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Saturday, September 28, 2019

Damm and Kodat Save Match Points Again to Put US into Junior Davis Cup Final Against Japan; US Girls Reach Sixth Straight Junior Fed Cup Final, Face Czech Republic for Title

©Colette Lewis 2019--
Lake Nona FL--

The top-seeded US boys came from behind to beat No. 3 seed France in the Junior Davis Cup semifinals, and for the second straight day Martin Damm and Toby Kodat saved match points in the deciding doubles rubber to advance. They will play No. 2 seed Japan for the title, after they also won a deciding doubles match to advance over No. 4 seed Serbia.

The US girls will play for their third straight title Sunday after defeating No. 6 seeds Germany 2-0, but the No. 2 seeds will not play top seeds Russia, who lost to the Czech Republic in the third deciding doubles match of the semifinals.

Matches were halted just after noon under the ITF's extreme heat policy, with all the No. 2 singles matches completed, except the US vs Germany match, which started at 11 a.m., rather than 10.  All three teams that lost that No. 2 singles match went on to win in the doubles, none more dramatically, again, than the US boys.

USA captain Philippe Oudshoorn elected to play Dali Blanch at No. 2 singles, despite Toby Kodat's impressive victory Friday in the quarterfinals against Spain.

"Toby really wasn't ready to compete at the time, and I had a lot of confidence in Dali," Oudshoorn said. "I thought it was the right move for everyone involved. The guy from France played fantastic, but no, it was my decision."

Blanch could not get going against Mehdi Sadaoui, going down 6-2, 4-0 before a mini surge saw him win two games in a row for the first time in the match. But Blanch was broken again and Sadaoui closed out the match in an hour and 22 minutes.

After his grueling three-set singles loss in the quarterfinals to Daniel Rincon Yague of Spain, and a thriller of a doubles match, in which he and Kodat saved three match points, Damm was not sure what shape he would be in for his singles against France's Giovanni Mpetshi-Perricard.

"I woke up this morning feeling really well," Damm said. "I was scared there would be a hard time to play today, and actually I didn't fall asleep right away, but I woke up feeling pretty good."

Damm knew that he would have to play well to beat Mpetshi-Perricard, who is one of the only juniors taller than the 6-foot-7 Damm.

"I know how he plays, he has a serve," Damm said. "At 2-1, I had some chances on his serve early so I was bummed about the suspension. But as the match went on, I was feeling better and better and I knew that I had to win."

Damm got the only break of the first set in the fifth game and closed out the set with a forehand winner. He went up two breaks and held for 5-1, but he couldn't close out the match on his first attempt at 5-2, with two double faults contributing to his only loss of serve in the match. But on his second attempt, Damm held to love to earn a 6-4, 6-4 win and send the match into the deciding doubles.

Damm and Kodat fell behind 4-1 in the first set against Mpetshi-Perricard and Max Westphal, and although they had several chance to break back, they lost two deciding points on France's serve.

Damm and Kodat started well in the second set, going up 3-0, but Mpetshi-Perricard and Westphal fought back to 3-3. Westphal lost his serve to love  in the eighth game and Damm closed out the second set on serve, hitting a forehand winner at 40-30 to send the match to a match tiebreaker.

Up 7-6 in the match tiebreaker, Kodat lost both of his serves and Mpetshi-Perricard held his first point on serve to gave France a 9-7 lead. But Mpetshi-Perricard missed a backhand volley to squander the first match point, and Damm got a let-cord ace to save the second.

"Thank god the ITF made that new rule," Damm said of the 2018 decision to play lets on serve. "I don't think I've actually ever hit a serve where it dribbles over for an ace. I knew I had to hit an unreal serve and I hit an unbelievably, ridiculously good serve," he joked.

Damm and Kodat did not convert their first match point at 10-9, with Damm missing a forehand return, but a forehand winner set up another chance and they converted.

"I'm hoping that's the last time," Kodat said of another match-point saving win, which they also came up with en route to the Kalamazoo 18s doubles title this year. "Hopefully, it never goes there again," Damm said. "Obviously that wasn't our goal, to save two match points again, but it's a win, so we'll take anything."

Oudshoorn said the team's philosophy has not been geared to drama, even though that has been a theme the past two days.

"I keep echoing the same thing the whole week," said Oudshoorn. "The one thing that we said was that we were going to be gritty and persistent and fight, no matter what the score...the typical messages are to be smart aggressive and pick each other up and have high energy."
While Japan's win over Serbia was not as dramatic, it was the third consecutive day that Wimbledon boys champion Shintaro Mochizuki had to dig his team out from a 1-0 deficit with a win in singles and then in doubles.

