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Friday, October 8, 2021

Hovde and Stakusic Reach Girls Final, Anthrop and Weekes Advance to Boys Championship Match at ITF JB1 Pan American Closed; Qualifiers Abound in Semifinals of ITA All-American Championships

©Colette Lewis 2021--
Nicholasville KY--

Both of Saturday's singles championships at the ITF JB1 Pan American Closed will feature Canada-USA matchups after Friday's semifinal action at the Top Seed Tennis Club.

The possibility for an all-US or all-Canadian girls final was in play, with No. 12 seed Liv Hovde playing No. 2 seed Victoria Mboko of Canada and Mboko's compatriot Marina Stakusic, the No. 4 seed, playing No. 5 seed Qavia Lopez.

But Hovde eliminated the all-Canadian prospect with a 6-2, 6-4 win over Mboko, with a dominant performance in the first set, and a tougher battle in the second.

Mboko didn't start out well, with Hovde's clean and confident hitting having much to do with that. Just nine minutes into the match, Hovde had taken a 3-1 lead and was up 5-1 before Mboko began to find her form.

Hovde was unable to close out the first set serving for it at 5-1, and Mboko made her earn it in the next game, with Hovde needing six set points before finally getting her third straight break of serve to end the 27-minute first set.

That message from Mboko extended into the second set, when the 15-year-old broke Hovde to start the second set, but Hovde reasserted herself by breaking Mboko yet again and went on to build a 4-2 lead. From then on it was a struggle for both players, with five straight breaks of serve, but Hovde's two holds in the second set were enough to see her through, handing Mboko just her 11th loss of the year on the ITF Junior Circuit, against 42 wins.

It's a testament to Hovde's returning that Mboko, whose serve is the foundation of her game, could only hold serve twice in the match.

"She has a really good serve, it's really hard and accurate," said Hovde, who turns 16 later this month. "I just had to time it right."

Keeping depth on her ground strokes was also a key factor, according to Hovde, who was facing Mboko for the first time.

"I had to make sure not to give her easy short balls," said Hovde, a Minnesota native who now lives and trains in Texas. "She's really good at putting those balls away."

Unlike the Hovde-Mboko semifinal, breaks were hard to come by in the contest between 16-year-olds Stakusic and Lopez, with just four total in Stakusic's 4-6, 6-4, 6-2 victory.  Lopez earned the only one of the first set in its last game, although she needed four set points before she secured the first set.

Stakusic got the sole break in the second set at 3-all, and unlike most of the games throughout the match, that one came easily, at love. Lopez saved a set point serving at 3-5, and had a chance to get the break back at 5-4, 30-40, but she made an unforced forehand error and Stakusic closed the set out with an ace.

"I didn't want to go down a break or two in the second set," said Stakusic, who lives and trains in Toronto. "I kept fighting as hard as I could, and it went my way I guess, but I started to play more consistently and make a lot more balls and I think that helped a lot."

Long rallies were the norm throughout the match, but Stakusic didn't need one to secure the first break of the third set, crushing a backhand return with Lopez serving at 2-3, 30-40. Serving well in the next two games, with another break of serve sandwiched in between, Stakusic closed out the two-hour and 11 minute match at love.

Stakusic, who had not dropped a set until today, said she has seen progress over the course of the week

"I think each match is getting a little bit better," Stakusic said. "Today in the second and third set, I think I really played good, and better than the beginning of the tournament."

Stakusic and Hovde have not played, and know only what they've heard about the other.

"I've heard that she hits hard and that she's pretty consistent," said Stakusic, who will be playing in her first J1 final. "So I'll have to play my best tomorrow and hopefully it goes my way."

Hovde won the Easter Bowl JB1 in April as a qualifier, so she will have the edge in experience Saturday morning.

"I think there are some advantages," Hovde said. "But I'm going to have to just breathe, and remember that it's just another match. I just need to focus on my court and my self."

In the boys semifinals, three of the four competitors were from the United States, but Canadian Jaden Weekes kept the Maple Leaf flag flying with a 6-3, 7-6(7) victory over unseeded Michael Zheng.

Weekes, the No. 13 seed, had won three straight three-set victories prior to today's semifinal, and on seven occasions again Zheng he was a point from another match going the distance.

Zheng led 5-2 in the second set and served for the set at 5-2 and 5-4. The 17-year-old from New Jersey earned his first set point with Weekes serving at 5-3, but Weekes' forehand forced an error and he went on to hold. Zheng gave himself two more chances to win the set serving at 5-4, but netted a forehand on the first and couldn't handle a drop shot by Weekes on the second. 

Zheng did hold to force a tiebreaker and went up 6-3, only to miss two forehands and a backhand long. Another set point for Zheng came at 7-6, but a deep shot on the baseline by Weekes handcuffed him. When Weekes got his first match point at 8-7 he converted it, with a series of volleys with both players at the net ending with Weekes hitting the final winner. 

