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Saturday, December 14, 2019

Montgomery Reaches Orange Bowl Final; Tirante One More Win from Year-End No. 1; Krueger and Ngounoue Advance to Girls 16s Final; Guzauskas Set for Boys 16s Championship

©Colette Lewis 2019--
Plantation FL--

Rain on Wednesday and Thursday made for a grueling day of competition Saturday at the Orange Bowl, with the 18s singles quarterfinals and semifinals, as well as the doubles quarterfinals packed into the schedule. A two-minute downpour less than two hours after matches had begun didn't help matters, with another 90 minute delay meaning the last matches weren't completed until after 8:30 p.m.

One player who has lived a charmed life this tournament is now a finalist. Robin Montgomery has yet to have one of her matches disrupted by rain, but that hasn't been just luck. The 15-year-old from Washington DC has also kept herself out of three-set matches, and today she defeated Barbora Palicova of the Czech Republic 6-3, 6-4 before the rain delay, then claimed her semifinal against unseeded Celia Mohr of France 6-4, 6-2.

"Last night I was like, crap, I might have to play two matches, and I haven't played two matches in a long time," Montgomery said. "I was kind of nervous that my body might physically break down because I know all the matches are going to be physically and mentally tough. I think I surprised myself playing the way I played these two matches, I think I just trusted my training, trusted my game and I was able to come out on top today."

Montgomery will face unseeded Jana Kolodynska of Belarus, who also managed to get through the quarterfinals and semifinals with a minimum of fuss. Kolodynska, who reached the Eddie Herr final last week, ended the run of qualifier Maya Pitts of the United States 6-3, 6-2 and then eliminated No. 2 seed Alexandra Eala of the Philippines 6-4, 6-0.

Kolodynska knew the disadvantage of playing a long match prior to the final, having needed more than three hours to defeat Elvina Kalieva in the semifinals at the Eddie Herr. Discouraged by her performance in the Eddie Herr final, a 6-3, 6-3 loss to qualifier Eva Lys of Germany, Kolodynska said she was not sure if she would be ready for the Orange Bowl.

But after a day of rest, Kolodynska continued to post big wins this week, and she was delighted with her performances today.

"I'm very satisfied with my game, very happy," said Kolodynska, who used a coach to translate her remarks, although she has enough proficiency in English to understand questions and respond to them, as she did at Eddie Herr. "I did not expect I would be able to recover. It was magical. Today, I played very, very good. In both matches."

Kolodynska, 16, is not familiar with Montgomery's game, but said with her results of the past two weeks, will go into the match with a lot of self-confidence.

For the second week in a row, the boys final will feature two Argentinians, with top seed Thiago Tirante taking on No. 9 seed Juan Bautista Torres.  Tirante trailed No. 7 seed Eliakim Coulibaly of Cote d'Ivoire 4-1 in the second set when the rain came, and when they returned to the stadium court, Tirante quickly won five straight games to complete a 6-4, 6-4 victory. After a long wait for semifinal opponent Jeffrey Von Der Schulenburg to finish his first match of the day, Tirante again fell behind in the second set, trailing 4-2 before earning a 6-2, 7-5 victory over the No. 6 seed under the lights.

"A little bit I don't stay focused and he break me," said Tirante, who in addition to winning the Eddie Herr last week, also won the Grade A in Merida Mexico the week before. "He hit like six, seven balls on the line, I was unlucky, I don't know how I say. But I do my best, think all the match what I have to do, what I have to serve, and I play my game."

Tirante has yet to lose in the set in the past two weeks,  and although he admits to being tired, he knows what is on the line in Sunday's final: the title of ITF World Junior Champion for 2019.

"I go for No. 1. If I win I'm No. 1," said the 18-year-old, who initially began this run with a goal of reaching No. 4 in the ITF Junior rankings for the wild cards that provides. "It's the last match of the year, so I have to do everything."

Torres also had the advantage over his semifinal opponent, No. 6 seed Arthur Cazaux of France, who needed three hours to defeat No. 15 seed Martin Krumich of the Czech Republic 7-5, 2-6, 7-5. In contrast, Torres had beaten unseeded Lilian Marmousez of France 6-4, 6-4 and that proved significant, with Cazaux unable to stay with Torres after the first six games in Torres' 6-3, 6-1 victory.

"I know he's very tired, but it's not my problem," said a smiling Torres, who had lost to Cazaux in the first round of the Eddie Herr last week. "But I'm very happy, because I play well all the day."

Torres has lost three matches to Tirante this year, including a 6-4, 6-2 loss in the semifinals in Mexico two weeks ago, but he is optimistic, and not inclined to concede the result.

"I lost three times against him, but it's a final, it's a different match," said the 17-year-old. "He's my friend, but I have to win tomorrow. It's my first Grade A final, very important for me and I'm going to try to do my best tomorrow. Good luck to him, it's going to be a great match."

The 16s finals, traditionally played on Saturday, were pushed back to Sunday due to the rain earlier in the week.

