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Saturday, September 7, 2019

Nava Reaches Boys US Open Final, Qualifier Yepifanova Comes From Behind Twice to Advance to Girls Championship Match; Spizzirri and Zink Win Boys Doubles Title

©Colette Lewis 2019--
Flushing Meadows NY--

The two Americans who won two matches on Saturday to reach the finals of the US Open Junior Championships are at different stages of their junior careers, but they have in common saving a match point earlier in the week.

No. 8 seed Emilio Nava, who reached the final of the Australian Open in January, was down 5-1 in the third set against Matteo Arnaldi of Italy in the second round, saving a match point at 5-3 in a 6-7(4), 7-5, 7-5 victory. Qualifier Alexandra Yepifanova was down 6-3, 5-3 to Mai Nirundorn of Thailand in the third round, but saved a match point in that game and went on to earn a 3-6, 7-5, 7-6(3) win.

Of the two, Nava had the easier day Saturday, spending less than two hours on Louis Armstrong Stadium, where both of his matches were played. Nava needed just 53 minutes to defeat No. 15 seed Jiri Lehecka of the Czech Republic 6-3, 6-1 in the quarterfinals, and then took out fellow American Cannon Kingsley 6-4, 6-0 in 59 minutes.

"In my first match (against Lehecka), I had a tough first set, then I ended up relaxing in the second and going for my shots a little more," Nava said. "I think the same (against Kingsley) this afternoon as well. Really tough first set--serving for the set he had a break point--then I just relaxed in the second, hit my shots."

Kingsley, who had won a tough physical battle with left-hander Dominic Stricker of Switzerland 7-6(4), 6-3 to reach his first junior slam semifinal, was impressed with Nava's level throughout the match.

"I think I had a little bit of a longer match than him in my first match today, but he played, like, really well," Kingsley said. "I don't think it would have made much of a difference the way he was playing today. But I'm just happy I had a good last junior tournament."

Nava, who was initially not seeded due to an administrative error when the draw first came out last Saturday, said his close calls in the first two rounds have helped him loosen up.

"Now I'm just playing really relaxed," said the 17-year-old from Woodland Hills California, who is playing just his second event since an oblique injury at the end of June. "I won, but I'm not really supposed to be here. But yeah, I'm definitely out here having fun."

Nava, who is the cousin of ATP pro Ernesto Escobedo, is expecting to have an advantage against No. 4 seed Jonas Forejtek of the Czech Republic, who had not advanced beyond the round of 16 in any junior slam prior to this week.

"When I played in Australia I was a bit nervous," Nava said. "It was the same as with (Australian champion Lorenzo) Musetti, because he played here in the final (last year). I won the first set and was playing pretty relaxed and in the third, got a little tight at the end. But now I think that will definitely help, for sure."

Forejtek does have experience in junior slam finals, having won the Australian Open and Wimbledon boys doubles titles this year, beating Kingsley and Nava in the Melbourne final. But unlike Nava, who has played on show courts Court 17, Grandstand and Louis Armstrong this week, Forejtek will get his first look at Armstrong at practice Sunday morning.

In the quarterfinals against qualifier Milan Welte of Germany, Forejtek led 5-1 in the final set, but had to save a break point at 5-all before converting his fourth match point in a 3-6, 7-5, 7-5 win. Against No. 11 seed Brandon Nakashima, Forejtek was able to apply pressure by coming to net on key points in his 7-6(4), 6-3 victory.

"I don't have a problem with that," said the 18-year-old, who won a $25,000 ITF World Tennis Tour tournament last month. "But with Nakashima I missed some easy volleys, so that was not so good. But on the important points, at the end, when it was 7-6, 5-3, important point, I went to the net and won the point."

Nakashima was not pleased with his level of play against Forejtek, after beating his doubles partner, No. 14 seed Valentin Royer of France, 6-4, 6-4 in the quarterfinals.

"I wasn't feeling it as well as I was in the first match," Nakashima said. "He was getting more balls in play than my first opponent. He's a solid player. In the tiebreaker, I didn't get a good start and he played some pretty good points. It was very solid on my end; just some sloppy errors that cost me the first set."
In the all-US girls quarterfinal between Yepifanova and wild card Reese Brantmeier, Yepifanova trailed 6-4, 3-0 before requesting a medical timeout. When she returned, with her left thigh wrapped, Yepifanova won eight consecutive games to take a 2-0 lead in the third set and went on to claim a 4-6, 6-3, 6-1 win.

In the semifinals, Yepifanova won her third consecutive match from a set down, beating No. 4 seed Qinwen Zheng of China 3-6, 6-4, 7-5. Yepifanova admitted that she needed time to adapt to Zheng's big hitting, falling behind 4-0 to open the match.

"The girl came out blasting the ball from both sides," the 16-year-old from Florida said. "She was playing great; I was like, what do I do?"

Zheng couldn't sustain that level and Yepifanova raised her game in the second and third sets. She broke to serve for the match at 5-4, but Zheng forced an error at 30-15, then hit a clean forehand winner to earn a break point, and Yepifanova double faulted.

It was Zheng's turn to double fault at 30-40 in the next game, and with a second chance to serve out the match Yepifanova got a lot more first serves in than she had in her previous attempt.

"First serves were crucial," Yepifanova said. "That was my plan for the match: serve plus one mostly. The first time I served for the match, I was up 30-15 and I could just feel my arms getting heavy, myself shaking. The second time, I made myself relax and take more time and make the first serve, focus on that mostly."

Yepifanova went with a body serve on match point and Zheng couldn't get it back in play, giving Yepifanova her seventh win in the past nine days.

