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Sunday, December 22, 2019

Americans Yakoff and Basavareddy Claim Junior Orange Bowl 14s Titles; Andreeva, Gusic-Wan Capture 12s Championships

©Colette Lewis 2019--
Coral Gables FL--

After five matches in three days, it would have been no surprise if the Junior Orange Bowl champions' arms were too weary to hold the winners' silver bowl of oranges over their heads for the post-match photos. But in spite of the tournament's many rain delays this year, Stephanie Yakoff, Nishesh Basvareddy, Mirra Andreeva and Benjamin Gusic-Wan were able to celebrate their titles with all the traditional ceremonies at the prestigious event, knowing there will be time to rest in the next several days.

Rain threatened throughout the morning, but only a few sprinkles reached the ground, and all four finals were completed without interruption, with the girls 12s and girls 14s and the boys 14s taking place at the Kerdyk Tennis Center at the Biltmore Hotel and the boys 12s eight blocks north at Salvadore Park.

Basavareddy, the No. 2 seed, defeated No. 3 seed Rashed Nawaf (Naif) of Qatar 6-4, 6-3, for the boys 14s title, two years after he had fallen in the 12s championship match.

"Two years ago I was much sadder, because I lost a final after having a really tough semifinal," said the 14-year-old from Carmel Indiana. "This year I'm relieved to finally get over the hump and win such a big tournament. A lot of players from around the world come; it was very competitive and it definitely feels really nice to win this tournament."

Basavareddy, who was out 15 months in 2018 and 2019 with a torn meniscus and a stress fracture in the same knee, said his body held up well during this grueling stretch on hard courts.

"I'm feeling good physically," said Basavareddy, who won the USTA 14s Clay Court Championships and led the US boys to the ITF World Junior Tennis 14-and-under team championships this summer upon his return to competition. "Obviously, five matches in three days is pretty tough, but in USTA you get used to it. Maybe some of these other kids, they only play one match a day, so it was a little bit to my advantage, I think."

Basavareddy also had the advantage of not losing a set in his seven victories, and Nawaf, who relies on his quickness, could feel the fatigue from his two tough wins Saturday.

"I was tired, and yesterday I played maybe more than four hours," said the 14-year-old Nawaf, who was a finalist at Les Petits As in Tarbes France back in January. "I was not really physically there."

Although Nawaf said he wasn't at his best physically, he managed to use his slice, his speed and his hands to force Basavareddy to end a point with yet another shot.

"He's a really good mover, he gets to a lot of balls, and it's tough to finish a point against him," Basavareddy said. "I was able to come to the net, play a little bit more aggressive than in the last couple of days, trying to take it to him and make sure he didn't feel comfortable running around and scrambling back balls."

With Nawaf getting so many balls back via defensive lobs, Basavareddy was presented with many more overheads than he is accustomed to hitting.

"It was tough, and his lobs were really good, often landing a couple of inches from the baseline," Basavareddy said. "So that was obviously really tough."

Basavareddy served for the match at 5-2, couldn't close it out on his serve, but he broke Nawaf in the final game, crushing a forehand winner to secure the title.

"I was trying to use my slice effectively, bring him to the net and maneuver him around the court," Basavareddy said. "And I think that worked out pretty well."

Despite the loss, and his fatigue, Nawaf was pleased with his tournament. "It was a really good week, and still a good result to end in the final."
Like Basavareddy, Yakoff moved into the final without having lost a set, and like him, she ended her tournament 14-0 in sets won, beating top seed Kayla Cross of Canada 6-2, 6-3. Although the score doesn't appear especially close, Yakoff was often in trouble, but managed to get herself out of it in every instance.

"She played really well, I felt like," said Yakoff, a 14-year-old from Fort Lee, New Jersey. "The points were long and almost every game went to deuce, so it was still a tough match. My serve was definitely working--I don't think I got broken--and so was my forehand line. I was definitely being aggressive on that."

Cross was unhappy with her inability to take advantage of her opportunities.

"It was close every game, we both had chances every game, but she just played better in the important points," said the 14-year-old left-hander from London, Ontario. "Those points, she just made more balls than me. I would either go for too much or not enough, and I think that's what made the difference."

Cross, who had lost in the second round of both the Eddie Herr and Junior Orange Bowl 14s last year, can see the progress she has made in claiming the title in Bradenton and reaching the final here.

"Eddie Herr was huge in confidence for me," said Cross, who will start 2020 with two ITF Grade 2s in Tunisia. "I've always done pretty good in tournaments, quarters, semis, but I wasn't really ever getting to finals. But this year I've won a few ITFs, and it's really big, winning Eddie Herr and coming to the finals here."

Yakoff, who won the USTA Winter Nationals in the 12s two years ago, counts this as her most significant title.

"I've been training for this tournament for months," said Yakoff, who did not play Eddie Herr, opting for the USTA Indoor Nationals instead, where she finished third in the 16s. "It's definitely one of the highlights of my career."

Yakoff will not have much time off to enjoy her Junior Orange Bowl title, with the USTA Winter Nationals, where she'll play the 16s division, coming up for her in Lake Nona beginning December 28th.
While Cross won the Eddie Herr title and made the final at the Junior Orange Bowl, Andreeva flipped that script, losing in the Eddie Herr final, but taking the winner's bowl of oranges at the Junior Orange Bowl with a 6-1, 6-3 victory over No. 5 seed Yelyzaveta Kotliar of Ukraine.

Andreeva, the No. 8 seed, got off to a quick start in the match, but the second set was considerably tougher, with lengthy points and deuce games. Down 4-1 in the second set, Kotliar started her comeback by winning two consecutive games, but Andreeva closed the door to earn the title, the first by a Russian girl in the 12s division since Valeriya Solovyeva in 2004.

"This tournament went well, and I will be here one more time,” Andreeva told Simon Lehrer of juniororangebowl.org after the match, as she looks forward to graduating to the 14s division next year. “I hope to win it again.”
Andy Murray now has company as a Junior Orange Bowl 12s champion, with Benjamin Gusic-Wan becoming the first boy from Great Britain to capture that title since Murray did it in 1999. Gusic-Wan, the No. 6 seed, defeated top seed Alejandro Arcila of Colombia 6-3, 6-3 on the Har-Tru courts of Salvadore Park.

Gusic-Wan said he got off to a slow start, but soon had figured out what he needed to do to counteract Arcila's game style.

"I needed to find my range in the first games, but then I got into it a bit more," said the diminutive right-hander, who recently turned 12.

"He was an aggressive baseliner and liked to attack with his forehand, so I had to move him about, hit some angles," said Gusic-Wan, who won the prestigious Open Super 12 in Auray France back in February.

Gusic-Wan, who hopes to play the big 14-and-under tournaments next month in Bolton and Tarbes, said he did not think about joining Andy Murray as a Junior Orange Bowl champion until he finished the match. "It's good to be there with him," Gusic-Wan said with a laugh.

Only two third place matches were contested Sunday morning, with Manas Dhamne of India defeating Calvin Baierl of the United States 3-6, 6-0, 7-5 in the boys 12s and Rodrigo Pacheco Mendez of Mexico beating Alexandru Mihai Coman of Romania 6-1, 7-6(3) in the boys 14s.

Sara Saito of Japan took third in the girls 14s, with Cadence Brace of Canada a no-show. The third place girls 12s match between Mariia Masiianskaia and Alina Korneeva of Russia was not played.

Complete draws can be found at the TennisLink site.