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Sunday, December 15, 2019

Montgomery Claims Orange Bowl Title; Tirante's Junior Career Ends with Orange Bowl Championship and No. 1 Ranking; Krueger Adds Orange Bowl 16s Title after Winning Eddie Herr Last Week

©Colette Lewis 2019--
Plantation FL--

For American Robin Montgomery, the Orange Bowl Grade A title she won on a sun-splashed Sunday afternoon at the Veltri Tennis Center serves as validation of the progress the 15-year-old has made in her game during 2019. For Thiago Tirante of Argentina, the Orange Bowl title was the exclamation point in remarkable late season run that saw the 18-year-old end his junior career as the ITF World Junior Champion.

Montgomery looked as if she would have to wait for her first Grade A title when she fell behind unseeded Jana Kolodynska of Belarus 5-2 in the first set. With unforced errors piling up and Kolodynska giving her little to work with, Montgomery appeared to flip a switch, winning ten straight points to get back on serve and carrying that momentum to a 7-6(4), 6-3 victory.

"I was missing a lot," said the left-handed Montgomery, who lives in Washington DC and trains at the Junior Tennis Champions Center in nearby College Park Maryland. "I think it was because of nerves and I wasn't moving my feet very much. I remembered that my coach said whenever I'm nervous I need to start moving extra, and somehow at 2-5 that clicked. I think it was footwork, and just trusting my shots. I was overhitting, then underhitting. It was me just trying to find my rhythm, the momentum with my shots and trusting myself."

There was only one break of serve in the tiebreaker, with Montgomery crushing a backhand winner to go up 3-1. She cracked two aces to go up 5-2, one a lefty kicker and the second a big bomb. Kolodynska, who also used her first serve to her advantage throughout the match, kept the pressure on with a good first serve and a running forehand winner to make it 5-4, but Montgomery hit another backhand winner to earn a set point and converted it when Kolodynska missed a backhand return of a second serve.

The girls traded early service breaks in the second set, but Kolodynska was broken in a long eighth game. The 16-year-old right-hander had three game points, but couldn't convert any of them and Montgomery, after missing a return on her first break point, blasted a forehand return winner on the second to take a 5-3 lead. Closing out the title wasn't easy, with Montgomery needing to save a break point, but she kept attacking and forced errors on the last two points to win the championship.
Montgomery said that Kolodynska excelled in keeping her off balance.

"She can change the pace really well. One point, she's hitting as hard as she can and it's a good ball," Montgomery said. "The next point, she's slowing the pace down a little bit, so I had to create my own pace, which is what I think she did very well in the beginning of the first set. But then she started hitting at my pace, and that helped me in the match."

The crowd at the match was solidly in Montgomery's corner.

"Some of the kids from [JTCC] were here because they're playing the Junior Orange Bowl next week, and my family came to watch and some other coaches," said Montgomery. "I think because some of crowd knew I was American, there were like, yeah, we're going to go for her."

Montgomery, who is playing the Australian Open Junior Championships next month, was still processing what the title will mean for her.

"It's another stepping stone for me," said Montgomery, who will begin playing more pro tournaments in 2020, while also competing at the junior slams. "I am very happy, and I'll probably celebrate tonight, but then once I go back home, it's back to training. Next is trying to execute in the pros and see if I can make it. I'm going to have to believe of course, and I do believe I can make it, it's just a matter of time."

Kolodynska, who also made the Eddie Herr final two weeks ago, was much happier with her performance in the Orange Bowl final.

"I'm growing up and I'm getting better," Kolodynska said of her two week run. "It's the finals, it's very good for me. It's my best tournament. I played good, she played very well also."
In the boys final, Tirante somehow managed to maintain his level, despite playing for a third straight week at the highest levels of junior tennis. Winning the Grade A in Mexico, the Eddie Herr and, today, the Orange Bowl, the 18-year-old top seed from Argentina again proved mentally and physically superior to the field, closing out his junior career with a 6-0, 6-3 win over No. 9 seed Juan Bautista Torres of Argentina and earning the year-end No. 1 ranking to become ITF World Junior Champion.

"In the head and physical, I'm very tired this week," said Tirante, who is the first player from Argentina to win the Orange Bowl 18s since Mariano Zabaleta in 1995. "So I try to focus on the first set whenever I can, so not to play longer matches--it's difficult for the physical. I started this tournament playing ok, normal and I finished the tournament amazing."

