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Friday, September 9, 2022

Havlickova and Eala Meet for US Open Girls Singles Title; Bailly and Landaluce Reach Boys Final; Americans Baris and Basavareddy Advance to Doubles Championship

©Colette Lewis 2022--
Flushing Meadows NY--

Lucie Havlickova's trip to the US Open Junior Championships has been years in the making, but the 17-year-old from the Czech Republic has made the most of her debut here this week, reaching Saturday's singles and doubles finals with three victories Friday on the courts of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

Havlickova wanted to play the tournament last year, but her coach Lukas Dlouhy, the 2009 US Open men's doubles champion, wasn't convinced; she ended up getting injured and was out for three months, leaving her even more excited for her opportunity this year. As the Roland Garros singles and doubles champion, Havlickova has had a target on her back all week, but she has lost only one set in nine victories and has extended her junior slam winning streaks to 11 matches in singles and nine matches in doubles.

In today's 6-4, 6-4 semifinal win over doubles partner Diana Shnaider of Russia, Havlickova got early breaks in both sets, then relied on her serve to finish the job.

"I had to stay focused on my serve," said the second-seeded Havlickova, who did not play the Wimbledon Junior Championships this summer. "The breaks were really important, and then I know I have to serve well, and I will be ok."

After her singles semifinal, Havlickova faced the prospect of two doubles matches, but despite her heavily taped right thigh, she and Shnaider got through both, with a 6-1, 6-1 quarterfinal victory over Ela Milic of Slovenia and Malwina Rowinska of Poland, and a 6-1, 7-6(1) semifinal win over No. 3 seeds Liv Hovde and Australian Taylah Preston to close out the day.

Havlickova admitted to struggling physically after two singles matches on Wednesday, and although she felt a little better this morning, she put her foot down last night when it came time to find a restaurant.

"My leg is going to be fine, it's just tired because of a lot of matches, two singles in one day was really hard," Havlickova said. "This morning I was a little better, but last night, when we went to dinner, I was like, no way I'm walking, no way."

Havlickova knows she is in a different position than what she was in Paris, when she claimed the title as the No. 9 seed, having never won a match at a junior slam prior to that week.

"No one expected it in Paris, because my results in slams were bad before that, but now everyone expects it, and I just backed it up with this," Havlickova said.

No. 10 seed Alexandra Eala of the Philippines, Havlickova's opponent in the final, will be playing in her first junior slam final Saturday, after defeating No. 9 seed Victoria Mboko of Canada 6-1, 7-6(5). 

After dominating the first set, Eala could feel the tension mounting in the second. Mboko served for the set at 5-3, but made three unforced errors to lose it without getting to set point. The tiebreaker was close throughout, with neither player leading by more than a point until Eala hit an excellent first serve, a rarity in the late stages of the set, to take a 6-4 lead. Mboko saved the first set point with a vicious backhand return winner, but the 16-year-old double faulted on match point, and, while the many Filipino supporters in the fans celebrated, Eala began to cry tears of joy.

"The second set especially was very emotionally demanding and mentally demanding," said the 17-year-old, who trains at the Rafael Nadal Academy, but has had the support of her parents and is expecting her brother Miko, a junior on the team at Penn State, to attend the final. "After I won, all the emotions and feelings just went out. I'm just super happy I was able to keep my composure until then. I'm over the moon and just happy to be able to share this moment with all my family. As you can see from my reaction, I'm overjoyed. I'm super excited to see what tomorrow holds."

Eala and Havlickova have never played, although they did practice together this week.

"I haven't seen her a lot in the past tournaments, maybe once or twice," Eala said. "I know she's a very good player; she's very solid, good shots, won Roland Garros. I like to go in with no pressure, and I'll do everything I can in that moment."

The boys final, between No. 2 seed Gilles Bailly of Belgium and No. 5 seed Martin Landaluce of Spain, will feature another Roland Garros finalist in Bailly, and another first-time finalist in Landaluce.