"As anyone would be in my situation, I was pretty disappointed that I didn't get the main draw wild card," said Yepifanova, who now trains at IMG, but is still grieving the recent death of Konstantin Anisimov, her coach since she was 12. "But now looking back it, I feel it was good, because I gained so much confidence after qualifying...After that, I knew I could win matches at the Open, even knowing I'm playing such a big tournament."

Yepifanova admits her form coming into the tournament--a second round loss in San Diego and a first round lost at the College Park Grade 1--didn't suggest a run like this, but she's not really surprised.

"I know that my results recently didn't really match up to this, but I knew I was capable of playing very well," Yepifanova said. "I knew that I was capable of playing girls who are ranked much higher than I am, so this is suprising, it's the US Open, I'm in the finals, but at the same time, I knew I could be at this level."

Yepifanova's opponent in Sunday's final, No. 4 seed Maria Camilla Osorio Serrano, had comebacks of her own to take pride in. Down 3-0 to No. 7 seed Kamilla Bartone of Latvia when rain postponed play Friday, Osorio won six straight games to start Saturday's match and went on to post a 6-3, 6-4 win. Against unseeded Oksana Selekhmeteva of Russia, who had taken out wild card Katrina Scott 1-6, 6-3, 6-3 in the quarterfinals, Osorio trailed 3-0 in the final set.

But after a medical timeout, Osorio won six of the next seven games to earn a 6-3, 6-7(3), 6-4 win and she could not be happier to have finally reached a junior slam final in her last attempt.

"You can't imagine how I feel right now," said Osorio, who reached the semifinals here last year and at the French Open this year.  "In the third set I was 3-0 down and I was like, what is this? Cami you have this chance, just take it. I called the physio for my leg and I had the time to stop and think what I am doing. I get on the court and just think, relax, this is your last tournament, just enjoy and that's what I did. I was so focused on every point."

Osorio and Yepifanova will be meeting for the first time on Sunday.

The girls doubles final, originally scheduled for this afternoon, was delayed until Sunday due to the two three-set matches that Selekhmeteva played in singles. She and Bartone, the No. 5 seeds, will face the unseeded team of Aubane Droguet and Selena Janicijevic of France in the final.
The boys doubles final did go off as scheduled today, with the unseeded American team of Eliot Spizzirri and Tyler Zink defeating Andrew Paulson of the Czech Republic and Alexander Zgirovsky of Belarus 7-6(4), 6-4.

There were no breaks of serve in the first set and just one deuce point, but in the second set four of the first six games were decided on that no-ad point, with each team winning two. After Zink dropped serve on a deciding point, he and Spizzirri won a deciding point in the next game after Zgirovsky had led 40-15 in the game.

"The first time we got broken in the match and we broke right back," Spizzirri said. "It was a big game, getting that back, shutting down all the momentum they got from breaking us. I think was definitely a key moment in that second set."

As a large crowd continued to build on Court 6 with the women's final in Ashe Stadium over, Zink held for 5-4, putting the pressure on Zgirovsky. Down 15-40, Zgirovsky came up with a backhand volley winner to save the first match point, and Spizzirri missed a backhand long on the second match point. But on the deciding point, Zink sent his return to Paulson at the net, then waited to see whether the forehand volley Paulson hit would be in or out.

"I wasn't sure if it was going out or not," said Spizzirri. "It was like sitting in the air forever, I was like, please go out."

Zink and Spizzirri won a Grade 1 title in Brazil in February and vowed to play together as much as they could the rest of the year. They won another Grade 1 this spring in Italy, but second round losses at the French and Wimbledon put a damper on their summer, as did Zink's illness in Kalamazoo, where they withdrew before playing a match.

"We loved our chemistry together and decided to play for the whole year," Zink said. "French and Wimbledon we had two pretty tough losses, where it could have gone either way. And then Kalamazoo, I had to pull out because of illness. We definitely got a little unlucky here and there, but just super grateful that it kind of clicked here."

"There's no better time for it to click," Spizzirri said. "This is our last junior tournament, US Open, our home tourney."

"Yeah, there's no better time to click," Zink said. "We both went after it this week, but we knew the whole time we could do this."

"We just kept building, building and getting better, and like I said, we're so happy that it clicked here, at our last event," Spizzirri said.

Saturday’s quarterfinal junior singles results for Americans:

Brandon Nakashima[11] d. Valentin Royer[14](FRA) 6-4, 6-4
Emilio Nava[8] d. Jiri Lechecka[15](CZE) 6-3, 6-1
Cannon Kingsley d. Dominic Stricker(SUI) 7-6(3), 6-4
Oksana Selekhmeteva(RUS) d. Katrina Scott[WC]  1-6, 6-3, 6-3
Alexandra Yepifanova[Q] d. Reese Brantmeier[WC] 4-6, 6-3, 6-1

Saturday’s semifinal junior singles results for Americans:
Jonas Forejtek[4](CZE) d. Brandon Nakashima[11] 7-6(4), 6-3
Emilio Nava[8] d. Cannon Kingsley 6-4, 6-0
Alexandra Yepifanova[Q] d. Qinwen Zheng[5](CHN) 3-6, 6-4, 7-5

Serena Williams[8] lost to No. 15 seed Bianca Andreescu of Canada 6-3, 7-5 in the women's final.

Unseeded Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Great Britain's Jamie Murray won the mixed doubles title, beating top seeds Hao-Ching Chan of Taiwan and former LSU star Michael Venus of New Zealand 6-2, 6-3.