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Saturday, December 12, 2020

Krueger Advances to Second Straight Orange Bowl Final, Faces Two-Time Finalist Kolodynksa; Top Seed Fajta and Surprise Finalist Fils in Boys Title Match; Brantmeier and Hance Claim Doubles Title

Last year Ashlyn Krueger arrived at the Veltri Tennis Center as the Eddie Herr 16s champion, forced to make a quick transition from the hard courts in Bradenton to the Har-Tru clay in Plantation. Having come through that challenge with the Orange Bowl 16s title, Krueger arrived at the Grade A Orange Bowl this year with much less match play, thanks to the pandemic. That change of circumstances proved her adaptabililty however, as the 16-year-old from Texas defeated unseeded Laura Hietaranta of Finland today 6-3, 6-2 to reach her second consecutive Orange Bowl final. 

Krueger, who had beaten No. 2 seed Victoria Jimenez Kasintseva of Andorra in the third round, was happy with her level of play in today's semifinal, especially from the back of the court.

"I switched it up a lot today," said Krueger, who trains with Dave Licker at the Lakes Tennis Academy in Frisco Texas. "I didn't just keep cross court rallies, I went down the line, made her run, made her think whenever we were in cross court rallies. My ground strokes were on; my serve was a little off today, I didn't make a lot of first serves, but from the back, I was pretty solid and I made her miss. She pulled the trigger too early and that's how I won a lot of points."

Although Krueger didn't play many events in the summer, she did compete in all three of the Grade 4s in the United States this fall, winning a singles and a doubles title, and reaching two other finals. Those events prepared her for the level she would face once she encountered the level of competition in what was just her second Grade A tournament.

"I think those tournaments helped a lot," Krueger said of the Grade 4s in Georgia and Florida. "Just figuring out my body, reacting to that level again. I'm not surprised. The first couple matches of this tournament were kind of like final level there, so I worked my way into this tournament."

Krueger is the first girl to reach back-to-back 16s and 18s Orange Bowl finals since 2019 US Open champion Bianca Andreescu of Canada won both titles in 2014 and 2015. 

Krueger will not have any advantage in Orange Bowl final experience against her opponent, 17-year-old Jana Kolodynska of Belarus. Kolodynska, who lost in the Eddie Herr Grade 1 final and the Orange Bowl final last year, defeated top seed and ITF World Junior champion Elsa Jacquemot of France 6-1, 1-6, 6-1 in the semifinals. Jacquemot had needed nearly four hours to defeat No. 6 seed Sofia Costoulas of Belgium in Friday's quarterfinals.

The boys final will present a contrast in expectations, with top seed Peter Fajta of Hungary facing unseeded 16-year-old Arthur Fils of France for the title.

The unseeded Fils needed less than an hour to defeat No. 12 seed Juncheng Shang of China 6-2, 6-0.

The 16-year-old Fils, who had never played a tournament above the ITF Junior Circuit Grade 4 level prior to receiving a wild card into the French Open this fall, pronounced his performance today as “good” but tempered his enthusiasm by noting that Shang took a medical timeout in the second set and appeared to have an injury. 

With no points from top level tournaments, and his only title at a Grade 4 in September, Fils would never have made it into the main draw without his two wins at the French Open, which boosted his ranking from 395 to 153. His belief that he belonged in bigger tournaments grew with those victories, and rose even higher when he took out No. 3 seed Lukas Neumayer of Austria in this week's second round, with the loss of just one game. 

His coach said the difference in the players competing in ITF 4s and 5s and the top events is both physical and mental, but that Fils had quickly made the adjustment.

Yet, for all the strides Fils has made since the restart, he did admit that winning more than a match or two this week surprised him.

As the No. 1 seed, Fajta was in a much different position from Fils coming into the tournament, and was in a much different position in today’s semifinals, trailing unseeded 16-year-old Lucas Van Assche of France in the first and third sets before coming through with a 7-5, 2-6, 6-4 win.

Fajta, an 18-year-old from Hungary, had made the semifinals of an ITF World Tennis Tour $15,000 tournament in Slovakia last month, and although that was played on an indoor hard court, he arrived in Plantation with high hopes. He didn't drop a set until today, but he needed all his experience to overcome Van Assche, who served for the first set at 5-4 and was up 3-1 in the third.

Fajta, who is aiming to become the first Hungarian to win an Orange Bowl singles title, has already earned one winner's crystal bowl of oranges, taking the doubles title this afternoon. No. 2 seeds Fajta and partner Zsombor Velcz, also from Hungary, defeated No. 8 seeds Shang and Adolfo Vallejo of Paraguay 6-4, 6-3 to close out the day's action.

The girls doubles final was an all-American contest that came down to a couple of points, with Reese Brantmeier and Kimmi Hance defeating Elise Wagle and Katja Wiersholm 6-1, 4-6, 10-8.

Brantmeier and Hance, who have played together before, but not since the restart, took the first set in short order, breaking their opponents all four times they served.

"I think we were both so excited to have the opportunity to play in the finals," said Brantmeier, a 16-year-old from Wisconsin. "We were really looking forward to it, were in a really great mindset and came out playing really well. We were trying to focus on being aggressive at the net, coming forward a lot, and I think we were executing that really well."

Wagle and Wiersholm kept themselves in the match by winning three deciding points, all on their serves, while breaking Brantmeier and Hance once in the second set.

"It's tricky, when it can go either way," said Hance, a 17-year-old from California. "We were getting a little frustrated, because it can go either way, but we were both happy with how we were playing, so we weren't freaking out or anything. We were just going to keep playing our game style; we were pretty confident in how we wanted to play, so we felt pretty good even though we were losing those deuce points."

Wagle and Wiersholm led 7-5 at the second change of ends, but were able to win only one of the next six points. Hance took care of her two service points to make it 9-8, and they converted the match point when Wiersholm missed a volley at the net.

As for a celebration, Hance and Brantmeier both treated themselves to a Chipotle dinner, and are planning to do nothing but relax Sunday.

"Tomorrow I'm sleeping in and taking the day off," Hance said. "I have tomorrow off, so anything's possible,  Brantmeier said. "I don't know what I'm going to do."