Sunday, December 9, 2018

Gauff Comeback Ends with Another Orange Bowl Title; Finland's Virtanen Makes History with Victory over Khan

©Colette Lewis 2018--
Plantation, FL--

Just two years ago, Coco Gauff won the Junior Orange Bowl 12s championship, a title she had chased for five years before capturing. After her 6-1, 3-6, 6-4 victory over China's Qinwen Zheng in Sunday's ITF Grade A Orange Bowl championship match, in just her second attempt at one of the Junior Circuit's most prestigious tournaments, the 14-year-old French Open champion may already be saying goodbye to junior events.

Down 4-2 in the final set to the big-hitting Zheng, Gauff recalled the words of her father Corey.

"He told me at the beginning of the tournament, OK, this is probably your last junior tournament, so play how you want to be remembered, and that's what I was thinking," said Gauff, the No. 1 seed. "People mostly know me to always fight, and even when I was down that's how I want to be remembered, at least in junior tennis. We'll see what the next chapter has for me."

A rain shower just three games into the match resulted in a delay of more than two hours, and when Gauff and Zheng returned to the Har-Tru courts of the Veltri Tennis Center, Gauff took control of the match, winning the next four games and looking the sharper of the two.

Zheng, the Eddie Herr champion and second seed, was playing her 12th singles match in 14 days, and with both inner thighs taped, the toll of all that tennis was beginning to show. But the 16-year-old kept unleashing her powerful ground strokes and Gauff threw in a messy service game at 3-4 to get broken. Serving at 5-3, Zheng used a potent backhand to get out of a 15-30 hole, taking the second set on her first set point.

Gauff took a bathroom break, but after returning, she donated two double faults and was broken at love. Zheng held on to that break until serving at 4-3, but when Gauff hit a forehand winner on break point to level the set, she, and the crowd, were fully energized.

"The crowd has been here all week for me," said Gauff, who lives in nearby Delray Beach. "Clearly they were rooting for me, and there were faces who were here since Monday, not people I knew, but now I know. I was expecting when it rained, no one would come, but people came back. I think that kind of helped, because I remember saying this in my head, all these people are here rooting for you down 4-2, so you should start rooting for yourself. And I think that kind of helped turn the match around."

The 4-4 game was a classic, with Gauff saving three break points, with her serve responsible for getting her out of every jam.

"I was serving well the whole match," Gauff said. "If I didn't expect my serve to come through, I wouldn't have went for it, I just would have tried to get it in. I think on almost every break point I hit a good serve, and she missed it or something like that, and I'm just glad it went in."

After that five-deuce game, Zheng played her worst game of the set when serving to stay in the match. Her backhand sprayed around the court and she double faulted, and the match ended with another error.

While giving credit to Gauff, Zheng was disappointed with the way she played in the final four games of the match.

"She played really good at the end," said Zheng, who is known as Ana to her English-speaking friends. "I was 4-2 up and it's really difficult to lose like this, but she play more aggressive in the end and I was too defensive. That's the reason I lose. At 4-2 I should go, take the courage, take the match and not stay behind and wait."

Zheng will take time off and then prepare for the Australian Open Junior Championships next month, while Gauff will be concentrating on improving her WTA ranking, with a goal of getting into the slams this summer.

"Right now I'm just playing some ITFs (Pro Circuit), to get my ranking up and to see if I can get wild cards into certain tournaments," said Gauff, who is currently ranked 870. "I think next year, that's my goal, to be top 100 in WTA."

One of the reasons Gauff elected to play the last two ITF Junior Circuit Grade A tournaments of the year was the extra four WTA tournaments she can play if she finishes in the Top 5 in year-end junior rankings.

"A lot of people think I played this to finish No. 1," said Gauff, who will not catch France's Clara Burel for the top spot. "That wasn't my goal. My dad asked me mid-year, and I said, I don't really care, I just want to finish Top 5, so I can get those extra [WTA] tournaments."

Although Gauff elected not to focus on achieving the ITF Junior Circuit's No. 1 ranking, boys Orange Bowl champion Otto Virtanen is.  Just five minutes after 17-year-old from Finland defeated wild card Zane Khan of the United States 7-5, 6-4, he had already reset his goals.

"Yes, that's my goal now," Virtanen said. "Now, I decided now, yes. I really want to be number 1, so I'm looking forward to this season."

Virtanen, the No. 13 seed, had a slight edge in Grade A experience, with five tournaments at that level, compared to the 16-year-old Khan's three. But neither player looked comfortable to start the match, with four straight breaks to open it before Khan held serve to get his nose in front. At 5-all, Khan was able to save two break points with forehand winners, but on the third, his backhand sailed long.  Serving for the set, Virtanen went up 40-15, but again Khan held on, only to watch as Virtanen hit two consecutive aces to take the set.

"I had a lot of chances and I didn't play as good as I wanted to," said Khan, who is coached by his uncle Shariq Khan, and has also been training the past few months at Boca West with Antonio Fernandez and former ATP pro Sebastien Grosjean, who attended the final. "It was not easy playing him, because he had a really good serve and there wasn't much rhythm. He is really powerful with his shots and he had a good forehand and it wasn't easy to get into the points."

