Schedule a training visit to the prestigious Junior Tennis Champions Center in College Park, MD by clicking on the banner above

Thursday, September 7, 2023

Tien Comes Back, Hui Rolls On to Reach US Open Junior Championships Semifinals; Ram and Salisbury Aim for Third Straight US Open Title; Gauff Advances to Women's Final; Breaking Barriers USTA G18s Highlight Show Airs Saturday

©Colette Lewis 2023--
Flushing Meadows NY--

Katherine Hui and Learner Tien have plenty in common: both are from Southern California, have played on the biggest stages in American junior tennis in San Diego and Kalamazoo, and have been in New York for several weeks due to their performances there. But those similarities disappear when it comes to their experience in junior slams and their paths to Friday's US Open Junior Championships semifinals.

Hui, who lost in the first round of women's qualifying to Genie Bouchard on August 22 and has been in New York ever since, is playing in just her second junior slam and won her first main draw match on Sunday. Today she continued her spectacular run, with just 13 game lost, beating No. 6 seed Ena Koike of Japan 6-0, 6-3 in the stifling heat and humidity in the midday match.

Tien has now reached at least the semifinals in all three of the junior slams he has competed in this year, adding a US Open semifinal to his Australian Open final and his Roland Garros semifinal, but after losing in the first round of the main draw to Frances Tiafoe on Monday August 28th, he had to dig deep to defeat No. 2 seed Rodrigo Pacheco Mendez of Mexico 4-6, 6-0, 7-5.

With the temperatures in the 90s and the heat index in the 100s, the heat rule, which offers a 10-minute break between the second and third sets, was in effect before the matches began, but after winning the 28-minute second set, Tien wasn't interested in giving up his momentum. Pacheco would have every reason to take a break, but he declined, and play resumed without any break.

"I was expecting him to take the 10 minutes," Tien said. "I thought he looked pretty tired and he would kind of want a momentum change, have a fresh start in the third. It was pretty surprising he didn't take the 10 minutes."

Tien won the first two games of the third set, but Pacheco got on the board with a break, only to give the break back for a 3-1 lead for Tien. Tien held on to that until serving for the match at 5-3, with Pacheco swinging away and making none of the unforced errors that had plagued him earlier in the set.

"There's obviously some nerves when you're trying to close out a match like that," Tien said. "I think he was playing pretty loose, because he had nothing to lose at that point, I'm serving for the match. I really tried to make him earn it and he came up with some good points, so I tried to let it go and refocus."

Pacheco continued that higher standard of play, hitting an ace and two forehand winners down 15-30 serving at 4-5. But the 18-year-old left-hander, who has been as high as No. 1 in the ITF junior rankings, didn't maintain it in Tien's service game, which the 17-year-old American quickly won at love for a 6-5 lead.

"It was obviously a really big game for momentum and I tried to put a lot of emphasis on getting that game and thankfully he played a couple of loose points and I was able to get that game pretty quickly," Tien said.

Tien played some great defense to earn the first point, and at 30-all, Pacheco blinked. He didn't get a first serve in on either of the next two points, and after a forehand error and a backhand error, Tien was through to the semifinals.

Tien said his first experience at the US Open last year, when he lost in the first round of the men's main draw and in the opening round of the junior championships, helped his preparation this year.

"I think I know my way around a little bit more this year," Tien said. "Last year was my first time in New York, my first time coming to the grounds here. I kind of feel like I've got my restaurants down. We've been going to this dumpling place, Joe's Dumplings, and I think we've been there nine times....it's treated me well so far."

Tien also now has a pro hitting partner to help him prepare for his junior matches, Alex Michelsen, who has trained with him for the past several years and has been watching his matches this week.

"I've been lucky to have him here the past few days," said Tien. "He's just been hanging around because he didn't want to go back to California and all the way back out [to the ATP Cary Challenger next week]. I was able to hit with him a good bit, between men's and juniors because he was still in mixed doubles. This week he's been warming me up, we've drilled a good bit, trying to get some good practices in."

Tien will face No. 15 seed Arthur Gea of France, who defeated wild card Alex Frusina 6-4, 6-3 to reach his first junior slam semifinal.

"I've seen him around all the slams, the ITFs, but I've never seen him play and never played against him," said Tien, who will study what videos of Gea he can find. "I'll try to get a decent idea of how he plays."

Hui is encountering top international juniors regularly for the first time this week, but the turning point came much earlier, in her qualifying match with Bouchard.

"Going into qualies against Genie I had so many expectations of what I wanted to do that it kind of made me not fully enjoy the moment I was in," said Hui, who received the qualifying wild card as the San Diego 18s finalist. "Staying the present has really helped my mentality; I didn't put too many expectations results wise, obviously I have expectations for how I want to play and how I want to execute my game, but I think I have confidence I can win the tournament, I'm just not putting pressure on myself."

Hui has always played an aggressive game, but her confidence in that style has been visible on every shot this week.

"My footwork is one of my strengths, getting in on every ball, but these last two weeks I've worked on it especially hard," Hui said. "With the quality balls of the pros, it's hard to do, so seeing these (junior) balls, sometimes they come off a little easier, so I can come in."

Hui, who starts at Stanford on the 19th, has been bonding with future teammate Valerie Glozman this week, and they have also had the support of 2022 NCAA finalist Connie Ma during their junior matches.

"She's been here the last three days, she warms me up, practices with me," Hui said. "Valerie got her a credential, but she's leaving tomorrow, so I'm really sad. But our whole team is super supportive."

