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Saturday, September 9, 2023

Wild Card Hui Caps Three Week Stay in New York with US Open Junior Girls Title; Fonseca Rides Crowd Support to Boys Championship; Gauff Wins Women's Title; Danilina Takes Mixed

©Colette Lewis 2023--
Flushing Meadows NY--

Little did Katherine Hui realize, after losing her first round women's US Open qualifying match to Eugenie Bouchard, that 19 days later she would join the 2012 Wimbledon girls champion in the record books as a junior slam winner.

Hui, a wild card who begins her collegiate career at Stanford in ten days, defeated No. 9 seed Tereza Valentova of the Czech Republic 6-4, 6-4 in the lightning-delayed final of the US Open Junior Championships Saturday. 

"I think I honestly dedicate a lot of this win to her," Hui said of Bouchard, whose 6-2, 6-3 victory stoked the competitive fires of the 18-year-old from San Diego. "I was very discouraged from that match just because I felt like I had too many expectations and put too much expectation on results and wasn't able to execute my game."

Hui, who didn't drop a set in her six wins, which included victories over four ITF Top 20 juniors, took notes on Bouchard's game, which she recognized as similar to her own.

"Obviously she takes balls early and steps in and was hitting really deep," Hui said. "I took inspiration from that, and I have been here since then practicing on-site. So these last two weeks I have just been really working. I think a little bit of my anger fueled the motivation during practice."

Hui and Valentova were at 1-1 in the championship match when it was suspended for lightning in the area; more than four hours later and a few sprinkles later, they resumed. Before long, the 16-year-old Valentova had leads of 3-1 and 4-2, but Hui began to find her range, taking the final four games of the set.

While Hui had put up some gaudy numbers in her earlier wins, often with twice as many winners as unforced errors, the final was not played on her terms until she made an adjustment midway through the first set.

"She plays with a lot more power than some of my past opponents, so it was harder for me to step in," Hui said. "I think she was dealing with it well, and I think she knew what to expect. But I adjusted my strategy a little bit after going down 2-4 and tried to open up the court a little more and kind of dictate on my own terms. I think that worked out really well."

The tough part came with the title in sight. Hui built a 5-1 lead, had two match points at 5-2, three more with Valentova serving at 3-5 and a sixth serving for the match for the second time at 5-4. But on match point No. 7, Hui took her time and hit a big first serve up the T, with Valentova sending her forehand return long.

"I think I did get some nerves," said Hui, who had shown none of that in her previous five victories. "Obviously I have never been in the final of a junior slam, and this is my second junior slam. It was a little bit of that, and I think she did step up and I give her a lot of credit for it. I think she started playing really freely."

Valentova agreed that she changed her mindset down 5-1. 

"I wanted to try to enjoy the match," said Valentova, who hopes that her run to the final has helped her secure a spot in the ITF Junior Tour Finals next month in China. "And I think she was a little bit nervous then, she had like nine match points. It was shame, I want to win, but it was a very good experience for me."

Hui, who was inspired by the roars she heard emanating from Ashe as Coco Gauff closed out the women's final, said she looks up to the new women's champion, just one year her senior.

"I was cheering Coco on, but when I went on, I think she was 3-0 in the third," Hui said. "I didn't know what happened after, but I heard some really loud roars come across, so I just assumed she won. Yeah, it just got louder and louder. I heard a cheer and I thought she had won and then an even louder one.

"She's obviously such a big inspiration to me. I never met her or anything, but, I mean, just being that young and accomplishing so much with so much pressure is amazing."

Hui, who undoubtedly would have received a qualifying wild card into next week's WTA 500 in San Diego had she not gone on to reach the US Open Junior final, said the title her in New York confirms what she has always known about her game.

"I think it gives me confidence going into college, and I know the competition is strong and there are a lot more players deciding to go that route," said Hui, who is the first US Open girls champion to attend college since Beth Herr claimed it in 1982 and enrolled at USC, where she won the NCAA title the following spring. "But I think I just believe in my game more. I mean, I always have. I think it just kind of proves it, which I'm really happy about."

Joao Fonseca will be a hitting partner for the Brazilian Davis Cup team as it plays in the World Group next weekend in Denmark. And if the 17-year-old can bring the crowd that attended his 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 victory over American Learner Tien with him to support the Brazilian team, the Danes could be in trouble.

The group of 75 committed fans of the 17-year-old waited out a rain delay for the second consecutive evening, and outnumbered Tien's American fans when the match began on Court 11.
Although No. 11 seed Tien played controlled and basically error-free tennis to take the first set 6-4, breaking at 4-all and holding to take the lead, the Brazilian supporters did not let their energy flag. Tien went up 2-0 in the second set, but lost that lead when the unforced errors he had avoided began to surface. Serving at 4-5, Tien had a 40-0 lead, but lost four straight points to give Fonseca a set point, which Tien saved with a forehand winner.  With a second set point, it was Fonseca's turn to go big, and he crushed a backhand winner, sending the crowd into a frenzy.

The third set started much like the second, with Tien taking a 2-0 lead, but the enthusiasm of the Brazilian contingent didn't wane, even as more American fans began to fill the stands and politely applaud points won by Tien. As the chants of his name began to get louder with every point won, Fonseca wasn't shy about inviting even more noise from them.

"There was one break at 2-1," said the seventh-seeded Fonseca, who had lost in the quarterfinals of the previous three junior slams. "I broke him and I called the crowd, and I just had confidence with myself, and things just came true."

The next three games were battles, but Fonseca won them all, then held at love for a 5-2 lead. Tien held to make Fonseca serve out the title, and he did, converting his first match point at 40-30 with a laser of a forehand winner in the corner.