Virtanen admitted that, although he made less than half of his first serves, he was able to find one when he needed it.

"I served well the big points, yes, I served well," Virtanen said. "And I didn't rush in the really big points. In the last game he did two easy mistakes, he went too fast then, and I was lucky."

At 4-4 in the second set, Khan made three unforced errors, while Virtanen made sure he picked big targets in the rallies and Khan was broken at 15-40 when his backhand went wide. Serving for the title, Virtanen hit two massive forehand winners and a kick serve ace, and after an inexplicable drop shot attempt that missed on his first match point, he blasted his tenth ace to close it out.

Virtanen, who trains at the Good to Great Academy in Sweden, is the first player from Finland to win an Orange Bowl title, and he is hoping that accomplishment resonates in his home country.

"I'm going back home tomorrow, and I hope they have some special surprise," Virtanen said of his celebration plans. "I don't know [if it will be a big deal], I hope so, because for me, it's a big thing. I can't even realize, it's a really big trophy. Maybe today, later, I'll realize what I have done."

Virtanen is planning to play the Australian Open Junior Championships next month, as is Khan.
The doubles titles were also decided on Sunday afternoon, with No. 3 seeds Adrienn Nagy of Hungary and Sohyun Park of Korea taking the girls title, and No. 4 seeds Sergey Fomin of Uzbekistan and Gauthier Onclin of Belgium claiming the boys championship.

Nagy and Park, playing together for the first time, came from behind to defeat unseeded Kacie Harvey and Natasha Subhash of the United States 2-6, 7-5, 10-8.

"We actually said two weeks ago that we were going play together, since none of us had doubles partners," Nagy said. "We talked in Mexico that we would play together, so we are surprised to win, definitely."

Nagy attributed their slow start to the quality of their opponents play.

"The first set, they were playing really good and we didn't really feel it," Nagy said. "The wind and everything was different than yesterday. The second set, we started to play better and the super tiebreak was the best we played in this match. We put it together at the end."

"She is a very, very good partner," said Park, 16. "She has energy."

Nagy appreciates Park's ability to finish at the net, which she did on their third match point, poaching for the winning volley.

"She's really good with the volleys and I can always count on her," said the 17-year-old Nagy. "And she's really consistent from the baseline too. It's good to have someone you know is not going to miss it."
Fomin and Onclin also dropped the first set, unable to serve it out up 5-4 and losing a tiebreaker to unseeded Justin Schlageter of Germany and Gustaf Strom of Sweden 6-7(6) before rebounding for a 6-7(6), 6-1, 10-8 victory.

Like the girls champions, Fomin and Onclin, both 17, began their partnership very recently, at the Eddie Herr, where they won one match, but the pair did not lose a set all week until today.

"We played very well this week," Onclin said. "We just did what we had to do."

"We go to the volley," said Fomin. "And not stay at the baseline, so we do better this tournament. I think that is better, for me and my friend."

"It was an incredible week for us," Onclin said. "It's incredible."


Janet Kingston said...

Gauff is the perfect junior player but will struggle in the pros. Zheng has much more upside for pro tennis as she goes for her shots and has a pro style game. She was obviously hurting and tired or would have easily won today. Gauff matured physically very early and that is giving her and her family a false sense of her ability.

G Loglo said...

Gauff is far from perfect junior but more like perfect competitor. Mentally more tough than the older Zheng and going for shots doesn’t mean slapping hard and missing. I saw huge serves on 5 break points by Gauff that courage makes pros great knowing when to pull the trigger under pressure and willing to do it. Gauff has played 8 tournaments this year so seems she very under played lots of training time and rest. That efficiency is what will make her a great pro along with the physical gifts and mental toughness. I am impressed with both girls but Gauff takes the cake down 4-2 , pressure on her to win, 14 years old and only 8th itf junior tournament and runs off 4 straight games to the older more experienced Zheng. Enough Said

Janet Kingston said...

Sorry G Loglo but you are very wrong. We trained next to Gauff on many occasions and have seen her play for years. No 2nd serve at all and that is death in the pros. Zheng is a vastly superior player who was very tired from her schedule and injured. Anisimova destroyed Gauff as will any pro level player.

Max Ho said...

That is a such a ridiculous statement, saying that Gauff cannot compete in pro's because she does not have great 2nd serve at 14. I have seen her play and her 2nd serve is fine, and her first serve is a weapon. It's not like an average 2nd serve will prevent players from tour success, there are several top women with below average serves (1st and 2nd).

Gauff seems to me to have all the potential to make it on tour, with solid strokes and great movement, and she has had solid junior success. I do think its questionable for her to say she is not playing anymore junior tournaments. I think it is a good idea to keep playing some juniors, and learn to play where you are the favorite, while building a WTA ranking, especially since she will have tournament restrictions due to age.

It seems like a cheap shot to say your practice next to her and she won't do well on tour, she won't hit her peak for a few years, so no one knows. The key is to keep improving and stay healthy.