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Friday, December 11, 2020

Americans Sweep Orange Bowl 16s Titles, with Valeria Ray and Jonah Braswell Singles Champions; Krueger Keeps Orange Bowl Winning Streak Alive, Advances to Semifinals; All-US Girls 18s Doubles Final Saturday

Two players from South Florida captured the Orange Bowl 16s titles Friday at the Veltri Tennis Center in Plantation Florida, with Sarasota's Jonah Braswell taking the boys titles and Doral's Valeria Ray claiming the girls title. 

Nicholas Godsick followed in his mother's footsteps by winning the doubles title, with four-time Orange Bowl champion Mary Joe Fernandez's son and his partner Ethan Quinn taking the winners' crystal bowl of oranges, and Vivian Miller and Maddy Zampardo triumphing in a tight girls final.

No. 15 seed Braswell's 6-0, 6-1 win over No. 5 seed Ignacio Buse of Peru may have looked routine, and may have been impacted by Buse's nearly four-hour semifinal match, but Braswell had several reasons to be vigilant at the beginning of the second set.

In Thursday's semifinals, Braswell had lost the first set to Quinn 6-0, so he was well aware that a comeback was possible. And going back to the only previous time he had faced Buse, in a Little Mo match seven years ago, Braswell had a less satisfying result.

"I was nine and it was the in the finals, and I had won the first set 6-1," said Braswell. "I was up 6-1, 3-1 and then me being a 9-year-old, I think I got a little bit excited because I was about to win, and I lost my focus a little bit and I lost 6-4, 10-3."

Braswell, who trains at IMG, said that he did not specifically employ a strategy aimed at Buse's probable fatigue; rather he found himself playing at a high level and maintaining it.

"It was just a great day," Braswell said. "He may have been a little bit off, because he had such a long match yesterday, might have been a little bit tired, I'm not really sure, but I definitely played exceptionally well. One of the best matches of the whole tournament for me. It was kind of in the back of my mind, but I didn't let [Buse's semifinal match length] affect my strategy or game plan."

Buse said he felt only minor effects from his lengthy match on Thursday, but credited Braswell's level of play for the lopsided score of the match.

"I was a little bit tired, but it only influenced a little bit. I think he played the best match of his life," the 16-year-old said with a laugh. "He never missed a ball, [or] had an unforced error in all the match. It was amazing, only three or four unforced in all the match that I remember."

Braswell joins a list of 16s Orange Bowl champions that includes current ATP Top 10 player Andrey Rublev and former ATP No. 3 Grigor Dimitrov.

"It's a honor, honestly, just to be on the same list as those guys," Braswell said. "It's definitely an honor, and it gives me confidence for the future."

Ray, who defeated Tatum Evans 6-4, 3-6, 6-1 in their two-hour plus final, was still processing her accomplishment four hours after the match concluded.

"Part of me still doesn't feel like I just pulled that off," said the unseeded 15-year-old. "But the other part of me is jumping up and down. Honestly, it's mixed emotions."

Ray fell behind 4-2 in the first set, saying she was "a nervous wreck."

"I wasn't able to hit my shots, but then at 4-2, I said, all in or nothing, it's now or never," Ray continued. "I started to play my game and I was able to pull off the comeback in the first set."

Ray won six straight games, taking a 2-0 lead, but Evans fought back, winning five consecutive games and then closing out the set.

"In the second set, I started understanding what was happening a little more," said Evans, who also was unseeded. "In the first set I was making a lot of mistakes that I shouldn't have been making and I didn't take the time to correct them. In the second set I reflected on what was happening and changed the things I needed to change."

After several close games to start the third set, Ray got a break to go up 3-1, then took control with a break at love to go up 5-1. Keeping her mind on the task at hand at that stage of the match wasn't easy.

"At 5-1 I did tell myself, oh my god, I'm about to win the Orange Bowl," Ray said. "But I said to myself, don't get ahead of yourself, things can change, and the match is not over until I shake my opponent's hand. So I told myself to keep going, stay on top of her and I closed it out, and it couldn't feel better."

Evans was disappointed in her performance in the final set, although she was able to view it as a "learning experience."

"I didn't make the adjustments I needed to make," said Evans, a 15-year-old from McLean Virginia. "I was making too many mistakes and it was a little bit of an off day. She played a great match, she knew what she needed to do and she did it."

Although her parents couldn't attend due to the restrictions on spectators due to the pandemic, Ray did share an emotional post-match celebration with her coach, Manny Garcia. 

"It was a special moment, I was able to share a hug with him after the match," Ray said. "I've been training with him since I was four, so it was a big deal for both of us. We've always dreamed of doing this."

The 16s doubles finals, played early in the day, were both all-American contests.

No. 4 seeds Godsick and Quinn had planned to play together at all the big US tournaments this year, but with the Easter Bowl, Clay Courts and Nationals canceled due to the pandemic, it wasn't until the October ITF events in the US that they were able to finally take the court as a team. They reached a semifinal and final in that swing, the latter coming on the Daytona Beach clay courts, and went one step further this week, taking the title with a 7-6(0), 6-4 win over No. 3 seeds Lucas Brown and John Kim. 

After a long, tough first set, with Godsick and Quinn claiming three of the four deciding points, they dominated in the tiebreaker. Down an early break in the second set, they immediately got it back, and with a break to go up 5-4, Quinn was able to close it out.

"I was a little bit nervous personally," said Quinn, who won the 16s USTA Winter Nationals at the very beginning of this year. "It's like only my third ITF tournament I've played. But I definitely had confidence based on my last service game that I had. I served well in that game and was hoping I could serve as well as I did before."

