Friday, September 9, 2016

Kenin Beats Top Seed Potapova, Joins Day in US Open Girls Semifinals; All-American Girls Doubles Final Set for Saturday; Smith and Kwiatkowski, Yurovsky and Collins Reach American Collegiate Invitational Finals

©Colette Lewis 2016--
Flushing Meadows, NY--

Sonya Kenin had lost to No. 1 seed Anastasia Potapova the previous two times they had met, on clay and on grass. But the difference in their quarterfinal match Friday at the US Open Junior Championships, which Kenin won 6-3, 7-6(0), was not just the result and the surface. It was also Kenin's experience in New York, in both last year's US Open and this year's, where she played in the women's main draw, that gave her an edge.

Kenin, who reached the final of the girls championships here last year, played this year's women's finalist Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic in the first round of the women's tournament last Tuesday, falling 6-4, 6-3, but actually breaking serve once in her seven opportunities.

"I had six more break points than Serena," said Kenin, who is predictably rooting for Pliskova to take the title. "There's more pressure playing on the junior level, rather than playing pros, but it's important to play well."

Kenin could again assume the underdog role, as the No. 8 seed against the ITF World Junior No. 1 and Wimbledon champion, and this time she had a game plan against the 15-year-old Russian.

"I knew I had to serve more to her forehand," said Kenin, who will be 18 in November. "She has a really good serve, so I knew I had to get my serve in, and I'd have my chance to win."

Kenin dropped her serve only once in the first set, but the second set featured six straight breaks of serve, with Kenin going down 3-1, 4-2, 5-3, but each time getting the break back.  After Potapova finally held at to take a 6-5 lead, Kenin went down 15-40, but an excellent second serve saved the first set point, and a good first serve, forcing a return error, saved the second. After two more deuces, Kenin held, then played a flawless tiebreaker, keeping the ball deep, moving Potapova around and forcing errors. Potapova also contributed a handful of unforced errors on the forehand to give Kenin the opportunity to play freely with the lead.

"I knew what to expect and I had a game plan on what to do and it obviously worked," Kenin said. "So I was sticking to it. Especially in the tiebreaker, it was important."

After her three-hour win over Ashley Lahey on Thursday, Kenin was delighted to finish the match in straight sets.

"My leg was pretty sore," said Kenin. "As the match went on it got tight. At 6-5, I was really tired, but I knew [it would be bad] if we split sets, so I knew to take my time, to hopefully win the match. I recovered well, and I'm really happy."

Kenin will play No. 13 seed Viktoria Kuzmova of Slovakia in the semifinals after Kuzmova defeated unseeded Tessa Andrianjafitrimo of France 7-5, 6-4.  The 18-year-old Kuzmova, who received entry and her seeding based on her WTA ranking of 295 and Kenin, whose WTA ranking is 243, have never played.

In the other girls semifinal, No. 5 seed Kayla Day will play No. 7 seed Bianca Andreescu of Canada, a rematch of last year's Orange Bowl final.

Day spoiled wild card Carson Branstine's 16th birthday with a 6-2, 6-3 victory, Day's third win over her fellow Southern Californian.

"I felt bad," Day said of beating Branstine on her birthday. "I started well, just like I did last time. I think I got a little tight in the second set, but I thought she was more tight than I was today. I think experience maybe helped me, because I've been in this situation and it's her first time."

Day, who lost only two points when she got her first serve in, said her serve came through when she needed it.

"I think I was placing it really well," said Day, who turns 17 later this month. "I was hitting some big first serves, so I was always on offense after my first serve so that helped me. When I got to a 30-all game, I'd serve a good two points."

Day and Andreescu have played three times, most recently in the final of the Grade A Orange Bowl, which Andreescu won 7-6(7), 6-4. Andreescu, who was off between the Australian Open and Wimbledon due to injuries, ended the run of 14-year-old lucky loser Vanessa Ong 6-4, 6-2.

"She's a really good player, but I haven't seen her play in a while," said Day, who also reached the semifinals at Wimbledon back in July. "When I played her last time, her forehand was definitely her best shot."

The last American boy in the tournament, qualifier Patrick Kypson, lost to No. 6 seed Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada 6-1, 6-2, with Auger-Aliassime in the zone throughout the match.

