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Sunday, September 10, 2017

Anisimova Downs Gauff for US Open Girls Championship; Wu Makes History with Boys Title; Danilovic and Kostyuk Claim Girls Doubles Crown

©Colette Lewis 2017--
Flushing Meadow NY--

After a discouraging loss in the first round of women's qualifying, 16-year-old Amanda Anisimova was determined to end her three weeks in New York with a better result. After beating 13-year-old wild card Coco Gauff 6-0, 6-2 in the first all-American US Open girls final since 1992, Anisimova will leave junior tennis having reached the goal she set for herself this week.

"That's definitely my goal when I was going into this tournament, and I was preparing a lot for it," said Anisimova, who didn't drop a set in her six victories. "After a tough loss in the qualies, I definitely wanted to achieve something big. This is just amazing, and I'm so happy that I won the title."

Anisimova, who reached the final of the French Open Juniors in 2016 as a 14-year-old, showed no nerves to start the match, and in 22 minutes she had taken the first six games of the match.

With her depth and pace, Anisimova kept Gauff from getting comfortable in any rally, with Gauff attributing the lopsided first set not to her own nerves, but to Anisimova's level.

"I wasn't really nervous before," said Gauff, who was playing in the main draw of a junior slam for the first time this week. "She came out playing well and I wasn't playing that good in the beginning. Then after, I think the momentum was definitely on her side and I didn't play that good. But still, she played amazing. Congrats to her."

Gauff didn't have a game point until the second game of the second set, when she held serve for the first time. That seemed to encourage Gauff, but another break of serve by Anisimova after Gauff went up 40-0 seemed to end her chances of a comeback.  Gauff showed life in the next game however, breaking Anisimova with a backhand winner, but was broken again in the next game.

Anisimova targeted Gauff's backhand when serving, and Gauff continued to have difficulty getting the return back, consistently putting her cross court returns into the net.  Anisimova held for 5-2, but the next game was a classic, extending for over 12 minutes while Gauff fought off nine match points in the 11-deuce game before finally sending a forehand long to give Anisimova the title.

"That last game was crazy, possibly the longest game of my life," Anisimova said. "From the first shot, they were long points, so it was pretty difficult. We were just playing really well in that game, so it was really tough."

"I tried my best to save as many as possible, and I had a couple of game points on my side too," Gauff said. "But you know, I tried not to think of it as match points, just tried to keep playing the match. I thought I would be able to make it out of that game, but it was a good game though."

Anisimova is the third straight American girl to win a junior slam title this year, following Whitney Osuigwe at the French Open and Claire Liu at Wimbledon, with 2017 the first time three different US girls have captured junior slams in the same year.  After playing the Junior Fed Cup in Budapest beginning on September 19th with Caty McNally and Osuigwe as teammates, Anisimova will leave junior tennis behind, with her goal for the remainder of the year moving into the WTA Top 150 from her current position at 182.

"I'm not going to get too ahead of myself," said Anisimova, who will need to adhere to the WTA age restrictions for two more years. "I'm just going to take one tournament at a time and just see how they go. I just really want to play in some main draw tournaments at slams. That would be my goal for next year."

Gauff, who has not turned pro and said she doesn't foresee that "any time soon," plans to play the Eddie Herr and Orange Bowl later this year, as she builds her ITF junior ranking.  She is unable to compete in any ITF Women's Pro Circuit events until next March, when she turns 14.

After celebrating in the city with her sister, friends and family, Anisimova will return to the Miami area, if Hurricane Irma allows, before heading to Budapest.  Gauff is planning to stay in the New York area for a couple of days with her hometown of Delray Beach also bracing for the impact of the storm.

"I'm praying for all the victims out in Florida and on the islands, that they stay safe during the storm," Gauff said.

The boys final featured the top two seeds, with Yibing Wu becoming the first junior from China to win a slam singles title with a 6-4, 6-4 victory over top seed Axel Geller of Argentina.

Wu broke open a tough first set in the ninth game, breaking Geller, who hit 131 mph on the serve speed display multiple times, on his second break point when Geller double faulted. Geller saved two set points with winners in the next game, but Wu stuck to his aggressive game plan and closed out the set by forcing an error from Geller.

Geller was broken in the opening game of the second set, and then again in the third game, a particularly discouraging scenario for a player with his impressive serve.

"At 4-0 [in the second set], I just lost a little bit of focus for about 20 minutes, 25, " said Geller, who reached the Wimbledon boys final in July.  "I lost...six games in a row. I tried to fight back. I was loose, but I think maybe it was a little bit too late. So I think he played very well."

Wu was winning the court positioning battle, hitting out on both his backhand and forehand and returning well.

"I'm trying to give him like, pressure and try to cover with my volley," said Wu, who reiterated his goal to be the first Chinese player in the ATP Top 100. "I think this is one of my best things in the game. My opponent has a really, really good serve, so I just broke the return and try to hit more rallies."

