Friday, August 24, 2018

Black and Volynets Reach Girls Final; Klier and Hardt Vie for Boys Championship at ITF Grade 1 International Hard Courts; Six Americans Qualify for US Open

©Colette Lewis 2018--
College Park MD--

Two Americans will meet Saturday for the girls title at the ITF Grade 1 Prince George's County International Hard Court Championships, while two longtime friends and doubles partners will face off in the boys final.

Both No. 5 seed Katie Volynets and No. 16 seed Hurricane Tyra Black had reached Friday's semifinals without dropping a set, and that trend continued, with Volynets defeating No. 7 seed Sada Nahimana of Burundi 6-2, 6-1 and Black taking out No. 10 seed Ludmilla Bencheikh of France 6-3, 6-3.

Volynets had played Nahimana in the first round of this same tournament last year and won by the same score, although today's match took nearly 90 minutes to complete, with a majority games going to deuce, most of them on Nahimana's serve.

"I was trying to attack her serve, but sometimes I don't think I was aggressive enough," said the 16-year-old from Northern California. "I had to keep my focus, keep on trying to stay aggressive and stay forward to pull out those deuce games."

Black was pleased with her overall game against Bencheikh, who had beaten No. 1 seed Alexa Noel in the quarterfinals, with her backhand particularly effective throughout the match.

"I went on the court with an open mind," said the 17-year-old from Florida, who won the ITF Grade 1 International Spring Championships in April. "I played really loose and I was hitting the ball really well today. My backhand was feeling amazing today, today and yesterday, it's been going well and my forehand has been consistent too."

Black had not played Bencheikh before and wasn't sure what to expect, but the USTA coaches in attendance, who watched Bencheikh's win over Noel, were able to give her some advice.

"They told me her backhand was a little bit of a weaker shot," Black said. "That was a good thing, because my backhand was very strong today. Her serve wasn't that strong most of the time, especially in tight situations, so I was taking advantage of that."

Black went up two breaks in the first set, gave one back, but was able to close out the set with a third break. She went up 3-0 in the second set, lost that lead, but broke Bencheikh serving at 3-4 and closed out the match with no drama.

"I think I got a little ahead of myself, which I've done a lot in the past," Black said of losing that lead. "The good thing is, usually before I would go completely away after that, but lately I've been able to stay in it, especially when they fight for games, so that was really good today."

Black and Volynets have played once before, at last fall's ITF Grade B1 Pan American Closed, with Volynets winning 6-3, 7-5 in the round of 16.

"I saw that she has a great slice, great variety," said Volynets, who won the ITF Grade B1 Easter Bowl this spring. "I'll keep that in mind and adjust to that. I'm really excited to play tomorrow, really happy to be here."

While the girls semifinals were both completed with a minimum of drama, the boys brought the tension, with No. 8 seed Gilbert Soares Klier Junior of Brazil defeating No. 3 seed Tao Mu of China 6-4, 2-6, 6-4 and No. 9 seed Nick Hardt of the Dominican Republic coming from a break down in the third set to beat No. 4 seed Yanki Erel of Turkey 7-6(4), 4-6, 6-4.

Klier and Mu had one lengthy rally after another, with neither giving up their position near the baseline. Klier got the only break of the first set and held on, leading Mu to raise his level in the second set. At 3-all in the third set, Mu was unable to convert his game point, and on break point he didn't get a first serve in. Klier took advantage, hitting a return winner, and although Mu forced him to serve it out, the 18-year-old Brazilian converted his second match point for the title.

"It was tough," said Klier, who had not lost a set prior to today's match. "I played very well, but the guy also played well. He's very fast, has a great serve and a great forehand, yeah, he's good."

While Klier was able to get off the court in just under two and a half hours, Hardt needed nearly another hour long to earn his spot in the final.

The first set, which took 75 minutes to complete, was one deuce game after another, and when Erel couldn't close it out serving for it at 5-3, a tiebreaker was needed. Erel had a 4-2 lead at the change of ends, but he didn't win another point, with Hardt coming up with several winners in the five straight points he won, including a backhand winner on his first set point.

In the second set, Erel was able to serve out the set after a late break, and the 17-year-old left-hander was up 3-1 in the third set, but Hardt kept the pressure on, and on his fourth break point of the sixth game, got the score back to 3-all with a return winner.  After so much tension, the final game proved anticlimactic, with Erel broken at love serving at 4-5.

