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Saturday, July 15, 2017

Liu Defeats Li to Claim Wimbledon Girls Title; Geller and Davidovich Fokina in Boys Final Sunday; McNally and Osuigwe Advance to Girls Doubles Final

©Colette Lewis 2017--

Claire Liu knew the feeling of coming up short in a junior slam final, losing in three sets to fellow American Whitney Osuigwe at the French Open last month.

On a gray and gloomy Saturday, playing in front of thousands of fans on the All England Lawn Tennis Club’s storied Court 1, Liu experienced the sweeter side of a championship match, overcoming a determined Ann Li 6-2, 5-7, 6-2 to become the first American to win the Wimbledon girls title since Chandra Rubin in 1992.

After light rain delayed the start of the match by 90 minutes, Liu, the No. 3 seed, played the first set with a determination indicating neither nerves nor that Roland Garros result was going to deter her. Li, like Liu 17, but unlike Li, new to the biggest stages of junior tennis, admitted that the first set, just 25 minutes long, flew by.

But Li did begin to challenge Liu on her final service game of the opening set, forcing Liu to save a break point before claiming the set. The hopes for a long, competitive match dimmed when Liu broke in the first game of the second set, but Li broke back, a sequence repeated in the third and fourth games.  Li got the first hold of the second set for a 3-2 lead, but gave up another break, and Liu held for 5-3.  After Li held for 5-4, Liu had a routine win in her sights, going up 40-0, but she was unable to convert on any of the three match points.

Li's backhand return forced an error on the first match point, and a double fault erased the second.  Liu forced the issue on the third match point, coming to the net, but Li hit a forehand pass for a winner. Then Li's backhand began to heat up, and a sizzling winner got her the break for 5-5.

Li credited the crowd for her surge during the final games of the second set.

"The crowd was getting into it for sure," said Li, who lives in the Philadelphia area and trains at the USTA's Training Center in New York. "I could hear like, go Ann. It kind of got me going I guess. But I just put a lot of energy in and gave it my all. I just kind of let go."

Li held quickly to go up 6-5, and in the next game Liu couldn't convert six game points.  Another penetrating backhand finally gave Li a set point, and she converted with Liu unable to get Li's overhead back in play.

"I was definitely disappointed," Liu said of her inability to convert her match points. "But I knew if I just tried to keep playing the next point, than I would have a better chance at winning, than thinking back on those three points."

As in the first two sets, Li was broken to open the third set, and Liu was able to come back from 0-40 down to take a 2-0 lead. Although Li made Liu work hard to hold serve, Liu did hang on to that early break, then got a second with Li serving down 2-4. A big c'mon from Liu after she put away a backhand for a 5-2 lead demonstrated how important Liu thought that second break was.

Serving for the match a second time, Liu took a 40-15 lead, but she couldn't convert on her fourth match point, with a Li backhand forcing an error.  On match point No. 5, Liu finally could celebrate, letting out a loud c'mon and collapsing to the court, lying flat on her back for a few seconds before jumping up to share an embrace with Li at the net.

"It feels amazing," said Liu, who lives in Thousand Oaks California, the same city where men's semifinalist Sam Querrey grew up, and trains, as Querrey does, at the USTA's Training Center in Carson. "I'm literally so speechless. I just keep smiling all the time. I still can't even believe it. I mean, it's like a dream come true."

Li, who was playing Liu for the first time, saw for herself why Liu has had so much success this spring and summer, on both the ITF Junior and Pro Circuits.

"I think that she's just really solid," said Li. "She knows herself well and she figures out her opponent too. I think she tries to put pressure on from the beginning. I know she was a little bit nervous too, at the beginning, and she just played better than I did."

Li is not sure if she'll play the $15,000 USTA Pro Circuit event in Evansville Indiana week after next, so her next event may be the Nationals in San Diego.

Liu, who will take over the No. 1 ranking in the ITF Juniors with her title, is planning to play the $60,000 USTA Pro Circuit tournament in Sacramento and the qualifying of the Bank of the West Classic at Stanford before the USTA Nationals in San Diego. But her immediate plans centered around dinner Saturday evening.

"I'll probably just hang out with friends," Liu said when asked how she would celebrate. "I haven't had Indian food. I love the Indian food here. I'm definitely going to go Indian tonight."

