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Thursday, September 8, 2022

NC State Freshman Shnaider Meets Roland Garros Champion Havlickova in US Open Junior Championships Semifinal; Wong Ousts No. 3 Seed Feldbausch; Top Two Boys Seeds Move On

©Colette Lewis 2022--
Flushing Meadows NY--

Diana Shnaider came into the US Open Junior Championships with few expectations. After failing to win a round in her two previous appearances in New York, just getting her first victory Monday was a relief, so advancing to the semifinals with a 6-4, 6-3 win over Ranah Stoiber of Great Britain has surprised her, with all the changes she's faced in the past few months.

The seventh-seeded Shnaider, who is 249 in the WTA rankings after winning three ITF Women's Circuit titles this spring, including at a $60,000 tournament, decided that college tennis was her best route, with Russian players now encountering uncertainty at every turn since the country invaded Ukraine.

"It was very tough decision for me and my family, but right now it's really tough for Russian players to go to Europe, to America, the visas, the documents, so I was scared that we can't even play tournaments," said the 18-year-old left-hander from Moscow, who spent her first week at North Carolina State prior to the US Open Junior Championships. "But it was a good opportunity that I could still play college tennis, because they have a lot of matches, a lot of good players. I can practice and study at the same time, and it's very good that everything is in one facility, fitness, practice, study, relaxing."

Shnaider had been talking with colleges for a couple of years, but college tennis isn't considered an option for those interested in playing pro tennis for many of her peers.

"In Russia, in Europe, people think if you go to college your professional career is over," said Shnaider, who was recently revealed as No. 1 on the ITA Newcomers list for this fall. "I was thinking, and my parents were thinking, the same. If I go to college, I will not be a pro. But David (NC State assistant coach Secker) was having a lot of conversations with me, my mom, telling us what was going on in college tennis. Everything was going so fast, I was the last girl [added to] the team, but I really enjoy playing team competitions, so I am looking forward to that. When your team is behind you, you feel this positive energy, and actually I play much better in team competition."

Shnaider will face her doubles partner, Roland Garros champion Lucie Havlickova of the Czech Republic, in the semifinals, after Havlickova defeated Clervie Ngounoue, the last US girl remaining in singles, 6-4, 6-2.

Ngounoue got off to a slow start but found her form to take a 4-3 lead in the first set. She couldn't convert on a break point in Havlickova's service game however, and Ngounoue was broken, with two double faults not helping her cause, in the ninth game, giving Havlickova the opportunity to serve out the set. It was a taut and unpredictable game, with nine deuces before Havlickova finally converted her seventh set point with a forehand winner, but she credited her serve as the most important factor.

"Without that I wouldn't have won," said the 17-year-old right-hander. "I was nervous, and my backhand was so bad. It was really frustrating; from the right side, I mostly won the points, and then on the other side I was putting backhands into the fence or something, and I'm saying 'Lucie, come on, what the f*** are you doing?' But then my serve saved me, thank you serve."

Although Shnaider is a two-time junior slam champion in doubles, she was flattered when Havlickova asked her to play doubles this week in New York, as they had not played together previously.

"I was like, of course, you won Roland Garros, singles and doubles, and you're asking me?," Shnaider said. "Well, yes, of course I want to. Most of the time Czech girls play together, so I was shocked she would ask me, but I was proud of myself that she would write me."

After playing their singles semifinal at noon Friday, Shnaider and Havlickova, the No. 1 seeds, will play their quarterfinal match in doubles and, if they win that, will play a third match, the doubles semifinals, in the evening.

The other girls singles semifinal will feature two other players who have had success on the ITF Women's Pro Circuit: No. 10 seed Alexandra Eala of the Philippines and No. 9 seed Victoria Mboko of Canada.

The 17-year-old Eala, who received entry and her seed based on her WTA ranking of 297, defeated her doubles partner, No. 14 seed Mirra Andreeva of Russia, 6-4, 6-0 in today's quarterfinals. Andreeva received a medical timeout during the match, and later withdrew from doubles.

Eala, who won a $25,000 tournament this year and reached the final of a $60,000 tournament, has matched her best showing in a junior slam with her appearance in the semifinals, as she did at Roland Garros in 2020.

Mboko has reached her second consecutive junior slam semifinal, having been in the Wimbledon final four in July. She was close to an exit in the quarterfinals today, with No. 4 seed Celine Naef Switzerland serving for the match at 5-4 in the third set, but Mboko came through with a 7-5, 2-6, 7-5 victory.

"I had to go point by point and not think about the outcome of the match," said Mboko, who turned 16 last month. "Because anything can happen. I just stayed calm until I broke and then I had a lot of confidence serving. I kept my cool, and that was the most important for me, because if I would have gotten riled up, got all nervous, I wouldn't have pulled it out."

