Saturday, July 10, 2021

Lilov and Banerjee Reach Wimbledon Boys Final in Contrasting Fashion; Unseeded Schunk and Mintegi Del Olmo Meet for Girls Title Sunday

It's been quite a Wimbledon debut for Victor Lilov and Samir Banerjee, 17-year-old Americans who had no idea how their games would transfer to grass courts the past two weeks.

Although Banerjee reached the doubles final at the Roehampton J1 last week, they had managed only one singles win on grass between them when they got their first look at the legendary All England Lawn Tennis Club on Monday.  

On Sunday, they will, improbably, meet for the boys title after Lilov defeated top seed Juncheng Jerry Shang of China 6-3, 6-1 and Banerjee recovered from a shaky end to the second set to beat qualifier Sascha Gueymard Wayenburg of France 7-6(3), 4-6, 6-2.

Banerjee, who had breezed through his third round and quarterfinal matches on Friday, found himself in a much different position on Court One Saturday, needing to save two set points in the first set before coming through in the tiebreaker. Gueymard Wayenburg, who had won six matches coming into today, needing three sets in half of them, had a key double fault, then missed an easy volley trailing 3-4 in the tiebreaker, and Banerjee was able to close out the set.  The double fault was one of 11 Gueymard Wayenburg hit, and Banerjee was determined to keep the pressure on.

"In the third, and the second too, he was double faulting a bit," Banerjee said. "He was struggling with his first serve percentage and on top of that his second serve wasn't reliable at all, so when he got the serve in, it just made me want to put more pressure on him. I knew if I won those points, he'd give me a couple of free ones."

Banerjee had several brain cramps of his own to contend with late in the second set, with an ill-advised tap at the net on an easy putaway giving Gueymard Wayenburg a chance that he converted, and then letting a passing shot drop well inside the court, rather than attempting the putaway.

"I thought I was setting up the points alright, but the finishing shots, like letting a ball go, taking an overhead and just tapping it over, it was more about making the right decision, shot selection," Banerjee said. "I still thought I was playing well, but just making bad decisions, so in the third set I tried to really hunker down, really focus, put  a lot pressure on him, make him play and work for every point."

In the fourth game of the third set, Gueymard Wayenburg double faulted twice from deuce to give Banerjee the break, and riding the support from the crowd, he consolidated the break with a love hold. Another love hold gave Banerjee a 5-2 lead, and although Gueymard Wayenburg saved one match point in the next game, he double faulted to send Banerjee into the final.

"That's definitely the biggest crowd I've played in front of and I think I had the crowd support for the most part," said Banerjee, who is in London with his uncle, who was able to accompany him at the last minute when his coach in New Jersey could not make the trip. "That was just an amazing experience, and to win on top of that, it's something I'll remember forever."

Lilov's win over Shang on Court 18 featured little of the drama that Banerjee's win did, with the ITF's No. 31 junior dominating once he came from 0-40 down in his first service game of the match, the only break points he faced all day.

"We both know each other's instincts and what we like to do on the court," said Lilov, who was 1-3 against the 16-year-old left-hander, but won their last meeting in February. "He's a great athlete, a great player and he can start pumping the forehand a lot as he did at the beginning of the match. I kind of knew what I had to do against him and I executed very well, and unfortunately for him, he didn't quite execute his game plan as well."

Shang mentioned that he was on site until 10:30 Friday night after his match against Jerome Kym of Switzerland, and had little time to rest before returning for an 11 am match Saturday, although there was a delay of over an hour due to rain. Shang also took a medical timeout down 4-1 in the third set, for an injury to his left wrist. 

"It was bothering me a little bit yesterday, probably from the big serves coming from Jerome," said Shang, who is expected to move to No. 1 in the ITF Junior rankings on Monday. "It was bothering me today, and I couldn't do anything on the forehand."

Lilov didn't let the delay break his rhythm, holding at love to go up 5-1, winning 13 points in a row during one stretch.

"I just told myself to keep moving, make sure the legs don't get cold," said Lilov, who made 78 percent of his first serves while  averaging nearly 20 mph more on them than Shang. "And don't look at the future, just focus on now."

Lilov said he ran into Banerjee and they joked about the improbable place they found themselves this weekend.

"I walked by him in the cafeteria and we had a little joke about that," Lilov said. "If someone would have told me last week in Roehampton that we'd be in the final of Wimbledon, let's say I wouldn't have believed them."

Banerjee admits he didn't expect to find himself in the first all-American boys Wimbledon final since Noah Rubin beat Stefan Kozlov in 2014.

"Coming into the tournament I was looking forward to winning a round, just trying to play well," Banerjee said. "I knew I was playing well before this, but I didn't know how I'd be on grass, so I just wanted to come in here and give it my best shot. It's amazing, amazing that I've been able to play this well on the surface."

Banerjee holds a 3-0 edge on Lilov, but the most recent win was in 2019, in the quarterfinals of the Easter Bowl 16s, which Banerjee went on to win.

"That was a while ago though," Banerjee said. "That won't affect our match. I don't want to say anything, because in the final in San Diego (J1 in March), I'd beaten Ethan Quinn pretty comfortably last time I played him and I got smoked. He's playing unbelievable, he's come through a really tough part of the draw, he's been getting good wins, gutting them out, so it'll be really tough, but I'm looking forward to it."

Lilov also discounted the results from their younger years, with their first meeting in the 12s in 2015.

