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Friday, September 22, 2023

Locals Razeghi and Frusina Reach ITF J300 Pan American Closed Final; Top Seeds Grant and Joint Vie for Girls Title; Dolehide Reaches WTA Guadalajara 1000 Final

©Colette Lewis 2023--
Houston Texas--

The heat and humidity have been building all week at the ITF J300 Pan American Closed and Friday's semifinals but the conditions hardly came as a surprise to top seed Alex Frusina and No. 2 seed Alex Razeghi, who are both sleeping in their own beds during a tournament for the first time in a long time this week. Frusina, from Conroe, and Razeghi, from Humble, who trained together as youngsters at the host Giammalva Racquet Club, will test their endurance one more day Saturday, after Frusina defeated No. 7 seed Jagger Leach 6-3, 2-6, 6-4 and Razeghi beat No. 13 seed Kuang Qing Xu of Canada 6-4, 6-2 to reach the final.

Frusina breezed through the first set in just 33 minutes, but was aware that the one break he earned and held onto was no indication of the trajectory of the match.

"It might have seemed like I won it comfortably, but I don't think it told the whole story," Frusina said. "I think I was just able to hold onto that lead the way that I did because I was making a few more first serves, that was bailing me out. But the second that started to dip, I had a tough time finding my first serves."

Leach ran out to a 5-0 lead in the second set, and although he failed to serve it out at 5-1, he got a double fault from Frusina to end the set. 

The heat rule was in effect, with temperatures in the mid 90s and the heat index over 100, so Frusina had ten minutes to collect himself and he started the third with a break, only to give in back in the fourth game. He broke Leach again at 3-all and held onto that break, although Frusina still wasn't comfortable.

"He was just doing a really good job of pushing me back and hitting superfast, compact balls that were getting up on me quickly," Frusina said. "For my game, that does tend to be a challenge, and although I can absorb and move fairly well, today I just wasn't on it for the whole match. He was also serving really great, and that was getting me off my return game."

Serving out the match at 5-4, Frusina got only one of his five first serves in, and Leach hit one return winner for 30-15, but Leach's forehand let him down, with two unforced errors on that side after the return winner, sending Frusina to his second J300 final of the year.

Razeghi had an easier time in his semifinal, wearing down Xu with his depth and defense, a position aided by getting an early break in both sets.

"I watched him play a couple of times, he has a big serve and he's a forehand dominant player," said Razeghi, who won a J300 in Ecuador in February and reached the College Park J300 final last month. "And he likes to come in a lot, so I kept that in mind. I just made it as physical as possible, I think I was the more fit player, and he got really tired to end the match. It took a toll on him all the long points we had in the beginning of the match."

Razeghi, who decided not to defend his doubles title at this event, has seen his level rise in each round.

"I feel like I played well, and each match I've played, I've played better and better," Razeghi said. "It's been good, to build it up before the final tomorrow."

Despite their extensive experience on the ITF Junior Circuit, each with more than 125 completed singles matches, the two 17-year-olds have not met on that circuit and Frusina was hard pressed to recall the last time they played.

"It's been a very long time since we've played a singles match," Frusina said. "If I had to say, it's been maybe four years now. It's kind of the way it's fallen, but now the stars may be aligned in the home tournament. I know he's been playing very well this week and I know I'll need to bring my A game. I'm looking forward to it."

"We trained here together from ages 9 to 11," said Razeghi, who continued training at Giammalva Racquet Club for several years after Frusina left. "We've been warming up every match together, but it's not often we get to play each other. We kind of talked about it a bit yesterday, you know, one more, and it's definitely going to be good playing a good friend like that."

The girls final will also feature the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds, who will also be playing for the first time, with top seed Tyra Grant advancing with a 6-4, 6-2 win over No. 4 seed Alanis Hamilton, and second seed Maya Joint making her first ITF J300 final with a 6-2, 7-5 win over No. 10 seed Aspen Schuman.

The 15-year-old Grant, who has yet to drop a set, said her tennis wasn't at the top level today, but she found several strategies to compensate for that.

"I don't think today was my best tennis match of the tournament, but I definitely fought super, super hard," said Grant, who trains often with Hamilton at the USTA National Campus and knows her game well. "I had to switch a lot of balls, not play too flat or too spin-y. This is what I'm trying to do in general with any player. I'm good with playing flat and being aggressive, but a lot of times it's really useful to slice, hit a heavier ball, really change things up and so far this tournament that's worked really well."

As for playing Joint for the first time Saturday, Grant is excited about the prospect.

"I've never even practiced with her," said Grant, who won her first ITF J300 title this spring in Italy. "But I'd rather play someone I don't know. I'm really good at adapting fast, so I'd rather play someone I don't know and catch them by surprise."

Joint narrowly avoided a third set with Schuman, who served for the second set at 5-4 and had three set points. But once Joint broke for 5-all, she was able to relax, and after an easy hold, broke again to take the match.

"I was pretty nervous going into the match and throughout the match," said Joint, who lives in Michigan and played for the United States until this year, when she switched to Australia, her father's country. "I was just trying to play aggressive and after that hold I was feeling a lot more relaxed. I started hitting through my shots more, was less nervous and was playing a lot more confident."

Joint, a 17-year-old who has committed to Texas for 2024, said she also enjoys competing against players she hasn't encountered before.

"It's kind of rare in these tournaments, because it's always the same people, but I hadn't played anyone I played this week before, now that I think about it," Joint said. "I haven't really been able to scout [Grant] because she's been on court the same time as I have, but I'll just to stick to my game plan, try to play my game. I think she plays a similar style so we'll see."

Joint will also play for the doubles title Saturday, after she and Ariana Pursoo, the top seeds, came from a set and a break down to defeat No. 3 seeds Victoria Osuigwe and Mia Slama 3-6, 7-5, 10-6. Pursoo and Joint will face No. 4 seeds Hamilton and Claire An, who defeated No. 2 seeds Schuman and Kaitlyn Rolls 6-2, 6-3.

The boys final will feature the unseeded team of Noah Johnston and Benjamin Willwerth against No. 5 seeds Leach and Matisse Farzam. Johnston and Willwerth took out top seeds Maxwell Exsted and Cooper Woestendick 6-3, 5-7, 10-8, while Leach and Farzam defeated No. 7 seeds Rafael Botran Neutze of Guatemala and Cesar Cruz of El Salvador 6-7(6), 7-6(4), 10-6.

I've obviously been busy covering the Pan American Closed this week, so I haven't been able to follow the ATP and WTA as closely as usual, but congratulations to Caroline Dolehide, who has advanced to the final of the WTA 1000 in Guadalajara Mexico this week, after beating Sofia Kenin 7-5, 6-3. Dolehide, who turned 25 this month, had briefly broken into the WTA Top 100 back in June, but with this run, she is now at 42 in the WTA live rankings, having posted wins this week over Peyton Stearns, Sachia Vickery, Ekaterina Alexandrova, Martina Trevisan and Kenin. She will play No. 2 seed Maria Sakkari of Greece in Saturday's final. 

Dolehide and partner Asia Muhammad are also in the doubles semifinals later tonight against Storm Hunter and Elise Mertens.