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Friday, December 9, 2016

Eddie Herr Recap; Unseeded Thomas, Osuigwe Reach Metropolia Orange Bowl Semis; Volynets, Graham and Sun Advance to 16s Final

©Colette Lewis 2016--
Plantation, FL--

Before I start with coverage of all Friday's action at the Metropolia Orange Bowl, I wanted to link to my recap of last week's Eddie Herr International Championships for the Tennis Recruiting Network.  If you couldn't follow my daily reports from Bradenton, this article can provide an overview of the tournament.

One of the most prominent names in the Eddie Herr article is Miomir Kecmanovic, who won the ITF boys singles and doubles titles and clinched the honor of being named ITF World Junior Champion with his results there. Kecmanovic decided to defend his title at this week's Orange Bowl, and so far he has been able to fight through the fatigue of playing four straight weeks to reach the semifinals.  In today's match with No. 11 seed Rudolf Molleker of Germany, Kecmanovic let an early second-set break slip away, and Molleker served for the set at 5-4, but wasted two set points with a double fault and a forehand error, opening the door enough for Kecmanovic to step through and claim a 6-2, 7-5 victory.

Kecmanovic will face unseeded Danny Thomas in the semifinals, after Thomas defeated No. 4 seed Yuta Shimizu of Japan 6-2, 7-6(1). Thomas, who is playing in his first Grade A event, is a bit surprised to have reached the semifinals this week.

"I'm feeling pretty happy. I honestly didn't expect to get this far," said the 17-year-old left-hander from Ohio. "I played Eddie Herr and lost second round. But this is great. I'm really happy with myself."

Thomas, who has finished off his last two opponents with drop shot winners on match point, said he is looking forward to playing the ITF's top-ranked junior on Saturday.

"I feel like I play my best tennis when I'm playing guys who are better players," said Thomas, who has already beaten players ranked 22 and 15 this week. "He's the number one player in the world, so I'm really excited about that. He's done a lot, so I feel it will be a really good opportunity for me to play him, to see where I stand among the other top guys."

The other boys semifinal will feature No. 2 seed Yibing Wu of China against the reigning 16s Orange Bowl champion, unseeded Sebastian Baez of Argentina.  Wu had no trouble with No. 5 seed Kenneth Raisma of Estonia, posting a 6-3, 6-0 victory, while Baez overwhelmed No. 13 seed Sam Riffice 6-0, 6-0.

Baez's compatriot Maria Carle was also the Orange Bowl 16s champion last year, but she was unable to continue her run on the Veltri Tennis Center courts, with the Eddie Herr champion falling to No. 9 seed Kaja Juvan of Slovenia 6-3, 6-2.  Juvan's opponent will be wild card Whitney Osuigwe, who won the battle of 14-year-olds in her 6-2, 4-6, 6-1 victory over Marta Kostyuk of Ukraine.

Having saved five match points in her last two wins, Osuigwe was a little out of her element with the lead, but she didn't mind.

"It felt good," Osuigwe said. "I wanted to keep my foot on the gas pedal."

Osuigwe had lost 6-3, 6-0 to Kostyuk in the ITF World Junior Tennis team championship match in the Czech Republic back in August, but it wasn't a need for revenge that she took from that loss.

"Because of that I knew how to play her, what to do, what not to do," said Osuigwe. "Just hit through the court and be more consistent than she was. And angles, and just running her all around."

Juvan and Osuigwe have not played before.

The top half semifinal will feature a rematch of a first round encounter in Mexico City's Grade A three weeks ago, when Carson Branstine shocked No. 1 seed Anastasia Potapova of Russia 5-7, 6-4, 7-5. Potapova was able to keep her place at the top of the ITF junior rankings when Kayla Day fell in the quarterfinals of that event. Potapova has clinched the year-end title of World Junior Champion with Day not playing this week's Orange Bowl, so that pressure is off, but Branstine's confidence is no doubt high after that result in the previous Grade A and a semifinal showing last week at the Eddie Herr.

In today's quarterfinals, Potapova defeated No. 7 seed Usue Arconada, playing in her last junior event, 6-3, 6-3.  Branstine recovered to defeat the diminutive Maja Chawlinska of Poland 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 to set up the Mexico City rematch.

The 16s finals are set for Saturday, with an all-US contest in the girls final and Steven Sun representing the US in the boys championship match.

Unseeded Katie Volynets, who won the Eddie Herr last week on hard courts and made the transition to clay without so much as a day off in between the two events, defeated unseeded Angelica Blake 6-2, 6-3 to win her 11th straight singles match.  Volynets can become the first girl to win both the 16s Eddie Herr and Orange Bowl 16s in the same year, although Riffice claimed that rare double two years ago in the boys competition.

