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Friday, August 22, 2014

Opelka Tops Mmoh, Faces Van Rijthoven in ITF Grade 1 Hard Court Finals; Kalinskaya, Ruse Meet for Girls Championshp

©Colette Lewis 2014--
College Park MD--

Low clouds and gray skies made for a challenging semifinals day at the ITF Grade 1 International Hard Court Championships, with intermittent rain and drizzle eventually forcing the boys semifinals indoors at the Junior Tennis Champions Center.  Unseeded Reilly Opelka took advantage of the opportunity, defeating top seed Michael Mmoh 6-4, 4-6, 6-1, while No. 2 seed Tim Van Rijthoven of the Netherlands outlasted No. 9 seed Jordi Arconada 6-3, 3-6, 6-2.

The girls semifinals were completed outdoors after a delay of more than two hours, with top seeds Anna Kalinskaya of Russia and Elena Ruse of Romania moving through in straight sets.

Kalinskaya defeated No. 3 seed Usue Arconada 6-3, 6-3, and Ruse downed unseeded Mia Horvit 6-4, 6-1.

Ruse and Horvit had played nearly an hour when Horvit was broken serving at 4-all. The long, punishing rallies often ended with winners, occasionally with forced errors, but the level was high throughout the opening set. Ruse got to 5-4, 40-30 when a light sprinkle stopped play for about 15 minutes, but she was able to win the set point without any warmup on returning to the court, hitting a forehand winner to take the lead.  After a more substantial shower forced the two-hour delay, Ruse's level stayed high, but Horvit couldn't maintain hers, and the second set went quickly to the 16-year-old Romanian.

"It was really difficult to play today, because we started and stopped two times," Ruse said. "But I played good, felt really good on the court, and I won, and this is the important thing."

Ruse, who reached the semifinals at Wimbledon last month, said her form has continued on the US hard courts.

"I'm very happy to be in the final here," said Ruse, who is in her first Grade 1 final. "I like to play in America, the weather is perfect here--except for today. The people here are so nice, and I'm very happy to be in the final before the US Open."

The 15-year-old Kalinskaya, who reached her first Grade 1 final last month on clay in Germany, fell behind early, but after trailing 2-0, won four straight games to take control of the match against local favorite Arconada.

"I played very good, but I think yesterday I played better," said Kalinskaya, who took out No. 7 seed Raveena Kinglsey on the same court, show court 17. "Today it was rainy, but it was okay for me. I was focused."

Kalinskaya and Ruse have not played before, but Kalinskaya knows what to expect.

"I know she's very strong and she likes to attack, but we will see tomorrow."

In the boys semifinals, the first games of the first sets were just completed when a light sprinkle led to a short delay.  The rain held off enough long enough for Opelka to save one break point serving at 4-4 in the first.  Opelka then immediately broke Mmoh in the next game, the only break of the set, when Mmoh netted a backhand at 30-40.

Mmoh, who had beaten Opelka in straight sets two weeks ago in Kalamazoo, showed no discouragement, breaking Opelka in the first game of the second set. Again a light sprinkle began, and before long, a full fledged rain storm was underway, sending the matches indoors to finish.

Mmoh kept his advantage throughout the second set, but Opelka stayed close, staying in rallies with Mmoh while continuing to hold easily.  In the third set, Opelka took a 2-0 lead, was broken, but broke Mmoh again with a great return to take a 3-1 lead.  After that, it was all Opelka, despite his unfamiliarity with indoor conditions.

"I've never really played indoors--I've played maybe one match in my life indoors," said the 6-foot-9 Opelka, who lives in Florida and trains with the USTA in Boca Raton. "I didn't know what to expect.  I just had the mentality that I should be able to hold serve on any court, so I just had to put pressure on him off the return. I played well today. I put pressure on him and didn't give him much rhythm."

Van Rijthoven was in a similar position to Opelka, taking the first set from Arconada 6-3 outside, but he had held serve in the first game of the second set when the rain sent the match indoors.

Like Opelka, Van Rijthoven, who trains at the IMG Bollettieri Academy in Bradenton, was unfamiliar with indoor tennis, but unlike Opelka, he didn't adjust well to the change.

