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Friday, September 8, 2023

Tien and Hui Reach US Open Junior Finals After Long Day of Waiting; Ram and Salisbury Win Historic Third Straight Men's Doubles Title

©Colette Lewis 2023--
Flushing Meadows NY--

Friday's disruptions at the US Open Junior Championships ran the gamut, with two major delays interrupting the first two semifinals on the schedule, and the two Americans, Katherine Hui and Learner Tien, not getting on court for their semifinals until nearly 8 p.m.

The first delay was for heat, with a Wet Bulb Globe Temperature reading above 32.2 halting play in the noon matches. Top seed Renata Jamrichova of Slovakia was up 6-4, 3-3 in her match with No. 9 seed Tereza Valentova of the Czech Republic, and Joao Fonseca of Brazil was leading No. 14 seed Federico Cina of Italy 6-4, 1-3. That suspension, the first of the tournament despite a full week of oppressively similar conditions, lasted a little over and hour; thirty minutes later, play was suspended due to lightning in the area, followed by a rain delay that kept those two matches from resuming until after 7 p.m.

Both semifinals in progress were on serve early in the third sets when the delay began, but when play resumed, Valentova appeared much more prepared, and she raced to a 4-0 lead. She gave one of the breaks back but Jamrichova continued to struggle on serve. In the first two sets the 16-year-old left-hander had 15 double faults, and although she had only one in the final set, Jamrichova never found her range on either her serve or groundstrokes, while Valentova grew in confidence. 

"I was really concentrating," said the 16-year-old, who had not been past the quarterfinals in the previous three slams this year. "I really wanted to win this match. Maybe she was nervous; it was different playing at night, but I was better in those conditions."

Serving out a match with a junior slam final on the line is never easy, but Valentova didn't hesitate, getting her first serves in and keeping her forehands deep and near the lines, closing it out on her first match point.

"I went point by point," Valentova said. "I don't like to have in mind that I go to a grand slam final. I wasn't as nervous as yesterday; I think that helped me a little bit with this one, more experience with this. I was like, don't be nervous, it's a normal point, not a match point."

Valentova dropped her racquet and threw her hands in the air in celebration of her first junior slam final.

"I was just happy, because I just couldn't believe it," Valentova said. "It's my first US Open and first grand slam final."

Her opponent in Saturday's final is unseeded wild card Katherine Hui, who did play the US Open juniors last year, but has not played any other junior slams and is something of a mystery to the girls on the ITF Junior Circuit.

She was understandably nervous Friday early in the day, as she contemplated her first junior slam semifinal at the US Open. But the 18-year-old San Diego resident, who is ten days away from beginning her freshman year at Stanford, actually took advantage of the myriad delays to work out the jitters. So when she finally took the court under the lights on Court 7, Hui was able to do what she has done all week, roll past a seeded opponent, beating No. 10 Laura Samsonova of the Czech Republic 6-2, 6-3.

"The delay was long but it was actually really good," said Hui, who taken down three seeds and lost just 18 games in her five victories "I had some nerves in the morning, and I was able to calm it down, so I think it helped me a little bit."

Hui, who qualified here last year and lost in the first round, has an advantage over her international opponents, most of whom have never seen her play and are not ready for the pace and depth she has been relentlessly producing. But as she pointed out, that goes both ways.

"I think especially in the beginning(of the matches), I think I take balls early and they're a little taken aback," Hui said. "But I think it's also hard for me, since I don't know how they play either. Playing Americans, I know them, I know how they play, but (Samsonova's) dad was actually watching my whole warmup, in a balcony filming it, and I was wow, this is really intense. It didn't really faze me though."

Nothing has gotten Hui flustered, and she is determined to enjoy her final junior tournament.

"I was ready to play as late as possible," Hui said. "I like night matches, I could hear the roars from Ashe, it was kind of motivating. I think I'm ready for anything at this point; I think I've become more flexible just in general. That's a good thing, because I know in college tennis, things happen. Obviously, I'd love to win a slam that would be a really cool thing on my record, but I'll stick to my game. I'm really excited to play."

