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Friday, July 7, 2017

Liu Wins Roehampton Grade 1, Korda Takes Doubles Title; Greif, Black and Flores Qualify for Wimbledon Junior Championships

©Colette Lewis 2017--

This is my sixth Wimbledon, but before today I had never ventured out to Roehampton, the site of the ITF Grade 1 warmup event. This year I got to London a day early, and with both Sam Riffice and Claire Liu in the singles finals and Americans in both doubles finals, plus a warm and sunny day, I thought today would be a good time for my first trip.

The Bank of England Sports Ground is not an easy place to get to with an uncharacteristic lack of public transportation, which seems particularly odd with the University of Roehampton nearby. But many a Division I men's college coach caught a cab or an Uber, with Wake Forest's Tony Bresky, Princeton's Billy Pate, Tulane's Mark Booras, TCU's David Roditi, Duke's Ramsey Smith and Oklahoma's Nick Crowell just a few of the men's head coaches I spotted.  But while they were watching the final round of qualifying, I stayed on the front two courts, where the boys and girls singles finals were played.

The baseline of Court 10 today at Roehampton
If you've been watching Wimbledon, you can see how beat up the courts are already, with the hot and sunny weather and little rain accelerating the wear and tear.  Roehampton, which hosted the men's and women's qualifying last week and the Grade 1 this week, was more brown than green, by a wide margin. But a worn surface was not going to stop Liu, who defeated Kaja Juvan of Slovenia 6-2, 6-2 to take the title.

The 17-year-old Californian didn't drop a set this week, with her only loss in the juniors this year coming in the final of the French Open Junior Championships. Liu said her success in 2017, which includes two $25,000 Pro Circuit titles this spring, is a result of a change in her attitude.

"Last year was kind of rough," Liu said. "I wasn't having the results I wanted, my ranking wasn't where I wanted it to be. I don't know, this year I just focused on getting better, on the process, and I think that really helped. If I just get better every day, I know the results will come."

Liu's two $25,000 titles, one in Florida and one in Italy, came on clay, but she is a fan of grass.

"I've been working on getting an all around game, being able to do everything, so grass definitely helps the aggressive aspect of it," Liu said. "Coming to the net, being really aggressive, yeah, I like it, a lot."

Juvan, who won the Orange Bowl last December, took a medical timeout with Liu up 3-2 in the second set, but she did not blame her heavily wrapped leg for the loss.

"I think I stretched it yesterday, and today it just got worse," said the unseeded 16-year-old, who lost in the first round of both Roehampton and Wimbledon last year. "She played very well and I should be 100 percent to beat her.  I was a bit tired also, so I couldn't perform my best. It's a good week. I wish I could have played better in the finals, I guess, and not have problems for Wimbledon, but I got some pretty good matches. I'm going rest now for a few days and I hope Monday will be better."

The boys final also featured a medical timeout, but unlike Juvan's, it marked a turning point, with unseeded Axel Geller of Argentina winning 10 of the last 11 games to beat Riffice 3-6, 6-2, 6-0.  At 2-1 in the second set, Geller called for the trainer, who worked on his left calf.

When Geller resumed play, he adopted a new game style.

"I started the match, not nervous, but a bit tight," said the 18-year-old, who will be a freshman at Stanford this September. "His game was bothering me a bit and I wasn't doing what I should. I am an offensive type player and I wasn't actually going for my shots, so having that pain made me have to play much more offensive, try at least to play shorter points. It obliged me to play more aggressive and I started playing better again.  After the medical timeout, I played a really good return game, some close balls went to my side and I started picking up confidence too. He might have lost concentration maybe, but it's not my fault, it started hurting."

Riffice thought the delay was costly to him.

"I played pretty good at the start, and then he took a medical timeout and he came out and didn't miss any balls," said Riffice, also unseeded this week. "He just overpowered me, and I couldn't do anything. It was like a 10-minute break and I think I definitely loss some momentum, but he picked up his game a lot."

Riffice, who is in the class of 2018, committed to Florida this spring and since then he has made the finals of two Futures tournaments.

"I think I've been working hard and it's started to pay off," Riffice said. "But once I committed, I got a little bit, I don't know, happier, to be playing, just excited for what's going to happen in the future. I definitely think I've been more relaxed when I've been playing."

Geller, who has been training at IMG in Bradenton since April, said he enjoys fast courts.

