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Sunday, December 9, 2018

Top Seeds Gauff and Zheng Reach Orange Bowl Final, Khan and Virtanen Vie for Boys Championship; Sieg, Llamas Ruiz Win 16s Titles; Zamarripa Takes $15K in Colombia

©Colette Lewis 2018--
Plantation FL--

Young Americans Coco Gauff and Zane Khan got revenge Saturday at the ITF Grade A Orange Bowl, dominating their opponents on another warm and sunny day in South Florida to reach Sunday's final.

The top-seeded Gauff defeated No. 3 seed Diane Parry of France, who had beaten her two weeks ago in the quarterfinals of the Yucatan Grade A, 6-0, 6-0 while Khan, a wild card, had a much longer wait for an opportunity against Mateus Alves of Brazil, who had beaten him last November in a Grade 2 in Peru.

The 16-year-old Khan came out firing against Alves and never let up against the big-hitting 17-year-old, well aware that Alves had won all four of his previous matches in three sets, including yesterday's quarterfinal over No. 8 seed Cannon Kingsley.

"I felt like if I didn't keep pushing him down and keep on him, he would come back, he would start feeling more confident on court," Khan said. "He is such a good player, such a good competitor and has such a good serve, it's not easy to break him. So, yeah, I tried to focus on my service games and get every ball back on the return games, make him play."

Khan, who had won three three-setters himself this week, was nursing a shoulder injury coming into the tournament, and considered withdrawing, but his coaches encouraged him to give it a try, and it has bothered him less as he continues to advance through the draw.

Although he earned a big win in the first round over No. 4 seed Deney Wassermann of the Netherlands, Khan didn't take that as any indication that six days later he would be playing the final.

"I felt every person after that was a really good player," said Khan, who is coached by his uncle Shariq Khan, and has also been training at Boca West with Antonio Fernandez and former ATP pro Sebastien Grosjean. "Just because I beat the 4 seed that didn't mean anything for the other guys. There were a lot of close matches, like yesterday, that could have gone the other guy's way."

Khan's opponent in the final will be No. 13 seed Otto Virtanen of Finland, who came back to beat unseeded Alejo Lingua Lavallen of Argentina 1-6, 6-1, 6-4.

Virtanen, who had beaten top seed Adrian Andreev of Bulgaria in the third round, went up 3-1 in the final set, but had to take a medical timeout due to shortness of breath.

"I had a hard time breathing," said the 17-year-old, who trains at the Good to Great Academy in Sweden. "Every point I felt like it is not going in. It was not a good feeling. I told I would take [a medical timeout] one game later, but then I played the one game and I just had an emergency, even if I was leading 3-1."

The trainer came out and spoke to Virtanen, but did not provide any treatment, and when he returned to play, he lost the next two games. But he began to feel better, mentally and physically.

"I reset everything, I have to play everything like from the beginning," Virtanen said. "I started with my best game at 3-all and finished with it."

Virtanen broke and held for a 5-3 lead, and the Argentinian left-hander saved a match point serving at 3-5. In the final game, Virtanen took a 30-0 lead, but two unforced errors on the forehand provided some tension. But Virtanen's excellent first serve saved him, with Lavallen unable to get either of them back in play.

Khan and Virtanen have never met, but Virtanen is excited by the prospect of a new opponent, while conceding that Khan is likely to have the crowd on his side.

"This is the first tournament I've seen him playing," Virtanen said. "I'm looking forward to meet new players."

Gauff's unexpectedly easy win over Parry was a combination of an improved strategy and improved play.

"In Mexico I lost to her like 6-3, 6-2, so going in, I knew what I had to do," said the 14-year-old, who won the French Open girls title this year. "I would say that week I was making a little bit more errors on shots that I shouldn't have. Today, I just wanted to be patient and see if I can out-rally her, and I think I did."

Gauff said that the temptation to go high to Parry's one-handed backhand was something she needed to avoid in the rematch.

"I think two weeks ago I focused too much on her backhand," said Gauff, who two years ago won the Junior Orange Bowl 12s title. "She does have a good one-handed backhand. People are like, it's a one-handed backhand, she's a girl, it's probably her weaker side. But really, she can rip it. Obviously, the high ball on the one-hander works, for any one-hander, but today I was not focusing on that, but play like I would any other match, moving her no matter if it is her forehand or backhand. I think that was a mistake last time, because she knew where I was hitting the ball every time, while this time, I kind of mixed it up a lot more."

Gauff's opponent in the final is Eddie Herr champion and No. 2 seed Qinwen Zheng of China, who beat unseeded Emma Navarro 6-0, 6-4. Zheng, who is looking to be the first Eddie Herr and Orange Bowl champion in the same year since Ana Konjuh of Croatia accomplished that in 2012, had kinesio tape on both of her inner thighs after her second consecutive week of top level competition.

"Of course I'm tired," said the 16-year-old right-hander, who won only one singles match in the two tournaments in Mexico leading up to the Eddie Herr. "And because I played too much, I have injury on my leg. But it is good, I continue to fight and I found a way to win."

Zheng started the match with Navarro as she had in their first round meeting at the Eddie Herr, which Zheng won 6-1, 6-0. But Navarro got her teeth back in the match in the second set, pulling even after being down 4-2. The 17-year-old Duke recruit was broken in the next game however, and Zheng was able to serve out the match.

"Last week was the first round and this week is the semifinals, so everything is different," Zheng said. "It's a new match, so I just keep my game plan and focus. I couldn't run too much, so I try to finish the point and to play more smart."

Zheng is looking forward to a chance to play Gauff after breaking out of her slump last month.

