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Tuesday, September 5, 2023

San Diego Wild Cards Oust Roland Garros Finalist, Wimbledon Champion in Second Round of US Open Junior Championships; Gauff Cruises into Women's Semifinals

©Colette Lewis 2023--
Flushing Meadows NY--

Six American wild cards have earned their place in Wednesday's third round of the US Open Junior Championships, none more impressively than this year's two USTA 18s finalists Katherine Hui and Trevor Svajda.

Hui and Svajda, both from San Diego, defeated opponents with impressive junior slam pedigrees, with Hui taking out 2023 Roland Garros finalist Lucciana Perez Alarcon of Peru 6-4, 6-0 and Svajda battling through the heat and humidity of the midafternoon to take a 7-5, 4-6, 6-4 decision from 2023 Wimbledon champion Henry Searle of Great Britain.

Hui was first on the schedule, and although it was already in the mid-80s at 11 a.m., Hui was out on the court less than an hour. Hui, who has been in New York since the women's qualifying began two weeks ago, said her tourism has been confined to the USTA Billie Jean King Tennis Center.

"It's been really nice, I've been able to play sets with pros," said Hui, who lost to Eugenie Bouchard in the first round of women's qualifying. "I played a set with Peyton Stearns, and with Kayla Day, and I think it really helped me stay at a good level. I've just been here, but it's really fun for me, watching all the pros, watching matches, passing Djokovic in the hall. I saw Carlos Alcaraz and I was almost going to faint."

Although she may be awed by the ATP world No. 1, Hui was not intimidated by the number 2 next to the name of Perez Alarcon.

"I have watched her play on some past videos, so I think I knew my style would be pretty good against her, especially on hard courts," said Stanford freshman Hui, who was named the No. 2 newcomer today in the ITA preseason rankings, one spot ahead of Perez Alarcon, who is joining Texas A&M. "I know she's a clay court player, so I knew taking balls early would make her uncomfortable. Also, I like my backhand, being in a backhand rally, so I had some good strategies going in and proud that I executed well."

Hui served for the first set at 5-2 but was broken, then had to save two break points serving for it again at 5-4, but she re-established control and closed out the 25-minute second set with a love hold. 

"Her being a Roland Garros runner-up, she's got a lot of experience and I knew she would not go away without a fight, but I've also been confident in myself, especially this last year, and I know that all my training will be reflected on the court," said Hui, who is coached by Patricia Tarabini and Christian Groh. "I haven't played many ITFs, just never did the ITF Circuit, so everything's a little new."

Hui's third round opponent Wednesday is unseeded Zuzanna Pawlikowska of Poland, who beat No. 13 seed Alena Kovackova of the Czech Republic 7-6(4), 6-3.

If Hui's ITF Junior Circuit experience has been limited to a few tournaments in the United States and Mexico, Svajda has play just two events, both in San Diego. He won the J30 last November and lost in the third round to eventual champion Kaylan Bigun this past March at the J300 at Barnes Tennis Center.

But after reaching the final of the Kalamazoo 18s last month in his first tournament that required a flight, Svajda was not going to be sneaking up on anybody this week at the US Open. 

His match today against Searle, played in the hottest hours of an afternoon that saw the real feel surpass 104 degrees, was expected to be an interesting study of contrasts, and it was. Searle, a 17-year-old left-hander with an outstanding serve and a big first strike forehand, had reached the semifinals of a $25,000 tournament on hard courts last month in England, while Svajda had demonstrated his clean ball-striking and return proficiency in Kalamazoo and a first round loss in men's qualifying to James Duckworth.

The first 11 games of the first set went to the server, although Searle had to save two set points at 4-5, 15-40, winning the final four points of the game with a quartet of excellent first serves. Svajda held at love to go up 6-5, and Searle got down 15-40 again, committing two of his 24 unforced errors he had in the set. This time he was unable to serve his way out of it, and Svajda took the first set via a lucky winner off a net cord.

