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Thursday, December 12, 2013

Tiafoe Defeats Third Seed Baldi, Joins Four Other Fifteen-Year-Old Americans in Orange Bowl Quarterfinals

©Colette Lewis 2013--
Plantation, FL--

Francis Tiafoe admitted the first set in his 6-0, 6-3 round of 16 victory over third seed Filippo Baldi was among the best he's played.

"Pretty much everything was going my way," said the 15-year-old from College Park, Maryland, who is playing the 18s division at the Metropolia Orange Bowl for the first time. "It was getting pretty crazy after a while. I played really well, I played my strategy the best I could and it worked out very well."

If the 13th-seeded Tiafoe's strategy was to use every conceivable shot, from lobs and volleys to drop shots and slice backhands, he succeeded, baffling the 17-year-old Italian, who had won the Grade 1 Yucatan Cup in Mexico late last month.  Tiafoe served effectively and kept Baldi completely off balance, knowing he had an advantage.

"I knew he had a long three-set match yesterday and the day before that, not playing great," said Tiafoe, who won his first two rounds in straight sets. "I knew he had some fatigue, so I pounced on him as fast as I could."

Tiafoe was up a break serving at 3-2 in the second set, when Baldi finally put some pressure on him, threatening to get back in the match. But Tiafoe came up with inspired shots when he needed them, with spectators chuckling at the creativity and execution, and he wasn't challenged after that game.

His opponent in Friday's quarterfinal is No. 7 seed Roman Safiullin of Russia, who beat Tiafoe in the 16s finals of the International Spring Championships in Carson in 2012, and more recently, trained at the Junior Tennis Champions Center prior to the US Open Junior Championships.

"He trained with us for about a week and we hit some," said Tiafoe. "He's a good player, he's pretty highly ranked. He should have lost today, saved some match points. I think I have a pretty good chance, but I'll have to play very well. He's very steady from the baseline."

Tiafoe is determined not to relax if he gets a lead Friday, and not only because Safiullin came back to defeat No. 11 seed Lucas Miedler of Austria 1-6, 7-5, 6-2 on Thursday.

"At Carson, I was up a set and a break, playing very well, and I thought the title was mine," said Tiafoe, who lost that final 6-7(6), 6-3, 6-1. "He's very clutch, he plays the big points very well, and I'm going to have to play very well tomorrow to win."

Tiafoe's doubles partner and friend Michael Mmoh also claimed a straight-set victory, beating No. 9 seed Marcelo Zormann of Brazil 6-3, 6-4.  Serving for the first set at 5-3, Mmoh saved three break points as the pair exchanged forehand winner after forehand winner, until Zormann finally made an error on the forehand to give Mmoh his third set point. Mmoh converted it with yet another forehand winner, and in the second set, Mmoh continued to keep the pressure on Zormann, who couldn't get the break he needed to stay in the match.

Mmoh will play No. 2 seed Johan Sebastien Tatlot of France in the quarterfinals, after Tatlot, in winning the final four games of the match, defeated unseeded Reilly Opelka 6-4, 7-5. Tatlot has two wins this year over Mmoh on the South American clay.

The third member of the trio of 15-year-olds in the quarterfinals is No. 4 seed Stefan Kozlov, who defeated unseeded Weiqiang Zheng of China 6-2, 6-2. The score is deceiving however, as Zheng extended every point and every game to the maximum, and the match took nearly two hours before Kozlov repeated his victory over Zheng at the Eddie Herr last week.

Kozlov faces No. 8 seed Naoki Nakagawa of Japan in the quarterfinals, after Nakagawa avenged his loss to Poland's Kamil Majchrzak in the Eddie Herr semifinals last week, taking out the Eddie Herr champion and No. 10 seed 6-3, 6-2.  Kozlov defeated Nakagawa 6-0, 6-3 in the quarterfinals of the Grade A Copa Gerdau, also on clay, this past spring.