"I saw her play a little bit, but I never play against her," Zheng said. "I know she's an amazing player, so I will fight a lot tomorrow. If you tell me in Mexico that I be in finals here and win Eddie Herr, I say no, no way."
The 16s finals were tense and full of twists and turns, with No. 4 seed Madison Sieg defeating unseeded India Houghton 2-6, 6-4, 7-5 in an all-US contest, and No. 3 seed Pablo Llamas Ruiz of Spain beating top seed Dali Blanch of the United States 6-4, 5-7, 6-3.

Sieg, who lost in the Eddie Herr 16s final last Saturday, didn't look like she would better that showing this week after losing the first set quickly and going down a break at 3-2 in the second set. But the 15-year-old broke right back and kept the pressure on Houghton, who saved two set points at 4-5 in the second set, but couldn't save a third. In a long and entertaining point, both Sieg and Houghton ended up at the net, with Sieg winning the battle to earn a third set.

"She played a really good first set," said Sieg, who beat Eddie Herr champion and fellow Evert Academy student Elaine Chervinsky in the quarterfinals. "I knew I had to get it deeper, but I knew I was playing the right way, hitting the ball good, so I just kept the same way of hitting it."

Sieg again fell behind a break in the third set, but she again immediately got the break back, only to fall behind 4-3. Houghton again couldn't consolidate however, and when Sieg held for 6-5, the pressure mounted on the 16-year-old from Northern California.

When Houghton hit a forehand wide to go down 15-40, but she saved the first match point with a huge forehand, a dangerous shot that Sieg had seen often throughout the match, and saved the second when Sieg hit a backhand wide after a long, tense rally. Sieg stepped into a backhand to force an error to give her a third match point, and after another lengthy rally, it was Houghton who made the error, giving Sieg a coveted Orange Bowl title and a 11-1 singles record over the past 12 days.

"I've just always seen other players win the Orange Bowl, and it's never occurred to me that I could actually win it," said Sieg, who will take a month off before the Central and South American swing in January. "So I'm really happy that I'm able to do it."

Houghton, who had gotten to the final without losing a set, said she didn't feel nervous to start the match, but the possibility of winning did contribute to some jitters later on.

"In the middle of the second set, that's when I got a little nervous," said Houghton, who trains at Tompkins Tennis. "She's a great player, a great fighter and she was getting a lot of balls back. Maybe I got a little impatient, or went for too much on my shots, but she was a really good player."

Houghton has only one ITF Junior Circuit tournament on her resume, a title at the Grade 5 in Canada back in October, but she is looking forward to competing more at that level.

"I definitely would like to start playing more international tournaments," said Houghton, who doesn't consider herself a late bloomer. "I played my first ITF a month ago. These past few years, maybe I've started to train harder, train more and with higher intensity."

Next up for Houghton is the USTA Winter Nationals in Lake Nona Florida, in the 18s. Houghton was aware that last year's 16s runner-up, Fiona Crawley, went on to win the gold ball in the 18s at the Winter Nationals just a few weeks later.

The boys finalists proved just as evenly matched as the girls, with Llamas coming from down an early break down in the first set to breaking to win it, then having a match point in the second set with Blanch serving at 4-5, only to be broken in his next service game, with Blanch taking the second set with a big first serve on his third set point.

Blanch fell behind in the 4-1 in the third set, but his forehand came through for him with Llamas serving at 2-4, and Blanch got back on serve with a winner on his second break point. He couldn't pull even however, with two forehands wide costing him the game and giving Llamas a chance to serve for the match. Blanch earned a 15-40 lead, but Llamas countered with his best serving of the set, hitting four consecutive big first serves to close out the title.

The 15-year-old Blanch, who lives and trains in Argentina, said that the combination of Llamas' style and his quick pace of play wore him down.

"He is a smart player, and he has good hands," said Blanch, who will start his year at the ITF Grade 1 (now called J1) in Costa Rica. "He likes playing long points and he rushes you a lot. There's no rest between points, just another point, another point. He's used to it, but I'm not. I think that I could have played better. I didn't play my best tennis, got very frustrated. I wasn't making the shots I was making in the other matches. I think I could have beaten him, but it wasn't my day."

Llamas, who won the doubles title on Friday, agreed that testing his opponent with his pace of play, and his variety, works for him.

"I try to play quick," Llamas said via an interpreter. "I always try to vary the depth of the ball and make sure that my opponent is never comfortable. I play depending on my opponent."

Llamas acknowledged that countering Blanch's power is not an easy task.

"I've been training very hard for this, trying to get better and better for opponents like this," Llamas said. "I thank everyone, from my team to my teammates to my coaches, everybody in Spain, for their support, for giving me the strength to become an Orange Bowl champion."

The 18s doubles final are scheduled for Sunday, with the girls final between unseeded Kacie Harvey and Natasha Subhash and No. 3 seeds Adrienn Nagy of Hungary and Sohyun Park of Korea.  Harvey and Subhash, finalists at last week's Eddie Herr, defeated top seeds Gauff and Hurricane Tyra Black 6-3, 6-4, with Nagy and Park downing unseeded Savannah Broadus and Kylie Collins 6-0, 6-3.

The boys top seeds also exited in Saturday's semifinals, with No. 4 seeds Sergey Fomin and Gauthier Onclin of Belgium beating Andreev and Great Britain's Anton Matusevich 7-5, 7-6(5). Their opponents in the final will be Justin Schlageter of Germany and Gustaf Strom of Sweden, who beat Tom Leblanc Calverie of France and Mark Mandlik 6-4, 7-5.

For Sunday's order of play, see the tournament website.

Sixteen-year-old Allura Zamarripa swept the titles at the $15,000 ITF Women's Pro Circuit tournament in Bogota Colombia, beating top seed Andrea Villarreal of Mexico 6-3, 6-3 in today's singles final. Allura and twin sister Maribella won their first pro doubles title on Friday.