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Monday, December 20, 2021

Suljic Claims Junior Orange Bowl B12s Title with Two Wins Monday; Jovic and Lam Meet Tuesday for G14s Championship; Blanch Advances to B14s Final

©Colette Lewis 2021--
Coral Gables FL-- 

Svit Suljic made history at the 60th edition of the Junior Orange Bowl, with the No. 3 seed from Slovenia winning two matches Monday to claim the first boys title for his country.

Due to rain in the forecast for Tuesday, all players involved in the semifinals and consolation draw agreed to finish the boys 12s tournament a day early, and the weather cooperated, with warm and sunny conditions greeting the players this morning at the Har-Tru courts at Salvadore Park.

Suljic's run at the title started inauspiciously, with the 12-year-old losing the opening set of his semifinal to No. 5 seed Jordan Lee, but he bounced back to record a 4-6, 6-2, 6-2 victory. His opponent in the final, Juan Miguel Bolivar of Colombia, a No. 9 seed, had less of a struggle, beating No. 8 seed Jerrid Gaines 6-2, 6-4 in the semifinals, but Suljic showed no signs of fatigue in the afternoon final, taking big leads early in each set and cruising to a 6-3, 6-0 victory.

"I had a good recovery after the [semifinal], so I was ready to play my final," said the 12-year-old, who trains at Mouratoglou Academy. "Finals are always super to play, so adrenaline does everything."

Bolivar, usually vocal and energetic, was less animated than usual and fell behind 4-1. Suljic serving up 4-1, 40-15 but Bolivar came alive, getting his only break of the match, then holding with a big forehand winner to get within a game. But Suljic held and broke Bolivar again, and the hopes of Bolivar's fans, including B14s finalist Alejandro Arcila, began to fade.

Suljic took control, winning the first eight points of the second set, then went on another streak of 12 straight points, building a 5-0. Moving well and keeping his own errors to a minimum, Suljic kept the pressure on. Bolivar had a game point serving at 0-5, but the unforced errors that had dogged him throughout the match reappeared and he was unable to counter the big forehand Suljic hit on his first match point.


Bolivar admitted to fatigue, but gave credit to Suljic.

"Yes, I am so tired, but I think he played so good," said Bolivar, who was impressed by Suljic's pace and depth. "The whole match so solid, I think, and the power."

Suljic said he looked at the list of Junior Orange Bowl champions before he began playing here and was impressed with the names he read, including Andy Murray, who won the 12s in 1999. He also noticed no Slovenians on the boys side, with Katarina Srebotnik, the 1995 girls 14s champion, the sole winner from his country.

"It seems special, it's a great feeling, I don't know what to say," Suljic said. "It's something special to win this tournament, I'm very proud of myself, happy. It's one big step and it's very good."

Gaines finished in third place, defeating Lee 6-4, 6-0 to avenge his singles quarterfinal loss to his doubles partner at this year's Eddie Herr. 

Mark Ceban of Great Britain finished in fifth place, defeating Teodor Davidov 7-5, 6-2 in the consolation final.

An American, and a reigning Easter Bowl champion, will win the girls 14s title after top seed Iva Jovic and No. 4 seed Shannon Lam defeated their international opponents in Monday morning's semifinals. 
Lam, who won the Easter Bowl 12s title this spring, eliminated the last Eddie Herr champion remaining, defeating No. 2 seed Rositsa Dencheva of Bulgaria 6-2, 4-6, 6-4.

Lam used every strategy she could summon--lobs, moonballs, forehand slices, drop shots--to stay away from Dencheva's backhand.

"I hit most of my shots to her forehand," said Lam, now 13. "I noticed her grip was a bit weird on it. But her backhand was amazing. She could hit a winner off of any shot with her backhand."

Lam, who played the 18s at the USTA National Indoor Championships last month, knew that Dencheva might also be a bit fatigued from three straight weeks of competition.

"I heard she played Eddie Herr, played another tournament in between (a Casely money tournament) Junior Orange Bowl, so I thought she must be tired," said Lam, who used the drop shot to her advantage.

Lam was up 5-2 in the third set, but when she failed to serve it out at 5-3, a bit of doubt crept in.

"My mind was everywhere," said Lam, who was up 30-0 in the game. "Thinking I have to win this game or she might take the momentum."

Lam didn't win the game, but was able to break to set up a meeting with Jovic, this year's Easter Bowl champion in the 14s.

