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Friday, January 27, 2023

Tien Falls to Blockx in Third Set Tiebreaker at Australian Open Boys Final, Korneeva Takes Girls Title; Jovic and Horovitz Reach Costa Rica J300 Finals; Latak Advances to Les Petits As Semifinals; Five Upsets on First Day of D-I Kickoff Weekend

Alexander Blockx and Learner Tien

The Australian Open Junior Championships provided nearly five and a half hours of excitement Saturday in Rod Laver Arena, finishing with a scintillating boys final that ended with Alexander Blockx of Belgium defeating Learner Tien of the United States 6-1, 2-6, 7-6(9).
Blockx, the No. 3 seed, started the boys final with an impressive array of forehand winners, while Tien made an uncharacteristic number of unforced errors. After dominating his opponents in the previous three matches, Tien could sympathize when he was in a similar position, going down 4-0 and unable to take Blockx out of his zone.

But all that changed in the second set, when Tien stopped making unforced errors and Blockx began to donate a few. Tien saw his first break point in the third game of the second set, and while he didn't convert it, he broke Blockx in his next opportunity and then for a second time before serving out the set.

The third set was close throughout, with both players finding their form and holding serve, although Tien generally had the easier holds. The key game came at 4-all, with Blockx serving, when Tien had two break points among the six deuces. Blockx saved one with an ace--he had three of his 10 aces in that game--and didn't hold back on his ground strokes when it mattered, letting out a huge roar when he held.

Tien negotiated the tricky 4-5 and 5-6 service games with no trouble, so a tiebreaker would decide the championship.

After an incredible first point, a mini-break that even elicited a fist pump from the normally stoic Tien, and a forehand winner, Tien led 2-0, but that advantage didn't last, and it was 3-3 and 6-6 at the change of ends. Tien made two unforced errors on the forehand, the second giving Blockx a 8-7 lead, with two serves coming for the tall Belgian. He cranked a backhand winner to give himself two championship points, but Tien saved them both, with Blockx sending a backhand wide on the first and Tien outlasting Blockx in a long rally on the second.  At 9-all, Tien missed a pass wide, and looked incredulous that he could have failed to convert that opportunity. Instead of having a match point, Tien faced one, and Blockx hit a service winner up the T to become the first Belgian boy to win an Australian Open singles final.

The final was reminiscent of 2019's, when Lorenzo Musetti of Italy beat Emilio Nava 4-6, 6-2, 7-6(12), with that tiebreaker before the 10-point tiebreaker was instituted.  Last year's final was also memorable with Bruno Kuzuhara beating a cramping Jakub Mensik of the Czech Republic 7-6(4), 6-7(6), 7-5.

Alina Korneeva, 2023 Australian Open Girls Champion

The girls final was a grueling three-hour and 18 minute affair, prior to the boys taking the court, with Alina Korneeva defeating fellow 15-year-old Russian and doubles partner Mirra Andreeva 6-7(2), 6-4, 7-5.

Korneeva, playing in her first junior slam, had let a 4-1, two-break lead slip away in the final set, then missed out on two match points at 5-4 in the third, but hung in there, got another break and, with a second chance, closed out the championship.

After so many extended rallies within multi-deuce games, a love hold in the final game seemed unlikely, but when Andreeva netted a backhand, Korneeva had done it. The friends and rivals, who played in the Eddie Herr 12s final in 2019, with Korneeva also taking that title, shared a long embrace and conversation at the net.

Tien is going home with a winner's trophy however, after he and partner Cooper Williams became the third consecutive American team to win a boys doubles title at a junior slam Friday, with the No. 7 seeds defeating top seeds Blockx and Joao Fonseca of Brazil 6-4, 6-4 in the Australian Open Junior Championships final. 

After failing to convert a match point/deciding point with Blockx serving at 3-5 in the second set, Tien went down 15-40 trying to serve it out. But Tien hit two good first serves to get to the deciding point, then ended a short cross court rally with Fonseca  with a forehand winner that went outside the post and landed in the alley. (See that match point here).

Tien and Williams join Alex Michelsen and Sebastian Gorzny(Wimbledon) and Ozan Baris and Nishesh Basavareddy(US Open) as junior slam champions.

The girls doubles title went to an unseeded team, with Renata Jamrichova of Slovakia and Federica Urgesi of Italy defeating No. 4 seeds Hayu Kinoshita and Sara Saito of Japan 7-6(5), 1-6, 10-7.

