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Saturday, December 9, 2023

Friedman and Mosejczuk Capture Orange Bowl 16s Titles; Grant and Klugman, Panarin and Preda Reach 18s Finals; Americans Sweep 18s Doubles Championships

©Colette Lewis 2023--
Plantation Florida--

Sixteen-year-old New Yorkers Leena Friedman and Dominick Mosejczuk, both No. 2 seeds, captured the 16s Orange Bowl singles titles on a breezy Saturday at the Frank Veltri Tennis Center.

Friedman got off to a slow start in more ways than one in her 1-6, 6-4, 6-1 victory over No. 3 seed Thea Frodin, with the beginning of the match delayed when Frodin had to change her attire due to a impermissible logo. Frodin came out swinging in the opening set, while Friedman struggled to find the form that had propelled her to the final.

"I think it was the combination of the conditions and nerves," Friedman said. "And Thea was playing really well. I was pretty late on some of the balls, and after I lost the first set, I went to the bathroom, splashed some water on my face and said, 'I made it to the final, I just need to go out there and have fun and play loose.'"

That pep talk resulted in a 4-0 lead to open the second set, but Frodin got one of the breaks back for 4-1, saved two set points at 2-5, and two more with Friedman serving at 5-3. But after digging out of that hole, Frodin played a shaky game, missing an overhead and make two unforced errors, giving Friedman the second set.

"In the first set I was so good, almost too good, and then I kind of gave it away at the end," said Frodin, a 14-year-old from Woodland Hills California, who trains with the USTA in Lake Nona and in Carson. "I give away a lot of points, probably because it's Christmas, and I've got to stop being so nice to people," Frodin joked as she struggled to control her tears. "I think she played really well, she's a really good player."

Once Friedman got on track the third set went quickly, with Friedman winning the last five games of the match to avenge her three-set loss this spring at the ITF J300 in San Diego.

Friedman said she didn't know how Frodin felt about the clay, but she was extremely comfortable on it.

"I do really love this surface," said Friedman, who is coached by Richard Bowie. "It was pretty windy, so I think playing on clay rather than hard with the wind is nicer for sure."

Friedman had played both ITF tournaments in Mexico, taking out the No. 6 seed in the second round of the J500 in Merida two weeks ago, so she was confident coming into the Orange Bowl. But now she is ready to enjoy being an Orange Bowl champion.

"We ended up being gone for four weeks, because I got into main draw in Merida, and it was a good opportunity and an amazing experience," Friedman said. "So now we're taking it slow. I'm going to keep training, spend time with my family over this break. We're still deciding, Winters, Australia."

As for a celebration, Friedman will end her tournament abstention from sweets on her trip home.

"I don't really do desserts at tournaments, so we usually splurge, eating chocolates on the plane," said Friedman, who is the sixth consecutive US girl to take the 16s title.

Mosejczuk's 7-6(5), 6-3 win over No. 8 seed Ronit Karki featured a 73-minute first set, with Mosejczuk trailing 3-0 in the tiebreaker, then winning the next six points before dropping the next two. When he finally closed out the set with a forehand volley winner, Mosejczuk felt himself relax and he was able to keep Karki on the defensive in the second set.

"I guess I got a little more loose and played my tennis in the second set," said Mosejczuk, who has been training in Spain this year at the BTT Academy in Barcelona. "When you go to a breaker, every point matters, especially going down 3-0, that was a big deficit. In the second set, there was still a lot of pressure of course, but I could take a deep breath I guess, reset."

Karki, who has a long history of matches with Mosejczuk dating back to the 12s in the Eastern section, said he's seen a big improvement in Mosejczuk's game.

"He's definitely more disciplined in his shot selection," said Karki, a 16-year-old from New Jersey, who now trains at the Gooding-Todero Academy in Orlando. "His serve's definitely gotten a lot better and he's definitely a lot fitter."

Karki said he struggled with his best shots in the windy conditions.

"Normally I love my backhand, but today, with the wind, I was finding it very tricky," Karki said. "And I was serving very well before, even yesterday I was serving well, but today, either the wind or the nerves or a combination of both, it was not as good as I would like it to be."

Mosejczuk's points to his time in Spain as a major factor in the  improvements in his game.

"Training in Spain, you really have to make the right shots," Mosejczuk said. "On clay courts, it's ten times longer rallies, ten times longer matches and you've got to make smart choices. I thought I learned a lot in the past year, and I'm just ready to get better and better at clay court tennis."

Mosejczuk has tangible evidence of that improvement after a first round exit at the Orange Bowl in 2022.

"Last year I lost in the first round, which was a bit tough," said Mosejczuk, who saved a match point in his third round win over Ryan Cozad. "It's a big difference, so I'm very happy, it's amazing. I just can't wait to get home to my family."