"I think we're both completely different players now," Lilov said. "He's improved so much, his forehand has gotten much better, his backhand is good, his serve is good and he competes very well. I've think I've gotten better as well the last couple of years. He's 3-0 against me, but it's a new day tomorrow."

The girls final will also feature two unexpected and unseeded finalists, with Natasja Schunk of Germany and Ane Mintegi Del Olmo defeating the pre-tournament favorites in top seed Victoria Jimenez Kasintseva and No. 8 seed Linda Fruhvirtova of the Czech Republic, who won the J1 in Roehampton last week

Mintegi Del Olmo, who had already defeated No. 2 seed Alexandra Eala of the Philippines in the second round and No. 6 seed Kristina Dmitruk of Belarus in the quarterfinals, found a 6-3, 5-2 lead slip away against Fruhvirtova, who made a WTA quarterfinal earlier this year in Charleston South Carolina. Serving at 5-5, Mintegi Del Olmo, the only finalist to have played Wimbledon before, saved two break points, with Fruhvirtova, leg heavily taped, unable to pressure Mintegi Del Olmo on key points. After 10 consecutive wins on grass, Fruhvirtova showed signs of fatigue in the final game, with Mintegi Del Olmo breaking at love to advance to the final.

Mintegi Del Olmo is the first girl from Spain to make the Wimbledon final since former WTA Top 20 player Maria Serna did so in 1996.

"It's amazing to play and I'm so happy," the 17-year-old Mintegi Del Olmo said, with help from an interpreter. "To my country, it is special and for me it is amazing."

Mintegi Del Olmo, who won a round at Wimbledon Juniors in 2019 and made the third round at Roehampton last week, said her success on the surface is welcome, if unexpected.

"This week I am playing so aggressive," said Mintegi Del Olmo, who names Carla Suarez Navarro and Paula Badosa as players she looks up to. "Wimbledon is difficult for me because I'm better on clay. I'm so happy to be in the final, I am playing very well."

Mintegi Del Olmo finished early in the day, but not so Schunk, who, in exchange for a Court One assignment, was playing past 8 p.m. Saturday night.

Schunk, who had never played a junior slam before this week's Wimbledon and had only played a total of two Grade As, was definitely at an experience disadvantage to Jimenez Kasintseva, the 2020 Australian Open girls champion. But the 17-year-old Schunk won the battle of left-handers by staying calm when the top seed took the second set, and making the only break of the third set hold up despite many long and physical points.

Schunk has dropped the second set in four of her five victories this week, so she was accustomed to rebounding in the third.

"Yes, I noticed this," said Schunk. "Sometimes in the second set, I don't play aggressive anymore, and the other players are too good. This match, that was not so. She just played really good, and there were some unlucky points, but yes, I'm trying to keep going in the second set next time."

Despite all the three-setters, Schunk wasn't feeling drained.

"Actually at the moment I feel pretty good," said Schunk, the first German girl to reach the Wimbledon final since Barbara Rittner won the title in 1991. "I've had some tough matches, but I feel ok and I think I'm ready."

As to whether she expected to make the final of her first junior slam, Schunk saw signs she might be ready for this type of result.

"I didn't expect to be in the finals directly, but I knew if I play well, I could beat good players," said Schunk, currently 71 in the ITF junior rankings. "I knew that I had to play constantly good and I think I've done a pretty good job."

The doubles finals will kickoff Championship Sunday on Court 18, with the only No. 1 seeds in the Junior Championships, Dmitruk and Russia's Diana Shnaider, taking on unseeded Sofia Costoulas of Belgium and Laura Hietaranta of Finland for the girls title.

Dmitruk and Shnaider defeated Reese Brantmeier and Elvina Kalieva 6-3, 6-2 in the semifinals today, while Costoulas and Hietaranta took out No. 2 seeds Fruhvirtova and Russia's Polina Kudermetova 2-6, 6-2, 10-8.

The boys doubles final will feature two unseeded teams, with all seeded teams in the draw going out before the quarterfinals. Spain's Daniel Rincon and Abedallah Shelbayh of Jordan, who won the title at Roehampton last week beat Banerjee and Kokoro Isomura of Japan 6-4, 6-2 in today's semifinals. They will face Edas Butvilas of Lithuania and Alejandro Manzanera Pertusa of Spain in the boys final. Butvilas and Manzanera Pertusa defeated Lilov and Peter Privara of Slovakia 6-3, 3-6, 10-7 in a quarterfinal match delayed from Friday. In the semifinals, they defeated Gonzalo Bueno of Peru and Adolfo Vallejo of Paraguay 6-4, 6-4.

The mixed doubles final is now set for Sunday afternoon, with No. 7 seeds Desirae Krawczyk(Arizona State) and Great Britain's Ken Skupski(LSU) taking on Joe Salisbury(Memphis) and Harriet Dart of Great Britain. Krawczyk and Salisbury won the French Open mixed title last month, and will now be opponents, not partners in the Wimbledon final. Krawczyk and Skupski defeated John Peers(Baylor) of Australia and Shuai Zhang of China, the No. 17 seeds, 3-6, 7-6(4), 7-5 this afternoon.

I will be a guest on Wimbledon Radio Sunday at 7:30 am Eastern to preview the junior finals.

The boys final will be first at 8 am Eastern, followed by the girls final, both on Court One, so rain should not be a factor.