Sunday, December 18, 2016

Noel Ousts Girls 14s Top Seed Krznaric, Joins Eight Other Americans in Junior Orange Bowl Semifinals

©Colette Lewis 2016--
Coral Gables, FL--

Overlooked by the Junior Orange Bowl seeding committee, Alexa Noel eliminated any doubt that she was among the best 16 players in the girls 14s draw. After defeating No. 6 seed Jimar Gerald of Chile in the third round and No. 9 seed Carol Plakk of Estonia in Saturday's round of 16, Noel proved to have too much variety for Noa Krznaric of Croatia, earning a 6-1, 7-5 victory over the No. 1 seed.

Noel admitted to being puzzled by her lack of a seed.

"If they went off ITF ranking, I still would have been one of the top seeds," said the 14-year-old from New Jersey, 352 in the ITF junior rankings. "I guess everybody I talked to about it was also a little bit confused."

Krznaric was the one confused on the court, with Noel determined to keep the 13-year-old left-hander off-balance.

"On returns, I hit slices a lot, because she doesn't like to move forward up to slices," said Noel, who engaged in very few baseline power rallies with Krznaric. "I was trying to keep it out of her strike zone."

The strategy worked perfectly in the first set, with Noel varying the pace and placement of nearly every ball. The breezy conditions also added another variable to the equation, and Krznaric's timing was off throughout the first set.

The second set was much closer.  Although Noel got an early break, she gave it back serving a 4-3, with a netcord winner for Krznaric getting her back even.  Krznaric held for 5-4, but Noel said she was still confident she could end the match in two sets.

"I feel like I play pretty well under pressure," said Noel, who trains at the Junior Tennis Champions Center in College Park, Maryland. "My serve's been pretty good the entire tournament, so even when I was down 4-5, I knew the set wasn't over, because my serve bails me out a lot."

Noel's confidence was justified, as she held, then broke Krznaric to give herself the opportunity to serve it out.  That last game is proverbially the toughest, but not for Noel.  Going ace, winner, winner, ace, Noel eliminated any potential drama, and the 2016 USTA Clay Court 16s champion had her victory.

Next up for Noel is No. 7 seed and Eddie Herr finalist Emma Raducanu of Great Britain, who defeated Natasha Sengphrachanh of Canada 6-3, 6-2.

"I played her at the back draw at Les Petits As, so I know what to expect," said Noel, who lost in three short-scoring sets. "I'm pretty close friends with her, so it should just be a good match."

The other girls 14s semifinal will feature No. 3 seed Qinwen Zheng of China against No. 2 seed Holly Fischer of Great Britain.  Zheng defeated No. 9 seed Natsumi Kawaguchi of Japan 6-3, 6-1, while Fischer beat unseeded Jada Bui of Canada 6-4, 6-1.

Noel is the only US girl remaining in the 14s, but three US boys are in the semifinals of the 14s, the first time that's happened in the 12 years I've been covering the tournament.

No. 5 seed Zane Khan had the easiest time advancing, defeating No. 17 seed Benjamin Heynold of Great Britain 6-2, 6-1.

Khan had not played Heynold before, but he talked to Niroop Vallabhaneni, who lost to Heynold on Friday, about what he should expect.

"He played my friend yesterday, and he told me what he was doing against him, how he won against him, just putting balls back in," said Khan. "I felt like he couldn't hurt me today. I was just trying to cut off the angles when I can, move forward when I can, come to net."

Khan will play top seed Bu Yunchaokete of China in a rematch of the recent Eddie Herr final, won by Khan 6-3, 6-3.  Yunchaokete looked sharp against No. 7 seed Daiki Yoshimura of Japan in today's 6-3, 6-0 quarterfinal victory.

"I feel like I just have to play the right way tomorrow," said Khan, "I need to keep doing the right things throughout the match and I think I'll do well."

There will be an American boys finalist for the first time since Michael Mmoh won the 14s title in 2012 with either No. 2 seed Alex Lee or No. 9 seed Spencer Brachman earning that honor.  Both had tough matches on Sunday, with Brachman beating No. 4 seed Santiago de la Fuente of Argentina 7-5, 4-6, 6-3 and Lee surviving against unseeded Jacobi Bain of the Bahamas 4-6, 7-6(5), 6-3.

Three US girls are through to the 12s semifinals, which will be played at the University of Miami Monday after closing out play at the Biltmore Tennis Center with today's quarterfinals. The boys 14s moved from Crandon Park on Key Biscayne to the University of Miami for today's quarterfinal matches.

No. 3 seed Vivian Ovrootsky defeated Daniella Benabraham, a No. 9 seed, 6-4, 6-1 and will face No. 2 seed Cori Gauff, who assured a US finalist by defeating unseeded Stela Peeva of Bulgaria 6-1, 6-0.

Tatiana Muzykantskaya of Russia, the No. 8 seed, defeated the last qualifier in any of the four divisions, taking out Evialina Laskevich of Belarus 6-2, 6-2.  She will play No. 4 seed Katrina Scott, who downed No. 6 seed Katja Wiersholm 7-6(5), 6-1.

The boys 12s quarterfinals featured two all-USA contests, with No. 3 seed Victor Lilov and No. 9 seed Bruno Kuzuhara earning spots in the semifinals.

Lilov claimed his first win in four tries over Evan Wen, the No. 5 seed, taking a 6-3, 6-1 decision, while Kuzuhara defeated No. 9 seed John Lasanajak 6-1, 6-0.  Kuzuhara will play unseeded Minseong Kim of Korea in the semifinals, with Kim downing No. 9 seed Ron Ellouck of Israel 6-1, 6-2.  Lilov's semifinal opponent is unseeded Adolfo Vallejo of Paraguay, who beat unseeded Dinko Dinev of Bulgaria 7-6(6), 6-3.

The boys 12s will continue to be played at Salvadore Park through Tuesday's final.

Complete results, times for Monday's semifinals, and all consolation scores, are available at the TennisLink site.


confused said...

Alexa Noel has, I think, the highest Universal Tennis Rating of any girl in the 14s. She's also one of the top-ranked in the USTA, on Tennis Recruiting, and on ITF. I'm a little confused too. None of this seems to have stopped her from playing very well!

Angie Williams said...

Reading back now, the poor decision of those around Noel to build her game on slice, slice, slice becomes evident. It is one thing when you are 13 and can beat players with it but looking st her record as she gets older the tactic is not that great against better girls coming up who have more complete games. In a few years if she is still playing everything will be high to her backhand or just pounded so hard by players who know how to add pace to slow slice balls. I watched her training for a few days and she just would not listen to her coach. After a few slices to warm up it was off to a long rest from the heat! A bright future in Fruit Ninja or maybe a bakery but doubt it will translate to a long term career in tennis.