"I haven't played indoors for two years so it's a big difference," said the 17-year-old, who has a one-handed backhand. "So I had to make the switch, and second set, when we went indoors, he made the switch a little earlier than I did. But the third set, I picked it up again."

Van Rijthoven has played a tiebreaker in every match this week until this one, winning a third-set tiebreaker from No. 7 seed Alexander Bublik of Russia in the quarterfinals, and winning in those situations has given him confidence.

"Tennis is a fight. If you don't fight, you're not going to win," said Van Rijthoven. "If I lose the second set here I can also say, okay, I'm done. But you keep on going and it pays off to fight."

Opelka and Van Rijthoven haven't played before, with both making their debut in a Grade 1 final, but Van Rijthoven has a strategy.

"He has a very big serve, so what I think I'll try to do is just return the ball in the court and see how the rally goes," said Van Rijthoven. "And on my own serve, play aggressive."

Opelka is determined not to be satisfied with getting this far.

"It's good, but I kind of want to keep it going tomorrow," Opelka said.

The boys doubles semifinals were completed outdoors before the first rain delay, but the final was played indoors while the girls semifinals waited to return to the outdoor courts.  Unseeded Tommy Paul and Nathan Ponwith, playing together for the first time, defeated No. 2 seeds Viktor Durasovic of Norway and Nicolae Frunza of Romania 7-6(5), 6-3 to claim the championship.

Paul and Ponwith, who had beaten Brian Tsao and Evan Zhu 6-4, 6-0 in the semifinal match Friday morning, saved a set point in the opening set with Durasovic serving for the set at 5-4.  On the deciding deuce point, Paul's forehand forced an error from Durasovic, and it was the third deciding point in four played in the first set that Paul and Ponwith won.

In the tiebreaker, Paul and Ponwith were down 3-0, but got the mini-break back and when Frunza missed a volley at 5-4, the Americans had two set points. They converted the second when Durasovic missed a Ponwith second serve return, and immediately broke Frunza on a deciding point to start the second set, sending them on their way to victory.

"Our chemistry is a little overwhelming to our opponents," said Ponwith, smiling. "Sometimes our opponents just can't keep up on the mental level."

"I think indoors was a little tougher," said Paul. "I think if we had played outdoors it might have worked in our favor a little bit more, but it was tough. They played really well inside."

Paul and Ponwith started the week with a 6-7(4), 7-5, 10-7 win over top seeds Seong Chan Hong and Chan-Yeong Oh of Korea.

"That was a little weird, to have a really tough match in the first round," said Ponwith. "But it was nice, because after we got through that really tough match, it was kind of like having the one seed's draw," said Paul.

Both Paul and Ponwith received wild cards into the US Open Junior Championships, but Paul is expecting to play with frequent partner Henrik Wiersholm there.

In the girls doubles, another American team has a chance to win the title, with unseeded Gabby Andrews and Mia Horvit reaching Saturday's final against No. 2 seeds Kalinskaya and Evgeniya Levashova of Russia.

Andrews and Horvit started their match with No. 4 seeds Tami Grende of Indonesia and Theresa Van Zyl of South Africa outdoors, but that was moved indoors midway through the first set.  Andrews and Horvit, who had beaten top seed Arconada and Ruse in the first round, posted a 7-5, 6-3 victory today to reach the final.  Kalinskaya and Levashova defeated No. 3 seeds Vera Lapko of Belarus and Tereza Mihalikova of Slovakia 6-4, 6-0 in a semifinal match played entirely indoors.

Complete draws can be found at the tournament website.

All four of the Americans in the final round of US Open qualifying--Ernesto Escobedo, Rajeev Ram, Melanie Oudin and Maria Sanchez--lost today. For complete qualifying results, see usopen.org.

At the Youth Olympic games, unseeded Shilin Xu of China will play No. 8 seed Iryna Shymanovich of Belarus for the girls gold medal in singles Sunday. Orlando Luz of Brazil and Kamil Majchrzak of Poland will play for the boys singles gold medal Saturday.


russ said...

NY Times article, good read on american junior tennis: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/24/magazine/can-us-mens-tennis-rise-again.html?mabReward=RI%3A17&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&region=CColumn&module=Recommendation&src=rechp&WT.nav=RecEngine