than him," said Perez, a 16-year-old from Coral Gables, Florida. "I knew he was a really good player and he liked to hit flat, so I tried to go heavier, to try to throw him off his game. I wasn't afraid, I just knew I had to change the game to something that he didn't like, and it worked."

Perez, who wasn't notified of his wild card until a few days before the tournament began, beat European 16s Player of the Year Mate Valkusz of Hungary, the No. 2 seed, in the quarterfinals, and lost his only set of the tournament in the semifinals, to fellow wild card Kalman Boyd. He admitted to being surprised by his performance.

"It's a big tournament, with players from all over the world," said Perez. "It's a good tournament to win, the biggest tournament I've ever won."

The boys 14s title went to top seed Miomir Kecmanovic of Serbia, who continued his domination of the field with a 6-2, 6-1 win over No. 16 seed Patrick Kypson in the final. Kecmanovic, who trains at the IMG Bollettieri Academy, never lost more than three games in any set, and only 14 games total in his six victories.

In the girls 12s, 2012 finalist Anastasia Potapova of Russia claimed the title that eluded her last year when Hurricane Tyra Black was forced to retire with a hip injury she suffered in a fall on the court with the score 4-3 in Potapova's favor in the first set.

For complete 12s, 14s, and 16s draws, see eddieherr.com. For the complete 18s draws, see the ITF junior website.


Tennisdan said...

This is off topic but does anyone know where Lisa Jackson, previous head coach at UAB has gone. She is no longer listed on the website. I saw this posted over on the message boards at tennisrecruiting but it never got a response.