Fonseca said his willingness to go big throughout the match was the difference.

"I was playing more aggressively," said Fonseca, who had lost to Tien in three sets in the quarterfinals at this year's Roland Garros. "I was missing more, but I was playing more aggressive. I was more confident and had more courage. That's what made the difference."

Tien, who is not prone to emotional demonstrations and lets little faze him, said the crowd was more a positive for Fonseca than a negative for him.

"I think I was able to deal with it pretty well," said a subdued Tien after the match. "I don't think it was the reason things went wrong on my end. I think it could be a big reason why things went up for him. I think he really fed off it, really raised his level with the support of everyone watching. But it did play a part in the match."

Fonseca agreed with Tien's assessment.

"Learner has good mental strength and he's very calm during the whole match," Fonseca said. "But I think they just like, support me, gave me some strength to keep fighting to the last point."

Fonseca said the key result in his run to the title was his 7-6(8), 3-6, 6-3 quarterfinal win over No. 3 seed Cooper Williams.

"I think it was the most difficult matches of my life because of the sun, because of the pressure, everything else, and I think that makes me believe," said Fonseca, one of only three tennis players sponsored by On athletic shoes and apparel, with the other two Iga Swiatek and Ben Shelton. "After the match I knew that I had the skills and mentally the strength to win this tournament."

Tien, who also lost the Australian Open boys final, was disappointed in the result, but gave credit to Fonseca. 

"He's a player that takes a lot of big cuts, and when he can build confidence in those areas, he has a lot of firepower," Tien said. "So when he's in that zone, it's tough to play against."

Tien wasn't aware of the ITF Junior Finals in China next month, so is not sure if he'll be competing in that year-end event for the Top 8 ITF juniors, while Fonseca said he may opt to build his ATP ranking at the South American Challengers during that time period.

"I was planning to take a few weeks off after this, work on a few things and refocus on putting everything towards the last couple of months of the year," Tien said. "It's a decision I'll make when I'm in a better state of mind."

The doubles championships were also determined in matches played under the lights, with No. 8 seeds Mara Gae of Romania and Anastasiia Gureva of Russia taking the girls title and the unseeded boys team of Max Dahlin of Sweden and Oliver Ojakaar of Estonia earning the boys championship with two wins on the day.

With the doubles semifinals canceled Friday, two victories were necessary Saturday, and fortunately all the four semifinals were completed before the lightning delay shut down competition for the afternoon. 

Dahlin and Ojakaar defeated the unseeded team of Hayden Jones of Australia and American Alex Razeghi 7-5, 7-6(6) in the semifinals, then saved two match points in their 3-6, 6-3, 11-9 win over No. 6 seeds Federico Bondioli of Italy and Joel Schwaerzler of Austria in the final. Bondioli and Schwaerzler had beaten top seeds and Roland Garros champions Yaroslav Demin of Russia and Rodrigo Pacheco Mendez of Mexico 6-4, 3-6, 10-6 in the semifinals. 

"At the start of the tiebreaker I was a bit shaky," said Ojakaar, an 18-year-old right-hander. "But as the tiebreaker went on, a bit of the shakiness went away and at some point we went for it. But at 9-7 down, I was completely shaking, some crazy points."

With Bondioli serving, Ojakaar saved the first match point with an overhead winner; a good serve and a Dahlin putaway at the net saved the second.

At 9-all, Ojakaar hit another big serve, with Bondioli missing the return, and on their match first match point, Dahlin poached off the Ojakaar return, hitting a forehand volley winner for the title.

"It feels amazing, especially to win this tight match from two match points down," said Dahlin, a 17-year-old right-hander. "It's a really sick match to win."

Ojakaar and Dahlin have had success since they began playing as a team, with a J300 title, a J500 final and now this, a first junior slam for both, all since April.

"It feels amazing," Ojakaar said. "It's a small dream come true. Now we keep grinding and see how it goes in men's."

Gae and Gureva came from a set down in both their matches Saturday, defeating two unseeded Japanese teams. In the semifinal they beat Hayu Kinoshita and Wakana Sonobe 2-6, 6-3, 10-7, and in the final defeated Sara Saito and Nanaka Sato 1-6, 7-5, 10-8. Saito and Sato had defeated top seeds Renata Jamrichova of Slovakia and American Kaitlin Quevedo 6-2, 6-3.

"It got better and better and better," said Gae, 17. "We focused on our strengths, which is the serve and the plus one. They were a new team, and we hadn't seen them play and they played weird."

Down a set and 3-1, Gureva took to heart her partner's advice.

"When it was 1-3, she just told me relax and play," said Gureva, 18. "And that worked."

"I said, we have nothing to lose," said Gae, noting the irony of that concept. "But it was a grand slam."

In the tiebreaker, Gae said the confidence was there after their win in the semifinals.

"We started out great, we were always leading," Gae said. "But then we were 7-4, then it was 7-8," added Gureva, "and it was my two serves." 

Gureva came through, hitting two huge first serves, the second an ace, and when Saito hit an approach long on the next point, the title belonged to Gureva and Gae.

"I was not expecting this result," said Gae, who did win a J300 title with Gureva earlier this year. "When you don't expect it, it's so surprising when you win the trophy. It's so amazing."

The women's singles title went to American Coco Gauff, who came back to defeat new WTA No. 1 Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus 2-6, 6-3, 6-2. For more on Gauff's title, see this article from the WTA website.

In the mixed doubles final, former University of Florida standout Anna Danilina of Kazkhstan and Harri Heilovaara of Finland defeated top seeds Jessica Pegula and Austin Krajicek(Texas A&M) 6-3, 6-4 for their first slam titles.  For more on Danilina's doubles success, see this article from the WTA website.