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Sunday, September 29, 2019

United States Retains Junior Fed Cup Trophy, Mochizuki Leads Japan to Junior Davis Cup Title over United States

©Colette Lewis 2019--
Lake Nona FL--

The Junior Fed Cup trophy won't be going anywhere. The United States has had possession of the silver cup since 2017, and this year they claimed the ITF 16-and-under world team championship on home soil, beating No. 3 seed Czech Republic 2-1 at the USTA's National Campus.  The top-seeded US boys fell short, dropping a 2-1 decision to No. 2 seed Japan in the Junior Davis Cup final.

Connie Ma again put the US in the lead, beating Barbora Palicova 6-1, 6-3 at No. 2 singles on the Har-Tru Championship court. The 16-year-old from Dublin California absorbed the pace of the powerful Palicova, who began struggling when she discovered she could not hit through Ma. Ma fell behind 2-1 in the second set, and was broken twice, but she got the break she needed at 4-3, playing some great defense on break point. Ma served well in the final game, but Palicova hung in until 30-30, when she made two forehand errors to give Ma the match.

The Czechs needed to win No. 1 singles to keep the match alive and they did, with 14-year-old Linda Noskova defeating 15-year-old Katrina Scott 6-2, 3-6, 6-3.  Noskova, who stepped into the No. 1 singles position with Darja Vidmanova suffering from an injury, led
6-2, 3-1 before Scott won five games in a row to send the match to a third set. Scott couldn't quite sustain that momentum after a 10-minute heat break however, and Noskova broke in the sixth game, which was the only break she needed, serving out the match at love.

With Vidmanova's injury, Noskova and Palicova were doing double duty every match, while the US had Robin Montgomery, who had not played singles in the knock-out phase of the tournament, playing with Ma in the doubles. In the quarterfinals against Italy, Ma and Montgomery had claimed the doubles point to get the victory, and they came through again Sunday, coming from 4-1 down in the second set to take the point and the Cup 6-2, 7-5.

Noskova served for the second set at 5-3, but double faulted three times to keep the US team in it. Montgomery held serve in the next game, with Ma hitting a backhand drop volley winner to close out the game, and they broke Palicova in the next game, with Ma hitting a return winner and a volley winner to put the US up 6-5. Serving for the title, Ma fell behind 30-40, but she hit a backhand on the line to get to the deciding point, and the title belonged to the Americans, when Palicova's backhand volley found the net.

"So solid, so solid in singles, nothing for free," Captain Jamea Jackson said of Ma's performance this week. "And when things came down to the wire in doubles, she stepped it up to a whole other level. That's what great competitors do. I was so proud of her; this is her second year doing this and just to see her grow up and blossom before my eyes, it's one of the rewarding parts of what we do."
The Junior Fed Cup trophy stays in the US for another year
Ma was on last year's championship team, but did not play in the final, with Coco Gauff and Alexa Noel clinching the title against Ukraine by winning the doubles point. This year it was Ma's turn to step up when it counted, and Montgomery gave her credit for that mindset.

"Connie came in clutch, hitting the clean cross court shot right on the line," the 15-year-old Montgomery said of Ma's winner at 30-40. "Connie pulled some amazing shots at the end to make it go our way."

"Robin made amazing shots as well," said Ma. "It was a team effort."

"You have to think of all these teams bringing their three best players," Montgomery said. "Every match is going to be tough, especially since we're representing our country. Everyone's going to put their fight into it, because they're representing their country."

Scott appreciated earning the title at home, with fans waving small American flags as they cheered on the girls.

"It was amazing to win in the first place, and then having it be at our home courts is even more amazing," Scott said. "It's more memorable, an experience we'll never forget."

Czech captain Daniel Vanek was proud of his team's effort, but disappointed that they couldn't send the doubles match to a tiebreaker.

"We had a good chance to win for sure," Vanek said. "Full respect to the USA, they played doubles the way I like, positive, aggressive, they were going for it. It's a great achievement, making the final. Of course we're a little bit sad, but if you say to me before that we make the final, almost make a match tiebreaker, I'll take it. But for them to win at home, that's nice."

Jackson was impressed by how well Montgomery and Ma played as a team without having any previous experience.

"Maybe they'd played like one match together," Jackson said. "So credit to them to be able to jell together so quickly. They're a good team and they're capable of playing really, really good doubles. In the last four or five games, that was the best doubles they've played."

"It was amazing to do this at home," Jackson said, as she made arrangements to store the Cup before heading to the player party at Disney Springs. "Game, set and match for the United States, but everybody wants more. It's not enough."
The boys final, played at the same time on Court 2, started well for the home team, with Toby Kodat defeating Kokoro Isomura 6-3, 6-3 at No. 2 singles for a 1-0 lead. But then, it was Shintaro time, as Wimbledon boys champion Shintaro Mochizuki took the court, and as he had done in five of the six Japanese wins, brought his team even with a victory at No. 1 singles.

