Thursday, December 11, 2014

US Success Continues at Metropolia Orange Bowl

©Colette Lewis 2014--
Plantation, FL--

Andrey Rublev of Russia and Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece in the boys draw and Katerine Sebov of Canada, Monika Kilnarova of the Czech Republic and Gabby Ruse of Romania in the girls draw are the only hints that the 2014 Metropolia Orange Bowl isn't a USTA National Championship.  Six American boys and five American girls have reached Friday's quarterfinals, with a boys finalist already assured.

The US had three of the top five boys seeds, and all have avoided upsets.  No. 2 seed Stefan Kozlov, No. 3 seed Taylor Fritz, No. 5 seed Michael Mmoh and No. 9 seed Alex Rybakov all advanced in straight sets in Thursday's third round, played in sunny but cool conditions at the Frank Veltri Tennis Center. Eddie Herr champion Reilly Opelka and William Blumberg, both unseeded, also reached the quarterfinals with straight-set victories.

Fritz, who was scheduled to play not before 1 p.m., but didn't take the court until 4 due to the length of the other two previous Stadium Court matches, trailed unseeded 15-year-old Canadian Denis Shapovalov 3-0 in each set, but picked up his game when he needed to for a 6-4, 6-3 victory, his ninth straight on clay.

Fritz, a 17-year-old from Southern California has made his peace with the red clay, but said he doesn't think he is as comfortable as the other top American juniors on the green Har-Tru version.

"They're all doing well, but I don't really see myself with them on this surface," Fritz said. "I don't feel as expecting of myself on green clay, so it's nice to stay with them, but at the end of the day, if I would have lost, I would have blamed it on the surface."

Fritz said he moves better on red clay than green.

"It's so much easier for me to get to the ball," said Fritz, who won the Grade 1 Yucatan Cup two weeks ago on red clay. "On green clay, I just move so awkwardly--it slows the ball down and it slows me down."

Fritz will play the unseeded Tsitsipas, who defeated Tommy Paul 7-5, 7-6(4), coming back from 5-0 down in the second set. The other quarterfinal in the top half is a rematch of the Grade A Abierto Juvenil semifinal three weeks ago between top seed Andrey Rublev and Mmoh, which Mmoh won.  Mmoh defeated Czech wild card Dominik Stary 6-3, 6-4, while Rublev took care of Patrik Niklas-Salminen of Finland by the same score.

The bottom half is nothing but Americans.  Rybakov, who had to fight back from a set down in his previous two wins, had a much easier time against fellow left-hander and No. 8 seed Corentin Denolly of France, winning 6-4, 6-0.  Opelka, beginning to feel the effects of playing nine matches in ten days, was down a set point at 5-6 in the second set tiebreaker against Nam Hoang Ly of Vietnam, but Ly double faulted that opportunity away and didn't get another in Opelka's 6-4, 7-6(7) win. Opelka and Rybakov will play for the fourth time in the past six weeks, with Opelka taking the previous three in straight sets.

Stefan Kozlov, the 2013 finalist, will play his first Top 100 ITF player this week in William Blumberg, after both picked up routine wins Thursday.  Kozlov defeated qualifier Emil Reinberg 6-2, 6-2, and Blumberg shut down Domagoj Biljesko of Croatia 6-2, 6-3.

Blumberg had had a tough loss in the third round of the Eddie Herr last week against Seong Chan Hong of Korea, failing to convert three match points at 6-2, 5-3 and losing the match 3-6, 7-5, 6-1.

"I thought about for the next five days, every day," said Blumberg, 16. "But to be completely honest, I had a match yesterday against [No. 7 seed] Mikael Ymer, up 6-1, 4-2 and almost the same thing happened. But when I closed that one out yesterday, it kind of erased the other one from my mind and gave me the confidence that I can do and it's not going to happen again."

Kozlov and Blumberg have played once before, at the 2013 Grade 1 International Hard Courts in Maryland, with Kozlov winning the second round match 6-4, 6-2.

The girls draws has three US girls in the bottom half and two in the top half, including both remaining qualifiers, Kayla Day and Ingrid Neel. The 15-year-old Day defeated Michaela Gordon 3-6, 6-1, 7-5 and will face unseeded Monika Kilnarova of the Czech Republic, who beat No. 11 seed Usue Arconada 6-4, 6-2.

Neel had an even longer and more difficult match with No. 8 seed Sandra Samir of Egypt, needing more than three hours and a saved match point to claim a 7-6(4), 1-6, 7-6(6) victory.

