Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Nanda Topples Defending Champion and Top Seed Mejia in ITF Grade 1 International Hard Courts Third Round; Nakashima Among Six American Men Advancing in Day Two of US Open Qualifying

©Colette Lewis 2018--
College Park MD--

No. 16 seed Govind Nanda had a plan for his first encounter with top seed and defending champion Nicolas Mejia of Colombia, and although the 17-year-old Californian would not say he executed it perfectly, he did come away with a hard-fought 7-6(4) 7-5 victory in the third round of the ITF Grade 1 Prince George's County International Hard Court Championships.

"I came in a lot," Nanda said. "I really don't want to tell you what my strategy was, I don't want to expose that to everyone. My main focus was to try to get a lot of first serves in. I don't think I served that great today, honestly; I served better in my previous matches. And I was trying to make every return, get them deep. His serve's pretty good and it'd tough to do that, but I thought I did a pretty good job of that after all."

Nanda overcame a seven-minute rain delay serving at 5-all 15-30 in the first set, then got off to a great start in the tiebreaker, going up 3-0. He extended that lead to 6-2, gave one of the mini-breaks back, but took the set with a forehand winner.

The second set, which again featured a short rain delay, wasn't played on quite the same level, but the arguments over line calls continued, even after Nanda had conceded a point in the opening set.

"I thought he made some questionable calls," Nanda said. "Whether they were in or out was a different story, but they were definitely close. I gave him a call at 3-4 in the first, break point me, I hit a ball long, I knew for sure it was wrong, the ref overruled him and I ended up giving him the point. It didn't calm down after that, if anything it made it more chatter-y."

Nanda went up a break twice in the early stages of the second set, but Mejia broke back and took a 4-3 lead. Nanda held another long service game for 4-all and Mejia managed to fight off three break points in the next game for 5-4. An easy hold for Nanda followed, a rare occurrence in the match, making it 5-all and then Mejia blinked. Two double faults and two errors gave Nanda the chance to serve out the match, but that final game wouldn't come easily.  At 15-all, Nanda was overruled by the roving umpire, stationed on court throughout the match, on a sideline call on a Mejia pass. But Nanda hit a reflex volley winner after Mejia had an easy putaway opportunity, a shot that brought applause from the usually sedate spectators watching from the Junior Tennis Champion Center's porch.

"That was a pretty big point, actually, 15-30," Nanda said. "Most guys I feel like going inside in on that shot, I do also, so I kind of stood there and hoped for the best."

Nanda had to save two break points in that final game to avoid another tiebreaker, but he did make two first serves after the second deuce to assist in claiming the victory.

"It was a pretty tough match," Nanda said. "It was pretty physical, a lot of long points and it was pretty humid, pretty hot out there. I thought I played well on the big points.... I thought I stayed mentally tough and I managed to get through it, and I'm pretty happy about it."

Nanda will face No. 9 seed Nick Hardt of the Dominican Republic in Thursday's quarterfinals after Hardt eliminated No. 5 seed Juan Cerundolo of Argentina 7-5, 6-0.

The other quarterfinal in the boys top half will feature No. 4 seed Yanki Erel of Turkey against No. 6 seed Drew Baird.  The only unseeded boy remaining in the draw is Cezar Cretu of Romania, who will play No. 3 seed Tao Mu of China.  The fourth quarterfinal has No. 8 seed Gilbert Soares Klier Junior of Brazil against No. 13 seed Dostanbek Tashbulatov of Kazakhstan.

The girls quarterfinals also will have one unseeded player, with Alexandra Vagramov of Canada earning her place in the final eight with a 4-6, 7-5, 6-3 win over No. 15 seed Francesca Curmi of Malta.  Vagramov's opponent is No. 7 seed Sada Nahimana of Burundi, who beat No. 11 seed Elli Mandlik 1-6, 6-2, 6-3.  No. 5 seed Katie Volynets will play No. 14 seed Ana Geller of Argentina, and top seed Alexa Noel will face No. 10 seed Loudmila Bencheikh of France.  The No. 2 and No. 4 seeds lost in the second round and today No. 3 seed Margaryta Bilokin of Ukraine exited, losing to No. 16 seed Hurriance Tyra Black 6-4, 6-3.

Black had beaten Bilokin, who was the top seed, in the semifinals of the ITF Grade 1 in Carson back in April, and she used much of the same strategy in today's match.

"I feel like I had a little bit of a mental edge, because I won the last time we played," said Black, who now has two wins over Bilokin on hard courts, with Bilokin winning their meeting last year on clay. "I really have nothing to lose when I play her."

Black's slicing and change of pace make getting into a rhythm difficult, and Black added another facet to her game style today.

"I was mixing it up a lot today," said Black, 17. "I feel like she had a little trouble with that; I was hitting slices, lobs and then whenever I got the chance I would just go for it down the line and that threw her off a little bit. And I started coming to the net a little bit; that's not something I usually do, but I've been doing it really well this week so maybe I'll put it in my game."

In all eight quarterfinals, only one features players who have played before on the ITF Junior Circuit, with Noel holding a 2-0 head-to-head with Bencheikh.

All first round doubles matches were completed today, and a few second round matches were played, with No. 2 seeds Subhash and Volynets falling to Martina Biagianti and Federica Rossi of Italy 7-6(3), 6-3 in their second round match.  Black and Melania Delai of Italy defeated No. 3 seeds Mylene Halemai of France and Hong Yi Cody Wong of Hong Kong 6-0, 6-2, also in a second round match.

For Thursday's order of play, which features 12 second round doubles matches and all eight doubles quarterfinal matches, can be found at the tournament website.

American women had a tough Day Two at US Open qualifying as the first round was completed, but the men picked up six wins against only three losses, including a thriller by Kalamazoo 18s finalist Brandon Nakashima.

Nakashima, who turned 17 earlier this month, served for the match in the third set against 29-year-old Ante Pavic of Croatia, but was unable to get to a match point. Instead, he had to test his nerves in a third set tiebreaker, but he came through on his second match point to earn a 3-6, 6-4, 7-6(5) victory. He will play No. 24 seed Ugo Humbert of France in Thursday's second round.
Brandon Nakashima during today's US Open qualifying win (courtesy photo)
Ernesto Escobedo picked up a big win, defeating the No. 1 seed in qualifying, Jozef Kovalik of Slovakia, 6-2, 3-6, 7-6(4).  Two more University of Virginia alumni advanced to the second round: Collin Altamirano and Thai Kwiatkowski join JC Aragone, who won his first round match on Tuesday.  Chris Eubanks and Mitchell Krueger are the others advancing today, with Krueger scheduled to meet Kwiatkowski in Thursday's second round.

US men competing in the second round Thursday are: Escobedo, Nakashima, Bjorn Fratangelo, Evan King, Christian Harrison, Aragone, Eubanks, Altamirano, Krueger, Kwiatkowski, Donald Young and Sebastian Korda. Overall, US men went 12-6 in first round qualifying.

Although Bethanie Mattek-Sands was still playing her first round match when it was suspended by rain this evening, the US women could manage only two wins today, with Danielle Lao and No. 3 seed Madison Brengle advancing to Thursday's second round. Mattek-Sands, who split sets with Tereza Smitkova of the Czech Republic tonight, could join Lao and Brengle as well as the seven US women who won on Tuesday: Kristie Ahn, Nicole Gibbs[10], Varvara Lepchenko, Gail Brodsky, Jessica Pegula, Jamie Loeb and Francesca Di Lorenzo.

Thursday's order of play is here.  The draw ceremony is scheduled for 2 p.m. Thursday.