Mochizuki had beaten the United States' No. 1 player, Martin Damm, 6-1, 0-6, 10-8 in the Wimbledon semifinal, saving a match point, so he knew the challenge he faced against his friend and fellow IMG student. But Mochizuki returned well, had little trouble holding serve and outplayed Damm in a first set tiebreaker, going up 6-0 before winning it 7-3.

Mochizuki earned the first break in the match with Damm serving at 3-4 in the second set, but the 16-year-old couldn't close out the match, getting broken at love. Damm brought it back to 5-all, but Mochizuki rebounded to hold for a 6-5 lead, and Damm found himself in trouble serving at 5-6, 15-30. Mochizuki hit a deft offensive lob winner to earn his first match point and he closed it out with a forehand winner for a 7-6(3), 7-5 victory and a chance to win a doubles match for the championship.

Damm and Kodat had saved three match points in their doubles win against Spain in the quarterfinals and two match points in their doubles win over No. 3 France in the semifinals, so they were familiar with pressure situations.  They started well against Mochizuki and Yamato Sueoka, breaking Mochizuki in the second game, but Kodat was broken in his next two service games and Japan took the first set 6-4.

Kodat held from 15-40 down in the opening game, but Damm was broken serving at 1-1, with a controversial call ending the game. On the deciding point, Damm hit what appeared to be a clean ace and he and Kodat were already ready to sit down at the changeover when the Japanese team asked for the chair umpire to check the mark. Although the line judge had not called the ball out, the chair ruled it was out, and after an lengthy argument and a discussion with ITF referee Carlos Ramos, the chair umpire's decision stood. Damm then double faulted and the Americans could not get that break back, with the final score 6-4, 6-3.

"We don't win or lose this tie on that serve, obviously," said US captain Philippe Oudshoorn. "I thought it was in, I thought it was clean on the line. I haven't seen a replay, but I had some people text me that it was ridiculous, because that was on the line. It's a big point, a deuce point to be broken. That was a tough pill to swallow, but we said all week there were going to be obstacles and challenges and we've faced many and overcome many. On that particular point, we weren't able to come back. But at the end of the day, that team was better. They were just better."

Kodat was particularly impressed by Japan's play throughout the match, especially Sueoka's.

"It was ridiculous how they played, they played so well, no mistakes," Kodat said. "The other guy just played perfect today, crazy. There's not much you can do, really."

Oudshoorn agreed.

"Shintaro's fighting spirit is second to none, and I was super surprised by the guy in doubles," Oudshoorn said. "He played phenomenal, lights out. It was so fast, I was almost getting dizzy, how quick everything was going. And Shintaro played fantastic in singles. The promise was to play every point and that's what the boys did. It was a really fun two weeks, the training week and now. Looking back on it, maybe not today, but it was a really, really fun two weeks."

Although Damm expressed disappointment with the loss in the final, he recognized that earning a silver medal was no small accomplishment.

"It could have ended a couple of days ago in the quarterfinals," said Damm, who turns 16 Monday. "Losing in the finals is never easy but on the other hand, we have to look at the positives and be happy we made it this far."

With a Wimbledon singles title and a Junior Davis Cup trophy claimed in the last three months, Mochizuki has made great strides in his game since playing No. 2 singles on Japan's fifth place Junior Davis Cup team last year.

"It's different," Mochizuki said, when asked to compare his two biggest titles. "It's always tough to win here, and it's another big tournament for me to win. I really love competing with my team; my teammates are really nice and I love playing this tournament."

Mochizuki admitted it took him a few matches to come to terms with his position of having to bring his team back by winning singles and doubles day after day.

"First day, second day, I was a bit nervous before the matches, a bit tight," Mochizuki said. "But I got used to it and in the quarters, semifinals, finals I was always ready, if the No. 2 singles lose, and I just tried my best."

Captain Ko Iwamoto marveled at how Mochizuki has been able to carry the load throughout the week, with temperatures in the 90s every day and the pressure always on him to perform.

"He won every match, singles and doubles, he hasn't lost," said Iwamoto, who coached Japan's last Junior Davis Cup champion in 2010 and has been captain of the team every year since. "Just one day we won 3-0, but all the other days we lost No. 2 singles and Shintaro has to win No. 1 and doubles. But six days, we came through. I'm very happy and very proud of these boys."

In the third place matches, Serbia defeated France 2-0 in Junior Davis Cup and Russia beat Germany 2-0 in Junior Fed Cup.

Complete standing and results of all six matches that all 32 teams played this week can be found at the ITF tournament site.