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Wednesday, September 7, 2022

Kang, Ngounoue Advance to US Open Junior Quarterfinals; Top Seed Costoulas, Wimbledon Champion Hovde Ousted; Tiafoe Ends Long US Drought in Reaching Men's Semifinals

©Colette Lewis 2022--
Flushing Meadows NY--

An early start and only one brief rain delay helped the US Open Junior Championships get back on schedule in singles after Tuesday's washout, but Thursday's quarterfinals will be missing several top seeds in both the girls and boys draws.

Both of the Americans who advanced to the quarterfinals are unseeded, and they took much different routes, with Clervie Ngounoue needing to win two matches, while Kang didn't even have to finish one set before getting his victory.

Ngounoue, who is not playing doubles this week, kept her time on the court brief, needing just two hours and 22 minutes to earn two victories. The 16-year-old from Washington DC beat fellow Mid-Atlantic resident Tatum Evans, a qualifier, 6-1, 6-4 and followed that up with a 6-2, 6-3 victory over Ekaterina Khayrutdinova of Russia, who defeated Repentigny J1 champion Ella Seidel of Germany 6-3, 6-1 in her first match.

Ngounoue, who was out from March through July with a foot injury, had to sit on the court during a 25-minute delay caused by a more persistent drizzle than had fallen occasionally throughout the day.  Up 6-3, 2-2, Ngounoue described herself as "in limbo." 

"Normally when the rain comes, I'm like, yeah rain," said Ngounoue, who is now training at the USTA's National Campus in Lake Nona with Jermaine Jenkins. "But this one was so unexpected, and it wasn't even rain, just spit. I really didn't know if we were going to finish it or not, so I was between, I have to stay warm, but then it was freezing cold. Eventually I just shut all of that off."

The delay could have stalled Ngounoue's momentum, but it did not, as she won four of the final five games of the match.

Ngounoue is competing in her fifth junior slam, but this is the first time she has won more than one round.

"This is the farthest I've made here, so I guess I am really just taking it one match at a time," said Ngounoue, who is playing in her third (fourth if you included women's doubles here, where she and Reese Brantmeier won a round) tournament since returning from injury. "I'm so happy just to be here playing; I wasn't sure if we were going to make it or not, it's my third tournament back. So I'm just really glad for the opportunity."

Ngounoue will face No. 2 seed and Roland Garros champion Lucie Havlickova of the Czech Republic in Thursday's quarterfinals. Havlickova had two much tougher matches Wednesday, beating wild card Sarah Iliev of France 3-6, 6-1, 6-3 and Mia Kupres of Canada 6-2, 7-6(9).

Top seed Sofia Costoulas lost to No. 14 seed Mirra Andreeva of Russia 5-7, 6-4, 6-1. Andreeva's opponent in the semifinals will be Alexandra Eala of the Philippines, who beat No. 8 seed Taylah Preston of Australia 6-2, 7-6(1).

The other quarterfinal in the top half features No. 4 seed Celine Naef of Switzerland and No. 9 seed Victoria Mboko of Canada. Mboko defeated wild card Iva Jovic 6-2, 6-2.

Ranah Stoiber of Great Britain had been expected to take on Liv Hovde in the first round of the Wimbledon Juniors in a much anticipated matchup, but a back injury led to her withdrawing after the draw was made. After over a month off to heal, Stoiber got another chance today, and she made the most of it, eliminating the Wimbledon champion and No. 3 seed 6-3, 2-6, 6-4. 

Stoiber was the steadier of the two in the first set, with Hovde missing her normally reliable backhand to the tune 18 unforced errors. In the second set, Hovde began to find the court, while Stoiber was the one who made the errors when it mattered. Hovde went up a break 3-2 in the third set, but was broken at love to give it right back, then was broken again to give Stoiber a chance to serve out the match. The 17-year-old Stoiber couldn't take it, but with Hovde serving at 4-5, 15-all, Stoiber took control, hitting a forehand winner, a backhand winner and another forehand winner on match point to claim the victory.

She then defeated unseeded Canadian Kayla Cross 7-6(2), 6-0 in her second match of the day to reach the quarterfinals, where she'll play No. 7 seed Diana Shnaider of Russia. Shnaider, a freshman at North Carolina State, also played five sets of singles Wednesday, beating Amelie Van Impe of Belgium 6-2, 6-3 and coming back to end the run of qualifier Weronika Ewald of Poland 2-6, 6-4, 6-2.

The only Top Five seed to lose in the boys draw was No. 4 Nishesh Basavareddy, who went out to last week's Repentigny J1 champion Alexander Blockx of Beligum 6-2, 6-1. Blockx advanced to a meeting with No. 5 seed Martin Landaluce of Spain when Arthur Gea of France retired at 6-7(5), 6-1, 3-1.

No. 1 seed Daniel Vallejo of Paraguay was tested in both his matches, beating Paul Inchauspe of France 6-4, 4-6, 6-1 and No. 13 seed Gerard Campana Lee of Korea 7-5, 6-4. Vallejo will face unseeded Hynek Barton of the Czech Republic, who defeated No. 8 seed Edas Butvilas of Lithuania 7-6(7), 4-6, 6-3 and Alex Michelsen 7-6(4), 6-3.

