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Monday, December 17, 2018

Americans Ngounoue and Olson in Junior Orange Bowl G12s Final; Quan and Muhala in All-US B12s Final; Lilov Earns Shot at Second Orange Bowl Title

©Colette Lewis 2018--
Coral Gables FL--

The United States will claim the Junior Orange Bowl 12s titles Tuesday, with four Americans earning places in the finals Monday on a crisp and sunny day in South Florida.

The top two seeds in the girls 12s continued their domination of the field, losing just four games between them in their semifinal victories at the University of Miami.

No. 1 seed Clervie Ngounoue of Washington DC defeated Japanese qualifier Hayu Kinoshita 6-1, 6-0 in less than an hour, a result that could have been affected by the diminutive Kinoshita's two three-setters on Sunday, not to mention her three qualifying wins just to reach the main draw.

No. 2 seed Brooklyn Olson of Bradenton Florida defeated unseeded Shanice Roignot of France 6-1, 6-2, with Olson saying after the match that she felt fine physically after her two wins on Sunday.

"I had to play two matches and they were both very hard," Olson said. "I felt good this morning but I was a little tight and I was little dehydrated. I should have drunk more water."

Olson couldn't serve out the match at 5-1, but as Roignot looked to be struggling after taking a medical timeout for a leg injury, Olson was able to maintain her focus, closing out the match with a break of serve.

"It didn't change anything," said Olson. "I had to keep going, keep letting her know that I'm up and ready to play the next game."

In the last game, Olson admitted that closing out the match wasn't easy, although she found the right time to go on offense in the long rally that ended the match.

"I felt it, I was nervous," Olson said. "I thought, I've got to keep hitting the ball or she's going to come back. On the last point, I said, I have to be aggressive and I put it away."

Olson and Ngounoue met in the semifinals of the Easter Bowl back in March, with Ngounoue taking a 6-3, 6-4 victory en route to the title.

In the boys 12s, top seed Rudy Quan advanced to the final with a 6-3, 6-1 win over Antonio Voljavec of Croatia. He will face Santiago Muhala of Texas, a No. 9 seed, who defeated No. 7 seed Kaylan Bigun 6-2, 6-2.

The girls 14s final is the only championship match without an American, with both US girls falling in the semifinals at the University of Miami.  No. 4 seed Melisa Ercan of Turkey defeated Violeta Martinez, a No. 9 seed, 6-1, 6-4, while unseeded 12-year-old Victoria Mboko of Canada came back for another three-set victory, this time over Alexis Blokina, a No. 9 seed, 3-6, 6-1, 6-0.

The 13-year-old Ercan, who has not dropped a set en route to the final, lost in the 12s quarterfinals last year to eventual champion Linda Fruhvirtova of the Czech Republic, but the left-hander is 38-4 in 14s play this year.

"In Turkey, they are not believing, but in America, they are believing," said Eddie Herr semifinalist Ercan, who has trained for the past month or so at the ProWorld Academy in Delray Beach. "And I am believing in myself. I said to myself, I can win this match, I can win this tournament."

Ercan, who is looking to become the first player from Turkey to claim a Junior Orange Bowl title, will go into the final with confidence, having defeated Mboko in the final of a July clay event in Germany 6-0, 6-1.

The boys 14s final will feature 2016 boys 12s champion Victor Lilov, with the top seed advancing to another championship match with a 6-3, 6-2 win over Ozan Colak, a No. 9 seed.

Colak surprised Lilov with a relentless serve and volley strategy that took the 2018 Les Petits As champion some time to get used to.

"He got me out of my rhythm, which I think was very smart by him," Lilov said. "He volleys well and he was covering all my passing shots at the beginning. It was a pretty tricky match and I was fortunate in the first set, to get through it. But in the second set, I think I found a little more of a groove in the beginning."

Lilov knew that if he could keep Colak in more rallies, he would have the edge.

"I tried to keep him on the baseline as much as possible," said the North Carolina resident. "If I did, I felt like I had the advantage. He didn't really look that comfortable from the baseline today, especially with how fast the courts were. I actually like faster courts too, but someone like that is someone very different from what I usually play against."

Lilov is now just one step away from a goal he has acknowledged repeatedly this week.

"I always wanted to come back and try to win it, for certain purposes, the pressure and all that," Lilov said. "It's special, but I don't want to get it too far in my head, because maybe I'll tighten up more. I'll already be nervous, but I don't want to get more nervous on it."

Lilov will not be facing his opponent in the 2016 12s final, Bruno Kuzuhara, with No. 3 seed Coleman Wong of Hong Kong preventing that rematch with a 6-7(5), 6-1, 6-4 win over the second-seeded American. Wong was unable to close out the first set serving at 5-4 after being unable to convert two set points with Kuzuhara serving at 3-5.  But after losing the tiebreaker, Wong said he changed his tactics.

"I actually used more my forehand, because my forehand is my weapon," Wong said. "I was just hitting more balls in, and use my forehand."

At 1-1 in the third set, Wong went on a tear, hitting three winners to break Kuzuhara for a 2-1 lead, then reeling off 11 more points in succession, nearly all of them winners or shots that forced errors.

"I remembered what my coach said and do like, the plan," said the 14-year-old of his hot streak in the third set.

With a 5-1 lead, Wong looked to be rolling into the final, but the nerves set in and he was unable to win a point serving for the match at 5-2. Kuzuhara saved two match points in the next game to hold for 5-4, and the final game turned into a classic, with Wong unable to convert two more match points, but saving a break point before finally closing it out with a forehand winner.

"In the third set, winning 5-1, I just don't know what to do," said Wong, who is the first player from Hong Kong to reach a Junior Orange Bowl final. "I'm so nervous, I don't know what to do. My serve is not that good in the last game."

Wong said he has been inspired by looking at the list of past champions from when the tournament began in 1948.

"I saw [2002 14s champion Juan Martin] del Potro's video yesterday, he beat [Marin] Cilic in the semis," Wong said. "Looking at those past champions, I'm like really impressed."

Wong and Lilov played in the first round of the Eddie Herr two years ago, with Lilov, also the No. 1 seed then, beating Wong 6-3, 6-4.

The consolation finals for fifth place will take place on Tuesday, as will the third and fourth place matches.  The two girls finals will start at 9 a.m. at the University of Miami, followed by the boys 14s final.  The boys 12s final will be at Salvadore Park at 9 a.m.

For complete draws, see the TennisLink site.