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Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Reigning Orange Bowl 16s Champion Nguyen Continues Her Winning Streak, Beating J500 No. 3 Seed Kovackova; Top Seed in B18s Doubles Upset; 16s Quarterfinals Feature 15 Americans

©Colette Lewis 2023--
Plantation FL--

When Alexis Nguyen returned to the Frank Veltri Tennis Center for the first time since winning the 16s Orange Bowl title last year, the 16-year-old from Northern California was all smiles.

"I was excited and happy, all the emotions from the final came back," Nguyen said. "I love these courts, every single time I go here I play well, so hopefully, my first time playing 18s, I could do well here."

Nguyen picked up her first ITF J500 win Monday, beating Natalia Perez of Puerto Rico, nearly 600 points above her in the ITF Junior Circuit rankings, 6-2, 6-1. In her second round match Wednesday Nguyen faced an even more daunting challenge, facing No. 3 seed Alena Kovackova of the Czech Republic, No. 12 in the ITF world junior rankings.

"When I first came out, I thought she's the three seed, I've never seen her play before, and it was kind of cold too," Nguyen said.
"I didn't warm up right and I was kind in my own head."

That led to a quick 6-1 set for Kovackova, before Nguyen honed her tactics to emerge with a 1-6, 7-6(4), 6-3 victory.

"So after the first set, I said, my shots aren't doing anything to her, but unless I sit it, she can't really kill me off the court, she's more of a grinding player too," Nguyen said. "So I said I'm going to start being really physical and make her not want to play against me. If I'm going to go down, I'm going to go down swinging as hard as I can, fighting, making her play long points."

Nguyen went up 5-2 in the second set, but was unable to serve it out at 5-2 or 5-4. Rather than lament those lost chances, Nguyen focused on the next game, not the past one.

"I don't think I played a bad game, but on important points I got really nervous," Nguyen said. "But I tried to keep very positive. I'm like it's ok, you're 5-all, you've still got this. I don't think I was losing at all in the second set, so I said, you're still in a good position, stay physical. Just go after the ball, then breathe, and you'll be fine."

In the tiebreaker, the server took only two of the first nine points, but at 5-4, Nguyen held when Kovackova made a unforced error on the forehand side, making it 6-4. Nguyen converted her first set point with a good first serve, a rare short point that Nguyen welcomed but was not seeking.

"I was trying to get the points to be longer," Nguyen said. "I needed to move the ball, run her, and I had opportunities. I tried to stay physical, because when I was soft, I knew I was getting tight and that's when she would win it."

In the third set, Nguyen got a quick break to go up 5-3, and was determined not to make the same mistake she made in the second set. 

"The last set you didn't really close it out, so it's this point, right here," said Nguyen, who is coached by Nick Bezzubchenko and Joe Gilbert at the JMG Academy in Sacramento. "Every single point, whether I lost it or won it, I said, this point, go physical and I'm going to run her."

The strategy worked from 0-15, with two long rallies going to Nguyen, the second when Kovackova netted a drop shot attempt. Nguyen missed her first serve at 30-15, but Kovackova missed a forehand return on the second serve to give Nguyen two match points. She missed a forehand wide on the first, but converted the second when Kovackova's forehand landed just long, although Nguyen had to stop play and ask for the mark to be checked.

"I saw the ball land out, I looked at it and seeing he didn't call it out, so I stopped the point and I circled it," Nguyen said. "I felt like if I lose this one, it's going to be a little tight."

Nguyen is one of six American girls in the bottom half of the draw, and she'll play another wild card, recent 18s USTA Indoor champion Elizabeth Ionescu, who beat No. 15 seed Mika Buchnik of Israel 6-4, 6-4.

Nguyen's twin sister Avery is through to the quarterfinals of the girls 16s tournament, with Alexis saying they are drawing inspiration from each other this week.

"If anything, it kind of takes a little pressure off each other," said Alexis, who now has an eight-match winning streak in the Orange Bowl. "If one of us loses, all the pressure is on the other one to stay in tournament. We also feed off each other, 'you played good, I played good too, let's do it again tomorrow, we've got this.'"

Aside from Buchnik and Kovackova, the other girls seeds in action advanced although the top two seeds were definitely tested. No. 1 Laura Samsonova of the Czech Republic dropped the first set to Elena Bertea of Romania out on Court 10, but bounced back for a 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 victory. No. 2 seed Kaitlin Quevedo battled Krisha Mahendran of India for 93 minutes before taking the first set 7-6(4), then closed out the California resident 6-3 in the second set.

The boys lost two Top 8 seeds in Wednesday's second round, with Eddie Herr semifinalist Luca Preda of Romania beating No. 4 seed Rei Sakamoto 6-4, 6-3 and Danil Panarin of Russia defeating No. 6 seed Adhithya Ganesan 7-6(1), 6-4. Nikita Filin defeated No. 14 seed Viktor Frydrych of Great Britain 6-4, 1-6, 7-5.

There are four US boys in the round of 16: No. 5 seed Alex Frusina, Filin, No. 6 seed Kaylan Bigun and wild card Jack Secord. Secord, the 16s Eddie Herr champion, beat Jagger Leach 6-3, 2-6, 6-3 and will play Bigun on Thursday for a spot in the quarterfinals. 

Top seed Iliyan Radulov of Bulgaria and No. 2 seed Juan Carlos Prado Angelo of Bolivia lost just five games between them in their second round victories.

Radulov, the reigning Orange Bowl doubles champion, will not repeat, with he and partner Sakamoto, the top seeds, losing to Andrew Delgado and Matthew Forbes 6-7(8), 7-6(9), 10-3. No. 2 seeds and USTA National 18s champions Ganesan and Frusina won their second match in succession after dropping the first set, beating Lucca Guercio and Segundo Goity Zapico of Argentina 4-6, 6-1, 10-5.

Eddie Herr girls doubles champions Alisa Oktiabreva of Russia and Iva Ivanova of Bulgaria, the No. 4 seeds, lost to Kaitlyn Rolls and Norway's Emily Sartz-Lunde 6-3, 3-6, 13-11.

The quarterfinals in singles and the semifinals in doubles are on tap for Thursday in the 16s division, with 15 of the 16 singles quarterfinalists Americans.

16s Singles Quarterfinals:

Eva Oxford[13](USA) v Aoife Kuo(USA)
Thea Frodin[3](USA) v Nancy Lee[9](USA)
Polina Sleptsova[6](KAZ) v Avery Nguyen(USA)
Sobee Oak(USA) v Leena Friedman[2](USA)

Madhav Binu(USA) v Jack Satterfield(USA)
Roshan Santhosh(USA) v Ronit Karki[8](USA)
Gavin Goode(USA) v Nicholas Patrick(USA)
Jon Gamble[11](USA) v Dominick Mosejczuk[2](USA)

16s Doubles Semifinals:

Mark Krupkin and Ilija Palavestra[8](USA) v Yannik Alvarez(PUR and Ryan Cozad[5](USA)

Simon Caldwell and Zachary Cohen[6](USA) v Nathan Germino and Jack Satterfield(USA)

Berklie Simmering and Katie Spencer v Aleksandra Kyselova(UKR) and Zhang-Qian Wei[3](CHN)

Nola Jones and Calla McGill(USA) v Anna Bennett and Emerey Gross(USA)

Draws, order of play and links to live scoring can be found at ustaorangebowl.com.