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Sunday, December 11, 2016

Kecmanovic Records Double Double at Metropolia Orange Bowl; Juvan Defeats ITF's Top Junior Potapova for Girls Singles Championship

©Colette Lewis 2016--
Plantation, FL--

A veteran of rain-marred finals at the Metropolia Orange Bowl, Miomir Kecmanovic affirmed his world No. 1 junior ranking by winning his second straight title at the prestigious Grade A event Sunday at the Veltri Tennis Center.  The 17-year-old Serbian's 6-3, 6-1 win over No. 2 seed Yibing Wu of China started more than an hour late due to rain showers in the area, but he did manage to finish uninterrupted and in the daylight, an improvement from last year, when his 6-3, 2-6, 7-6(5) win over Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece ended after 7:30 p.m.

Kecmanovic never trailed in Sunday's final, looking relaxed and in control throughout, with his experience in big matches a decided advantage with Wu playing in his first Grade A final. Armed with the knowledge that he had clinched the ITF's World Junior Champion title for 2016, Kecmanovic was able to concentrate on the elemental part of the game, not the consequences.

"I didn't really put too much pressure into it, because I knew that I would finish [number] one no matter what I did here," Kecmanovic said. "So I just played for myself and I just enjoyed it. I knew after Eddie Herr, but nobody told me that before the finals, so I wouldn't get nervous. Of course I was very happy, but I have to keep going and not let it get to me, to think there's nothing after this."

Wu had difficulty taking control of points, which he attributed to Kecmanovic's physical and mental strengths.

"He's really tough, he put the ball really deep," said the 17-year-old from Hangzhou. "He served and returned very good and has strong mind."

Wu said it wasn't nerves that contributed to his slow start, which resulted in breaks in his first two service games.

"No, I was not nervous," said Wu, who trains in both China and Spain, with his Spanish coach Nahun Garcia Sanchez. "But he started the match with more focus."

Not only did Kecmanovic win back-to-back Orange Bowl 18s titles, only the third boy to do so, joining Harold Solomon and Billy Martin, but he also won the rare Eddie Herr - Orange Bowl double. Current ATP No. 8 Dominic Thiem of Austria pulled off that feat back in 2011, the first year both events were on clay, while also winning the Grade 1 Yucatan Cup, then on hard court.  Since then, the Grade A in Mexico City was moved from after the Orange Bowl to before the Yucatan Cup, and Kecmanovic played all four events this year, in four consecutive weeks, winning three titles and reaching the quarterfinals of the Yucatan Cup.

Kecmanovic said the challenges of that run in his quest for No. 1 were both physical and mental.

"I did work a lot on my conditioning," Kecmanovic said. "I have a new coach and I've been working with him a lot and that obviously helped. But I think it was just mentally, because I have to keep up three, four weeks of tennis. I did that once before, so I knew how to do it again. Physically I felt good, I just had some mental problems in the quarters, I think (when he saved two set points against Rudolf Molleker of Germany), when I struggled a little, but as soon as I passed that, I thought I had a much better chance to win now."

Although Kecmanovic has lived and trained for three years at the IMG Academy, he does stay in touch with Serbian tennis. He was a practice partner for the Serbian Davis Cup team this year in their quarterfinal tie with Great Britain, and he has hit with Novak Djokovic at the slams.

"We talk sometimes after some tournaments, just to see how I am doing and where I'm at," Kecmanovic said. "I'll for sure text him just to let him know."

Kecmanovic, who lost only one set in his 12 victories at the Eddie Herr and Orange Bowl, said he might play the Roland Garros Junior Championships next year, but his goal is to keep improving his game with an eye toward moving up in the ATP rankings.

"Next year I think the transition is going to be key for me," said Kecmanovic, who is a career-high 792 in the ATP rankings. "I think my serve and my conditioning has to be much more than it is right now. My mental game, to stay focused, more focused on bigger points, and to go for more shots, I think. I think if I can do that, I can be good in the pros."

The girls final, played at the same time as the boys due to the threatening weather, resulted in a similarly dominant performance. It was not, however, by the ITF's 2016 World Junior Champion Anastasia Potapova, but by Kaja Juvan of Slovenia, who defeated the 15-year-old Russian 6-1, 6-4.

