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Saturday, December 5, 2015

McKenzie Defeats Top Seed Galfi to Reach Eddie Herr ITF Final; Five US Players Reach Finals in Younger Age Divisions

©Colette Lewis 2015--
Bradenton, FL--

Kylie McKenzie and Felix Auger-Aliassime were a point from elimination in the third round of their ITF Grade 1 Eddie Herr International matches on Thursday, but haven't looked back since. The unseeded McKenzie saved a match point at 1-5 down in the third set and went on to beat qualifier Hanna Chang 4-6, 7-5, 7-5, while No. 6 seed Auger-Aliassime saved three match points in his 2-6, 7-6(8), 7-6(2) win over unseeded Alexandar Lazarov of Bulgaria. In Saturday's semifinals, both took out higher ranked players, with McKenzie beating defending champion and No. 1 seed Dalma Galfi of Hungary 6-4, 6-3 and Auger-Aliassime downing No. 2 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas 7-5, 6-4.

McKenzie trailed the 17-year-old US Open girls champion 4-2 in the first set, then won the next four games to claim the set. Galfi used her drop shot effectively in the first few games, but McKenzie kept her punishing ground strokes deep as the match wore on, keeping Galfi on the defensive. During her run to the US Open title, Galfi had been able to come up with a big serve when she needed it, but that magic couldn't be conjured on Court 3 Saturday.

Galfi went up a break 2-1 in the second set, but a return winner by McKenzie at 30-40 put it back on serve. In the eighth game, Galfi couldn't locate any energy and a double fault at 15-40 gave McKenzie a chance to serve out the match. She had showed no nerves prior to the last game, but she admitted to some when Galfi netted a backhand to make it 40-15.

"On the first match point, I served but I flew the next shot, so yeah, I definitely got tight," said the 16-year-old from Arizona. "But I decided to focus on staying aggressive."

After a lengthy rally on the second match point, mostly backhand to backhand, McKenzie maneuvered herself into position to hit out on a forehand and she smacked a forehand that landed three or four inches inside the baseline, with Galfi having no play on it.

"I felt comfortable in the point," said McKenzie. "It was a long rally, but she was just controlling it back, so I had to stay consistent and stay physical," said McKenzie. "Then once I got my opportunity, to go for it."

McKenzie said she was able to concentrate on her own game, keeping thoughts of who she was playing out of her mind.

"I came out not trying to worry too much about playing the US Open champion, just treat it like any other match," said McKenzie, who reached the quarterfinals of the US Open junior championships, but will be playing in her first Grade 1 final on Sunday. "I thought I handled my nerves pretty well today."

After 20 minutes of the other girls semifinal between unseeded Amanda Anisimova and No. 5 seed Tamara Zidansek of Slovenia, an all-American girls final looked likely. Anismova was hitting winner after winner and Zidansek was struggling to find ways to counteract the 14-year-old's power game.

Down 2-0 in the second set, Zidansek began use her slice more effectively, finding the tactics she needed to come away with a 0-6, 6-4, 6-1 victory.

"At the beginning she played really well," said Zidansek, who is playing the final two junior tournaments of her career this week and next week at the Orange Bowl. "She was hitting really hard, and everything went in. I was a bit slow on my feet, but as the match went on I caught my rhythm and it went on from there. She's a tall player and the slice definitely works against tall players."

Zidansek, 289 in the WTA rankings, had needed over three hours to beat Sonya Kenin in the quarterfinals Friday, but said she felt fine and that her fitness is something she can always rely on.

As for going back to play junior tournaments after spending so much of the year on the ITF Women's Circuit, Zidansek, who will be 18 at the end of the month, had reached the maximum number of tournaments allowed for a 17-year-old, so to stay sharp and get some matches, she decided to enter the last two major junior tournaments on the ITF Junior calendar, the sixth and seventh junior tournaments she will have played this year.

