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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Top Seed Mmoh Saves Match Point in Win over Riffice at ITF Grade 1 Hard Courts; Escobedo, Stewart, Chirico, Black Win Opening Round Qualifying Matches at US Open

©Colette Lewis 2014--
College Park, MD--

Top seed Michael Mmoh, who is only 16,  well knows the feeling of being the young player with no pressure and nothing to lose against older and more established players.  In his second round ITF Grade 1 International Hard Courts match against 15-year-old Sam Riffice however, Mmoh was cast in the role of the veteran target, and but for a missed backhand volley by Riffice on match point, he would have made an early exit, rather than posting a 6-1, 4-6, 7-6(6) victory.

After Mmoh had cruised through the first set, Riffice used his forehand to pressure Mmoh into errors and returned well, forcing a third set.  Mmoh was up 4-2 in the third set, and even had his chances to break again at 4-4 in the third, but Riffice saved two break points and held to take a 5-4 lead.

Riffice continued to keep the pressure on Mmoh in the tiebreaker, as dozens of players and fans gathered around court 19 to watch the conclusion of the match.  Without a chair umpire, knowing the score required tracking every point, with Mmoh leading 4-2 at the change of ends.  He lost his advantage with a double fault and Riffice took a 5-4 lead.  A good first serve by Mmoh made 5-all, but he missed his first serve and made an error off Riffice's return of his second.  Match point for Riffice on his serve, and it was a great point, with big hitting and Riffice coming in to close out a volley.  He made one fine backhand volley that the ultra quick Mmoh got back, giving Riffice no time to think. Close to the net, with an open court in front of him, Riffice reacted with another backhand volley, but somehow it found the net.

Riffice netted a forehand to give Mmoh his first match point, and a good first serve brought a wide return from Riffice and Mmoh had survived.

"I thought it was over, to be honest," said Mmoh. "It was a bit of a scare."

After reaching the semifinals of Kalamazoo and taking champion Noah Rubin to 7-5 in the third set, Mmoh was in Riffice's position less than two weeks ago.

"I've been in his position, and it's a good position to be in," Mmoh said. "You're just free, hitting like, whatever, and in my position you get really nervous. When you're nervous, he's not--every short ball, he's just like ripping it."

But Mmoh understands he needs to get accustomed to being expected to win.

"It's good, I think, because if you make it to the top, you're obviously going to be in a similar situation, but it takes some getting used to."

Mmoh, who acknowledged that Riffice played well and has a great future, said his close call may help him the rest of the week, and most immediately, in his third round match again No. 14 seed Benjamin Hannestad of Denmark.

"The guy I'm playing next is tough," Mmoh said. "But I think after today, I'll be a lot more loose, more aggressive."

After four boys seeds exited in the first round on Monday, only one lost today, with Anudeep Kodali defeating fellow Bollettieri student Robert Levine, the No. 16 seed, 6-3, 6-1.

In the girls draw, only six of the 16 seeds have survived, with five more losing today.  Fourteen-year-old Claire Liu defeated No. 12 seed Tereza Mihalikova of Slovakia 6-4, 7-5, but she wasn't the youngest player to make the final 16. That distinction belongs to 13-year-old qualifier Abigail Desiatnikov, who overcame No. 14 seed Raquel Pedraza 1-6, 6-3, 7-5.

Pedraza served for the match at 5-4 in the third, but didn't get to match point, and Desiatnikov closed it out from there, using some anger at a line call as motivation.

"I was really frustrated because at 4-4, there was a ball that I thought to my eyes was way in and she said out," said Desiatnikov. "But I just kept going, and at 5-4, I said just make good margins, keep the ball deep to her backhand, which is her weaker side. Play smart and if you get tight, just shake it off."

Desiatnikov stepped up her forehand in the final two games to keep her momentum going.

"I was on a roll from the two previous games and I was really feeling my forehand."

Desiatnikov couldn't find any fault with the way she played to open the match.

"I honestly hit like five errors at the most in the that first set," said Desiatnikov, who said her goal before the tournament was to make the third round. "She was just hitting forehand winners left and right. I wasn't even mad, it's what can I do?  So I said, just get the ball in, a little deeper, and I pulled it through."

Qualifier Dominique Schaefer defeated No. 9 seed Sara Tomic of Australia 6-3, 6-4, Mia Horvit downed No. 11 seed Emily Arbuthnott of Great Britain and qualifier Andrea Kevakian beat No. 16 seed Madison Bourguignon 7-6(3), 6-3.

Top seed Anna Kalinskaya of Russia and No. 2 seed Elena Ruse of Romania both advanced in straight sets, with Kalinskaya playing Desiatnikov and Ruse meeting Kevakian.

The first round of doubles saw both top-seeded teams go out.  In the girls draw, Usue Arconada and Ruse lost to Gabby Andrews and Horvit 6-1, 3-6, 10-8, and in the boys draw, Tommy Paul and Nathan Ponwith beat Seong Chan Hong and Chan-Yeong Oh of Korea 6-7(4), 7-5, 10-7.

For complete draws and Wednesday's order of play, see the tournament website.

The first day of US Open qualifying produced several excellent wins for teenage wild cards.  Ernesto Escobedo defeated No. 24 seed Somdev Devvarman of India 6-3, 6-2, Tornado Alicia Black got past Naomi Broady of Great Britain 7-6(6), 7-6(2), Louisa Chirico downed Maria Irigoyen of Argentina 6-2, 6-2, and Katerina Stewart beat Yuliya Beygelzimer of Ukraine 6-3, 6-1.  Other US players who picked up first rounds wins were: wild card Maria Sanchez, Irina Falconi and Michael Russell.

The rest of the first round qualifying matches are Wednesday, with nine US men and six US women on the schedule.

Mitchell Frank plays Stefan Kozlov in a battle of wild cards on Court 17, Francis Tiafoe is also on that court against No. 11 seed Tatsuma Ito of Japan, while Melanie Oudin(26) plays there against Sesil Karatantcheva of Kazakhstan.

The other five US women on Wednesday's schedule are No. 7 seed Anna Tatishvili(7) against Nao Hibino of Japan, and four wild cards: Jennifer Brady against Carina Witthoeft of Germany, Caitlin Whoriskey against Danka Kovinic(5) of Montenegro, Samantha Crawford against Heidi El Tabakh of Canada and Asia Muhammad against Ksenia Pervak(18) of Russia.

The six other US men in action Wednesday are Rajeev Ram(28) against Martin Fischer of Austria, Rhyne Williams against Roberto Carballes Baena of Spain, Austin Krajicek against Norbert Gombos(13) of Slovakia, Taylor Fritz against Jan Mertl of the Czech Republic, Mackenzie McDonald against Ricardas Berankis(8) of Lithuania and Collin Altamirano against Luca Vanni of Italy.

Qualifying draws are available at usopen.org.  Qualifying matches are being televised on the CBS Sports Network.