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Sunday, December 6, 2015

Unseeded McKenzie Claims Girls Title, Auger-Aliassime Saves Three Match Points in Boys Eddie Herr ITF Championship Final; Goetz Wins Boys 16s Division

©Colette Lewis 2015--
Bradenton, FL--

It would be hard to upstage unseeded American Kylie McKenzie's performance this week at the Eddie Herr ITF Grade 1. The 16-year-old from Arizona, who saved a match point earlier in the week and beat No. 1 seed Dalma Galfi in the semifinals, capped her breakout run with a come-from-behind win over the No. 5 seed Tamara Zidansek 3-6, 6-3, 6-4.

But Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime managed to create an even bigger buzz among the large crowd of tennis fans at IMG Academy on a warm and sunny Sunday afternoon, saving three match points to defeat Alex De Minaur 6-3, 6-7(6), 7-6(3).

Auger-Aliassime, the sixth seed, had been broken in the third game of the of the third set, and De Minaur had managed to hold on that slim lead to serve for the match at 5-4.  When the 16-year-old Australian guessed right and redirected Auger-Aliassime's smash putaway down the line past him for a 40-0 lead, De Minaur looked a good bet to win his first Grade 1 title.

But Auger-Aliassime had recent history to encourage him.  In the third round against Alexandar Lazarov of Bulgaria, the 15-year-old from Quebec had also saved three match points, winning 2-6, 7-6(8), 7-6(2).

"When I had match points, it was just like, ok, that's it, you have to go get your points, one at a time," said Auger-Aliassime, who was also cramping late in the match and felt dizzy when it ended. "I was like I'll do it again, I've already done it. I know I can do it. Win the next point, the second point and the one after that. He didn't do anything wrong, he didn't miss, he didn't give me the points."

A backhand return winner, an overhead putaway and a backhand that forced an error erased the three match points and another return winner gave him the game. Although De Minaur held to force a tiebreaker, Auger-Aliassime had found another gear, and the winners kept coming.

"He obviously played a great match," said De Minaur, who lost to Auger-Aliassime in three sets in the semifinals of the International Hard Court Championships in August. "Especially in the big moments, he came up with some incredible shots. I'll give him all the credit that he deserves for pulling that out. I honestly thought I didn't do much wrong. It was a great match from him."

Auger-Aliassime got an early mini break in the tiebreaker and another for a 5-2 lead, hitting a clean forehand winner. He gave one back with one of his few errors of the final four games, but he finished with a series of ground strokes too powerful for De Minaur to continue to return.

"I got pushed around a fair bit," said De Minaur, who doesn't live at the IMG Academy, but trains there regularly, and had support from several coaches throughout the week. "Obviously he hits the ball really big. Maybe next time I play him, hold the baseline a little more and dictate more, but today I was doing that and getting pushed around still."

Auger-Aliassime agreed that he had not shown off his A game during long stretches of the nearly three hour match, and the second set tiebreaker ended on his double fault, after saving three set points 6-3 down.

"If I go out today, I'm tired, I play a lot of good matches this week and I play unbelievable, that's practically impossible, it would happen rarely," said Auger-Aliassime, who said he'd won a tournament in the 12s after saving a match point, but never in two different matches. "Everyone's tight. We started out both really nervous, not putting a lot of balls in, but it matters to be tough mentally, and I think I did a great job with that, staying with him and working every point. For sure I'm proud of it."

Auger-Aliassime knew that he would have to hit the extra shot against De Minaur.

"He's a really great defender, getting every ball back, working every point."

But for all of Auger-Aliassime's spectacular shotmaking down the stretch, it was De Minaur's tweener lob winner that drew shouts of "Sports Center Top 10" from a fan in the crowd early in the second set.

"It was a pretty special moment," said De Minaur. "Honestly, I almost forgot about that shot. But the level of tennis was so high that I almost every point I won was...like the shot to go up match points, and then he hits four winners. Too good from him."

Both De Minaur and Auger-Aliassime are heading to Plantation for the Grade A Orange Bowl next week.

If most of the crowd was enthralled with Auger-Aliassime's comeback, including many Canadian snow birds, they were also impressed with the fortitude, and the game, of McKenzie.

Down an early break, McKenzie had to wonder when No. 5 seed Tamara Zidansek would ever miss a ball, as the WTA's 289th-ranked player handled McKenzie's power game with ease to take the first set 6-3.

"In the beginning I was definitely very nervous coming out," said McKenzie, playing in her first Grade 1 final. "She's a great player. She gets everything back, she mixes it up, she hits heavy, she's fast, she can do the slices and the drop shots. I was trying to figure out what I needed to do, how I should mix it up to get her to miss more, force her."