Karki is planning to play the USTA Winter Nationals 18s in Lake Nona at the end of the month, while Mosejczuk is taking the rest of the year off before starting play on the ITF Junior Circuit.

Both of the girls ITF J500 finalists had to come from a set down in their semifinal matches, with No. 6 seed Tyra Grant defeating Akasha Urhobo 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 in the all-US semifinal and No. 5 seed Hanna Klugman of Great Britain coming from a set and 3-1 down to beat No. 4 seed Iva Jovic of the United States 1-6, 6-4, 6-3.

Klugman, who has now won four consecutive three-set matches, saving a match point in her quarterfinal win over top seed Laura Samsonova of the Czech Republic, admitted that she had to adjust to the conditions in the opening set.

"It was very windy today and I was finding it very hard to control the ball in the first set," said Klugman, a 14-year-old from Wimbledon. "I was a bit unsure how much spin to put on the ball, but in the last two sets I really went for it, was aggressive, and that what I think got me the win today. I was stepping up much better."

Klugman pointed to the seventh game of the third set as the crucial one, after Jovic had fought back from a break down for 3-3. 

"At 3-all we had a really tight game, she had game points, I had game points, and that was a big turning point, getting that game," said Klugman, who reached the Junior Orange Bowl 14s final last year and will be playing in her first J500 final 12 months later."Then I played two really great games, was really aggressive."

Grant and Urhobo both had difficult holding serve, with Grant getting a final break to earn a spot in her first J500 final.

"What was weird is that we both have really good serves, but it was way easier to break than to hold," said the 15-year-old Grant, who trains with the USTA in Lake Nona. "I just tried to stay consistent, make her play as many balls as I could, because once I dropped the ball short, she would hit a drop shot or a good shot."

Grant and Urhobo played in the final of the Delray Beach ITF J100 this spring, with Grant retiring with an illness, so Grant was well aware of the challenge she faced today.

"She has such a unique game style and since you don't usually find players like that around, it's a struggle to play her," Grant said. "I was just trying to be consistent, hit a lot of balls with spin, make the rallies last as long as I could. Short points are not what I wanted."

Grant, who began the year ranked outside the ITF Junior Circuit Top 300, credits her experiences at the junior slams and some technical tweaks with giving her a boost this year.

"I think I just matured a lot as a player," said Grant, who won the Roland Garros doubles title with Clervie Ngounoue. "I got a lot of experience, played three of the four slams this year. I also changed my forehand grip, which is definitely helping a lot and I've worked on my movement so much. I've matured in little aspects and if you just put them together, it makes you a better player overall."

Grant and Klugman played once, back in February of 2020 in the final of the Auray Tennis Europe Category 1 tournament, which Klugman won 6-4, 6-3.

"She's a great player, I played her when we were like 10, 11, and we've changed a lot," Klugman said. "She's a really aggressive player and it's going to be a good match tomorrow I hope. One more match."

For the first time this century, two unseeded players will compete for the boys Junior Orange Bowl title on Sunday, with Luca Preda of Romania defeating No. 7 seed Sebastian Eriksson of Sweden 7-5, 7-5 and Danil Panarin of Russia eliminating No. 9 seed Kaylan Bigun 6-4, 2-6, 6-4.

Eriksson was up 4-2 in the first set but Preda, who has not lost a set all week, got that break back and then another with Eriksson serving at 5-6.

Preda served for the match at 5-3, but Eriksson, who is not normally emotional on court, was still seething from a call in the previous game. Although the argument about the chair umpire identifying the wrong mark on a first serve went as far as the assistant referee, it didn't change the call,  leading to an incensed Eriksson hitting a Mach 1 forehand winner after Preda returned the second serve. That gave Eriksson the game, and he then broke Preda at love to get back on serve.

"He got more loose, felt he didn't have anything to lose, so he began to play well," Preda said. "Mentally I'm glad I stayed with it, because I was leading 5-2 and he came back to 5-5. But I was really strong in those moments and that got me the win."

Eriksson saved a match point at 4-5, but Preda got a love hold for 6-5, and Eriksson couldn't overcome the double fault at 15-30, sending a backhand long to give Preda the win.

Preda, ranked 146 a month ago, has gone 14-3 in the past four weeks in his first trip to North America, and is not in the least tired.

"I feel very good, very good," said the 17-year-old, who trains in Romania. "I could play two more weeks if I had to."

While he had success on the red clay in Mexico, getting three wins at the J300 in Zapopan and two at the J500 in Merida, he's really found his form on the Har-Tru, reaching the semifinals of the Eddie Herr and now the finals of the Orange Bowl.