"Too good, too good," Kypson said of his fellow 16-year-old's play. "Maybe I could have served more to his body, but he played too good. He didn't let me into any rallies, he was returning one inch from the line my first serves. When he plays well, no one in juniors is going to beat him."

Auger-Aliassime agreed.

"It was a great performance, one of my best matches this week," Auger-Aliassime said. "It's good to feel that I'm playing better and better every day and today I showed a great example of what I'm able to do on the court, it was a good match overall, yeah."

At 5-2 in the second set, Auger-Aliassime was preparing to serve for the match when his nose began to bleed, and it was over 10 minutes before play resumed.

"It's a problem I've had since I've been young, getting those, especially when I'm sick," said Auger-Aliassime. "I kind of have a cold right now. Getting all the stuff out sometimes I get nosebleeds. I guess I'm lucky in my unluck that it happened at the end of the second set, but yeah, you have to deal with stuff like this sometimes."

Auger-Aliassime will play top seed Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece in Saturday's semifinal, after Tsitsipas defeated doubles partner Kenneth Raisma Estonia, the No. 11 seed, 6-1, 7-6(4).

"He's a tall guy and he hits pretty hard," said Auger-Aliassime, who has beaten Tsitsipas the only two times they've played, both last year. "He goes for his shots and it's hard to play guys who don't really hesitate. He has a good serve, it's one of the best assets of his game. If I'm able to serve really well and put a lot of pressure on his backhand, move him around, that should help me. But he has a good ball, and it's going to be tough to break him down."

The other semifinal features two players who haven't been to a junior slam semifinal before: 18-year-old Yosuke Watanuki of Japan and 16-year-old Miomir Kecmanovic of Serbia.  Kecmanovic, the No. 5 seed, advanced with a tough 6-2, 5-7, 6-4 win over No. 13 seed Nicola Kuhn of Spain, avenging his loss to Kuhn in last year's Grade A Osaka Cup. Watanuki, the No. 7 seed eliminated unseeded Khumoyun Sultonov of Uzbekistan 6-4, 6-1.

The doubles finals are set for Saturday, with two US girls teams reaching the final for the first time since 1992.  Day and Caroline Dolehide defeated Mai Hontama of Japan and Anastasia Zarytska of Ukraine 6-4, 6-1 Friday afternoon to set up a rematch with Ena Shibahara and Jada Hart.  Wild cards Shibahara and Hart, who defeated No. 5 seeds Kaja Juvan of Slovenia and Iga Swiatek of Poland 6-3, 4-6, 10-4, beat Day and Dolehide 6-2, 2-6, 10-3 in the quarterfinals of last month's USTA National Championships in San Diego, with Shibahara and Hart going on to win the title.

The boys doubles final will see Auger-Aliassime defending his US Open boys title, this time with a different partner. After winning here last year with Denis Shapovalov, Auger-Aliassime is playing this year with Benjamin Sigouin, also from Canada. No. 3 seeds Sigouin and Auger-Aliassime downed Toru Horie and Yuta Shimizu of Japan 3-6, 6-4, 11-9 in the semifinals and will play unseeded Juan Carlos Aguilar of Bolivia and Felipe Meligeni Rodrigues Alves of Brazil, who defeated unseeded Zizou Bergs of Belgium and Ysahi Oliel of Israel 4-6, 7-6(1), 10-2.

The schedule for Saturday includes both US girls semifinals and the Tsitsipas/Auger-Aliassime semifinal on the new Grandstand, which should be streamed on ESPN 3, as well as the girls doubles final.  The other boys semifinal between Watanuki and Kecmanovic, and the boys doubles final, are on court 17, which probably won't be streamed, as it was not today.

The girls singles draw is here and the boys singles draw is here.

The girls doubles draw is here and the boys doubles draw is here.

Also on tap for Saturday are the finals of the American Collegiate Invitational, with Austin Smith of Georgia playing Thai Kwiatkowski of Virginia for the men's title, and Danielle Collins of Virginia facing Ronit Yurovsky of Michigan for the women's title.

No. 2 seed Collins, the reigning NCAA champion, has dominated in her two wins in the event, beating No. 4 seed Breaunna Addison of Texas 6-2, 6-2.