One Eddie Herr champion has advanced to a second final in as many weeks, but the other fell in today's semifinal. No. 2 seed Jack Anthrop got off to a slow start against No. 7 seed Daniel Rincon of Spain and couldn't get back on track in a 6-2, 6-3 loss. Rincon's opponent in the boys 16s final is wild card Gabrielius Guzauskas of the United States, who defeated No. 3 seed Marc Ktiri of Spain 6-3, 6-4.

Gazauskas defeated top seed Marko Andrejic of Austria 6-1, 6-1 in the first round, opening up the draw for himself, but twice the 16-year-old has had to come from a set down to advance, wins that also enhanced his belief.

"Beating the first seed was a confidence booster, but it was only the first round," Guzauskas said. "I couldn't let that distract me."

Guzauskas also avoided being distracted after being up 6-3, 5-3 when rain suspended play.

"I was expecting him to play better," Guzauskas said of Ktiri, who had nearly 90 minutes to examine his options for getting back in the match. "I just tried to stay focused, play every point, make every ball. I was kind of nervous, I'm not going to lie, but I kept playing and I won. There's nothing to it, just making balls, that's what tennis is, right?"

Guzauskas was content to play Ktiri's game, especially near the end of the match.

"I know he goes to Rafa's Academy, plays on clay all day, so I was expecting a grind, expecting long rallies," said Guzauskas, who is from Chicago, but trains in Naples Florida. "Rincon, he was playing next to me, and I think he's from Rafa's Academy also, so he's going to be grinding too. I'm expecting a lot of drop shots from him, lefty serves, typical lefty player. Both of us are playing good, so we'll see what's going to happen."
Unseeded Ashlyn Krueger, the girls 16s Eddie Herr champion, survived a tough match with No. 10 seed Victoria Mboko of Canada, coming from a break down in the third set for a 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 win. The 13-year-old Mboko broke to go up 4-3 in the third set and came from 0-40 down to earn a game point for a 5-3 lead, but Krueger got a fourth break point chance and converted it with a backhand swing volley to get back even. She saved a break point in the next game, with another backhand swing volley on her second game point, and kept the pressure on Mboko in the next game, converting her third match point.

"I like playing close matches," said the 15-year-old from Texas. "She's a great player and it was really hard, but it came down to mental. I had to keep myself calm, because I did get upset in the first set and I didn't want it to happen again. I knew she was tired, I was tired, so I just had to keep the points close, wait for my opportunity. I couldn't go for stuff too soon, too big."

Until her title at Eddie Herr, Krueger was disappointed in her results this year.

"I've had a really rough year with my tennis," Krueger said. "Coming back into the spotlight a little bit, has gained some confidence for me and my game. It's really important for me to keep trying, I didn't give up, I didn't take off, I kept training and it's paid off and I'm really happy about it."

Krueger's opponent in the final will be another 13-year-old, Clervie Ngounoue, who defeated unseeded Bridget Stammel 6-2, 6-3.

"I think I actually played really well," said the 14th-seeded Ngounoue, who won the Junior Orange Bowl 12s last year in Coral Gables. "I stayed positive and tried to keep my game solid the whole match. Bridget played really well and she's a good player, but I definitely think I played well today."

Ngounoue said playing the 18s last week at the Eddie Herr, where she made the quarterfinals, was different from playing the 16s here.

"Last week, I knew I had nothing to lose," Ngounoue said. "And I think that's what took me far in that tournament."

Ngounoue was impressed with the players Krueger defeated to win the Eddie Herr and is looking to figure out how to counter Krueger's big game.

"I know she's an aggressive player, and she uses her serve to get easy balls behind it," said Ngounoue, who is coached by her father Aime. "I've practiced with her at the USTA Center a few months ago, but haven't played with her since, but obviously she's improved."

Krueger is also impressed with Ngounoue's progress this year.

"She's a great player and she's done a lot this year," Krueger said. "So I'll just have to bring my A game."

Ngounoue will also be playing in the doubles final, partnering with Mboko. The No. 4 seeds will play unseeded Midori Castillo and Anne Lutkemeyer in the final. Mboko and Ngounoue defeated unseeded Natalie Block and Lara Smejkal 6-2, 6-4 in this evening's semifinal, while Castillo and Lutkemeyer defeated Kylie Hanford and McKenna Schaefbauer 7-5, 3-6, 13-11.

The boys 16s doubles final features top seeds Rincon and Abedallah Shelbayh of Jordan against No. 5 seeds Ozan Colak and Hugo Hashimoto of the United States. Rincon and Shelbayh defeated unseeded Ryan Colby and Ekansh Kumar 7-5, 6-2, while Colak and Hashimoto defeated unseeded Ktiri and American Brayden Michna 6-2, 6-1.

The 18s doubles semifinals and finals are scheduled for Sunday, after the singles final, with Tirante still in the doubles with partner Dali Blanch of the United States. They will play American Aidan Mayo and his partner Lorenzo Claverie of Venezuela in the semifinals.

Eddie Herr champions Savannah Broadus and Kylie Collins are in the girls doubles semifinals, where they will face No. 5 seeds Eala and Belarus's Evialina Laskevich.

Play begins at 10 a.m. Sunday with the 16s singles finals. The complete order of play is at the tournament website.