Serbia's Stefan Popovic defeated Kokoro Isomura 6-4, 7-6(4) at No. 2 singles to put his team in the lead, but Mochizuki countered with a 6-1, 6-3 win over Hamad Mededovic at No. 1 singles to send it to the doubles. Mochizuki and Yamato Sueoka then took the doubles 7-5, 6-2 to put Japan into the Junior Davis Cup final for the first time since 2010.

Ko Iwamoto, who has served as Japan's team captain since that championship year, gave credit to Mochizuki for what he's done to lead the team.

"Our No. 1 player, Shintaro, he pulled out our team," said Iwamoto. "During the match, I'm not telling them what to do too much. Our No. 1 player, he has the game already, so I just try to motivate. Every day, it's getting better and they are enjoying the atmosphere."
While Japan may have ended something of a Junior Davis Cup drought with their performance this year, the US girls are putting together an impressive string, with this the sixth consecutive year they have played for the Junior Fed Cup title.

"It's great that we have players coming through each and every year who are at the level to win it, who are gunning for it, who believe that they can do it," said team captain Jamea Jackson. "That's the kind of culture we're trying to build and sustain. We've got to keep our eyes on the prize, never satisfied."

Connie Ma, who was on the championship team last year that featured Coco Gauff and Alexa Noel, has been perfect so far this week, going 4-0 in singles and 4-0 in doubles. She got the US off to another fast start today, beating Nastasja Schunk 6-2, 6-2 at No. 2 singles. That set the stage for Katrina Scott, who admitted she felt extra motivated by her loss in singles to Italy, the only match the US has lost in the five days of the competition.

"It was disappointing not being able to get the win yesterday," said Scott, who beat Mara Guth 6-3, 6-4 at No. 1 singles to clinch the win. "But Robin [Montgomery] and Connie did really well in doubles and really picked me up. I was really fired up for today, and I think that was what helped me."

Scott went up 3-0 in the second set, but gave both of those breaks back, with Guth holding just once and Scott only twice, including in the final game. The wind became a factor in the second set, which meant many a service toss caught and many balls sailing long.

"Very, very tough conditions," Scott said. "The wind really picked up in the second set and it was really difficult for the serve, especially when I was on the further side, but I'm glad I was able to get through it and find my way."

Scott and Montgomery were on the ITF World Junior Tennis 14-and-under team last year, finishing third, so making the final feels like a significant step forward in this 16-and-under competition this year.

"Me and Robin lost in the semifinals last year, to Russia, it was pretty close," Scott said. "So it felt good to clinch the win to go to the finals. It's amazing, amazing, amazing and it's good I can do it with some of my really good friends. My best friend Robin, and Connie, I haven't had as many trips with her, but I already love her. It's so fun to do it with this team."
The Czech Republic's appearance in the final is all the more remarkable given that their No. 1 player, Darja Vidmanova, has not been able to play singles since the second day of round robin play. But 14-year-old Linda Noskova has stepped in to replace her and carried the No. 3 seeds to the finals, winning at No. 1 singles yesterday to clinch against No. 5 seed Thailand and at No. 1 singles today to send the match to a deciding the deciding doubles.

Polina Kudermetova defeated Barbora Palicova 6-4, 6-2 at No. 2 singles to give Russia a 1-0 lead, but Noskova came back to take out US Open semifinalist Oksana Selekhmeteva 3-6, 6-0, 6-2.  In the doubles, another comeback was necessary for the Czechs, with Kudermetova and Selekhmeteva winning the opening set, but Noskova and Palicova taking the second and holding off the Russians in the match tiebreaker for a 3-6, 6-3, 10-8 victory.

Up 9-6 in the tiebreaker with Palicova serving, the Czechs looked in good position to close it out, but an error and a Kudermetova return winner made it 9-8 with Selekhmeteva serving. Noskova took charge however, moving forward and closing out the match with a backhand volley winner to put the Czechs in the final for the first time since they beat the United States in the 2016 championship match.

"It's a special moment," said Czech team captain Daniel Vanek, who coaches Vidmanova. "I'm a little bit disappointed, because she is not in good shape, so I can't play her. But otherwise, I'm really happy that we reach the final. It's a great achievement and I look forward to play US in the final. We had a tough group with France, Argentina; it took a lot of effort to get to the final."

Both finals are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, with coverage provided by Tennis Channel. The third and fourth place matches and all other compass draw matches are scheduled for 10 a.m.

Live scoring for boys is here and live scoring for girls is here.

All results from today are available at the ITF tournament site.