Tirante had beaten Torres three times this year, and Tirante believes he has an advantage on the slower clay.

"I play consistent, solid," Tirante said. "I know him so much and he plays better when the point goes faster, so I try to play more slow, more ups and downs, slice, strategy. I played good today."

Torres agreed.

"He played amazing, and I couldn't play my best tennis," said the 17-year-old, who lost to Tirante in the semifinals of the Grade A in Mexico. "I was a little nervous, my first Grade A final, but congratulations to him. He played really well and he deserved it. I'm happy to play in the final, but I'm a little angry at this moment, because it's never good to lose a final. But there's only two players [left] in the tournament and I'm one of them, so I'm very happy for that."
Tirante reflected on how far he'd come from the beginning of the year, when was ranked outside the Top 100.

"I started the year 120 and I was going to play pro, but I say I'll try my last time in juniors, to play the grand slams, I go to try my best."

In February, Tirante won the Grade A in Brazil and a Grade 1 the following week, achieving his goal of playing in the slams, and won the doubles title at Roland Garros. But for all that success, he never envisioned ending the year as No. 1, a goal that he decided to pursue only after winning the Grade A in Mexico.

"To get to 4 or 5 in ranking, from 120s, it's impossible, and now No. 1, it's incredible," Tirante said. "It's amazing, amazing. I don't know how."

Tirante, who closed out his junior career on a 18-match winning streak, and didn't drop a set in winning the Eddie Herr and Orange Bowl titles, now will focus on improving his ATP ranking.

"I have to play, I have to get more ranking than I have today," said Tirante, who lives in La Plata Argentina. "I am 700, and I have to play tournaments to go up in rankings. I have a break now, this is my last tournament of the year, so I have two weeks, but I have to play."

Tirante, who won the Junior Orange Bowl 14s in 2015, said the Grade A title is a fitting way to end his junior career.

"This is the best tournament except grand slams," Tirante said. "Always I dream of Orange Bowl. This is my second Orange Bowl; I won under 14s and I go from juniors with two Orange Bowls and it's amazing. I don't believe it."
The 16s championships were also played Sunday, due to rain earlier in the week. The boys title went to No. 7 seed Daniel Rincon, who defeated wild card Gabrielius Guzauskas of the United States 6-0, 6-1.

"I played a really good match, I think the best match of the tournament," said the 16-year-old from Spain. "I am really happy with my performance today. It was perfect match and I'm very happy."

Guzauskas, who is originally from Chicago but trains at Tough Tennis in Naples Florida, said he just couldn't get on track today.

"He played overall the best tennis he could play, for the finals," Guzauskas said. "He looked confident, he was loose going after his shots and he made them. On the other side, I wasn't really ready. He kept the pressure on, didn't let me have a chance to get back in the match."

After a first set to forget, Guzauskas had several break chance opportunities with Rincon serving to open the second set, but couldn't convert any of them.

"He was hitting lines, and I really couldn't do much with that," said Guzauskas, who beat the No. 1, No. 5 and No. 3 seeds in the tournament to reach the final. "I had chances and he hit the lines again."

Rincon trains at the Rafa Nadal Academy, and as a left-hander, he feels a particular affinity for 19-time slam champion.

"I started training there in September," Rincon said. "He is inspiration for everyone and for me, especially, because I'm lefty as well. I try to imitate him, but it is very difficult to be like him."
Ashlyn Krueger collected her second title in as many weeks Sunday, beating Clervie Ngounoue 7-5, 2-6, 6-2 to claim the girls 16s Orange Bowl.

Krueger, a 15-year-old from Dallas, needed a special exemption, earned by reaching the Eddie Herr semifinals, to get into the main draw this week at the Orange Bowl. She proved on clay what she had proven on the hard courts at the IMG Academy the previous week: that she is now a threat to win any tournament she enters.

Krueger said the physical struggle of these two weeks did not weigh on her in today's final.

"I actually got an adrenaline rush, to be honest," said the 6-foot-1 Krueger, who had her right arm taped for most of the week. "From the first game. It was long first game and I wanted it, so I had to keep pressing myself and that's what I did."

Krueger had difficulty coping with Ngounoue's power game in the second set.

"Her backhand's amazing," Krueger said. "She really rips her backhand, and her serve, she can hit her spots. I really had to focus on her forehand, take her out wide and open the court, go behind her. Step up into the court, because she had some shorter balls and I had to take advantage of that. Just watching and playing strategically."

