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Monday, October 31, 2022

Montgomery Wins Battle of Teen Left-handers to Qualify at Dow Tennis Classic, Top Seed Zhang Loses in First Round; Junior Davis Cup and Junior Billie Jean King Cup Begin Tuesday in Turkey; Americans Claim Doubles Titles on ITF Junior Circuit

©Colette Lewis 2022--
Midland Michigan--

 Robin Montgomery and Diana Shnaider, two powerful 18-year-old left-handers, met today in the final round of qualifying at the Dow Tennis Classic, in its second year as a WTA 125 tournament.

Although Shnaider had won their last meeting, in the quarterfinals of the 2021 Roland Garros Junior Championships, 6-3, 6-1, Montgomery was the superior player today, posting a 6-3, 6-2 victory is just over an hour.

Montgomery saved two of the three break points she faced in the match during her first service game, and broke Shnaider in the next game. She never trailed from then on, and every time she got in a 0-30 hole, her serve was there to bail her out.

Shnaider, with her left thigh heavily taped, wasn't moving quite as well as she had in her opening round win Sunday over Catherine Harrison, but her shots had depth and pace in nearly every rally. She just wasn't able to put any pressure on Montgomery's serve, which freed Montgomery to hit out in her return games.

"She's a big hitter and she's starting to hit her targets way better even when she's on the run," Montgomery said of the NC State freshman. "You just never want to give her an opportunity, because you know she'll just rip it. She's a competitor and a big hitter and she's really good."

Montgomery's history with Shnaider goes back much further than that meeting in Paris. In 2018, they split two decisions, with the Russian winning in the third round at Les Petits As and Montgomery getting a victory in the third round at the Grade A in Osaka.

"It's good seeing her and me at the same place, since we've known each other so long," Montgomery said. "We're going through all the phases together, which is always fun to see when you grow up with someone."

Montgomery, who grew up in Washington DC and developed her game at the Junior Tennis Champions Center in College Park Maryland, is now living in Orlando and working with Eric Nunez, a collaboration that began after she left the Mouratoglou Academy late this summer.

Since making that change, Montgomery has reached the final of a $60K, qualified for the WTA 500 in San Diego and last week reached the quarterfinals of a $60K in Toronto.

"I really enjoy working with him," Montgomery said of the former USTA National Coach, who continues to work for the USTA as an independent contractor. "He complements my mentality and the way I play very well. Granted we're still in the beginning, but so far, so good. He's helped me bring different elements to my game and making my strengths even stronger."

In addition to her serve, Montgomery notes that another of those strengths is what Montgomery calls her "lefty-ness."

"All the lefty patterns that are beneficial, mixing up the game a little bit," Montgomery said. "I feel I'm pretty decent on all my strokes; if one isn't working, the other one can back me up."

Montgomery will face another qualifier, Katherine Sebov of Canada, in the first round Tuesday morning. Sebov defeated Sophie Chang 6-1, 7-6(5).

In another battle of left-handers, Kayla Day took out Francesca Di Lorenzo(Ohio State) 6-3, 6-3. The fourth qualifier is 19-year-old Elvina Kalieva, who saved two match points in the second set tiebreaker to defeat Jamie Loeb(North Carolina) 3-6, 7-6(10), 7-6(3). After trailing 4-0 in the second set tiebreaker, Loeb went up 6-5, but made an unforced forehand error to squander that match point. The second set point didn't come until 10-9, when Kalieva hit a forehand winner to save it, then won the next two points when Loeb found the net on a forehand and then a backhand.

Kalieva will also play her first round match Tuesday, against Sachia Vickery.

Three first round matches were played today, and it didn't take long for a shocking upset. Top seed and WTA No. 24 Shuai Zhang of China lost to Nao Hibino of Japan 6-4, 6-7(4), 6-3, with Zhang appearing to be uncomfortable from midway through the first set. Hibino, ranked 144, but playing at a level way above that ranking throughout the match, trailed 3-1 in the first set, but got the break right back, broke at 4-all, then served out the set. After losing the ninth game, Zhang and her coach, sitting in the stands a few rows up from the court near the baseline, had a heated argument in Chinese that extended for some time, with the chair umpire eventually telling Zhang she would get someone to the court to help handle the situation. 

The WTA supervisor came to the court during the set break and had a brief conversation with the chair umpire, but did not speak to Zhang, and both the coach and Zhang did not speak to each other after that one lengthy exchange. Zhang also showed irritation when someone in the stands or a ball runner moved or when a line call was corrected, but she buckled down after trailing 3-1 in the second set and began blasting winners.  Hibino took a 5-3 lead in the second at was up 15-40 with Zhang serving, only to watch as Zhang hit her way out of those two match points. Hibino couldn't serve it out in the next game, and Zhang played a better tiebreaker to finally pull even in the match.

Hibino wasn't ready to concede that her opportunity for an upset was gone however. She got an early break, and held for 3-0, 4-1 and 5-2 lead. Hibino had to save a break point serving for the match at 5-3, but she got an error from Zhang to get back to deuce, popped an ace to earn her third match point, and converted it when Zhang's forehand went wide. 

In the other two first round matches, Ann Li defeated No. 6 seed Varvara Gracheva of Russia 4-6, 7-6(5), 6-3, saving a match point with Gracheva serving for the match at 6-5 in the second set. No. 3 seed Lin Zhu of China defeated Louisa Chirico 6-4, 6-4.

Ten more first round matches are Tuesday, with the last three first round matches, involving Sunday's finalists in Toronto (Robin Anderson and Su Jeong Jang) and Tyler (Yue Yuan), scheduled for Wednesday.

The ITF's 16-and-under team competition begins Tuesday in Antalya Turkey, with the United States participating for the first time since hosting the competition in 2019. The US girls are the No. 1 seeds and are in Group A with Colombia, Thailand and Turkey. Clervie Ngounoue, Valerie Glozman and Iva Jovic make up the US team.

The US boys--Alexander Razeghi and twins Meecah and Kaylan Bigun--are the No. 2 seeds and in Group D with Turkey, Argentina and Japan. 

The draws and previews from the ITF can be found here.

I covered the four US titles at the ITF J4 in Lexington South Carolina on Saturday, but there were two additional titles for Americans on the ITF Junior Circuit last week, both in doubles.

At the J2 in Korea, Quang Duong reached the quarterfinals in singles and won the doubles title, with Suphawat Saeoui of Thailand. The No. 4 seeds defeated unseeded Yeonsu Jeong and Seungmin Park of Korea 6-2, 6-2 in the final. 

At the J5 in Spain, Maxwell Exsted reached the singles final and won the doubles with longtime partner Maximus Dussault. Exsted and Dussault, the No. 1 seeds, defeated No. 2 seeds Rodrigo Fernandes of Portugal and Matteo Morazzi of Spain 6-2, 6-3 in the final.