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Saturday, July 8, 2017

Douglas Takes Out No. 4 Seed Rybakina; Li and Thomas Also Eliminate Seeds on Day One of Wimbledon Junior Championships

©Colette Lewis 2017--

Ellie Douglas admitted to an unpleasant flashback in her first round Wimbledon junior match Saturday. Leading No. 4 seed Elena Rybakina 6-4, 3-6, 5-2, 15-40, the 17-year-old Texan couldn't help but remember her first round match with the Russian at the Grade A in Milan two months ago.

"I played her in Italy and was up 5-2 in the third and I ended up losing that match," said Douglas, who then watched Rybakina go on to win the tournament. "So I was up 5-2 this time and I lost two match points and that game, and I was like, Ellie, come on you cannot do this, you are switching it."

Douglas did close out the match on her serve in the next game, but only after five more match points came and went.

"I counted up to five, but then I was like, ok Ellie, you've got to stop counting, it's just messing with my head."

Douglas saved three break points in the seven-deuce game, but her most impressive display of composure came prior to match point No. 8, when she received a warning for coaching.

"He said the same thing, come on Ellie you can do it," Douglas said of what she heard from coach Luis Herrera. "Then [the chair umpire] said that, but I didn't even question it, because I needed to win the point. That's all I was worrying about."

That extra focus may have been enough, with Douglas finally able to exhale when Rybakina sent a forehand wide.

Although this is Douglas's first Wimbledon and just her second grass court tournament after a first round loss last week in Roehampton, she believes the surface is a good one for her.

"Throughout this week I've been training on grass and I really like it, I think it suits my game," Douglas said. "I love coming to the net and I have great volleys."

Douglas said the win was particularly satisfying, as she had lost in the first round of her last three junior events prior to this one.

"It's amazing, especially after this summer," Douglas said. "I've been struggling. I've been up a lot, in Milan, at Roland Garros I was up 5-3 in the third. It's tough, and I think tennis is tough journey anyway, so this gives me some confidence. I'm really happy right now."

Ann Li is also competing in her first Wimbledon, with her first victory coming against No. 11 seed Olga Danilovic of Serbia 6-2, 6-4.

Li marveled at the number of fans who took an interest in her match.

"So many people watch juniors," said the 17-year-old, who trains with the USTA in New York. "At the US Open, not many people watch. It feels really good. Just being here is amazing, seeing the pros so close, being in the same place. It's so cool."

Although Li doesn't have any previous experience at Wimbledon, she was confident that her game would work well on grass.

"This is like my second time playing on it, and honestly, it's my favorite surface," Li said. "It's like, really fun. I don't know, it's just different from other surfaces. In New York, there's a place nearby where we got to practice on grass. It was close to the Roehampton courts, no bounce, but it was really nice. Even if it doesn't bounce, I don't mind. I don't need it to be perfect; that's what makes it fun."

The third American junior to take out a seed was DJ Thomas, who defeated No. 14 seed Zizou Bergs of Belgium 6-4, 6-4.  Thomas, playing in just his second grass court tournament, is another fan of the surface.

"I can use my slice a lot, use my forehand a little more flat," said the 17-year-old left-hander, who reached the third round at Roehampton, losing to eventual champion Axel Geller of Argentina. "I can move to the net a lot and my slice serve is really effective, and I can serve and volley a lot more than on hard or clay. So I like it a lot more."

Thomas wasn't familiar with Bergs, but he had some secondhand scouting information that he used.

"I heard he was changing some things on his forehand and his backhand wasn't as effective," Thomas said. "But he played solid off both sides, hit his forehand pretty big. I think where I was able to take control was when I would pressure him a little more to the forehand side, because he had a bigger loop and that's kind of hard to manage on grass."

Like Li, Thomas was impressed by the fans that flock to the junior courts.

"It's just a great atmosphere," said Thomas, who is coached by former Ohio State Buckeyes Balazs Novak and Ralf Steinbach. "I was expecting to go out on like a practice court, play a match with maybe my coaches and the other coaches watching. But it's really nice to play with a crowd watching."

Thomas was the only US boy in action on Saturday to advance, with Alafia Ayeni falling to Wake Forest recruit Menelaos Efstathiou of Cyprus 3-6, 6-4, 6-4, Alexandre Rotsaert losing to No. 12 seed Yshai Oliel of Israel 6-3, 6-2 and Gianni Ross suffering a 2-6, 6-2, 6-4 loss to British wild card Aidan McHugh.

McHugh was feeling ill and took a medical timeout trailing 5-2 in the second, so when Ross was up 4-1 and serving in the third set, only a few inebriated fans standing courtside still entertained any hope of a victory for the local favorite. But the match completely turned around, with Ross having trouble getting a first serve in the court and McHugh taking and making aggressive swings, with Ross barely winning a point in the final five games.

Hailey Baptiste was the McHugh position in her match with Ingrid Brune-Olsen of Norway, trailing 4-1 in the third set before taking the final five games for a 6-1, 2-6, 6-4 victory.  Down 0-3 in the third set, Baptiste saved a break point, and the 15-year-old from Washington DC got the break back with a clutch backhand winner to make it 4-3. Brune-Olsen, who had played so well in the first half of the third set, began to struggle and with no unforced errors from Baptiste to help her, she lost her serve again, at love.  There was no drama in the final game, with Baptiste closing out her first Wimbledon win on her first match point.

No. 2 seed Whitney Osuigwe was in top form against British wild card Gemma Heath, rolling to a 6-3, 6-1 victory.  No. 7 seed Taylor Johnson went out to Amina Anshba of Russia 6-4, 6-4, a reversal of their positions at last year's US Open Junior Championships, when Johnson, then unseeded, beat Anshba, then the No. 6 seed, in the first round.

The top two seeds in the boys draw earned straight-sets victories, with Corentin Moutet of France and Yibing Wu of China advancing over Argentina's Sebastian Baez and Great Britain's Jack Draper respectively. No. 3 seed and Australian Open boys champion Zsombor Piros of Hungary was not as fortunate, falling to Timofey Skatov of Russia 6-2, 6-4.

No play is scheduled for Sunday, the traditional day off, with the remaining 14 American juniors scheduled for their first round matches on Monday. All results from today's action can be found at the ITF junior website.

Sam Querrey[24] needed only one game to get past Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France today, breaking the No. 12 seed to earn a 6-2, 3-6, 7-6(5), 1-6, 7-5 victory and a place in the second week for the second consecutive year.  Jared Donaldson and Shelby Rogers lost to Dominic Thiem and Angelique Kerber, while CoCo Vandweghe[24] beat Alison Riske 6-2, 6-4.