Up 3-0 and two breaks in the third set, Krueger lost her serve and Ngounoue held, which prompted Krueger to request her coach, Dave Licker, to come to the court on the changeover.

"I called my coached and he told me to calm down, first of all," Krueger said. "You just came off 3-0 and got too excited, started going for too much. So reel it back in a little bit, step up into the court and dictate the points, but be smart about it."

Krueger held and broke again, and then served out the title, becoming the first girl since Katie Volynets in 2016 to win the Eddie Herr and Orange Bowl 16s back-to-back.

"It was definitely a good match," said the 13-year-old Ngounoue, the No. 14 seed. "I feel good after that match; I feel like I played pretty well. It was a three-set match and a lot of people thought it was a good match."

Ngounoue said that she'll work on maintaining her intensity, which flagged a bit in the third set.

"I'll try to keep my energy the whole match," said Ngounoue, who will be training with the USTA in the next few weeks in Lake Nona. "Keep up the intensity. Just try to bring up my energy a little bit more, just stay in it."
Ngounoue, who won the Junior Orange Bowl 12s title last year, did pick up another winner's bowl of oranges, capturing the 16s doubles title with Victoria Mboko of Canada. Ngounoue and Mboko, the No. 4 seeds, defeated unseeded Americans Midori Castillo and Anne Lutkemeyer 6-3, 1-6, 10-7.

"It's our second tournament playing together and I think we go well together as a team," said Mboko, who is also 13. "It's team work, you know."

"I love sharing the court with Vicky, she's a great player," Ngounoue said. "Our opponents today were really tough. We started well, then slowed a bit down, made too many errors, but I think it's great we were able to bring it back together. We worked together mentally and physically to get the game. We try to balance it and our chemistry is amazing."
Rincon was the only player to sweep titles this week, winning the 16s boys doubles with Abedallah Shelbayh of Jordan. The top seeds defeated the fifth-seeded American team of Ozan Colak and Hugo Hashimoto 6-1,6-2 in the final.
The girls 18s doubles title went to No. 5 seeds Alexandra Eala of the Philippines and Evialina Laskevich of Belarus, who beat No. 3 seeds Jada Bui and Melodie Collard of Canada 6-3, 6-7(3), 10-5 in the afternoon final, after winning their semifinal match over Eddie Herr champions Savannah Broadus and Kylie Collins earlier in the day.

Eala and Laskevich played their first match as a team last week at the Eddie Herr, losing in the second round, but the more matches they played, the more at ease they were.

"We learned more about each other, and what's comfortable," said the 14-year-old Eala. "We just understand how Alex is playing in some situation, how I play," said Laskevich, 15. "In the second week it just helped us."

Collard and Bui saved three match points with Bui serving at 4-5 in the second set, but they couldn't continue the momentum in the match tiebreaker, with Eala and Laskevich setting aside the disappointment of not closing out the match in straight sets.

"I think that's the good thing about doubles," Eala said. "We can pump each other up if one is down. It's the duty of the other one to lighten up things."

"It's amazing and unreal," Laskevich said of winning the title. "I have no words."
In the boys 18s doubles, No. 3 seeds Mikolaj Lorens of Poland and Shunsuke Mitsui of Japan were also playing together for a second time, with last week's Eddie Herr their first tournament as partners. After avenging their Eddie Herr loss to eventual champions Alexander Hoogmartens of Belgium and Jeffrey Von Der Schulenburg of Switzerland in the semifinals, Mitsui and Lorens took the title with a 6-4, 6-4 decision over unseeded Lorenzo Claverie of Venezuela and Aidan Mayo of the United States. Claverie and Mayo had reached the final with a 2-6, 6-4, 12-10 win over top seeds Tirante and American Dali Blanch earlier in the day.

"He has good volley and return," Mitsui said, explaining why they make a good team. "I play just volley, but his service is strong, and volley."

Lorens said after getting to know Mitsui at a few Asian tournaments this fall, he believed they would make a good team and had a chance to win titles on this Florida swing.

"We were feeling pretty good," Lorens said. "But we lost to that team that we beat this morning last week. Last week our opponents played unreal and today we were playing a lot better."

Lorens said that he enjoys playing doubles, but he disputes Mitsui's assessment of his volley.

"I really like to volley, but his volley is better though," Lorens said. "We both like playing doubles."

As for winning an Orange Bowl title, Lorens couldn't be happier.

"It's a great way to end the year," Lorens said. "It feels unreal."

Complete draws can be found at the tournament website.