"Right now I'm just trying to get better each match," said Collins, who didn't play much after her NCAA title run, in order to complete her degree during the summer semester. "Here competing with the best players in the country, anything can happen, when everyone is playing so well and everybody's so strong. It's a pretty big accomplishment just to get to the finals of this tournament, and I'm happy I'm able to do it."

Addison, who had defeated Brooke Austin of Florida in a long three-setter Thursday, said that match took its toll.

"Today was tough," said Addison, who has completed her eligibility and plans to graduate in December. "I had a couple of nagging injuries from yesterday and my body was a little fatigued. But overall, I think she played really well; she put me in a tough position on nearly every point."

Collins will play unseeded Ronit Yurovsky of Michigan, who followed up her 6-4, 6-4 win over top seed Francesca Di Lorenzo of Ohio State Thursday with a 4-6, 6-2, 6-3 victory over local favorite Julia Elbaba of Virginia.

"There were just a few loose points in the first set and she definitely stepped up when she needed to," said Yurovsky, who got her degree in May. "I knew in the second set that I had to be more aggressive and take control early. Obviously, she's a very good player, and when she's in control she's very good, so I had to do that first."

In the third set, Elbaba was broken at 3-4, double faulting to give Yurovsky a break point, which the former Wolverine converted with a forehand winner.  Yurovsky served well in the final game, with Elbaba failing to get the ball back in play, and she closed out the win on her second match point, with a backhand forcing an error.

Elbaba, who is from New York, had a cheering section of friends and family to support her, but Yurovsky has had plenty of experience dealing with vocal crowds.

"There were a few people cheering for her, I just tried to block it out," Yurovsky said. "In college you get used to that, so I was prepared."

Elbaba, a finalist in the event in 2014 who was a last-minute substitute for an injured Maegan Manasse of Cal, was training for pro tournaments this fall when she received her invitation.

"I found out I was in this tournament a day or two before," said Elbaba, who graduated this summer, and has received a wild card into the $50K in Atlanta next week. "I think I trained a little too hard before and I definitely felt my body giving up on me a little bit today. I'm just using this as preparation for Atlanta."

Top seed Kwiatkowski took out No. 3 seed Tom Fawcett of Stanford 6-2 6-0 to reach the final, while Smith took out Ryan Shane of Virginia 7-6(1), 6-4.

"I thought I played okay," said Kwiatkowski, who will be a senior this year. "Tom's a really good player and we're going to see each other a lot in Tulsa, and in everything else this upcoming year. I think Tom was a little tired, he had a really physical match yesterday."

Fawcett gave all credit to Kwiatkowski.

"Thai played a great match, I've got to give it to him," said Fawcett, who will be a junior this year. "I just felt like every time I got ahead in the game, 30-love, 40-love, he came up with great shots to dig his way back in and I never really got momentum going on my side."

Smith had a 5-1 lead in the first set on Shane, who struggled with his serving, but Shane came back to make it 5-5, and only a miracle volley by Smith when he was down break point at 5-all kept Smith from dropping serve three straight times.

"I don't know how I made it," Smith said of the volley. "I kind of closed my eyes. He hit an unbelievable return and I was pretty lucky to get my racquet on it, and I kind of caught it behind me, a pretty special shot. I'd already gotten broken twice, it would have been for three breaks in a row so that was massive. The set is more than likely over, if I lose that point."

Shane was disappointed with his serving to start the match, with nine double faults not helping his cause, but agreed that the Smith volley was key in keeping him from taking the opening set.

"At 5-all I had 15-40 on his serve," said Shane. "He aced me, and then he hit one of the best volleys I've ever seen. I thought I hit an unbelievable down the line pass and he somehow got it for a winner angle. He held and I held and we went to a breaker, and my serve just disappeared. I double faulted three times in the breaker and it's frustrating to have it come in and out and not know what's happening and why."

"I felt very fortunate that he didn't have his best serving day, which I'll take any day," said Smith, who graduated from Georgia this summer. "His serve is lethal when it's on."

Kwiatkowski is looking forward to playing Smith in the final.

"I've known Austin since we were seven, eight years old," said Kwiatkowski, who is from North Carolina. "Growing up together, playing Southern tournaments and I know his family well. I'll be happy for him if he wins, but either way, it'll be a great afternoon on Saturday."

The men's draw is here, the women's draw is here.