Although Zidansek had played two long three-set matches in the quarterfinals and semifinals, her fitness wasn't a question, but McKenzie knew she had to use her size and power advantage.

"With a girl like her, you have to be really physical, to last through the long points, and I tried to use more patterns and mix up my shots," McKenzie said.

The strategy definitely worked in the second set, when Zidansek made arguably her first bad error of the match serving at 1-2, 30-all. McKenzie pounced, hitting a forehand winner after a long rally, and although she was broken in the next game, she got another break for 4-2 and finished off the set.

In the third set, the key game came at 3-3, with Zidansek serving. Down 15-40, Zidansek saved those two break points, then four more, before McKenzie finally got the break with a big return of a second serve.

"I was pretty frustrated, because I had a lot of chances," said McKenzie, who rarely shows any emotion on the court. "I was trying to go for it, and I didn't make the best decisions, but on some of those break points she hit good first serves and good first balls, so it was tricky. I knew that would be a big turning point and I had a lot of confidence after being down yesterday, and in the match with Hanna Chang (in which she saved a match point down 5-1 in the third set), being in those tight situations."

McKenzie needed to save two break points to make it 5-3, hitting a stunning running backhand cross court winner on game point, but Zidansek forced her to serve out the match with an easy hold.

McKenzie's first serve came through for her in the final game as she made her first three and went up 40-0.  A nervous forehand off a good return made it 40-15, and another forehand went long to make it 40-30. But another good first serve, her fifth of the game, had Zidansek unable to get the ball back in play, and the title was McKenzie's.

"I definitely played my best match of the week," said Zidansek, who has concentrated on the ITF Women's Circuit this year, but at her maximum of 16 pro matches, is playing her last two junior tournaments before she turns 18 late this month. "Kylie played so great. In the end, the little things, a couple too much mistakes on my side. She plays really aggressive, has a great forehand and gets a lot of balls in the court. You have to stay aggressive, play her game. But today she was the better player."

McKenzie won the USTA National 16s title in San Diego last year, but she believes this title is her biggest yet.

"Winning the Hard Courts is big, it's the Nationals and you get into the US Open (Junior Championships), but Eddie Herr is my first in the 18s," said the Anthem, Arizona native, who trains with the USTA in Boca Raton. "I rank this one a little bigger, playing here, it's a pretty prestigious tournament and I'm very excited."

In the younger age division, the US had players in the singles finals, but only one, 13th seed Ryan Goetz, emerged with a title.

Goetz, who will turn 16 later this month, defeated unseeded Patrick Zahraj of Germany 7-5, 1-6, 6-3.

"It was tough, he was good, he came out swinging, I had to be physically and mentally prepared for it," said the New Yorker. "In the second, I let my guard down a little and he came up big."

Goetz said his win last week at the ITF Grade 5 in the Bahamas, his first singles title on the ITF Junior circuit, was ideal preparation for the Eddie Herr.

"It helped me a lot," Goetz said. "It made me match ready and match tough, so I could get right in there and play."

Goetz, who has a one-handed backhand, said he was able to keep Zahraj on defense. 

"I was aggressive, like I was the whole tournament," Goetz said. "I was keeping him on his back foot and made him earn all his points."

Goetz said the Eddie Herr title is the biggest one he's ever won.

"By far. I haven't won anything like this," said Goetz, who is taking a break and will not play the Orange Bowl next week. "It's special because it's the Eddie Herr and a lot of greats in the past have played it and won it, and it feels good to be a part of it."

In the boys 12s final, qualifier Xiaofei Wang of China defeated Saud Alhogbani 6-4, 4-6, 6-4. Wang went one match farther than Michael Mmoh did in 2010, when he reached the final of the 12s as a qualifier, but lost to Duck Hee Lee of Korea. 

No. 13 seed Chun Hsin Tseng of Taiwan added an Eddie Herr title to his Les Petit As championship, beating No. 1 seed Thiago Tirante of Argentina 6-3, 6-2 in the Boys 14s final.

Noa Krznaric of Croatia, the No. 2 seed, defeated Cori Gauff, seeded seventh, 6-3, 6-3 in the Girls 12s final.

Marta Kostyuk of Ukraine, the No. 8 seed, defeated qualifier Margaryta Bilokin 2-6, 6-4, 6-2 to win the Girls 14s title.

The Girls 16s title went to top seed Ulyana Shirokova of Russia, who beat Meg Kowalski, the No. 4 seed, 6-0, 7-5.

Complete draws for 12s, 14s, and 16s can be found at the Tennis Link site.

Draws for the ITF event are available at the ITF Junior website.