The only quarterfinal without an American will feature top seed Alexander Zverev of Germany against doubles partner Andrey Rublev of Russia, the 2012 16s Orange Bowl champion. Zverev finally had a routine match Thursday, downing No. 16 seed Francisco Bahamonde of Argentina 6-2, 6-0, while No. 12 seed Rublev recovered from dropping the first set for the second time in a row, beating No. 5 seed Quentin Halys of France 4-6, 6-4, 6-1. Zverev and Rublev have split their two meetings this year.

The girls quarterfinals feature two unseeded players, including qualifier Julia Terziyska of Bulgaria, who ousted Eddie Herr champion and No. 11 seed Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia 6-3, 7-6(7). Terziyska will play top seed Varvara Flink, who defeated No. 14 seed Fanny Stollar of Hungary 6-7(2), 6-1, 6-2.

Unseeded Sofia Kenin trailed 14-year-old Siqi Cao of China 6-2, 4-2 Thursday, but the 15-year-old from Pembroke Pines, Florida battled all the way back to record a 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 victory. It was Kenin's second three-set victory over Cao in two weeks and it clocked in at just over three hours.

That was short compared to the match between No. 5 seed Marie Bouzkova of the Czech Republic and No. 10 seed Anastasiya Komardina of Russia, which took three hours and 52 minutes to complete. Bouzkova won it 7-5, 4-6, 7-6(2) and will face Kenin for the first time on Friday.

US Open girls finalist Tornado Alicia Black defeated No. 13 seed Renata Zarazua of Mexico 6-2, 6-2 and will play No. 6 seed Ioana Ducu of Romania. Ducu defeated Eddie Herr finalist Sandra Samir, the No. 12 seed, 6-1 6-2.  Duca and Black have not played in ITF junior competition.

No. 2 seed Ivana Jorovic was taken to three sets for the third straight match, this time defeating No. 16 seed Isabelle Wallace of Great Britain 7-5, 3-6, 6-1.  She will play No. 9 seed Akvile Parazinskaite of Lithuania, a 6-2, 4-6, 6-4 winner over unseeded Jaqueline Cristian of Romania.

The semifinals are set in the 16s, with two American boys and two American girls reaching the final four.

Unseeded Alexis Nelson defeated No. 12 seed Nandini Das of India 7-5, 6-0 and will play No. 4 seed Lisa Ponomar of Germany in one semifinal. Ponomar ended the run of Eddie Herr 14s champion Sofia Sewing 6-4, 7-6(2). The other semifinal will feature No. 5 seed Charlotte Robillard-Millette of Canada against unseeded Dominique Schaefer. Robillard-Millette beat Jada Hart 6-4, 6-0 and Schaefer outlasted No. 7 seed Meghan Kelley 7-6(6), 4-6, 6-2.

In the boys 16s, top seed Yunseong Chung of Korea will face No. 16 seed Sameer Kumar and No. 2 seed Chan-Yeong Oh meets unseeded Eduardo Nava.  Chung defeated No. 9 seed Robert Levine 6-3, 6-2, while Kumar  downed No. 8 seed Soon Woo Kwon of Korea 6-2, 6-4.  Oh beat Eddie Herr champion Alfredo Perez 6-4, 6-3, and Nava took a 7-6(3), 7-5 decision from No. 7 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece.

The 16s doubles finals are set for Friday afternoon. Chung and Oh, the top seeds, will play Kwon and his partner William Genesen, who are unseeded, in the boys championship.  Chung and Oh beat No. 5 seeds Tsitsipas and Dimitris Stavropouls 6-4, 7-6(4), with Kwon and Genesen downing No. 7 seeds Kumar and Kalman Boyd 6-2, 7-5. 

The girls doubles final features No. 3 seeds Robillard-Millette and Vanessa Wong against unseeded Brienne Minor and Jaclyn Switkes. Robillard-Millette and Wong beat unseeded Ingrid Neel and Schaefer 6-3, 7-6(0) in the semifinals. Minor and Switkes reached the final with a 6-4, 7-5 win over top seeds Ponomar and Stephanie Nemtsova.

For complete draws and results, see the tournament website.