Juvan, the No. 9 seed, won the first five games of the match and closed out the first set over the reigning girls Wimbledon champion in a little over 20 minutes.  The second set was more competitive, but Juvan began to use the drop shot to great effect, winning a long game to hold for 2-2 with a perfect one and breaking Potapova at love with another drop shot winner to go up 3-2.  But it wasn't until Juvan got the second break, with Potapova double faulting three times and then watching a second-serve forehand return blast past her on game point, that Juvan felt secure.

"That game, from 4-2 to 5-2 was critical," said the 16-year-old, who was seeded No. 9 this week. "That's where she did some double faults. But it was so mentally hard, because she started to push some lighter balls, but she also waited for me, and when she got rhythm, she just played."

Juvan was broken serving for the match, but she was able to process her frustration and move on.

"When I was starting getting mad, I was like Kaja, it's a bonus, I don't care if I win or lose, I just want to play good," Juvan said. "I just wanted to keep playing, not stop the rhythm, so every time I got mad, I got....not mad. I was calm. It was 5-4 and it was like, stay calm, it's going to work out. And I had this Slovenian team supporting me, so it was very awesome for me. When I went c'mon, they went c'mon with me."

The group of several dozen Slovenians were vocal in their appreciation when Juvan's forehand forced an error from Potapova on her first match point to secure her first Grade A title and her second consecutive win over Potapova.

"She likes to play against me," said Potapova, who lost to Juvan in the semifinals of the Grade A in Milan back in May. "Because it's so comfortable for her. She used to play not attack, just play some balls, lob, slice and it's comfortable for her. But I chose the wrong style of play today. But next time, maybe."

Potapova said she is "done with juniors, I want to move to pro. Next year I will not go to Australian Open, I will miss it, and I will play some pro [tournaments] here in Florida."

With the WTA's age restrictions, Potapova will not be able to play a full schedule, but she is looking forward to competing at the next level.

"I'm not nervous, I just can't wait, I'm so excited," said Potapova, who has no WTA ranking and has played in just four $10,000 ITF Women's Circuit events. "I want to start to play as soon as possible."

Juvan is also skipping the Australian Open Junior Championships for Pro Circuit events, but is planning to play Milan, Roland Garros and perhaps Wimbledon.  She has some celebrating to do first, however. After indulging in tiramisu, her favorite dessert, she and her coach, Robert Cokan, will be settling bets they made over her performance at the Eddie Herr and Orange Bowl.

"He has to paint his hair blond," said Juvan. "Actually, I have to do it also. "It was if I win one of the tournaments, he has to paint his hair blond and if I win this one, I have to paint my hair blond. So I'm going to laugh at him, but I'm also not probably going to be satisfied with my own blond hair."

Olga Danilovic and Anastasia Potapova                     photo courtesy: Rob Foldy / USTA
Juvan and Potapova met again for the doubles final, with Potapova and her partner, Olga Danilovic of Serbia, getting the victory over Juvan and her partner, Lea Boskovic of Croatia, 6-2, 3-6, 10-8. The two teams had played just one game and two points when a deluge hit the Veltri Tennis Center around 2:30 p.m., and the match wasn't resumed until 7:30 p.m.

Danilovic and Potapova, the top seeds, saw their 7-3 lead in the match tiebreaker disappear, with Eddie Herr champions Juvan and Boskovic winning the next five points. But Potapova and Danilovic won the last three points of the match to take the trophy.

The boys doubles final, an all-Japanese contest, saw another back-to-back Orange Bowl champion, with Yuta Shimizu adding another Tiffany bowl of oranges to the one he claimed last year with Yunosuke Tanaka. Shimizu and Toru Horie, the No. 4 seeds, defeated unseeded Shinji Hazawa and Naoki Tajima, who were playing together for the first time, 6-2, 6-1.

"It was fun that we were playing against they guys that we practice with every day on this trip," Shimizu said through a translator.

"We started playing at Wimbledon and at US Open made the semifinals, so we are a good team," Shimizu added.

For complete results, see the USTA's tournament page.