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Sunday, December 4, 2016

Carle Comeback Secures Eddie Herr ITF Title; Kecmanovic Wins Boys Championship; Volynets Takes 16s Title, Pielet and Khan Win 14s Championships

©Colette Lewis 2016--
Brandenton, FL--

Sunday's two championship matches in the ITF Grade 1 Eddie Herr tournament were studies in contrast, with Maria Carle of Argentina down 6-2, 4-2 before rebounding for a 2-6, 7-5, 6-3 victory over Varvara Gracheva of Russia, while Miomir Kecmanovic of Serbia needed less than an hour to claim a 6-2, 6-1 victory over Benjamin Sigouin of Canada.

The 9 a.m. start was early for the majority of the spectators, who did not witness Carle's struggles in the first set. The 16-year-old, seeded No. 12, needed time to adapt to Gracheva's power, but just as she had done in her 2-6, 6-1, 6-3 semifinal win over Carson Branstine, Carle made the adjustment, although just barely in time Sunday.

"It was the same match, I think," Carle said, comparing the final to Saturday's match. "This match was more hard for me, because I am one set to love and 4-2 down, and well, I think I have lost the match. But I say, ok, I will try. Play more hard, use my slice and that was the key for the match today."

Carle ended a series of four consecutive breaks by holding for 4-4 in the second, and she broke an error-prone Gracheva to take a 6-5 lead. Gracheva had made few errors in her 6-2, 6-2 semifinal win over Irina Cantos Siemers of Germany, but many of her shots in the late stages of the second set found the tape, and Carle held in the final game to take the set.

Gracheva dropped her serve in the opening game of the third set, failing to convert on four game points, but Carle was unable to capitalize, losing the next game. Another break of serve gave Carle a 2-1 lead, and this time she consolidated it. Carle got her fourth straight break of the Gracheva serve for a 4-1 lead, but Gracheva again closed the gap when she broke and held for 4-3.  Carle sensed how important her next hold was, and when she got it, at 40-30, she let out a loud vamos, an emotional reaction that had the now large crowd of spectators surrounding the court chuckling at its intensity.

Gracheva had two game points to force Carle to serve for the match, but she made two unforced errors and after a nifty cross court forehand pass from Carle, Gracheva faced a match point.  Again her shot caught the tape, this time going over but landing well wide, giving Carle her first ITF Grade 1 title and her first title at any level this year.

Carle, who won the Orange Bowl 16s title last year, was reluctant to compare the two titles.

"It's the same for me, the same victory," said Carle, who trains at the club in Tandil where Juan Martin del Potro learned to play tennis. "Orange Bowl transmits for me a lot of confidence for the year, and I think that this tournament was the same as the Orange Bowl for me. An incredible moment and an amazing week. I want to thank the Eddie Herr tournament for giving me confidence and happiness."

Gracheva, seeded sixth, was frustrated with her loss and the 16-year-old acknowledged that Carle's game style was the source of much of her inability to execute in the final stages of the second set and most of the third.

"It's difficult for me to win with a person who is just running and pushing," said Gracheva, who trains with former WTA Top 100 player Nina Bratchikova in Germany. "My strong shots were making no sense, and then I missed. It's a talent, a real talent, because she runs faster than my balls, I don't know how.  And the slice, the slice is always difficult."

Both Carle and Gracheva will head to the Orange Bowl for matches Tuesday, with Carle returning to the site of her title last year, while Gracheva will be playing the event for the first time in her career.

After the long and emotional girls match, most of the spectators settled in for the boys final, but it proved to be short and drama-free.

Kecmanovic, who rose to the top of the ITF Junior rankings two weeks ago with his title at the Grade A in Mexico City, looked the part throughout the final.

The top seed didn't face a break point in the match and was never even taken to deuce on any of his service games.  But despite that impressive serving, which set him up to dominate the point from the ground, Kecmanovic said it was his return that was the real difference in the match.

"I think I served pretty good, but my return I think was the key today," said the 17-year-old, who lives and trains at the IMG Academy. "Obviously he has big serves and I didn't miss much of the returns and that's what made the difference today."

Kecmanovic got a break in the third game of each set, and never took his foot off the gas, as he had allowed himself to do in a 6-1, 4-6, 6-3 win over No. 12 seed Ergi Kirkin of Turkey in Saturday's semifinals.