Auger-Aliassime won a tense opening set 7-5, with no breaks until Tsitsipas lost his serve at 5-5. The 15-year-old Canadian was able to draw a few crucial errors from Tsitsipas's one-handed backhand and it was enough, as he closed out the set, despite a double fault to start the final game.

Auger-Aliassime broke and held for a 4-2 lead in the second set, and his willingness to finish points at the net allowed him to keep that margin, and he served out the match, finishing with an ace.

Auger-Aliassime spent two weeks on red Peruvian clay prior to the Eddie Herr, reaching the quarterfinals of two Futures tournaments there, although the green Har-Tru at the IMG Academy is a more familiar surface for him.

"That's what we have in Montreal, our National Centre," said Auger-Aliassime. "During the training season, we've been working a lot on it. I try to be a complete player, be good on different surfaces. Of course we play more on hard court, but I need to be a complete player."

Auger-Aliassime, who is playing in his first Eddie Herr, will take on No. 4 seed Alex De Minaur in the final.  De Minaur, who hasn't lost a set all week, beat No. 14 seed Benjamin Sigouin 6-1, 6-3, preventing an all-Canadian final.

De Minaur has been training at the IMG Academy both this week and also earlier in the year, before he had his breakout run at the US Open Junior Championships, reaching the semifinals as a qualifier. Although he has little familiarity with green clay, the 16-year-old Australian, known for his willingness to approach the net, can still find reasons to think it suits his game.

"I like to think I try to adapt to every court," said De Minaur, who has recently moved with his family to Spain. "Obviously on clay, I can't be coming in too much, rushing the net too much, you've got to construct the point more."

De Minaur was down 2-0 in the second set, but fought back, winning five straight games before Sigouin held for 5-3.

"I started to be a little bit too passive," De Minaur said of the opening two games of the second set. "I was letting him dictate to me, instead of trying to dictate the point. I feel he's a really good ball striker, so if he gets a ball in the middle of the court, he can put it anywhere he wants to. After going down 2-0, I started getting more depth and moving him around more and I think that paid dividends."

De Minaur and Auger-Aliassime met in the semifinals of the ITF Grade 1 International Hard Court Championships in College Park, Maryland this year, with Auger-Aliassime winning 3-6, 6-3, 6-4. Auger-Aliassime went on to win the title, while De Minaur has now reached his first ITF final at or above the Grade 2 Level, with six prior appearances in semifinals this year.

"It feels like a big step," said De Minaur. "First time, and I can't wait until tomorrow."

The doubles champions were crowned after the singles semifinals, with top seeds Miomir Kecmanovic of Serbia and Casper Ruud of Norway taking the boys title, over No. 8 seeds De Minaur and Bjorn Thomas of Ireland 6-3, 6-4.

Kecmanovic and Ruud had played together at the last three junior slams, reaching the semifinals at Wimbledon, but this is their first title as a team.

Down 4-1 in the second set, Kecmanovic and Ruud knew that in the doubles no-ad format, that one break was not an obstacle to a straight set win.

"In doubles, that doesn't mean anything," said Kecmanovic. "We took the opportunities we had to get back in the match. We kept more balls in the court I think and that's why we won."

Neither Kecmanovic or Ruud considers himself a good net player, but their returns and ground strokes make up for that.

"I think it's a combination of good ground strokes and the good serves we both have," said Ruud. "We're not the best at the net yet, but we do some good points. We're able to play heavy from the back."

"When we're both serving good, that helps a lot," said Kecmanovic. "We're not great at the net, but we can close out the points when we have to."

The pair is planning on playing together at the Orange Bowl next week.

Sonya Kenin won her second straight Eddie Herr doubles title, partnering Ingrid Neel to a 6-3, 6-1 win over top seeds Galfi and Tereza Mihalikova of Slovakia.

Neel had planned on playing with Fanni Stollar in doubles, so turned down Kenin on her first inquiry, but when Stollar was unable to play due to a bone bruise, Neel asked Kenin if she was still available.