Up 2-0 in the final set, Neel lost four games in a row, but managed to stay close and force Samir to serve it out at 5-4.  Up 30-0, Samir couldn't collect the two more points she needed and two unforced errors at 30-30 made the score 5-5. Neel was up 40-0 in her service game, but she lost five straight points, the last two on forehand errors to give Samir a second chance to serve out the match.  This time, Samir did get to match point, with Neel netting a drop shot at 30-30. But after a long rally, Neel went back to the drop shot and this time she executed a perfect one to save the match point.

"The drop shot that I lost, I was really angry," said Neel, 16. "But I just decided to go for it again, because it felt like the right shot. I had to play brave. That's kind of how I won, viewing the points that I was down as a challenge instead of cowering."

A backhand winner assisted by a net cord and a forehand just barely long by Samir sent the match into a tiebreaker, and again Samir took a lead, going up 5-2, but Neel held her next two serves and Samir lost hers, giving Neel her first match point at 6-5.  Samir hit a forehand winner to save that match point, but a backhand long  gave Neel her second match point and a good return by Neel forced Samir's forehand long to end the three hour and six minute match.

Neel, who played a doubles match two hours later, said the six singles matches over the past six days were beginning to take a toll.

"I could be better," said the IMG student, who is from Minnesota. "I hope I play later tomorrow for a little more rest, but I just want to leave everything out on the court in singles. Fortunately, after this tournament, I have a couple of weeks break with nothing going on. But it's nice to have this opportunity, so I'm going to make the most of it."

Neel will play Sebov, who eliminated qualifier Francesca Di Lorenzo 7-6(8), 6-4.

In the bottom half, 2013 semifinalist Sonya Kenin will be looking to return to the final four when she meets No. 5 seed and Eddie Herr finalist Ruse. Ruse defeated Lucie Wargnier of France 7-5, 6-2, while No. 13 seed Kenin got past Aleksandra Pospelova of Russia 7-6(5), 7-5.

The fourth quarterfinal will be a rematch of the 2013 Easter Bowl 16s final, with top seed CiCi Bellis against unseeded Caroline Dolehide. Bellis, who is still in the running for the ITF World Junior title, beat qualifier Maria Shishkina 7-6(7), 6-1, while Dolehide overwhelmed Dasha Ivanova 6-1, 6-1.  Bellis defeated Dolehide 6-4, 6-1 in that Easter Bowl final.

The 16s semifinals are set, and US players are dominating those draws as well, with three of the four semifinalists in both divisions.

No. 14 seed Vasil Kirkov, who defeated top seed Casper Rudd on Wednesday, battled through a knee injury to down unseeded Andres Andrade of Ecuador 2-6, 6-4, 7-5 and will face Estonia's Mattias Siimar of Estonia, the No. 10 seed,  who beat No. 4 seed Hady Habib 6-2, 7-5.

Nathan Perrone, the No. 12 seed, beat No. 16 seed Trent Bryde 6-2, 6-4 and will play No. 2 seed Sam Riffice, who defeated unseeded Victor Krustev of Canada 6-1, 6-0.

2013 semifinalist Dominique Schaefer, who is listed by the ITF as under the Peru flag now, but has trained and lived in the US throughout her junior career, is back in the final four. The No. 11 seed defeated Allison Bojczuk 6-4, 6-1 and will play qualifier Sarah Dreyfuss in the semifinals. Dreyfuss defeated No. 15 seed Katarina Kopcalic of Canada 6-2, 6-3 Thursday.

Wild card Ellie Douglas downed Emma Decoste 6-3, 6-1 to advance against No. 8 seed Bianca Andreescu, the last Canadian hope for a fourth straight girls 16s champion. The 14-year-old defeated Taylor Russo 7-6(1), 0-6, 6-4.

The 16s doubles finals are scheduled for Friday. Top seeds Sofia Munera Sanchez of Colombia and Camila Vargas Gomez of Peru will face unseeded Kariann Pierre-Louis and Decoste in the girls final. Sanchez and Gomez defeated Morgan Coppoc and Madeline Meredith 6-2, 6-3, while Decoste and Pierre-Louis got past Andreescu and Kopcalic, the No. 4 seeds, 6-3, 6-7(6), 10-4.

The boys final features twins Kristofer and Mattias Siimar, the No. 8 seeds, against unseeded Basil Khuma of India and Christian Lakoseljac of Canada.  The Siimars defeated top seeds Jack Mingjie Lin and Benjamin Sigouin of Canada 3-6, 6-0, 12-10, while Khuma and Lakoseljac beat brothers Dominic and Paul Barretto 4-6, 6-0, 10-8.

See the tournament website for the draws and Friday's order of play.