The second set began with four holds of serve, but Svajda lost his cool serving in the fifth game, although it was impossible to detect from his reaction on the court. On the first point of that game, Svajda's serve clipped the tape and was looking likely to affect Searle's return when the chair umpire call "let." Unlike the professional matches, lets are played in the junior tournament here in New York, so the chair umpire had to call a hindrance on himself and order the point replayed. Svajda double faulted and lost the game on two consecutive shanked balls, practically unheard of for someone with his timing.

"I double faulted the next point and my whole mind just went everywhere," Svajda said. "It got to me."

Svajda was broken again in his next service game, putting Searle up 5-2, but he immediately broke back and held. Although Searle served out the set, Svajda had reasserted himself and, with the 10-minute heat break between the second and third sets, was able to get some valuable down time and look optimistically at his position for the final set.

"I didn't know about the heat rule, and I thought it was great," Svajda said. "And I got to start out serving and I was serving well throughout the whole third set."

With the heat and the previous 90 minutes of high level tennis making long rallies an unattractive option, there were no break points in the first nine games.  But Svajda felt something pull in his right thigh in the seventh game and took a medical timeout at the changeover, which proved not to be as serious as he had feared.

"I thought I had popped something when I went out wide for a forehand, so I needed a medical," Svajda said. "It definitely helped; I don't think I could have stayed out there if I didn't take a medical. Afterwards, it felt much better."

Two more holds, at 40-30 for Searle and at love for Svajda and it was Searle who was serving to stay in the match at 4-5. He led 30-15 in the game, but Svajda said his strategy throughout the match was just to get a good return in every game, and in this crucial stage, he made two good returns, forcing errors for 30-40, and forced another to claim the upset over the No. 4 seed.

Like Hui, Svajda has spent his three weeks in New York hitting with a lot of pros, including quarterfinalist Ben Shelton.

"I was his warmup partner for his first three matches," Svajda said of his fellow Kalamazoo 18s finalist, who lost to his older brother Zach in 2021. "It was wow, I've never seen a serve like that before."

Svajda reported that he got many of the serves back in play, but with a caveat.

"He tells me where he's going," Svajda admitted.

Svajda will face No. 15 seed Arthur Gea of France in Wednesday's third round, after Gea got past Federico Bondioli of Italy 7-6(5), 7-6(5).

Another player who has been in New York for several weeks is No. 11 seed Learner Tien, who arrived on August 23rd to prepare for his first round match last week with Frances Tiafoe.

Unlike Hui and Svajda, the 17-year-old two-time Kalamazoo 18s champion has been keeping his time on the grounds to a minimum.

"I'm trying to use my practice time pretty efficiently, knock off what I need to do and get off the court," said Tien, who defeated Sebastian Eriksson of Sweden 7-6(5), 6-4, coming from a break down in both sets. "I try to leave the site as soon as possible, not hanging around, managing my energy. I've been able to conserve myself, save myself and I'm still feeling pretty good at this point."

Tien said he enjoyed the experience of playing Tiafoe on Arthur Ashe Stadium.

"Right when I saw the draw, obviously not the best first round you could get, but when I saw the draw, I was hoping I would play on Ashe," said Tien, who lost 6-2, 7-5, 6-1. "It was a good experience, the atmosphere in there is really cool, with all those people watching against a Top 10 player. I was glad I was able to have that experience."

Tien will play unseeded Carlo Caniato of Italy Wednesday, with Caniato beating Roland Garros finalist Juan Carlos Prado Angelo of Bolivia 6-4, 6-3.

There will be two all-US third round matches Wednesday, with Cooper Williams[3] facing wild card Adhithya Ganesan, and Darwin Blanch[8] playing wild card Alex Frusina.

Blanch squeezed past the big hitting Oliver Ojakaar of Estonia 7-6(4), 7-6(6), while Frusina took out Nicola Budkov Kjaer of Norway 6-2, 6-3.

Six of the final 16 in the boys draw are from the United States, with four of the final 16 in the girls draw Americans. In addition to Hui, wild card Aspen Schuman reached the third round, ending the winning streak of Repentigny J300 champion Mingge Xu of Great Britain 6-3, 2-6, 6-3. 

The key game in the third set, with Xu serving at 3-4, went to seven deuces, with Schuman needing six break points before she finally earned the opportunity to serve for the match.