"The last time we played together was the under 12s," said Neel. "I don't think that even counts. It's basically our first time."

The No. 2 seeds had only one tight match all week, their 11-9 in the match tiebreaker win over the unseeded Romanian team of Georgia Craciun and Oana Gavrila in Friday's semifinals.

"I think I can open up the court," said Kenin, who won with Jessica Ho last year. "Ingrid has really good volleys, so I really trust her at the net. She knows what she's doing."

"Sonya can get everything back at the baseline," said Neel, who trains at the IMG Academy. "It makes my job a lot easier at the net. We have sort of different games styles, there's a lot of variety we throw at our opponents."

Neel was happy to take the title in front of her family, friends and coaches.

"It's so nice that everyone comes out to support the doubles," said Neel. "My coaches and all my family is here, so it's really cool to win on the home court."

Kenin defeated Neel last year in the Orange Bowl singles final, but this year they will start the tournament together as a doubles team.

The girls final will begin at 9 a.m. Sunday, with the boys final following. See the ITF junior website for complete draws.

Five Americans will play in the six singles finals in the younger age divisions, with the boys 14s the only draw without a possible American winner. Below are the results of today's semifinal singles matches and final doubles matches in the 12s, 14s, and 16s.  Full draws can be found on the TennisLink site.

Boys 12s: 
Xiaofei Wang[CHN](Q) def.  Jacobi Bain[BHS] 6-3, 6-3
Saud Alhogbani [USA] (4) def. Jewon Jeon [KOR] (8) 6-4, 6-4

Girls 12s:
Cori Gauff [USA] (7) def. Elvina Kalieva [USA] (5) 6-2, 6-0
Noa Krznaric [CRO] (2) def. Kylie Bilchev [GBR] (4) 6-4, 6-1

Boys 14s:
Thiago Agustin Tirante [ARG] (1) def.  Jack Draper [GBR] (5) 6-1, 6-3
Chun Hsin Tseng [TPE] (13) def.  Timofey Skatov [RUS] (16) 6-4, 6-4

Girls 14s:
Margaryta Bilokin [USA] (Q) def. Saara Orav [EST] 6-4, 6-3
Marta Kostyuk [UKR] (8) def. Gia Cohen [USA] (WC) 6-3, 7-5

Boys 16s:
Patrick Zahraj [GER] def. Sangeet Sridhar [USA] (1) 6-0, 3-6, 7-6(3)
Ryan Goetz [USA] (13) def. Trey Hilderbrand [USA] (11) 6-3, 6-3

Girls 16s:
Ulyana Shirokova [RUS] (3) def.  Mihaela Marculescu [ROU] (5) 6-2, 6-1 
Meg Kowalski [USA] (4) def. Tiffany Lagarde [CAN] (6) 6-4, 7-5

Boys 12s:
Hugo Hashimoto/Benjamin Kittay [USA] (1) def. Saud Alhogbani/Nishesh Basavareddy[USA] (2) 7-6(4), 3-6, 10-4.

Girls 12s:
Cori Gauff/Charlotte Owensby [USA] (2) def. Kylie Bilchev [GBR]/Daria Lopatetska [UKR] (1) 5-7, 6-3, 10-5.

Boys 14s:
Nicholas Garcia/Ronan Jachuck [USA] (5) def. Joao Ferreira/Thiago Tirante [ARG] (1) 6-4, 6-1

Girls 14s:
Chloe Beck/Emma Navarro [USA] (6) def. Hailey Baptiste/Gabriella Price [USA] 6-3, 6-0

Boys 16s:
Christian Alshon/Antoine Sanchez [USA] (8) def. Malik Bhatnagar/Trey Hilderbrand [USA] (7) 3-6, 7-5, 10-8

Girls 16s:
Selma Cadar[ROM]/Ulyana Shirokova[RUS](1) def. Carolyn Campana/Abigail Forbes[USA] 4-6, 7-6(6), 13-11