Fonseca had beaten the 16-year-old Cina twice on clay in the past year, so there was a level of confidence there, but at 2-1 in the third set when play resumed after the four-hour-plus delay, there was no obvious advantage to either.

Cina was having much more difficulty holding serve however, saving seven break points, including four serving at 3-4. Despite letting those opportunities slip away, Fonseca kept his focus.

"He played unbelievable on those three points," Fonseca said, with Cina going from 0-40 to deuce. "When he got to 4-all, I knew I needed to serve well and I did. When I got to 5-4, I screamed so loud, let's go for it, just one more game."

Fonseca was not the only one screaming loudly throughout the match, with a group of Brazilian fans unflagging in their support throughout the more than seven hours from the start of the match to its end.

When Cina was the first to miss in a 30-all rally serving at 4-5, Fonseca had his match point, and Cina made a backhand error, sending Fonseca to the final and the Brazilian fans into a loud celebration.

"There are many Brazilians all over the countries," said the 17-year-old, who also has the support of his mother this week and several other family members and friends. "In Australia, there was a crowd for me. France, huge crowd, Wimbledon huge crowd. It's amazing, they just keep me up through all the ups and downs of the match."

The last semifinal match to finish, Tien's 7-6(5), 6-7(5), 6-1 win over No. 15 Arthur Gea of France was a study in ups and downs, with Tien having a two-break lead early in both the first and second sets and Gea fighting back both times.

Tien had a set point serving at 5-4 in the first, but Gea saved it after a lengthy exchange full of offense and defense from both players. Tien took the subsequent tiebreaker on a sizzling backhand cross court angle after a long rally with Gea serving at 5-6, and when he jumped out to a 4-0 lead, Gea looked ready to concede. 

But the pattern from the first set repeated, which Tien said was the result of several factors.

"He started playing a little bit freer, when you're down like that, you play free, you loosen up a little bit, you have nothing to lose at that point," said Tien, who did not finish his press obligations until after 11 p.m., with the match's duration over two and a half hours. "Some mistakes on my end, loosened up a little bit, had some focus lapses, let him back in."

The third set started as the first two had, with a big lead for Tien, but this time the two-time Kalamazoo champion and Australian Open finalist found a way to close the door, taking the final six games of the match.

"I knew he was tired, whether he was feeling it as much as I was, I know he was still feeling the length of the match, the weather, the conditions," Tien said of the opening few games of the third set. "It was the first time he had the advantage in the match; for most of the match I was up, but at that moment I felt it was the time when he should have been taking control of the match. Maybe he got a little nervous when he saw I was going for a lot of balls. So it was probably a combination of him getting a little antsy and I was starting to play a bit more aggressive."

Tien defeated Fonseca 6-3, 2-6, 6-1 in the quarterfinals of Roland Garros this year, and Tien recalled the Brazilian fans who were disappointed in that outcome.

"I haven't seen them here so far, but there were quite a bit of them in Paris," Tien said. "I haven't really seen any of his matches (this week), haven't seen any of the crowds for his matches, but I wouldn't be surprised if there's a lot of Brazilians out there for him. But I hope I have the Americans."

The doubles semifinals were canceled during the rain delay, so both the doubles semifinals and finals will take place Saturday, with the semifinals scheduled for noon. The girls final is scheduled not before 1 p.m., with the boys final not before 2 p.m. The doubles finals are not before 1:30 p.m.

In the men's doubles final, Rajeev Ram and Joe Salisbury won their third straight US Open title, the first team to accomplish that in the Open era, and the first in over 100 years, with Tom Bundy and Maurice McLoughlin doing it in 1912, 1913 and 1914

Ram, who won the NCAA doubles title in 2003 at Illinois with Brian Wilson, and Salisbury, a former standout at the University of Memphis, defeated Rohan Bopanna of India and Matthew Ebden of Australia 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 in the final. For more on their three-peat, see this usopen.org article.