"She's obviously an amazing player and a competitor," Schuman said. "I knew she wasn't going to give up. She plays pretty aggressive, so there's some misses and some winners so sometimes it takes a while to string multiple points together, so I knew I had to keep my head down, stay focused as much as I could."

Schuman said she couldn't dwell on the frustration of failing to convert all those break points.

"It is frustrating when you feel like the game could have been over," Schuman said. "But I think when your opponent hits great shots, you just have to say that happens against great players."

Schuman received the wild card offer after reaching the final of the J300 in College Park as a qualifier and she appreciates that she only has had to win two matches to reach the round of 16 as opposed to the five required to get to the same stage at College Park.

"It was nice starting in the main draw, I was kind of relieved," said the 16-year-old from Northern California. "I was like, I don't want to do the nine-match thing again, because that was a lot. So it was nice I didn't have to do that back-to-back."

Schuman will face No. 6 seed Ena Koike of Japan, who beat Elizara Yaneva of Bulgaria 7-6(8), 6-4. 

In the third round matchups that were determined Monday, No. 7 seed Kaitlin Quevedo will play No. 9 seed Tereza Valentova of the Czech Republic, and wild card Valerie Glozman will play No. 11 seed Anastasiia Gureva of Russia. 

The first round of doubles is complete after another 16 matches today. USTA National 18s San Diego champions Olivia Center and Kate Fakih won their opening round match, beating Luciana Moyano of Argentina and Ela Milic of Slovenia 7-6(10), 7-5, but USTA National 18s Kalamazoo champions Frusina and Ganesan lost to No. 2 seeds Joao Fonseca of Brazil and Iliyan Radulov of Bulgaria 7-6(2), 4-6, 10-5.

Tuesday's second round results of Americans:

Darwin Blanch[8] d. Oliver Ojakaar(EST) 7-6(4), 7-6(6)
Trevor Svajda[WC] d. Henry Searle[4](GBR) 7-5, 4-6, 6-4
Learner Tien[11] d. Sebastian Eriksson(SWE) 7-6(5)
Alexander Frusina[WC] d. Nicola Budov Kjaer(NOR) 6-2, 6-3
Rodrigo Pacheco Mendez[2](MEX) d. Nishesh Basavareddy[WC] 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 

Katherine Hui[WC] d. Lucciana Perez Alarcon[2](PER) 6-4, 6-0
Laura Samsonova[10](CZE) d. Alexia Harmon 6-0, 6-1
Sayaka Ishii[3](JPN) d. Victoria Osuigwe[WC] 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 
Aspen Schuman[WC] d. Mingge Xu(GBR) 6-3, 2-6, 6-3

Wednesday's third round matches featuring Americans:

Cooper Williams[3] v Adhithya Ganesan[WC]
Darwin Blanch[8] v Alexander Frusina[WC]
Trevor Svajda[WC] v Arthur Gea[15](FRA)
Learner Tien[11] v Carlo Caniato(ITA)

Valerie Glozman[WC] v Anastasiia Gureva[11]
Kaitlin Quevedo[7] v Tereza Valentova[9](CZE)
Aspen Schuman[WC] v Ena Koike[6](JPN)
Katherine Hui[WC] v Zuzanna Pawlikowska(POL)

Coco Gauff is into the semifinals of the US Open for the first time after an impressive 6-2, 6-0 win over Jelena Ostapenko. Ostapenko demonstrated her ceiling in her final set against Iga Swiatek two nights ago, but that level can often desert her and she had nearly three times the unforced errors of Gauff. Gauff will face Roland Garros finalist Karolina Muchova of the Czech Republic, who beat Sorana Cirstea 6-0, 6-3 in Tuesday's night match. 

Madison Keys will play Wimbledon champion Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic in one of the two Wednesday quarterfinals.

Tuesday's quarterfinal results of Americans:
Coco Gauff[6] d. Jelena Ostapenko[20](LAT) 6-0, 6-2

Novak Djokovic[2](SRB) d. Taylor Fritz[9] 6-1, 6-4, 6-4
Ben Shelton d. Frances Tiafoe[10] 6-2, 3-6, 7-6(7), 6-2