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Monday, December 21, 2015

Cheong Faces Kostyuk in Junior Orange Bowl Girls 14s Final; Matusevich and Tirante Meet for Boys 14s Championship

©Colette Lewis 2015--
Coral Gables, FL--

Two 13-year-olds will meet for the Junior Orange Bowl girls 14s title on Tuesday morning, with Naomi Cheong of the United States and Marta Kostyuk of Ukraine both coming back from a set down in Monday's semifinals at the University of Miami's Neil Schiff Tennis Center.

Overnight rain delayed the start of play on Tuesday, and the two Girls 14s semifinals were sent to courts 5 and 6 rather than courts 1 and 2, which were occupied with consolation matches. 

No. 9 seed Cheong trailed 5-2 in the first set against unseeded Loudmilla Bencheikh of France, got it back to 5-all after Bencheikh had served for the set at both 5-2 and 5-4, but was broken at love, and Bencheikh converted on her third attempt to serve out the set.

"In the first few games she played really good and I was a little off," said Cheong. "But it helped me get used to her pace and her ball a little better, and gradually during the match I started playing better. I was standing ten feet behind the baseline in the first couple of games, but then I started moving forward because I felt more comfortable hitting with her."

After Cheong won the second set, during the 10-minute break, she spoke by phone to her coach in Las Vegas, Henner Nehles, who recently joined the USTA as a National Coach.

"He told me she would be mad after losing the second set and she would come on strong in the third," said Cheong. "I won the second set, so I'm happy I'm alive but I needed to make sure that I didn't lose my focus during the beginning of the third."

That advice worked, with Cheong jumping out to a 3-0 lead, but Bencheikh
broke back to make it 3-3.

"For some reason I lost focus and I started not playing my game, instead hoping she would make a mistake," said Cheong. "But I was making mistakes and she started attacking. At 3-all, I knew I couldn't keep on doing that because it would cost me the match. I was happy I didn't get stuck, because sometimes in a match I'll stop playing aggressive and it will cost me the match sometimes."

Cheong continued to go for winners on Bencheikh's second serve and it paid off. She broke Bencheikh at love to go up 4-3 and held for 5-3. Serving to stay in the match Bencheikh fell behind 15-40, as Cheong made no unforced errors and Bencheikh eventually lost control of her forehand.  On the first match point, Bencheikh missed her first serve and Cheong hit a forehand return winner off the second serve to seal the victory.

No. 5 seed Kostyuk, like Bencheikh, twice served for the opening set against unseeded Yuki Naito of Japan, but her failure to convert either time did cost her the set. Yet the Eddie Herr champion kept her winning streak, now at 11 matches, alive, coming back for a 6-7(3), 6-3, 6-2 victory.

Cheong and Kostyuk have not played before, but Cheong is excited about the prospect.

"I think there will be nerves in the beginning, because it's a big tournament final," said Cheong. "But once I go on the court, I can't let it bother me. I have to make sure I play my game and not lose any focus, just concentrate."

The boys 14s final will feature top seed Thiago Tirante of Argentina against Anton Matusevich of Great Britain, a No. 17 seed.  Tirante defeated No. 4 seed Timofey Skatov of Russia 6-4, 6-4, while Matusevich closed out the afternoon's main draw activity with a 7-5, 7-5 win over Seon Young Han of Korea, also a No. 17 seed.

Matusevich had not played Han prior to their semifinal meeting today, but he knew what to expect, after fellow Brit Jack Draper had lost to Han in the previous round.

"I knew he was going to be massive and I needed to be on top of my game," said the 14-year-old. "I knew he'd hit some strong winners but also that he would give me some mistakes. He has a very good kick serve and he's very good with his drop shots. He played a good match, but I thought I was playing very well today."

Long rallies were not in evidence during most of the match, with one player or the other making an error or hitting a winner usually before the ball was struck six times. Matusevich broke Han at love at 5-all and held to take the first set, then broke Han to start the second set, but that lead did not hold up.  Han broke back to make it 2-2 and there were no breaks of serve until 5-all.

Han was up 40-15 in the game, but Matusevich came up big with a forehand down-the-line winner at deuce and a return winner off a good first serve on break point. Matusevich held at love in the final game, with Han making forehand errors to assist Matusevich in closing out the match.

Matusevich, who won the Nike International Teen Tennis Tournament in Bolton, England back in January, has lived in England for the past seven years, although he was born in New York and lived in the United States prior to moving to England with his family.  He now works with the LTA and is here this week as part of the LTA traveling team.

Matusevich and Tirante have not played before, but again Matusevich will be looking for tips from Draper, who lost to Tirante in the semifinals of the Eddie Herr.

"My friend's played him, so he's probably going to tell me how to play him," said Matusevich. "He's a very good opponent, so I'll have to be sharp tomorrow. It should be quite tough. I've done very well, but obviously it'll be better if I win than come second."

The Girls 12s final will, like the Girls 14s final, feature the Eddie Herr champion, with top seed Noa Krznaric of Croatia facing No. 7 seed Daria Lopatetska of Ukraine.  In a rematch of the Eddie Herr final, Krznaric defeated No. 4 seed Cori "CoCo" Gauff 6-4, 6-4, while Lopatetska beat No. 5 seed Charlotte Owensby 6-4, 6-3.  Lopatetska was the top seed at the Eddie Herr, but lost in the first round to Junior Orange Bowl No. 6 seed Yeonwoo Ku of Korea, who will be playing in the consolation final on Tuesday against No. 3 seed Kylie Bilchev of Great Britain.

The Boys 12s final will also include the Eddie Herr champion, with No. 1 seed Xiaofei Wang of China taking on No. 8 seed Jewon Jeon of Korea. Wang advanced to the final when Christopher Li of Peru retired trailing 2-0 in the first set. Li had suffered an injury in his quarterfinal win over No. 3 seed Hamad Medjedovic of Serbia.  Jeon defeated unseeded Eduardo Morais of Portugal 6-2, 7-6(3) in the other semifinal. 

Due to Li's injury preventing him from playing the third place match on Tuesday, Morais was declared the winner.  The boys 12s consolation final for fifth place Tuesday will be between unseeded Alexander Bernard and Medjedovic.

The Girls 14s consolation final will feature unseeded Himeno Sakasume of Japan against unseeded Qinwen Zheng of China.

Jack Draper of Great Britain, the No. 7 seed, will play unseeded Sebastian Grundtvig of Denmark in the Boys 14s consolation final Tuesday.

For complete draws, see the TennisLink site.