Schedule a training visit to the prestigious Junior Tennis Champions Center in College Park, MD by clicking on the banner above

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Riffice, Thomas, Arconada and Osuigwe Reach Metropolia Orange Bowl Quarterfinals; 16s Semifinals Set; Kathy Rinaldi Named Fed Cup Captain

©Colette Lewis 2016--
Plantation, FL--

For the second straight day, Whitney Osuigwe was forced to save match points to advance at the ITF Grade A Metropolia Orange Bowl. The 14-year-old wild card saved two match points in her 0-6, 6-2, 7-6(3) win over Lea Ma in Wednesday's second round, and today against Daniela Vismane of Latvia, Osuigwe saved three match points in the third set of her 6-4, 4-6, 7-5 victory.

Both Osuigwe and Vismane were visibly struggling, with the mid-80s heat sapping their energy, at least when the ball wasn't in play. Both appeared to be cramping at times during the match, and after the first set, Vismane requested an ice bag, which she placed on her head during changeovers. Osuigwe looked particularly fragile in the second set, but Vismane's issues kept her hopeful.

"She was hurting too, so I decided if she was in as much pain as me, it's whoever deals with it better," Osuigwe said.

Vismane had the finish line in sight at 5-3, and with Osuigwe serving at 4-5, but couldn't convert three match points.  When Osuigwe broke Vismane to take a 6-5 lead, Vismane received a medical timeout and treatment, but the fight appeared to go out of the 16-year-old, who had beaten No. 2 seed Amanda Anisimova on Wednesday.  She fell behind 0-40 serving to get into a tiebreaker, and although Osuigwe made two errors on the first match points, she converted the third, with little reaction from Vismane.

"I think she gave up, decided it was her time," said Osuigwe. "She was feeling really fatigued. I knew I just had to stay in it."

Osuigwe will play fellow 14-year-old Marta Kostyuk of Ukraine in Friday's quarterfinals, after Kostyuk came back to post a 2-6, 6-1, 6-3 victory over qualifier Meiling Wang of China. Osuigwe and Kostyuk played in the ITF World Junior Tennis 14-and-under team final back in August, with Kostyuk winning the No. 1 singles match 6-3, 6-0 in Ukraine's 2-1 victory.

Another impressive comeback in Thursday's third round was constructed by Danny Thomas, who trailed Oliver Crawford 2-5, 15-40 in the third set before saving three match points in a 2-6, 6-2, 7-5 victory.

At 15-40, Thomas hit three straight aces, and he wasn't quite sure where the inspiration for that came from.

"Actually that was my fourth ace of the tournament," said Thomas, a 17-year-old from Ohio, who is playing in his first ITF Grade A this week. "They came at a big time, and I'm just happy they came."

While Crawford could do nothing on those first two match points, he did earn a third on his serve at 5-3, 40-30 and he's not likely to forget the forehand he put into the net on a short ball then.

"I was very lucky on that one," Thomas said. "It was a sitter and he'd hit winners off of that the whole match, but I guess he might have gotten a little tight, which is expected. I just got lucky there, really lucky."

Crawford's level, which had been so high throughout the match, dipped a bit after that third match point, while Thomas locked in and eliminated his errors.  After a big forehand forced an error from Crawford at 5-5 30-40, Thomas would serve for the match. His first serve wasn't there for him, but he stayed aggressive and Crawford's forehand return of a second serve went long to make it 40-30.  After a short rally, Thomas decided on a drop shot, which skimmed the tape then died out of Crawford's reach.

"I figured I would just go for it," Thomas said of the drop shot. "I wasn't really feeling too confident in my forehand, that shot specifically. I just figured, why not, just close into the net."

Thomas will face No. 4 seed Yuta Shimizu in the quarterfinals, after Shimizu defeated Alexandre Rotsaert 6-1, 7-5.

The other US boy in the quarterfinals is No. 13 seed Sam Riffice, who beat qualifier Sangeet Sridhar 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 in the other all-US third round matchup.

Riffice had a 4-1 lead in the third set, but lost his break serving at 4-2. But if being broken at love at such a crucial stage in the match bothered him, Riffice didn't show it, and he gave credit to Sridhar for continuing his aggressive play.

"He doesn't let up, he doesn't stop playing his game," Riffice said of Sridhar. "He goes for his shots and if I give him any time to step in, he's going to hit a big shot, and I wasn't pressing him enough."

Riffice broke Sridhar for a 5-3 lead and closed out the match by holding at love.

"It was probably the first time in the match I served [a game] out at love," Riffice said with a smile.

Riffice's win set up a match between the past two Orange Bowl 16s champions.  Riffice, who won the title in 2014, will play 2015 champion Sebastian Baez of Argentina, who beat Vasil Kirkov 6-4, 6-4.