The boys final on Sunday will feature unseeded Axel Geller of Argentina and No. 8 seed Alejandro Davidovich Fokina of Spain.  Geller, last week's Roehampton champion, came from a break down in the final set to defeat top seed Corentin Moutet of France 1-6, 6-3, 6-3, while Davidovich won last five games of the match to defeat Patrick Kypson 6-4, 6-4.

Geller, who is now 11-0 in his career on grass, was down 2-1 in the third with Moutet serving at 40-0 in the final set.

"It was 40-love and he played two really loose points, I didn't do much there to be honest," said Geller, who is the first boy from Argentina to play in the Wimbledon final.  "The following point was the turning point. I fell to the ground after hitting a big cross court backhand, I slipped, and he saw that, but he barely made the ball because my backhand was really big. I got up, made the following ball and he misses, and I managed to break.  That's when I started competing much better. I played much better then, much more focused. I just lost my fear, let's say, and I competed very hard and played really good after that."

Davidovich trailed Kypson 4-1 in the second set, but although he said he was not playing particularly well, he kept himself mentally in the set.

"He won one break, he played well," said the 18-year-old, who is the first Spaniard in the boys Wimbledon final since Javier Sanchez in 1986. "Until 4-1, when I changed my mind, and was thinking, OK, this is my opportunity and I have to do. My mind was very good today. 4-1 down, another player might think third set, but I was thinking no, no, I don't want a third set. I don't want to give one set to him. It was my mind, not the game. The game was not too good today."

Kypson, who had saved four match points in his second round win over No. 5 seed Yuta Shimizu and won 8-6 in the third in the third round, expressed regret over not closing out the second set.

"Obviously I'm a little frustrated I couldn't get that set and see what would happen in the third, but it is what it is," Kypson said. "He definitely put more returns in on my service games, and I think he raised the pace of the ball a little bit. But I made some dumb shot selections and gave him the break back, so it's partly my fault."

Davidovich said the game he'll face on Sunday will present a challenge.

"I saw that he won Roehampton," said Davidovich, who did not play the warmup Grade 1 last week. "He plays so strong, serves so strong and plays very flat. I think tomorrow will be a very tough match, very tough."

Geller said the game he will face on Sunday will also be different from what he encountered in his win over Moutet.

"His game is similar to mine, he also tries to go for the balls," Geller said. "Be offensive, try to dictate and make the match depend on him. I think it's going to be interesting. It's different from today's kid. He had so many more tools. He could hit drop shots, slices, which were so hard, but he's got much more power."

Geller, who admitted that all the match play over the past two weeks have kept the training staff busy treating him, is still marveling at his run over the past two weeks.

"To think before this I had never played on grass," said Geller, who is starting at Stanford this fall. "That's just insane. And to think a guy from Argentina and from Spain are playing on grass. But you see our game styles and it makes sense. I just hope I can enjoy it, mostly, and hope I can win. But no matter the result, I hope I can have a good time out there."

The doubles finals are set for Sunday, with Caty McNally returning to the girls doubles final for the second straight year.  McNally and her partner Whitney Osuigwe, the No. 4 seeds, dominated top seeds Carson Branstine of Canada and Marta Kostyuk of Ukraine in the semifinals, earning a 6-2, 6-2 victory and ending Branstine's quest for the junior grand slam in doubles.  McNally and Osuigwe will face unseeded Kaja Juvan of Slovenia and Olga Danilovic of Serbia, who defeated unseeded Sofia Sewing and Maria Portillo Ramirez of Mexico 6-4, 6-3 in semifinals.

Geller, playing with Yu Hsiou Hsu of Taiwan, advanced to the boys doubles final against Jurij Rodionov of Austria and Michael Vrbensky of the Czech Republic.  Geller and Hsu, the No. 2 seeds, beat unseeded Matteo Martineau of France and Blake Ellis of Australia 7-6(5), 6-7(3), 10-8 in two hours and 13 minutes of play.  Rodionov and Vrbensky defeated unseeded Sebastian Korda and Nicolas Mejia of Colombia 6-3, 6-4 in a match contested on Court 1.

Complete junior draws can be found at the Wimbledon website.

Venus Williams lost in the women's final today, falling to Garbine Muguruza of Spain 7-5, 6-0.  For more on that match, see this article from the Wimbledon website.