"As I said after my other match, I'm very comfortable at the net," said Weekes, who turned 17 in August. "I really like coming to the net and I think I managed to keep calm, get that last ball on my racquet and to put it in."

Weekes admitted that all the tennis he's played, with singles and doubles matches each of the past four days have left his legs feeling a little heavy, but he was generally happy with his level given that fatigue.

"I played good enough to win, not my best I would say, but I'm happy that I was able to get to the final," said Weekes, who had not won a match at a Grade 1 prior to this week. "He was moving me a lot and I was kind of tired from my other matches, but I think I handled it good enough. I knew he was good and I would have to bring my A game and I'm happy I got through."

Weekes' opponent in the final is No. 3 seed Jack Anthrop, who continued his run of routine victories with a 6-2, 6-3 win over unseeded Nicolas Kotzen.

Anthrop, who has now lost 15 games in his four wins, didn't face a break point on serve, and in fact was never taken to deuce on any of his service games.

That was important given that Kotzen's serve makes him a dangerous opponent.

"He was serving huge," said Anthrop, who received a wild card after not entering the tournament due to an injury that kept him out of Wimbledon and Kalamazoo. "I felt my returns today were definitely the best in all the matches I've played, considering I was playing someone who had a very good serve. I managed to play my return games very smart and took care of my serve very well today."

Kotzen saved five break points to hold for 3-all in the second set, but, as was the pattern, Anthrop held easily and Kotzen couldn't repeat that previous result in his next service game, with Anthrop converting on his third break point, then serving out the match.

"This is probably the best I've played this year," said the 17-year-old, who is not planning to enter another ITF Junior Circuit event prior to enrolling at Ohio State in January. "From March to the beginning of August, it was a struggle for me this year, but right now I'm playing the best tennis of my year so far."

Anthrop will also being playing in his first J1 final, so there is no experience advantage in the first meeting Saturday.
The doubles champions were crowned Friday afternoon, with the Stakusic siblings walking away with the boys and the girls trophies.

After facing off in the singles semifinals, Marina Stakusic and Qavia Lopez teamed up for the doubles title, with the No. 2 seeds defeating top seeds Kayla Cross and Mboko 7-6(9), 5-7, 10-7.

Stakusic and Lopez, playing together for the first time, said there was no adjustment period for them.

"I think we actually played better the first few matches than we did the last few," Stakusic said. "I honestly didn't feel we played great today, but we just kept fighting the whole time," Lopez said. "We made some mistakes, but didn't let it impact us too much, kept fighting, kept going for it."

Stakusic cited their aggressive mindset late in the match tiebreaker as the deciding factor.

"In the tiebreaker, closer to the end, we let loose a little bit and those last few points made the difference."
Not to be outdone, Marko Stakusic took the court after his younger sister, and partnering with Weekes, won the boys doubles title with a 3-6, 6-2, 10-8 win over No. 2 seeds Anthrop and Benjamin Kittay.

"Our energy at the end made the difference," Stakusic said. "We got a little boost and we kept stepping on them, kept pounding."

Stakusic and Weekes won all three deciding points in the second set, two of them on Anthrop's serve, to turn the tide of the match.

"We got the momentum in the second set and we did well to carry it on in the third," Weekes said.

Weekes and Stakusic hadn't played together in over two years, but the No. 6 seeds had no trouble find their form as a team.

"We play well together and it just flows," said Stakusic. "We have a lot of experience playing together and we have a great chemistry and I think that's what made the difference in the whole tournament," said Weekes.

This isn't the first time Marko and Marina have left an ITF tournament with a pair of winner's trophies, as they each won a singles title at a J5 in Calgary back in 2018. 

The semifinals are set at the ITA All-America Championships, and only one seed, No. 8 Alexa Noel, remains in both the men's and women's tournament. 

Noel, a sophomore at Iowa, will face qualifier Eryn Cayetano of USC, who has not dropped a set in her six victories this week in Charleston South Carolina. In the top half semifinal, two qualifiers will square off for a place in the final: Taisiya Pachkaleva, a Pepperdine sophomore will play South Carolina freshman Sarah Hamner. 

At the men's tournament in Tulsa, San Diego fifth-year senior August Holmgren will take on qualifier Andre Ilagan of Hawaii, the first player from his school to reach the round of 16 at the All-American championships. Ben Shelton of Florida will face wild card Clement Chidekh of Washington in the top half semifinal.


Brent said...

Does anyone know what happened in the Boyer/Bickersteth match in Tulsa. Looks like Boyer was up 5.1 in the 3rd and got defaulted if I'm reading the draw right.

Clark Coleman said...

Boyer's score reads "Def[pps]" where pps means penalty point system. Penalty points for bad calls or other conduct issues escalate, from warnings to point penalties, and he must have hit a set penalty or match penalty, depending on the ITA escalation scale.