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

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Volynets Makes History, Sun Takes Boys Title at 16s Orange Bowl; ITF Top Juniors Kecmanovic and Potapova Reach Grade A Finals

©Colette Lewis 2016--
Plantation, FL--

A long day of waiting out the rain showers ended on a positive note for Americans Katie Volynets and Steven Sun. Originally scheduled back-to-back matches on the Veltri Tennis Center's Stadium court, the 16s singles finalists at the Metropolia Orange Bowl endured a nearly six-hour rain delay, forcing the matches to be played simultaneously. Although Sun was two points from defeat in his 3-6, 7-5, 6-1 victory over Vikash Singh of India, and Volynets completed her 6-4, 6-3 win over Imani Graham without those dramatics, both matches, which started in daylight, finished within minutes of each other under the lights.

The 14-year-old Volynets, whose reputation for focus and composure is well established, said the long wait to take the court did have an impact on her.

"It was difficult for me to wait, because I was so excited to go and play," said the unseeded Volynets, a Walnut Creek, California resident. "All of a sudden, when I had to wait, I got a little bit more tight, and all this waiting, I didn't even know if I was going to go on today. All of a sudden I go on, and I'm like, whoa, I'm on the court. It was kind of hard."

Volynets lost the first game to No. 14 seed Graham, who like Volynets, will turn 15 later this month. But Volynets got the break back in the next game and managed to keep Graham from changing the momentum in the match, although nearly every point and every game was closely contested.

"Katie is an awesome player and smart on court," Graham said. "With the close games, she really focused, and I feel like her mental game was a little bit stronger than mine today."

The depth of Volynets mental strength was probably best displayed back on Monday, when less than 24 hours after she had won the Eddie Herr 16s title on hard courts, she was in Plantation, playing and winning on Har-Tru clay.

"Personally, I expected it to be very, very difficult," Volynets said of the transition. "But I kind of got a groove on the clay at first, and it wasn't that difficult for me to go from hard to clay."

Volynets said she definitely prefers hard courts to clay, with little exposure to Har-Tru in Northern California, which makes her six straight-sets wins this week even more impressive.

Volynets also becomes the first girl to win the 16s Eddie Herr and Orange Bowl in the same year, an accomplishment she was unaware of until after the match.

"No, I didn't know that," said Volynets, who won the Nationals 12s in 2014 and the National 14s in 2015. "Now I'm really happy and I feel really good. I appreciate these titles very much. They mean a lot to me because I know these are internationals, while the other ones were nationals, so this to me is almost a bigger deal. I feel really good, but of course I'm going to go back to work and back on the court when I get home."

Sun looked to be headed for a straight-sets loss when No. 10 seed Singh served for the match at 6-3, 5-3.  Having been broken at love to give Singh and opportunity to serve for the match, the unseeded Sun had no reason to expect a momentum change, but he continued to battle and Singh went down a break point at 30-40. Singh's shot just missed the baseline and Sun stopped play and asked for a mark check, which went in Sun's favor, and from there, Sun took control of the match.

Sun held at love, broke Singh with a forehand winner at 30-40 for a 6-5 lead and took the set on his third set point, with his forehand continuing to be the determining factor on most of the points.

"I had nothing to lose," said Sun, a 16-year-old who lives in Boca Raton. "I was down a set and 5-3, so I just decided to go for it and it worked out. I got a couple of lucky bounces. I think he did get a little upset, but I think I played pretty well to close out that set and start out the third. It's tough to come back from losing that lead."

The third set was all Sun, and Singh's medical timeout down 4-1 didn't stall Sun's momentum, as Sun held for 5-1 and broke at love to claim the title, sending his racquet flying in celebration.

"He played some of the best tennis I had ever seen in that opening set," said Sun. "I had no idea what to do, but I just hung in there."

Singh admitted he was not able to match Sun's level after losing his chance to serve out the match in the second set.

"At 5-3 he took control of the game and was more aggressive than me," said the 16-year-old, who trains at the Smith-Stearns Academy in Hilton Head, South Carolina. "In the second set, he stepped up, he played well, I give him credit."

Sun, who beat Eddie Herr champion Anton Matusevich of Great Britain in the semifinals, attributed his success this week to his willingness to fight through the tough stretches he encountered.

"I definitely competed well," said Sun. "Sometimes I didn't play my best tennis, but I hung in there and I got my chances and took advantage of them."

The 18s semifinals were played at the same time as the 16s finals, on courts that are not typically show courts, but were used because they were in the best condition after the rain.

World No. 1 juniors Miomir Kecmanovic of Serbia and Anastasia Potapova of Russia continued their marches through the draws, with Kecmanovic defeating unseeded Danny Thomas 6-3, 6-4 and Potapova beating unseeded Carson Branstine 6-4, 6-0.