In the men's semifinals, nine-time Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic ended Tommy Paul's breakout slam, beating the 25-year-old 7-5, 6-1, 6-2. Djokovic, the No. 4 seed, will play No. 3 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greek for the title, after Tsitsipas defeated No. 18 seed Karen Khachanov 7-6(2), 6-4, 6-7(6), 6-3. The two met in the 2021 final at Roland Garros, with Djokovic coming back for a 6-7(6), 2-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 victory.

Fifteen-year-old Iva Jovic is through to her first J300 singles final, with the No. 3 seed defeating unseeded Alanis Hamilton 6-4, 6-4 in the semifinals of the Copa del Cafe in Costa Rica. She and Tyra Grant are also through to the girls doubles final, where they will play Hamilton and her partner Claire An.

Jovic will face another 15-year-old, unseeded Mika Buchnik of Israel, who beat No. 2 seed Kaitlin Quevedo 6-4, 6-4. Buchnik is playing in just her second J300-level event this week.

Roy Horovitz has also reached his first J300 final, with the 16-year-old from Florida, seeded No. 5, defeating No. 7 seed Henry Searle of Great Britain 6-3, 6-4 in tonight's late match. Horovitz will play the streaking Thijs Boogaard of the Netherlands, who ended the run of qualifier Max Exsted 5-7, 6-2, 6-1 in the earlier boys semifinal. The 14-year-old Boogaard has now won 29 consecutive matches on the ITF Junior Circuit, dating back to last October.

Marcel Latak is the sole American in the semifinals at Les Petits As with the 13-year-old from Illinois earning a tough 6-3, 6-7(3), 6-4 decision over No. 4 seed Jan Urbanski of Poland. Latak served for the match at 5-3 in the second set and at 5-2 in the third set before he finally finished the job with a love hold at 5-4.  

Latak will face No. 6 seed Daniel Jade of Lebanon, who defeated No. 16 seed Emilio Camacho of Ecuador 6-4, 6-0 in today's quarterfinals. Latak defeated Jade 6-0, 4-6, 7-5 in the quarterfinals of the Tennis Europe Category 1 in Bolton last week. In the other boys semifinal, Bolton champion Mark Ceban, the No. 3 seed, will face No. 5 seed Kaan Isik Kosaner of Turkey after Ceban defeated No. 12 seed Jakub Kusy of the Czech Republic 6-3, 6-3 and Kosaner took out No. 2 seed Svit Suljic of Slovenia 2-6, 6-2, 6-2. 

Both US girls in the quarterfinals were beaten today, with No. 8 seed Julieta Pareja falling to No. 2 seed and Bolton finalist Giulia Popa of Romania 6-7(7), 6-3, 6-3. No. 7 seed Kristina Penickova lost to top seed Ksenia Efremova of Russia 7-5, 6-0. 

Both US doubles teams still alive fell in the semifinals, with Kristinia and Annika Penickova losing 6-3, 7-6(3) to Lia Belibova of Moldova and Oliwia Sybicka of Poland, who, like the Penickovas, were unseeded.

Unseeded Izyan Ahmad and Michael Antonius lost 6-4, 6-3 in the boys doubles semifinals to No. 6 seeds Tomas Krejci and Jakub Kusy of the Czech Republic.

Antonius, who lost to Jade in the first round in three sets, is through to the singles consolation final.

Live streaming(which was a little glitchy for me today) and live scoring is available at the tournament website.

The ITA Division I Kickoff Weekend began today with 12 of the 30 regionals playing their opening round matches. All the host schools, who are seeded No. 1, have won their matches against the No. 4 seeds, but not so with the matches between No. 2 and No. 3 seeds, with five of the lowers seeds advancing to a match against the host school Saturday. The winners of those matches advance to the ITA Team Indoor Championships next month, with the men in Chicago and the women in Seattle.

No. 3 Notre Dame d. No. 2 Southern California 4-3 (Georgia host)
No. 3 UNC Charlotte d. No. 2 Utah 4-0 (North Carolina host)
No. 3 San Diego d. No. 2 Georgia Tech 4-1 (Cal host)

No. 3 Mississippi State d. No. 2 SMU 4-3 (Florida host)
No. 3 Florida State d. No. 2 San Diego 4-2 (Baylor host)

Cracked Racquets is providing Cross Court coverage of many of the regionals throughout the four-day event at their YouTube channel.