Michelsen had beaten No. 10 seed Martyn Pawelski 6-3, 1-6, 7-5, breaking Pawelski in an epic final game that went to eight deuces and included Pawelski getting a time violation loss of first serve at the second deuce.  Michelsen returned beautifully against Pawelski, who had one of the biggest serves in the juniors, but he couldn't extend that into his match with Barton, who serves much bigger than his size would suggest. Barton had 11 aces in the match and although the IBM serve stats--which show him with the second fastest serve in the juniors to date at 140 mph-- are occasionally way off, I saw his service winner on match point in person, which clocked in at 138 and looked to be every bit of that.

In the bottom half, which had only one singles match today, having played their second rounds on Monday, No. 9 seed Coleman Wong of Hong Kong defeated No. 7 seed Gonzalo Bueno of Peru 7-6(5), 6-2. He will play No. 3 seed Kilian Feldbausch, who survived against No. 16 seed and Wimbledon finalist Michael Zheng 7-6(5), 4-6, 6-4.

Wild card Kang was facing Peter Nad of Slovakia, also unseeded, on Court 17 when Nad rolled his ankle and had to be taken off the court in a wheelchair at 5-5 in the first set.

"I didn't really get a good look at it, I was just kind of playing the point, but it seemed like he hurt it pretty bad," said Kang, a 17-year-old from California, who recently committed to Stanford for 2023. "He didn't make an attempt to get up after, so I kind of knew, he was finished. You've got to feel for a guy when that happens."

Kang, who qualified for the US Open last year, losing to Vallejo in the first round, is playing in only his second junior slam. But he is 11-9 in USTA Pro Circuit men's tournaments this year, and spent six weeks this summer on the new SoCal Pro Circuit, reaching two quarterfinals.

"Six great tournaments, the level was really high because I think everybody loves to come there," Kang said. "There's a lot of juniors who were playing it as well. It's just a good experience for everybody involved and it was a good learning experience for me, got a lot of matches."

With success on that next level, Kang is confident that he can compete at the top of the junior game, and is not surprised to find himself in the quarterfinals.

"It feels good," Kang said. "It's my second slam, so I'm just going to enjoy it. I'm feeling pretty good about my level right now. All these matches are good experiences to see where all these other guys are at and see how I'm matching up with the top juniors. I guess we'll see if I can take it all the way."

Kang's quarterfinal opponent has come close to a slam title with Gilles Bailly of Belgium reaching the Roland Garros final this summer. The European 18s champion, Bailly is only two matches from another slam final, but exceeding the accomplishment of his brother Pierre Yves, a sophomore at the University of Texas, who made the quarterfinals here last year, was the goal he mentioned.

"I'm going to send him a message, maybe I'm going to do better," said Bailly, who defeated No. 14 seed Yaroslav Demin of Russia 6-3, 4-6, 6-3.

Bailly said that after reaching the Roland Garros final unseeded, perceptions of him changed.

"People now start looking at me, like he's the second seed, it's not a surprise if he wins," said Bailly, who turns 17 later this month. "I had difficulty the first two rounds, I need to keep my expectations low, keep my standards and intensity high. I think it's good for me to deal with the pressure of the second seed; I try to embrace it."

Despite all his junior success, Bailly has not ruled out college, and could follow his brother to Texas depending on his pro results next year.

"I visited Texas last week before coming to practice here," Bailly said. "I didn't want to leave, actually; it was really nice to go there. If I see my level next year good enough to go pro, I go pro, but if not, I go to college, one or two years, practicing there, playing matches, then go pro. There is certainly a possibility that I go there."

Thursday's schedule, which begins at noon, will feature the boys and girls singles quarterfinals and the second round of doubles. With the doubles finals scheduled for Saturday, the quarterfinals and semifinals will need to be played Friday. Fortunately, the weather is expected to be excellent for the next three days.

Frances Tiafoe became the first American man to reach the semifinals of the US Open since Andy Roddick in 2006 when he defeated Andrey Rublev of Russia 7-6(3), 7-6(0), 6-4 this afternoon on Arthur Ashe Stadium. Tiafoe will face the winner of tonight's match between Jannik Sinner of Italy and Carlos Alcaraz of Spain for a place in the final. Karen Khachanov of Russia and Casper Rudd of Norway will play in the other men's semifinal Friday. For more on Tiafoe's breakthrough today, see this article from usopen.org.

Although there is an American man still in singles, the last US woman lost tonight, with Jessica Pegula falling to top seed Iga Swiatek of Poland 6-3, 7-6(4).

Wednesday's second round junior results of Americans:

Alexander Blockx(BEL) d. Nishesh Basavareddy[4] 6-2, 6-1 
Alex Michelsen d. Martyn Pawelski[10](POL) 6-3, 1-6, 7-5

Ranah Stoiber(GBR) d. Liv Hovde[3] 6-3, 2-6, 6-4 
Clervie Ngounoue d. Tatum Evans[Q] 6-4, 6-1
Mia Kupres(CAN)d. Ariana Pursoo[WC] 6-2, 6-2

Wednesday's third round junior results of Americans:

Kyle Kang[WC] d. Peter Nad(SVK) 5-5 retired.
Kilian Feldbausch[3](SUI) d. Michael Zheng[16] 7-6(5), 4-6, 6-4
Hynek Barton(CZE) d. Alex Michelsen 7-6(4), 6-3

Victoria Mboko[9](CAN) d. Iva Jovic[WC] 6-2, 6-2
Clervie Ngounoue d. Ekaterina Khayrutdinova 6-2, 6-3