Monday, December 8, 2014

Sebov Upsets Top Seed Xu in Orange Bowl Opener; Last Year's Finalist Kozlov Takes Aim on Title Again

©Colette Lewis 2014--
Plantation, FL--

The first day of the Grade A Orange Bowl began with a shocker Monday on the grandstand court of the Frank Veltri Tennis Center.  Top seed and ITF World Junior No. 1 Shilin Xu of China lost to Katherine Sebov of Canada, ranked 85 places below her, 6-4, 6-2, putting her chances for the 2014 ITF World Junior championship in jeopardy.

Xu, a 16-year-old who hits two-handed on both sides, never looked comfortable on the Har-Tru, struggling with her movement and consistency.  The 15-year-old Sebov was swinging freely, feeling no pressure, yet finding the right balance between forcing errors and waiting for Xu to miss.

"She missed quite a bit, but I was the one making her miss," said Sebov, who beat CiCi Bellis in the opening round of the Orange Bowl last year. "She hits pretty hard and I was able to return that pace and hit it even harder and make her move more. On the clay, it's harder to move than on the hard court, and she's obviously a hard court player."

At 4-4 in the first set, Sebov broke Xu at love, then served out the set, hitting a backhand winner at 40-15 to end it. She broke Xu in the opening game of the second set, so the real possibility of an upset could have led Sebov to more conservative playing.  She resisted that temptation however.

"I keep telling myself, this point, this point, right now," said Sebov, who admitted she was initially a bit depressed about her draw. "I just don't think about other things, like oh, I'm playing the first seed. I don't think about that, just playing the ball, playing my game. Sometimes it's hard to focus for a very long time, but I did really well with that today and it really helped."

In the second set, Sebov built a 5-1 lead, and after Xu held, she served for the match.  At 30-30, Sebov crushed a forehand winner for match point.  One of the longest points of the match ensued, with neither girl playing tentatively, but as was the case for most of the match, it was Xu that finally missed, hitting a backhand wide.

"She was more attacking during that point," Sebov said. "I was a little bit defensive, just trying to get it in there and let her miss. I just had to weather the storm."

Xu's loss was good news for No. 2 seed CiCi Bellis, who won her match over wild card Alisa Rudenko of Russia 6-0, 6-0 and now has a golden opportunity to pass Xu and finish the year ranked No. 1.

Although the biggest, Xu' s loss wasn't the only one by a seed, with No. 3 seed Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic falling to Katie Swan of Great Britain 6-4, 2-6, 6-1.  No. 9 seed Raveena Kingsley served for the match against Fernanda Astete of Chile at 6-4, 5-3, but she lost the next four games, and eventually the match, 4-6, 7-5, 6-4.
No. 15 seed Greet Minnen of Belgium lost to Jaqueline Cristian of Romania 6-3, 6-1.

American winners on Monday were Mia Horvit, Michaela Gordon, No. 11 seed Usue Arconada and Dasha Ivanova.

The opening day of play in the boys 18s draw was relatively uneventful, with only two seeds losing, both in the 9-16 range.  Top seed Andrey Rublev of Russia defeated Catalin Mateas 6-2, 6-2 and No. 2 seed Stefan Kozlov returned to junior competition with a 6-1, 6-4 win over Chien Hsun Lo of Taiwan.

Kozlov had not played since reaching the Charlottesville Challenger at the end of October, but the proximity of the tournament to his home and the circumstances of his loss last year in the final prompted him to enter.

"Ever since I lost in the final here last year I wanted to come back here and redeem myself," said the 16-year-old from nearby Pembroke Pines. "I felt like last year, it was a good tournament, but I felt really sick after the final because of how I performed. I thought I should have won, and it's my home tournament. I feel like I'd love to come out here and compete."

Last year Kozlov cited his lack of fitness as a reason he lost the final to Francis Tiafoe. Since the Charlottesville Challenger, he has been in California, working with USTA head of coaching Jose Higueras and Pat Etcheberry to make improvements in that part of his game.

"I had a little off season," said Kozlov, who also worked with Jim Courier in Lake Nona last week. "I went to Cali for about three weeks to work with Jose and Pat Etcheberry. It was fun, but it wasn't pleasant," he said, laughing.

Taylor Fritz, the No. 3 seed, who is now up to No. 7 in the ITF junior rankings, won his opening match 6-1, 7-5 over wild card Jaime Fermosell of Spain. Americans Kalman Boyd and William Blumberg picked up first round wins, as did No. 9 seed Alex Rybakov.  Rybakov defeated Aziz Dougas of Tunisia 4-6, 6-0, 7-5, after letting a 5-1 third set lead slip away.  Wild card Alfredo Perez also claimed a close win, defeating No. 16 seed Lloyd Harris of South Africa 7-6(4), 7-6(4).  The only other boys seed to lose was No. 12 seed Sora Fukuda of Japan, who fell to wild card Dominik Stary of the Czech Republic 4-6, 7-6(5), 7-5.

The remainder of the 18s first round singles matches--15 boys and 16 girls--will be played on Tuesday.  The doubles begin on Tuesday, with Bellis and Vondrousova the No. 1 seeds in the girls draw, and Kozlov and Michael Mmoh the top seeds in the boys draw.

The 16s first round was completed on Monday, with No. 2 seed and Eddie Herr champion Sam Riffice overcoming a slow start for a 0-6, 6-1, 6-0 win over Jesus Suarez Rivas of Mexico.  Riffice had played the Eddie Herr final just 24 hours ago, on hard courts, so the 15-year-old needed some time to adjust.

"It was definitely the clay court," Riffice said. "I haven't played on it in a while, and he's a really good clay court player, I think. I just couldn't get my footing very well and he came out and played just a lot better than I did."

Riffice, who arrived in Plantation about 5 p.m. on Sunday and had a 35 minute hit on the clay, said he made adjustments to turn the match around.

"I just really tried to make everything in the court, hit the ball higher over the net so I wouldn't miss as much, just a lot better margin," said the 15-year-old, seeded second this week. "I made him beat me for it and he didn't have the offensive game to take it. And then I got my rhythm by the third set."

Girls 16s Eddie Herr champion Sofia Sewing, the No. 6 seed this week, had no such difficulty, beating Marianela Landi of Argentina 6-0, 6-0.

Top seed in the boys 16 draw,  Casper Ruud of Norway, also won 6-0, 6-0, but girls 16s top seed Gozal Ainitdinova of Kazakhstan was replaced by a lucky loser.

For complete results, see the tournament website. There is also live scoring available at this link.


Joe said...

It's great to see Kozlov playing junior events, which shows me he still has a level head and is motivated to perform against his own peers.