Top seed and defending champion Miomir Kecmanovic rolled to his ninth straight Orange Bowl victory, beating No. 15 seed Naoki Tajima of Japan 6-1, 6-0.  He will face No. 11 seed Rudolph Molleker of Germany, who beat Sergio Hernandez Ramirez of Colombia 6-2, 6-3. Kecmanovic has beaten Molleker both times they have met in 2016 in straight sets.

No. 2 seed Yibing Wu of China defeated Toru Horie of Japan 2-6, 6-3, 6-3 and will meet No. 5 seed Kenneth Raisma of Estonia in the quarterfinals. Raisma beat Marko Miladinovic of Serbia 6-3, 7-6(5).

In the girls third round, No. 4 seed Taylor Johnson and No. 3 seed Claire Liu were both eliminated.

Eddie Herr champion Maria Carle defeated Abierto Juvenil Mexicano champion Johnson 6-2, 6-1.  Johnson lost a 14-deuce game serving at 2-4 in the first set, and Carle, the reigning 16s Orange Bowl champion, rolled on from there. Carle's opponent in the quarterfinals will be No. 9 seed Kaja Juvan of Slovenia, who beat No. 6 seed Olga Danilovic 6-4, 6-0.

Liu fell to friend and longtime Southern California rival Carson Branstine 6-1, 2-6, 6-3.

"I think I've know Claire since I was like 7 or 8," said Branstine, who will be representing Canada and training at that country's National Tennis Centre in Montreal in the near future. "We trained with each other up at Carson (the USTA's Player Development Center on the West Coast) when we were so little. And tournaments in So Cal, we kind of grew up together. It was actually my first time playing her in a tournament, in all those years. I have so much respect for Claire as a player and she's a really good competitor, and we had a great match today."

With Liu serving at 3-5 in the third set, Branstine had five match points come and go with a variety of errors by her and winners by Liu. After Branstine's perfect drop shot on the sixth deuce gave her a sixth match point, she finally converted when Liu sent a forehand long.

"I saw it and I thought, why not just try it, I have nothing to lose at this point," the 16-year-old Branstine said of the drop shot. "I want this match to be done. I had to do something to win, so I thought, I'll just throw in some junk and see what happens."

Branstine will face unseeded Maja Chwalinska of Poland, who defeated Mihaela Marculescu of Romania 6-1, 6-1.

Top seed Anastasia Potapova of Russia advanced to the quarterfinals with a 6-2, 6-1 win over Emiliana Arango of Colombia and will play No. 7 seed Usue Arconada, who beat qualifier Victoria Emma 6-0, 6-3. Potapova and Arconada met in the quarterfinals of the Wimbledon Junior Championships this summer, with Potapova winning 6-3, 6-2.

The semifinals of the 16s are set, with three US girls and one US boy still in the running for the singles title.

Unseeded Steven Sun survived a three-hour contest with unseeded Marcelo Sepulveda Garza of Mexico, coming back from a break down in the third set twice for a 3-6, 7-6(3), 7-6(5) victory.  Sun will play No. 3 seed Anton Matusevich of Great Britain, who beat unseeded Trey Hilderbrand 6-2, 3-6, 6-3.  The other boys 16s semifinal features No. 12 seed Stefan Palosi of Romania, who beat No. 4 seed Brian Shi 6-4, 6-4, and No. 10 seed Vikash Singh of India, who downed unseeded Drew Baird 6-4, 6-7(1), 6-1.

The only seed in the girls 16s, No. 14 Imani Graham, will play qualifier Arabella Koller of Austria. Graham defeated wild card Nikki Redelijk 6-3, 6-2 and Koller downed Lauren Stein 6-4, 3-6, 6-3.  The other girls semifinal will be a rematch of the Eddie Herr quarterfinals between Angelica Blake and Katie Volynets.  Volynets won that match last Friday 0-6, 7-5, 6-2.  Today, Volynets defeated qualifier Elvina Kalieva 7-5, 6-0, while Blake took out Amber O'Dell 6-1, 5-7, 6-2.

The 16s doubles finals are scheduled for Friday morning with the boys contest between No. 3 seeds Christian Alshon and Boris Kozlov and No. 2 seeds Yeongseok Jeong of Korea and William Woodall.  The girls finals features two unseeded teams, with Anna Brylin and O'Dell facing Saara Orav of Estonia and Isabella Tcherkes Zade of Italy.

For Friday's order of play, draws and a link to live scoring, see the USTA's tournament page.

The USTA announced today that National Coach Kathy Rinaldi has been chosen as Fed Cup captain, replacing Mary Joe Fernandez.  I have known Rinaldi for years and have seen her in action coaching both individual juniors and the USA's teams in international junior competitions and she has always been caring, enthusiastic and dedicated to the players' best interests.  Rinaldi-coached teams have won two U14 World Junior Tennis titles and two U16 Junior Fed Cup titles since she began coaching at the USTA in 2008.  For more on Rinaldi's career both as a player and a coach, see this USTA article.

The transcript from today's conference call announcing Rinaldi's selection is here.