Mboko, who won a $25,000 tournament in her home country this summer and is 513 in the WTA rankings, had lost to Naef in straight sets in their previous two meetings, most recently last fall at the Grade A in Mexico.

The top two seeds in the boys draw advanced, with No. 1 Daniel Vallejo of Paraguay defeating unseeded Hynek Barton of the Czech Republic 6-4, 6-2 to set up a first meeting with No. 5 seed Martin Landaluce of Spain. Landaluce won his second consecutive three-set match, beating last week's J1 champion Alexander Blockx of Belgium 6-1, 3-6, 6-2.

No. 2 seed Gilles Bailly won his third consecutive three-setter, beating wild card and last US boy in singles Kyle Kang 6-4, 3-6, 6-1. Kang was broken early in the third set, had two chances to break back, at 2-0 and 3-1, but didn't convert either and Bailly closed out the match with a second break and a hold of serve.

Bailly will face No. 9 seed Coleman Wong of Hong Kong, who outlasted No. 3 seed Kilian Feldbausch of Switzerland 6-2, 6-7(4), 6-4. Wong, who lost to Feldbausch in the first round at Roland Garros this year, broke for a 4-3 lead in the third set but was down 15-30 when serving for the match at 5-4. That deficit was quickly erased when the 18-year-old blasted two consecutive aces past a demoralized Feldbausch, then hit a forehand winner to seal the victory.

"They were fast, but I was not thinking about that," Wong said. "I was thinking, how can I win this point, what can I do to win this. I was taking my time, going to my towel, thinking what should I do with my first two shots, and guess what? It's two aces," Wong said with a laugh.

Wong, who is making his first junior slam semifinal appearance, and Bailly, the 2022 Roland Garros finalist, met last fall at a J1 in Belgium on clay, with Bailly winning 6-2, 6-4.

With doubles a day behind schedule due to rain on Tuesday, there was a lot of action all over the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center Thursday afternoon.

Six Americans remain in both the girls and boys doubles draws after second round play concluded, including two wild card teams and an alternate team.

Twins Kaylan and Meecah Bigun, who have not been playing doubles together recently, were inserted into the draw as alternates when Nicholas Godsick and Canadian Jaden Weekes withdrew. They won their first round match yesterday, and today defeated Feldbausch and Olaf Pieczkowski of Poland 6-3, 3-6, 10-8.

No. 8 seed Ozan Baris and Nishesh Basavareddy came from behind to defeat Patrick Brady and Williams Jansen of Great Britain 5-7, 7-5, 10-6.

Leanid Boika and his partner Yaroslav Demin of Russia saved a match point in the second set tiebreaker and went on to beat No. 5 seeds Bailly and Blockx 4-6, 7-6(8), 10-2.  Michael Zheng and his partner from Thailand, Tanapatt Nirundorn, defeated wild cards Stiles Brockett and Darwin Blanch 6-1, 6-4. 

Only three seeded teams remain in the boys doubles draw: Basavareddy and Baris, No. 3 seeds Landaluce and Pedro Rodenas and No. 2 seeds Gonzalo Bueno and Ignacio Buse of Peru.

Natalie Block and Piper Charney were not officially given a wild card prior to the tournament, but were encouraged to travel to New York to sign in for the doubles tournament. A few hours after the sign-in closed on Sunday, they learned they had made the draw, and went on to get a win in the first round Monday.

Today, playing on show Court 17, they defeated Wimbledon champions Angella Okutoyi of Kenya and Rose Marie Nijkamp of the Netherlands 7-6(5), 6-3, after starting the match quickly down 4-0. Charney and Block will face No. 3 seeds Liv Hovde and Australia's Taylah Preston in the quarterfinals Friday. Hovde and Preston and Havlickova and Shnaider are the only two seeded teams remaining in the girls doubles draw.

Wild cards Eleana Yu and Katherine Hui defeated No. 2 seeds Sofia Costoulas of Belgium and Luca Udvardy of Hungary 6-4, 7-6(4), despite failing to serve out the match three times, at 5-2, 5-4 and 6-5. They will face Alexis Blokhina and Canadian Anabelle Xu, who defeated Anastasiia Gureva of Russia and Hayu Kinoshita of Japan 6-3, 3-6, 11-9.

The boys doubles draw is here; the girls doubles draw is here.

The men's doubles final is set for Friday, with the top two seeds facing off for the title. Top seeds and defending champions Rajeev Ram(Illinois) and Great Britain's Joe Salisbury(Memphis) got past No. 13 seeds Robert Farah(USC) and Juan Sebastian Cabal of Colombia 7-5, 4-6, 7-6(6) in three hours and 12 minutes. They will play No. 2 seeds Wesley Koolhof of the Netherlands and Ken Skupski(LSU) of Great Britain, who beat No. 3 seeds Marcelo Arevalo(Tulsa) of El Salvador and Jean-Julien Rojer(UCLA) of the Netherlands 6-4, 7-5.