Kecmanovic and Thomas had not met before, with Thomas playing in his first Grade A event, and Kecmanovic admitted Thomas's game was a challenge for him.

"I think I needed time to get used to his game," said the 17-year-old, who trains at the IMG Academy in Bradenton. "I think he's a difficult opponent to play, because he's lefty, but also because he can start playing really good, get hot a couple of shots and keep that momentum going, so I just tried to put as much balls in the court as I can and finally paid off."

Kecmanovic had been broken several times in the second set, so serving out the match was not likely to be easy.  But at 30-all, Kecmanovic hit two good first serves that Thomas could not get back in play, and having that capability is something Kecmanovic has been working toward throughout the year.

"It paid off a lot," said Kecmanovic. "I've been working on it a lot for this year and I'm happy it works. It's gotten me through some tough situations throughout the year, but I think I still need to be a little bit more consistent and then I think I'll be fine."

Kecmanovic is looking to become the first repeat champion since Billy Martin, now the UCLA men's head coach, won in 1973 and 1974, and the first player to win the Eddie Herr and Orange Bowl in the same year since Dominic Thiem of Austria in 2011.

Kecmanovic's opponent will be No. 2 seed Yibing Wu of China, who has never won more than one match at a Grade A until this week.  The 17-year-old Wu, who won the Asian/Oceania Grade B1 Closed last month, eliminated 2015 16s champion Sebastian Baez of Argentina 6-3, 3-6, 6-2.

Potapova had lost to Branstine last month in the first round of the Grade A Abierto Juvenil Mexicano, but the 15-year-old said that loss had little to do with her dominating performance today.

"In Mexico City, sometimes it happens, you lose," Potapova said. "But my motivation is to finish the year the best way, to win it. She's a great player, and I'm just so happy to be through it."

Potapova, who did not play Eddie Herr, said she has seen her game improve throughout the week.

"The first round, I played good," Potapova said. "The second round was not so good, but I told myself, it's OK, tomorrow is going to be better. And now, it's better and better and now I'm so good, so I just want to keep it going."

In the final, Potapova will face another player who has beaten her in a Grade A, No. 9 seed Kaja Juvan of Slovenia.  Juvan, who ended the run of 14-year-old wild card Whitney Osuigwe with a 6-1, 6-3 victory in the semifinals, defeated Potapova in the semifinals of the Grade A Italian Open 6-4, 4-6, 6-2.

"I wouldn't say I have a lot of confidence," the 16-year-old Juvan said of facing Potapova. "I would just say I fight every point, because she's a good player and I know that not all of us have the best days always when you play. I guess she could have played better that day, so I'm just going to fight for every point. It doesn't matter if I win or lose, I just want to enjoy this moment. Because I know she can play. That's why she's the first player. It's an honor and joy to play her, because she's so young and so good."

Juvan said her experience was part of her advantage over Osuigwe in today's match.

"I feel you have to play smart against these younger girls, because they like to play strong, flat," said Juvan. "I take it that I have to outsmart them, to play what they dislike. Eventually she just got very nervous, and she started to say things, like, I don't like the wind, all my balls are going out, and so I take it that I'm smarter in that way. I've played more matches in the wind. I didn't get nervous, I was just enjoying it."

Like Potapova, Juvan said she found her game after the second round.

"Here I had to win in the first and second round to be comfortable," said Juvan. "I could only relax when I played against a better player, So when I played Olga (No. 6 seed Danilovic), that's when I loosened up and that's when I started playing really well."

Juvan and Potapova will also face off in the doubles final, after both won their evening semifinal matches.

Juvan and partner Lea Boskovic of Croatia, seeded No. 8, defeated No. 2 seeds Emily Appleton and Jodie Burrage of Great Britain 6-0, 6-1 to remain undefeated. Juvan and Boskovic won a $10K doubles title in October and won the Eddie Herr last week. Potapova and Danilovic, the No. 1 seeds, came back to defeated No. 4 seeds En Shuo Liang of Taiwan and Xiyu Wang of China 4-6, 7-6(3), 10-0.

The boys doubles final will be an all-Japanese contest, with unseeded Shinji Hazawa and Naoki Tajima taking on No. 4 seeds Toru Horie and Yuta Shimizu. Shimizu, who won the Orange Bowl doubles title last year with Yunosuke Tanaka, and Horie defeated No. 7 seeds Ergi Kirkin of Turkey and Vasil Kirkov 3-6, 6-3, 10-6.  Hazawa and Tajima saved a match point in eliminating top seeds and Eddie Herr champion Kecmanovic and Benjamin Sigouin of Canada 1-6, 7-6(6), 10-8.

For draws and more on the tournament, see the USTA tournament page.