Jovic, who has yet to lose more than three games in a set in her six wins, defeated Canadian Emma Dong, a No. 9 seed, 6-3, 6-3.

"My depth was pretty good and I was controlling my shots well to her backhand," Jovic said. "Her forehand is really aggressive and she was moving me with it. So I did a good job of keeping it away from her better side and so then when she got a forehand, she'd try to go for too much."

Jovic and Lam played this summer in the final of a USTA 16s Level 2, with Jovic winning easily. 

"I played a really good match and I won like 1 and 1, I think," Jovic said. 

Lam said wasn't playing her best that day.

"I was missing a lot of shots, it wasn't really just her making winners," Lam said. "I was shanking a lot, it was pretty weird. I'm a bit more sure now that I can get a better score," Lam joked.

The boys 14s final Tuesday will feature No. 3 seed Darwin Blanch against No. 5 seed Alejandro Arcila of Colombia and a contrast in previous Junior Orange Bowl results. 

Arcila reached the 12s final in 2019, losing to Benjamin Gusic-Wan of Great Britain, while Blanch doesn't have any good memories of his two years in the 12s, or since.

"To be honest I've had really bad streaks in Orange Bowl," Blanch said, including his recent forays in the 16s as well the 12s in 2018 and 2019. "I've had second round, first round, first round, first round (losses). I was like, there's no way I'm going to lose first round again. So it feels really good to be in the final."

Blanch got there with a 6-2, 6-4 win over unseeded Valentin Garay of Argentina, the only unseeded semifinalist in any of the four divisions.

Blanch served for the match at 5-3, but admitted that nerves got the better of him in that game.

"When I was 5-2 up I got a little tight to close the match," said Blanch, the youngest of his four tennis-playing siblings: Ulises, Dali and Krystal. "He started playing a little better, I lowered my level a little bit and he got a little confident. At 4-5, he was 40-0 in that last game, and I guess he choked a little bit, and I came back and won."

Blanch said he had not played Garay before in a tournament, but knew him from competing in the same tournaments in South America. 

"I've played him a couple of times in practice," said Blanch, a 6-foot left-hander. "I was surprised he made the semis; I would have expected him to lose a little earlier. But when I saw him, he was playing well, so I knew I had to play well to win today."

Arcila could not have been happier with his start in his 6-1, 4-6, 6-2 win over No. 6 seed Calvin Baierl, a semifinalist in the 12s two years ago.

"I played very, very well and I didn't let him do his game, which is being very aggressive," said Arcila, who is from Medellin, but trains several months each year with Gabe Jaramillo in Port St. Lucie. "I tried not to let him be forward on the court, pull him back every time. And I was pretty focused."

All that changed in the second set, with Baierl rededicating himself to his big forehand and keeping Arcila on defense.

"I started very well, I was 3-2 and had chances to go to 4-2, but the nerves, and the anxiety of not closing those moments got in my mind, and he started playing better too," Arcila said. 

Arcila regrouped in the final set, with Baierl, who had beaten top seed Maxwell Exsted in the quarterfinals, looking particularly tired after dropping serve at 2-3.

"I think he was a little bit tired in the third set, because he had struggled in the past two sets," Arcila said. "But I was also tired. I think what made the difference was that I played more organized in the third set, he started complaining a little bit, about me making more shots, me not missing, and I took advantage of that."

Arcila and Blanch have never played, and unlike two years ago, when he lost to the diminutive Gusic Wan, Arcila will be the smaller of the finalists.

"I'm the little kid now," Arcila joked. "He lived in Argentina and we played the same tournaments, but we never got to face each other. We've known each other from three or four years ago, so it's great to play him now."

The girls 12s semifinals were a study in contrasts, with No. 3 seed Lia Belibova of Moldova quickly moving past Nancy Lee, a No. 9 seed, 6-3, 6-0.  Top seed Christina Lyutova needed three hours to get past No. 8 seed Zaire Clarke 7-5, 7-5, coming from a break down in the second set to advance.

The 11-year-old Lyutova, who trains at the Gorin Academy in Redmond Washington and plays USTA events, is from Moscow Russia. She doesn't speak English, but her mother said she is looking forward to playing Belibova for the first time.

"She told me before that every opponent is different, so she has to find her game during the match."

Due to a forecast that calls for showers in the late morning, all three finals, the third and fourth place matches and the consolation finals are scheduled to begin at 8:00 a.m. at the Biltmore Tennis Center. Streaming on Courts 1 and 2 should be available via the link at Tennis Analytics.