"I really like it," said Preda. "At first I was like, it looks weird, but now I feel very good here. Bradenton last week was the first time I've played on it, and I like the courts; they feel very good."

Preda is taking all his recent success in stride. 

"I'm not surprised at all," Preda said. "Of course I believe in myself. Maybe other people are, but I knew I could do this, that I could play this well. I believe in myself and it's been great."

One of Preda's few losses on this trip came at the hands of his opponent in tomorrow's final, with Panarin taking a 7-6(8), 7-6(8) decision in the semifinals of the J300 in Zapopan.

Panarin had never played Bigun before, but knew his game and was impressed with his level, particularly in the second set.

"Today was a really tough match, Kaylan played unreal," said Panarin, who begins his college tennis career at Vanderbilt next month. "Honestly, I've never seen him play this good. I feel like I was not playing bad, but in second set he pressing me a little bit more than the first set, put a lot of pressure on me."

In the third set Panarin broke early and kept his lead, but with Bigun saving a match point serving a 3-5, he gave himself a chance in the next game, or rather Panarin did, hitting a bad drop shot to make the score 15-40. But Paranin saved both break points with a backhand winner and a Bigun forehand that went just long, then cracked an ace to earn a second match point. He converted it, with Bigun's backhand going wide. 

"I was just thinking about my tactics, trying to make my first serve," said the 18-year-old, who trains at IMG Academy in Bradenton. "He was playing so good until the end, so it was tough to win this match."

Panarin did not play this clay court swing with any ranking goals in mind, but rather to enjoy his last month on the junior circuit.

"I think maximum what I could get would be maximum Top 30 by the end of the year," Panarin said. "It's still pretty good for me, and I'm happy to have such a good tournament at the end of my junior career."

As with the singles final, the boys doubles final featured no seeds, with Matthew Forbes and Andrew Delgado of the United States saving a match point in their 3-6, 6-3, 11-9 win over Atakan Karahan of Turkey and Hoyoung Roh of Korea.

Forbes and Delgado had saved three match points in their 6-7(8), 7-6(9), 10-3 second round victory over top seeds Iliyan Radulov of Bulgaria and Rei Sakamoto of Japan, but the ending of the final was even more dramatic.

Nursing a one point minibreak lead through the first two change of ends, Delgado made a backhand error for 7-7, just the second point of the 14 played that went to the returning team. Roh held both of his serves for 9-8, and Forbes hit a good first serve to save the match point. On the next point, the tennis gods smiled on the Americans, with Forbes missing his first serve, but getting a net cord ace on his second, with the ball hitting the tape and barely dribbling over.  

"Those two serves at 8-9 and 9-all I was just going to hit them as hard as I physically could," said the 17-year-old Forbes, who has signed with North Carolina for next fall. "But I did not expect the let cord to happen, but it helped a lot. At 10-9, [Karahan] hit a good serve, I barely got to it and he just missed."

The Orange Bowl title makes up for some indifferent results recently for the pair, who went 1-2 in the J300s in Zapopan and Bradenton before this week.

"The funny thing is, leading up until this tournament we were on a losing streak," said the 18-year-old Delgado, who is committed to Wake Forest for 2024. "We were not doing so good. A couple of months back we had a good win, and we decided we'd play the rest of the year together, and I'm glad we didn't bail on each other, that's for sure."

Forbes said he changed his approach for this tournament.

"I was playing like a bit scared," said Forbes, who reached the Orange Bowl 16s singles final last year. "Not going for it as much. I just needed to go for it more and this is what happens."

Grant and Jovic had divergent results in their singles semifinals today, but they replicated their success in doubles, with the 2022 champions taking their second straight title with a 6-4, 6-2 win over top seeds and Wimbledon junior champions Laura Samsonova and Alena Kovackova of the Czech Republic.

Grant and Jovic, who are the first repeat champions in girls doubles since records were kept in 1993, had to work their way into top form, but they hit their stride in the semifinals and dominated in Saturday's final.

"Yesterday and today we were really locked in from the beginning and it went our way pretty easily I'd say," Grant said. "

"We didn't miss too much today, thankfully," Jovic said. "Our game style, just our aggression, was great, and it was super clean."

Grant agreed that forcing the issue was a key to their win.

"Obviously both of them are great singles players and they're really consistent," Grant said.  "But we were pressuring them, and they made some mistakes, and we were playing our game."

With Jovic out of action due to injury from March to September, Grant played with other partners including her Roland Garros title with Clervie Ngounoue, but both were happy to get back together for the end of 2023.

"We had a little pause in our doubles action, because of my injuries, but it's nice to know we still have it," Jovic said.

With rain a possibility Sunday afternoon, both finals will be played at 10 a.m., rather than back-to-back, which is the norm when weather is not an issue.

Draws are here; live scoring is here.