The second-seeded Sigouin, on the other hand, had the memory of an impressive comeback in his 4-6, 7-5, 6-4 semifinal win over No. 3 seed Kenneth Raisma of Estonia to look to for inspiration, but Kecmanovic didn't show any signs of vulnerability.

"I think I came out kind of slow and I think that affected the whole match," said the 17-year-old Sigouin. "I for sure could have played much better, but he didn't miss too much today at all, so it was hard to win a lot of long points. He made a lot of first serves today, I didn't, and that was key, and I didn't return as well as I should have either. But I'm just going to look at it as a great week and just move forward."

Kecmanovic is planning to play the Orange Bowl next week, his fourth tournament in four weeks, although he is assured of finishing the year at No. 1 regardless of whether he defends his title, with No. 2 Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece, the only player with a chance of catching him, dropping out last week.

"It's nice to win both (singles and doubles) every tournament, but it doesn't happen very often," Kecmanovic said. "So I enjoy these moments very much and I think I'm going to take this, just relax at Orange Bowl, and try to play my best."

Although the United States did not have representation in either of the ITF singles finals, there were six Americans in five of the six finals of the younger divisions, with Katie Volynets claiming the girls 16s title, Gianna Pielet taking the girls 14s title and Zane Khan capturing the boys 14s title.

No. 7 seed Volynets defeated No. 4 seed Victoria Hu 6-3, 6-2 in the day's only all-US final, contested by two 14-year-olds.

Volynets had dropped the opening set of her quarterfinal match with Angelica Blake 6-0, but that result jolted her into a more aggressive mindset.

"I decided to start all my matches aggressively and play my game," said the 2015 National 14s champion, a Walnut Creek, California resident. "That's attacking as often as I can. Today, I came out and I was really ready to play aggressively and to play high-level tennis, and it was a great match."

Volynets wasn't ready to say that it was the best match she had played, but she would concede it was in the conversation.

"It's a big deal to me," Volynets said of the Eddie Herr title. "I really wanted to win this and I'm really glad."

Volynets heads for the Orange Bowl 16s for a match on Monday, where she is unseeded.

Pielet succeeded Volynets as National 14s champion this year, and she too has an Eddie Herr title after the No. 5 seed defeated No. 2 seed Emma Raducanu of Great Britain 6-2, 6-3.

The 14-year-old from El Paso, Texas said the breezy conditions may have helped her get the straight-sets win.

"My opponent hit really hard and it was hard to get a rhythm," Pielet said. "So I had to find a way to get more balls in the court and move her around. The wind was really bad, and I think it affected her mostly. If it hadn't been windy, I think it would have been a lot closer."

Pielet defeated top seed Qinwen Zheng of China 3-6, 7-5, 6-4 in the quarterfinals, and she pointed to that match as her best tennis of the week.

"And yesterday in the semis (when she defeated No. 4 seed Gabby Price 6-7(3) 6-2, 6-4), was really good."

Pielet will be playing in the 14s division at the Junior Orange Bowl in two weeks.

Also attempting the Eddie Herr/Junior Orange double is Zane Khan, who won the first leg of the two prestigious events by defeating top seed Bu Yunchaokete of China 6-3, 6-3.

"I played well today," said Khan, who was not in the main draw when the acceptances were first published, but did move in after several withdrawals. "It was pretty tricky, because it's windy out here, and I wasn't serving too well, and I was getting my second serve attacked a lot. It was tough to get my service games, but I broke him most of the time, because I was returning pretty well."

Khan, the No. 2 seed, who had finished as runner-up in the Eddie Herr 12s division two years ago, preferred the result of his second final.

"This feels much better," said Khan, who headed to the draw board for the first of many photo sessions.

Both US players in the 12s finals were beaten, with No. 3 seed Katrina Scott falling to No. 4 seed Dasha Plekhanova of Canada 6-4, 7-5 in the girls final.

In the boys 12s final, unseeded qualifier Gunuk Kang of Korea won his tenth match of the tournament, beating No. 9 seed Jonah Braswell 6-1, 6-2.  Kang, who dropped only one set in those ten matches, is the second consecutive unseeded qualifier to win the boys 12s, with Xiaofei Wang of China pulling off that feat last year.

In the boys 16s final, No. 2 seed Anton Matusevich won the all-British final, beating No. 4 seed Jake Hersey 6-4, 7-6(5).

Complete draws can be found at the TennisLink site.