"I think the key was I was in better shape, physically, than him," said Hardt, who turns 18 next month. "I didn't get tired at all, and I think also, mentally, I was really strong today.  Those were the two keys today."

Hardt was pleased with how he handled being down in the final set.

"I stayed positive, didn't get negative at all," said Hardt, who will be playing in his first Grade 1 final Saturday, although he did reach the final of the Grade A in Brazil earlier this year. "In a few important moments, if you play bad, with him, the match can go right away. I'm happy I was positive the whole day and wasn't complaining on court."

Hardt and Klier have not played, but Hardt knows what to expect.

"I'm for sure going to fun out there tomorrow," Hardt said. "He's a very good friend, my doubles partner. He's a very aggressive player, very solid. Good forehand, good backhand, overall he's a very complete player. Tomorrow, I'm just going to grind. It's going to be a very physical match and I hope I'm consistent tomorrow."

"He's got a great serve and a great forehand," said Klier, who won a Grade B1 Closed in Brazil in March. "He's fast, so I play my game, my match, and that's it."

After their singles final, Hardt and Klier will play the doubles final against the unseeded American team of Eliot Spizzirri and Adam Neff.  Hardt and Klier, the No. 3 seeds, defeated top seeds Juan Cerundolo and Facundo Diaz Acosta of Argentina 7-6(5), 6-7(4), 10-6 in Friday afternoon's semifinal.  Neff and Spizzirri beat No. 2 seeds Erel and Mu 3-6, 6-1, 10-5 to advance to the final.

The girls doubles final will feature the unseeded Italian team of Martina Biagianti and Federica Rossi against the No. 8 seeds Bencheikh and Anastasia Tikhomova of Russia.  Biagianti and Rossi defeated unseeded Black and Melania Delai of Italy 6-7(2), 7-6(5), 11-9, while Bencheikh and Tikhomova beat unseeded Ariana Arseneault and Jada Bui 6-3, 6-1.

For Saturday's order of play see the tournament website.

Qualifying is complete for next week's US Open, with three US men and three US women earning entry into the main draw with wins today.

Donald Young defeated No. 12 seed Peter Polansky of Canada 7-5, 1-6, 6-3 and will be playing in his 14th consecutive main draw at the US Open since first earning entry was a wild card as Kalamazoo 18s champion back in 2005.  Mitchell Krueger will be making his main draw debut at the US Open after beating Calvin Hemery of France 3-6, 6-4, 6-2. Krueger saved three match points in his second round win over Thai Kwiatkowski Thursday. Collin Altamirano, who received a late wild card into qualifying, defeated No. 10 seed Lorenzo Sonego of Italy 6-4, 7-6(3), and will make his first appearance in the US Open main draw since winning the Kalamazoo 18s wild card back in 2013.

Nicole Gibbs, the No. 10 seed in qualifying, beat Olga Govortsova of Belarus 6-4, 6-1 to make the main draw of the US Open for the seventh straight year.  Danielle Lao, who qualified for last year's US Open, did it again this year, beating the same player, Jana Fett[19] of Croatia, in the final round of qualifying, although this year Lao did it in straight sets, 6-4, 6-4.  Francesca Di Lorenzo will make her slam debut after beating No. 8 seed Mona Barthel of Germany 6-4, 6-2.  All three US women advanced through three rounds of qualifying without dropping a set.

The qualifiers have been placed in the draws, with Young playing No. 3 seed Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina, Krueger playing Roberto Carballes Baena of Spain and Altamirano playing fellow qualifier Ugo Umbert of France.  Gibbs will play No. 30 seed Carla Suarez Navarro of Spain, Di Lorenzo will play Christina McHale, and Lao will play No. 23 seed Barbora Strycova of the Czech Republic.

In addition to the Americans who qualified, another former college player is also into the main draw, with Yannick Madden of Germany, who played at Clemson 2010-2013, beating Alex Bolt to qualify for his second consecutive slam.

Eighteen-year-old Felix Auger Aliassime of Canada qualified and has drawn friend and junior rival Denis Shapovalov[28] of Canada in the main draw.  Auger Aliassime, the 2016 US Open boys champion, defeated Shapovalov in the final of the ITF Grade 1 here in College Park three years ago. My coverage of that final is here.

Men's draws are here; women's draws are here.