Hui is scheduled to play No. 10 seed Laura Samsonova of the Czech Republic, who advanced to the semifinals when an injured Hannah Klugman of Great Britain retired down 6-0, 3-0. Samsonova was herself injured during the match however, and was unable to take the court for her doubles quarterfinal. Her status for Friday's semifinal is unknown. She is scheduled for the second match on Court 7, with the first match set for noon.

The other girls semifinal will feature top seed Renata Jamrichova of Slovakia, who reached her second consecutive junior slam semifinal with a 6-4, 6-4 win over Anastasiia Gureva of Russia, and No. 9 seed Tereza Valentova of the Czech Republic, who defeated No. 4 seed Sara Saito of Japan 6-2, 6-4. Although both are 16 and have been regulars on the ITF Junior Circuit for the past two years, they will be meeting for the first time Friday.

The top half boys semifinal will feature No. 14 seed Federico Cina of Italy and No. 7 seed Joao Fonseca of Brazil. The 16-year-old Cina, who beat top seed Yaroslav Demin in the third round Wednesday, got his easiest win of the week today, beating No. 9 seed Yi Zhou of China 6-2, 6-2.

Fonseca lost his first set of the week to No. 3 seed Cooper Williams, but played inspired tennis down the stretch to come away with a 7-6(8), 3-6, 6-3 victory and his first junior slam semifinal.

The 17-year-old from Brazil said the key point in the third set came at 3-3 on his serve, when Williams, normally an excellent volleyer, botched one and, after throwing his racquet, was given an unsportsmanlike conduct warning. Fonseca held for 4-3, then blasted forehand winners right and left to break. 

"The game changed in the third set, at 3-all 30-all," Fonseca said. "It was an incredible point and he missed a volley, and I screamed so loud. I think the game was back to me. In the next game, I played incredible, made all the returns and I was so happy about that."

One more task faced Fonseca, serving out the match, and he double faulted and missed a forehand wide after taking a 30-0 lead. But he came up with an ace to get to match point.

"I knew I needed a serve, and then I hit an ace wide," Fonseca said. "Good to have the serve on the important moments." 

Fonseca missed his first serve on match point, but hit a good second, and Williams' return went long.  

Fonseca had lost in the quarterfinals of all three previous junior slams this year, so this was a breakthrough for him.

"It's very emotional for me," said Fonseca, who had lost to Williams in the J300 in Australia in January. "Almost getting there three times and now getting through, after two hours and 40 minutes in I don't know how many degrees. It was so hot, and I'm very happy I fought to the last point and very happy with the win."

Fonseca and Cina have played twice in the last ten months, on clay, with Fonseca winning both matches in straight sets.

Two Americans have advanced to the semifinals in doubles. Kaitlin Quevedo, who is playing with Jamrichova, got a walkover from Klugman and Mingge Xu of the Great Britain. The top seeds will play the unseeded Japanese team of Saito and Nanaka Sato, who defeated Annika and Kristina Penickova 7-6(1), 6-0.  Alexander Razeghi, playing with Australia's Hayden Jones, defeated Cooper Woestendick and Maxwell Exsted 6-7(1), 6-3, 11-9 and will play Max Dahlin of Sweden and Oliver Ojakaar of Estonia, who took out No. 2 seeds Fonseca and Iliyan Radulov of Bulgaria 6-4, 4-6, 10-8. 

The boys doubles semifinal in the top half features No. 1 seeds and Roland Garros champions Pacheco and Yaroslav Demin of Russia against No. 6 seeds Federico Bondioli of Italy and Joel Schwaerzler of Austria.  Demin and Pacheco defeated Aryan Shah of India and Seungmin Park of Korea 6-2, 3-6, 10-6, while Bondioli and Schwaerzler beat No. 4 seeds Kyle Kang and Williams 6-3, 7-6(5). 

The girls doubles semifinal in the bottom half has the unseeded Japanese team of Hayu Kinoshita and Wakana Sonobe taking on No. 8 seeds Mara Gae of Romania and Gureva. Kinoshita and Sonobe got the walkover from Wimbledon champions Samsonova and Alena Kovackova of the Czech Republic; Gae and Gureva beat Alanis Hamilton and Tatum Evans 6-4, 7-5.

Rajeev Ram(Illinois) and Great Britain's Joe Salisbury(Memphis) will play for their third straight men's doubles title at the US Open Friday at noon, after the No. 3 seeds defeated No. 2 seeds and Roland Garros champions Austin Krajicek(Texas A&M) and Croatia's Ivan Dodig 7-5, 3-6, 6-3 in Thursday's semifinals. Ram and Salisbury face No. 6 seeds Rohan Bopanna of India and Matthew Ebden of Australia, who defeated Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut of France 7-6(3), 6-3.

Krajicek and Jessica Pegula will play for the mixed doubles title on Saturday against Anna Danilina(Florida) of Kazakhstan and Harri Heliovaara of Finland.

At the age of 18, Coco Gauff has reached her second women's (Roland Garros 2022), beating Karolina Muchova of the Czech Republic Thursday night 6-4, 7-5 in a tense, two-hour semifinal.  Gauff will play the winner of the late semifinal match between Madison Keys and Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus.

Tennis Channel will air a one-hour highlight show of this year's USTA Billie Jean King Girls 18s and 16s National Championships in San Diego Saturday at 11 a.m. Eastern, the morning of the women's singles final. The show, entitled "Breaking Barriers" will look at the tennis competition last month and the tournament's impressive history, as well as the impact that Billie Jean King herself has had on the tournament and on the competitive opportunities for women in sports.