Wu had saved two match points in his 4-6, 6-3, 7-6(4) semifinal win over unseeded Emil Ruusuvuori of Finland Saturday, then was on site past 10 p.m. to do media after his doubles title with Yu Hsiou Hsu of Taiwan.  Admittedly tired at the start of the match, Wu forced himself to be aggressive, although the nerves did set in when Geller saved six match points with Wu serving for the title at 5-2.

"That was tough," said Wu, a 17-year-old who trains in both China and Spain depending on the location of the tournament. "My hand was shaking. Only thing I can do is try to recover after that."

Most of the match points were lost not with Geller winners, but with Wu errors, yet somehow Wu recovered his aggressive mindset in his second attempt to serve out the match. A couple of excellent first serves and a forehand winner earned him his seventh match point, and when Geller's forehand went wide, Wu had his title, dropping his racquet and raising both fists in the air before striding to the net to shake hands with Geller.

Disappointed with his second loss in a junior slam final, Geller was consoled by his recovery from 4-0 down in the second set.

"I wanted to fight back, make him beat me, and that's what he did the last game," Geller said.  "He hit two big serves, one winner, and then the last point I went for it and I missed."

Geller heads directly to Palo Alto, where he starts freshman orientation at Stanford next week.  Stanford head coach Paul Goldstein, who was watching Geller play in the final, but not coaching him, is delighted to have the 18-year-old joining his team.

"This young man, who's made the finals of Wimbledon and the finals of the US Open, is obviously playing very good tennis and he will always be a better human being than he is a tennis player, and he's an awfully good tennis player."

"What he's done is totally remarkable," Goldstein continued. "We were always really excited and knew he had massive potential, but he's gone from 130 in the world to 5 and now will be 2 or 3, in the span of two or three months. That doesn't happen very often and I'm not sure anyone would have anticipated that; I didn't."

"At a time when every elite junior tennis player goes to school online and feel like they have to play lots and lots of tournaments and travel a lot, this guy went to a very, very strong high school that emphasizes academics, yet he's still having the kind of success on the tennis court that he's having," Goldstein added. "That's a really rare thing today and he's also not only well-liked by his peers, but well respected, and I think that's a really neat thing."

As Geller embarks on his first year of college later this month, Wu will be traveling back to China to compete in the $75,000 ATP Challenger in Shanghai, where he has been drawn to play No. 2 seed Peter Polansky of Canada.

Wu knows the impact his two titles in New York this week will have on the confidence and aspirations of his countrymen. 

"I think this is showing ourselves and showing the world Chinese boys can be better and can be good, Chinese men," Wu said.

Wu's doubles partner Hsu earned his third junior slam title Saturday, while on Sunday, Olga Danilovic collected her third, although unlike Hsu, one of hers came in 2016. 

Serbia's Danilovic and partner Marta Kostyuk of Ukraine, the No. 1 seeds, defeated the unseeded team of Lea Boskovic of Croatia and Xiyu Wang of China 6-1, 7-5 to earn the title.

Danilovic, who won the Wimbledon title in July with Kaja Juvan of Slovenia and the French title last year with Paula Arias Manjon of Spain, was looking for a partner when Juvan opted not to play in New York.

Kostyuk and Danilovic had played together at the Australian Open earlier this year, losing in the second round, but were just getting to know each other then.

"In Australia, we didn't know each other," Kostyuk said. "At Orange Bowl, the month before Australia, we didn't even say hi to each other. I was actually scared of Olga, going like, Olga's a superstar."

 "We were like, hey I'm Olga, I'm Marta, and then we went on the court," Danilovic said of that Australian Open pairing. "I think the most important thing is that we know each other and we're good friends, so when you have a friendship like that, it works on the court."

Kostyuk, 15, and Danilovic, 16, were taken to a match tiebreaker in their first match, but did not have to play another one.

"In the first round, we had really good opponents," Danilovic said of Taylor Johnson and Mexico's Maria Portillo Ramirez. "They were playing really good, really hard serves. But match by match, it gets so much easier. You get to know when she moves, when she goes and it's much more easier."

Danilovic and Kostyuk trailed Boskovic and Wang 5-2 in the second set and saved three set points en route to taking the final five games of the match.

Kostyuk and Danilovic said they are unlikely to play together again, anticipating that this US Open will mark the end of their junior careers.

"We're both finished with juniors," Kostyuk said. "Maybe we will [play] something but our ways are going a bit separate," Danilovic said. 

"This couldn't be better," said Danilovic. "To finish my last match--I think it's going to be my last junior match; I don't want to say this is the end, but I think it is--to win, not bad."

"It's actually good to win something when you finish," said Kostyuk. "Because then you have good memories."