"This is my first grass tournament ever," said Geller, who arrived a week early to get the feel of grass court tennis. "I've heard at Wimby, the bounces are better, are like hard court, as good as hard court, but faster, which I like. I'll adapt, I think."

Geller, who has drawn Uisung Park of Korea, will be unseeded at Wimbledon, as will Riffice, who drew No. 4 seed Yu Hsiou Hsu of Taiwan. Liu, the No. 3 seed at Wimbledon, will play Tatiana Pieri of Italy, while Juvan has been drawn against No. 5 seed Marta Kostyuk of Ukraine, the 2017 Australian Open girls champion. All those matches will be scheduled for Monday.

Kostyuk, who lost to Liu in the semifinals at Roehampton, got some revenge in the doubles final.  Kostyuk and Carson Branstine of Canada, playing together for the first time, beat top seeds Liu and Taylor Johnson 6-2, 7-5.

Branstine, who has won both the Australian and the French girls doubles titles this year, needed a new partner when Bianca Andreescu of Canada decided that she would stop playing juniors after the French.

"We were in the locker room at Roland Garros talking about doubles, and I was like, wait, do you have a partner for Wimbledon," Branstine said. "She said no, and I was like, let's play. It happened so casually. I thought going into the tournament we could do well, both of us are good doubles players in past tournaments, so I wouldn't see why we wouldn't make a good team."

Kostyuk said she has some reservations about grass, while Branstine would prefer to play on it more often.

"I fell down like 20 times already," said the 15-year-old Kostyuk. "But I'm here and I'm healthy and that's the most important thing."

"I love the grass," said Branstine, who grew up in Southern California, but began playing for Canada this spring. "I wish there was more than two junior tournaments a year on a grass court, because I think it fits both of games well and I'm excited for Wimbledon."

Boys doubles champions Sebastian Korda and Nicolas Mejia already have quite a history of doubles success as a team, so they did not panic when trailing France's Louis Dussin and Hugo Gaston 8-6 in the match tiebreaker, going on to win the final four points of the match for a 6-3, 3-6, 10-8 victory.

"The last time we played together, in [the Grade 1 International Spring Championships] Carson, we won it in a match tiebreaker," Korda said. "We have unbelievable chemistry, we're always together, we're best friends and we practice together. So we know once we get into a third set breaker the chemistry is going to take over, we're going to play loose and play our best tennis."

"At 8-6, Sebi was returning," Mejia said. "And when you have Sebi on your side, things are a lot easier."

Korda and Mejia, 17, are both playing their first Wimbledon next week and are looking forward to another run on the grass courts.

"It's a special feeling to play on a grass court, singles or doubles," Korda said. "Yes, on Monday, a new journey begins," Mejia added.

Three Americans advanced to the Wimbledon main draw through qualifying: Hurricane Tyra Black, Victoria Flores and Lukas Greif. Black, the No. 7 seed, defeated No. 13 seed Valeryia Deminova of Russia 6-1, 3-6, 6-1, while Flores, the No. 4 seed, beat No. 16 seed Malene Helgo of Norway 6-4, 7-5.

Greif avenged his loss to Ajeet Rai of New Zealand in the final round of Roehampton qualifying, coming out on top in the final round of Wimbledon juniors qualifying by a 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 score.

Main draw play for the juniors begins on Saturday at the All England Lawn Tennis Club, with 16 girls matches and 13 boys matches on the schedule. Americans in action on Saturday are Hailey Baptiste, Gianni Ross, Whitney Osuigwe[2], Ellie Douglas, Taylor Johnson[7], Danny Thomas, Alexandre Rotsaert, Alafia Ayeni and Ann Li.

Live scoring will be available at the Wimbledon website. Junior draws are available here.

Venus Williams[10] defeated Naomi Osaka of Japan 7-6(3), 6-4 to advance to the women's fourth round, while Steve Johnson[26] lost to Marin Cilic [7] of Croatia 6-4, 7-6(3), 6-4 and Madison Brengle fell to No. 21 seed Caroline Garcia of France 6-4, 6-3.  Sam Querrey[24] was leading Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France 6-5 in the fifth set when play was suspended due to darkness.

Jared Donaldson, Shelby Rogers, Alison Riske and CoCo Vandeweghe[24] play on Saturday, with Riske and Vandeweghe meeting for a place in the second week.