Bailly, who lost in the final to Gabriel Debru of France, won his fourth consecutive three-set victory Friday, this time from a set down, beating No. 9 seed Coleman Wong of Hong Kong 3-6, 6-3, 6-3.

Bailly, who prefers clay but is getting more comfortable on the hard courts, is happy to go the distance in a match, believing that plays to his strengths.

"I not a guy with a huge serve, a huge forehand, but my physical is really strong," said Bailly, who turns 17 on September 19. "So that's what helps me get through in these matches. If they want to win they'll have to win, I'm not going to lose it, so that gives me huge confidence going into a third set."

Landaluce was unequivocal in his assessment of his level of play in his 6-3, 6-2 win over top seed Daniel Vallejo of Mexico.

"I'm very happy, it was the best of the tournament," said the 16-year-old, who trains with the Spanish federation in Madrid. "I played great. We were both playing at high level, but I was a bit better in the rallies that go more than five or six shots, and I was serving better," added Landaluce, who had eight aces and saved all nine break points he faced. "It was my best match, I played great the whole match."

Landaluce defeated Bailly 7-6(7), 6-4 in the third round of the  Wimbledon juniors this year, but because it was grass, Bailly isn't putting much stock in that.

"It's grass, and you can't compare it to other surfaces, I feel," Bailly said. "It's going way faster, and it's not easy to have a game plan. Here it's a little bit more easy. I will be prepared for tomorrow, but it will be a different game of course tomorrow."

Although Bailly may have an edge with his previous trip to a junior slam final, Landaluce is determined to savor his first.

"I try to enjoy as much as possible the experience," Landaluce said. "I'm so happy. And tomorrow in the final, just go for it."

The girls singles final will be first, at noon, with the boys final following that, with the girls double final after the boys singles final. The matches will be streamed at ESPN+.

In the girls doubles final, the unseeded team of Carolina Kuhl and Ella Seidel of Germany will face Havlickova and Shnaider after they defeated Mia Kupres of Canada and Ranah Stoiber of Great Britain 4-6, 7-5, 10-8 in the quarterfinals and Alexis Blokhina and Canada's Annabelle Xu 7-5, 6-4 in the semifinals. 

The boys doubles final will feature the No. 8 seeds Ozan Baris and Nishesh Basavareddy and unseeded Dylan Dietrich of Switzerland and Juan Carlos Prado Angelo of Bolivia.

Baris and Basavareddy beat the No. 3 and No. 2 teams Friday afternoon and night, taking out No. 3 seeds Landaluce and Pedro Rodenas of Spain 6-3, 7-6(3) in the quarterfinals and No. 2 seeds Gonzalo Bueno and Ignacio Buse of Peru 6-0, 7-6(4) in the semifinals. 

Baris and Basavareddy lost only one point on serve in the 15-minute first set, but things tightened considerable in the second set, with Buse and Bueno serving for the second set twice, at 5-4, when they had a 40-0 lead but lost the next four points, and 6-5, when Bueno was broken at love. Baris and Basavareddy never trailed in the tiebreaker and closed it out with Buse losing both his service points down 4-5.

Dietrich and Prado Angelo have won all four of their matches in match tiebreakers, beating Leanid Boika and Russia's Yaroslav Demin 6-4, 4-6, 10-8 in the quarterfinals and Jack Loutit of New Zealand and Matthew Rankin of Great Britain 6-7(9), 7-6(2), 10-8 in the semifinals.

Kaylan and Meecah Bigun lost in the quarterfinals to Loutit and Rankin 3-6, 6-4, 10-7 and Michael Zheng and his partner Tanapatt Nirundorn of Thailand fell in the quarterfinals to Bueno and Buse 7-6(5), 6-4.

Wild cards Piper Charney and Natalie Block lost to Hovde and Preston 7-5, 6-4 in the quarterfinals. Katherine Hui and Eleana Yu were beaten by Blokhina and Xu 7-5, 4-6, 10-8 in the quarterfinals.