Against Blake, whom she had beaten in the quarterfinals of the Eddie Herr, Volynets was able to keep her concentration and focus, especially when she faced break points serving at 3-2 in the second set.

"She's a very intelligent player, so I had to make to sure to stay focused on every point, especially those break points," said Volynets, who will turn 15 later this month. "I've been able to keep my aggressive mindset going into the matches and keeping it all the way through."

Volynets will play No. 14 seed Imani Graham, who defeated Austrian qualifier Arabella Koller 6-1, 7-6(4). Koller, who won three matches in qualifying, was up to seven wins in the tournament before she ran into Graham, who played very well in the first set, but began thinking about being the final in the second set.

"The first set I was just playing my game," said Graham, who is from St. Johns Florida, but trains in Mesa, Arizona with Adam Altschuler. "In the second, I was actually, wow, I can make it to the finals of  Orange Bowl, and I started thinking about it way too much. I started playing a little passive and I got kind of lucky at the end, I have to admit. She gave it to me, I didn't take it from her. In the first set, I took it, but in the second, she gave it to me."

Graham and Volynets played in the second round of Tulsa's Grade B1 Pan American Closed in October, with Volynets winning 6-3, 6-4.

"It was a pretty good match," said Graham, who also turns 15 later this month. "I lost 3 and 4, but I feel if I play my game that I have good chance. But she's a great player."

While Volynets kept her dream of the Eddie Herr - Orange Bowl double alive, Anton Matusevich of Great Britain saw his chance at it denied by unseeded Steven Sun.  The third-seeded Matusevich, so adept at winning the big points throughout his run to the Eddie Herr title, couldn't summon that magic today, falling to Sun 6-3, 7-6(4).

In the second set tiebreaker, Sun was clinging to a minibreak lead at 5-4 when he came up with a stunning backhand that landed within two inches of both the baseline and the sideline for a clean winner and two match points.  He only needed one, with Matusevich unable to get a second serve return back in play.

"I like playing pretty free," said Sun, a former New Yorker who now trains with Andres Pedroso in Boca Raton. "If it goes in, it goes in, good, but if I missed, there's another set. There's always another chance."

Sun said that winning the first set allowed him to play without pressure, but he also didn't add any by thinking about Matusevich's previous title.

"I try not to think about that, just play everyone the same way," the 16-year-old left-hander said. "But I guess it's a pretty good win for me."

Sun, who won the 12s Clay Courts back in 2013 and the 14s Easter Bowl in 2014, isn't planning any special preparations for Saturday's final.

"I try not to make too big a deal out of it," Sun said. "But yeah, it's probably one of my bigger ones."

Sun will play No. 10 seed Vikash Singh of India, who won the day's longest match, beating No. 12 seed Stefan Palosi of Romania 5-7, 6-2, 6-3.

Singh, a semifinalist last week at the Eddie Herr, trains at the Smith Stearns Academy in Hilton Head, South Carolina.

The 16s doubles championships were decided Friday, with No. 2 seeds Yeongseok Jeong of Korea and William Woodall winning the boys title in their first tournament as a team with a 2-6, 6-1, 10-5 win over No. 3 seeds Christian Alshon and Boris Kozlov.

Woodall was scheduled to play with fellow Junior Tennis Champions Center student Andrew Fenty, but Fenty dropped out, sending Woodall scrambling for a partner.

"It was last-minute, maybe three days before the tournament started," said Woodall. "I was going through the list and I couldn't really find anybody, so I asked him, and he's a pretty good partner."

Woodall and Jeong, who was the No. 1 seed in singles, were able to establish themselves in the second set, and didn't let up in the match tiebreaker.

"There was a line call that sort of got me pumped up, and after we broke and went up 3-1, 4-1 and continued the momentum into the third set," said Woodall, who won the ITF Grade 1 doubles title in College Park this year with Danny Thomas. "It was definitely a confidence booster after we won that second set pretty easily."

All the seeded teams were out of the girls 16s doubles by the quarterfinals, and it was Estonia's Saara Orav and Italy's Isabella Tcherkes Zade who collected the winners' bowl of oranges Friday, beating Anna Brylin and Amber O'Dell 7-6(1), 6-3.

The semifinals are set in the 18s doubles, with only one US junior still in the running for a title, Vasil Kirkov.  Kirkov and his partner Ergi Kirkin of Turkey, seeded No. 7, defeated No. 2 seeds Juan Aguilar of Bolivia, the US Open boys doubles champion, and Wu 7-6(5), 7-6(1).

Saturday's order of play, and complete draws can be found at the USTA's tournament site.