Godsick admitted that his mother's four consecutive Orange Bowl singles titles (Junior Orange Bowl 12s in 1982 and Junior Orange Bowl 14s in 1983, Orange Bowl 16s in 1984 and Orange Bowl 18s in 1985) have given the tournament a special place in family lore.

"We actually talk about the Orange Bowl a lot," Godsick said. "It's very close to our family down in South Florida; I think it used to be in Miami when my Mom played, so the whole side of her family used to watch her. They tell me I have big shoes to fill at the Orange Bowl. I think she won the Junior Orange Bowl and the older Orange Bowl as well, so it's super special to me, to, sort of, almost, be as accomplished as she is."

The pressure of those accomplishments didn't really impact Godsick initially, with tennis just one of the many sports he tried when he was younger.

"She never really put pressure on me to play when I was younger," Godsick said. "I just loved it a lot. I love a lot of sports; when I was younger I played basketball, football. I chose tennis and from then on, she was like, ok Nico, here we go. I never felt any pressure from her because she is more my mom instead of my coach."

Girls doubles champions Miller and Zampardo had played together early in their junior careers, when both lived in the Midwest section. When Miller moved to South Carolina, opportunities were more limited, but today they revived that old chemistry, defeating Ahmani Guichard and Lexington Reed 6-4, 3-6, 10-6. Both teams were unseeded.

"When we came here a little over a week ago, I was not expecting to walk out of here with an actual bowl of oranges," Miller said. "I was definitely hoping and going for that, but it was definitely unexpected and really great."

Zampardo is still processing the unanticipated title.

"I haven't been able to get a smile off my face since the end of the match," Zampardo said. "I'm just so grateful to have the opportunity to play. I didn't think I would get to play a tournament at all in 2020, because it's been so crazy, so I'm grateful this was the one I got to play and I'm so happy Vivian and I did so well."

Miller and Zampardo didn't take control of the match until the second change of ends, leading 7-5 in the match tiebreaker. But they weren't surprised they rose to the occasion in the match's final few points.

"We're really good in tiebreaks," Miller said. "We have a really good record together when we play tiebreaks and we played three this tournament, including the finals. Our high energy works; I tell Maddy before every tiebreak, every single point we're going for 110 percent energy...having insane positive energy, having a good time out there, that helps on the big points."

The transition from 16s to 18s is often hard to negotiate, but it hasn't appeared difficult for wild card Ashlyn Krueger. Krueger, last year's champion in the 16s, is the only American remaining in the 18s singles after Friday's quarterfinal action, after she came back to defeat the only other American girl in the quarterfinals, unseeded Hina Inoue, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3. 

After a slow start, the 16-year-old from Texas went up 4-1 in the second set and had points for a 5-1 lead, but Inoue held, broke and held to get right back in the set. With Inoue serving at 4-5, Krueger was up 15-40, but needed a third set point before she could pull even in the match.

After an early exchange of breaks in the third, Krueger earned a break in the sixth game and made it hold up, extending her Orange Bowl singles winning streak to ten matches.

Krueger will face unseeded Laura Hietaranta, who defeated No. 12 seed Oceane Babel of France 6-4, 7-6(3). Babel served for the second set at 5-4 and 6-5, but it was the 16-year-old from Finland who was able to grind through those last crucial games.

The 18s match of the day was top seed and newly crowned ITF Junior Champion Elsa Jacquemot's 7-5, 4-6, 7-6(4) win over No. 6 seed Sofia Costoulas of Belgium. The 17-year-old from France was down a break several times in the final set in the 3 hour and 45 minute match, but she fought back each time. In the third set tiebreaker, Jacquemot led 4-2 at the change of ends and she made that mini-break stand up to secure what had to have been an exhausting victory.

Jacquemot's opponent in Saturday's semifinals will be No. 7 seed and 2019 Orange Bowl finalist Jana Kolodynska of Belarus, who defeated No. 4 seed Matilda Mutavdzic of Great Britain 6-3, 1-6, 6-1.

Two unseeded French players have advanced to the boys semifinals, with Luka Van Assche facing top seed Peter Fajta of Hungary and Arthur Fils taking on No. 12 seed Juncheng Shang of China. Fils defeated No. 8 seed Alexander Bernard 6-1, 7-5 and the 15-year-old Zhang took out No. 2 seed Dali Blanch 6-1, 4-6, 6-2. Fajta managed a two-set victory over No. 6 seed Sean Cuenin of France 6-4, 7-6(3), while Van Assche took out No. 4 seed Jack Pinnington Jones of Great Britain 6-1, 6-2.

The 18s doubles finals are set for Saturday, with No. 2 seeds Fajta and Zsombor Velcz of Hungary facing No. 8 seeds Shang and Adolfo Vallejo of Paraguay. Fajta and Velcz defeated the unseeded American team of JC Roddick and Braden Shick 6-3, 6-4, while Shang got his second win of the day over Blanch, with he and Vallejo coming from behind in the second set for a 6-4, 7-6(4) semifinal victory over Blanch and Pinnington Jones.

The girls final will be between two unseeded American teams. Elise Wagle and Katja Wiersholm defeated Alexis Blokhina and Switzerland's Chelsea Fontenel 6-4, 6-4. Wagle now can claim a second Orange Bowl doubles title, as she won the 16s doubles title with Carson Tanguilig in 2018. Their opponents in the final will be Kimmi Hance and Reese Brantmeier, who defeated No. 6 seeds Costoulas and Evialina Laskevich of Belarus 6-1, 6-4.

Saturday's order of play, along with the links to the draws and live scoring, can be found here.