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Saturday, August 27, 2016

Liu Sweeps Titles at ITF Grade 1 International Hard Court Championships; Kecmanovic Takes Boys Singles with Crawford Unable to Play Due to Injury

©Colette Lewis 2016--
College Park, MD--

The final day of the ITF Grade 1 International Hard Court Championships got off to a subdued start, with Miomir Kecmanovic of Serbia and Oliver Crawford coming to the Junior Tennis Champions Center for photos and paperwork, but no match, with Crawford unable to play the final due to an ankle sprain suffered in his doubles semifinal on Friday.

So the girls final, usually played at the same time as the boys final, had the spectators' undivided attention, with No. 2 seed Claire Liu and No. 7 seed Xiyu Wang of China battling for nearly three hours before Liu emerged with a 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 victory.

Liu took an early 3-1 lead in the first set and closed out the set in just under an hour with her second break of Wang's serve.  Although Liu went up 3-1 in the second set, Wang steadied herself, immediately broke back and then earned a chance to serve out the set with a second break of serve at 4-4.  Although, as in most of the games, nothing came easy, Wang did close out the set on her third set point, and both girls headed for the air conditioning of the clubhouse for the 10-minute heat rule break.

Although both Liu and Wang possess fine serves, the third set started out with six consecutive breaks, and rarely did either player have a game point on her own serve.  Wang was winning most of the longer points with her powerful left-handed strokes keeping Liu defending and unable to use her ability to close at the net.

Down a break at 1-0, 2-1 and 3-2, the outlook for a Liu victory was not good, but each time she broke back, using her backhand to take control early in the rallies.

"I didn't want to lose," said Liu. "I competed well and that's what helped me get back the breaks and eventually hold. I was always being aware of my opponent and what was working and what wasn't, so when it came down to it, that really helped."

Liu finally held with a good first serve to go up 4-3, and Wang, looking a bit tired, started to lose control of her forehand, and again was broken, giving Liu a chance to serve for the match.  Even though she had been unable to hold her serve the first three times, Liu had confidence in that shot.

"The whole match I was trying to serve well, because I didn't serve well yesterday," Liu said of her three-set semifinal win over Hailey Baptiste. "I knew, against her, I needed to serve well or else she would be aggressive from the very beginning. So doing that really helped me stay in the match."

Even though Liu made four of five first serves in her attempt to close out the match, she had to save a break point at 30-40 in that final game, which she did with another good first serve.  In the next point, Liu came up with a big forehand to force an error and get to match point, which she converted with a backhand winner.

Liu, although just 16, said the extra year of experience she has over the 15-year-old may have given her the edge.

"I think mainly in the beginning and then in the third, the experience thing helped," said the Californian. "Starting off strong, even if you're not playing well, having a good attitude and good posture really helps. And when it gets tight having all those matches, yeah, that can definitely play into it."

Wang was not happy with her performance at the beginning of the match.

"First set was so-so," said Wang, who is not comfortable communicating in English. "But in the second set and final set, I played better. I played well. She played well."

Wang is heading to Canada for the Grade 1 there next week, then on to the US Open Junior Championships, where she is in the qualifying draw.  After her stellar play this week, including Friday's semifinal win over ITF No. 1 and Wimbledon champion Anastasia Potapova of Russia, Wang is ready for the big stage.

"I am now more confident," Wang said.

Liu is not playing in Canada, but instead is staying in Maryland to train for the US Open Junior Championships with a group of other US girls.

Thirty minutes after the completion of her singles match, Liu was back on the court for the doubles final, and the Wimbledon girls doubles champion earned that title too, partnering Sofia Sewing to a 6-3, 6-2 win over No. 8 seeds Morgan Coppoc and Victoria Emma.

Sewing and Liu, who were unseeded, had never played together before this week, but when Sewing's partner Ellie Douglas withdrew due to injury and Liu's partner Usue Arconada received a US Open qualifying wild card, they decided to team up at the last minute.

"We've played some good matches this week, but this is probably the most consistent one," Liu said. "Before we would lose the first set or something, but we played well the whole time."

"We have good chemistry," said Sewing, a 17-year-old from Florida. "We let each other play aggressively, so that was good."

The boys doubles champions were also an unseeded pair playing together for the first time.  Danny Thomas and William Woodall won their first Grade 1 titles by defeating unseeded Nicolas Mejia of Colombia and Sebastian Korda 6-3, 3-6, 10-6.

Thomas and Woodall took out top seeds Kecmanovic and Youssef Hossam of Egypt 6-1, 6-3 in the quarterfinals, a win that convinced them they could claim the title.

"Taking out the first seeds was pretty big for us," said Thomas, a 16-year-old left-hander from Ohio.

But they had to overcome two match points in their 6-7(4), 6-3, 14-12 victory over Crawford and Patrick Kypson on Friday, the match that saw Crawford sustain his ankle injury.

"Oliver and Patrick are a really good team, have played together for a while and I felt today would be a little easier than yesterday," said Woodall, a 16-year-old who trains at the Junior Tennis Champions Center. "I thought if we came out with really good intensity in the tiebreaker we could win, and that's what we did."

Woodall and Thomas got a mini-break for a 2-1 lead and that was all they needed, as neither lost his serve, with Woodall blasting a big service winner to close out the title.

With so much success in their first tournament together, Thomas and Woodall are hoping to team up again.

"Hopefully in the future we'll play the same tournament and we'll definitely play together," Thomas said.

Kecmanovic and Crawford are both returning home before the US Open Junior Championships. Crawford had planned to play in Canada, but his injury has made recovery in time for the US Open the top priority.

"We haven't done any x-rays or anything, but I couldn't put much pressure on it today, said Crawford, a 17-year-old from South Carolina. "There was no chance I was going to have any chance of winning, so there was no point in getting it worse. Hopefully I can get back and be ready for the Open.  I'm going to fly home today, I have a trainer I work with back home, get an x-ray and take some rest, do all the recovery stuff I can do."

"It's very disappointing," Crawford said. "It's my first Grade 1 final. This is one of the best weeks of tennis I've ever had, playing my best tennis right now and it's a shame that I couldn't play. I'm not saying I would beat Mischa, he's a very good player and I would have had to play very, very well to beat him. But he's had a great tournament and congrats to him."

Kecmanovic said he had only gotten a walkover in a final once before, in doubles, in the 14s.

"It's not really how I thought it was going to happen," Kecmanovic, who turns 17 next week."I hope he gets better fast and he can play at the Open."

Kecmanovic, who will return to the IMG Academy in Bradenton before heading to New York for the Open, is happy with his play this week.

"I've been playing pretty good this week," Kecmanovic said. "I haven't lost a set, had only one tough set and it was against some pretty good guys, some top guys and I'm happy to play that way. It's a good warmup to the US Open."

The Orange Bowl champion has yet to reach the quarterfinals of a slam, but his current level has him expressing optimism about his prospects for the last slam of the year, on a surface that suits him.

"If I play like I played this week, I think I can go deep this time," Kecmanovic said.

Complete draws and a photo gallery can be found at the tournament web page.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Wang Shocks Top Seed Potapova, Crawford Wins Three-Hour Battle but Unable to Compete in Final of ITF Grade 1 International Hard Courts; Six Americans Qualify for US Open

©Colette Lewis 2016--
College Park, MD--

Temperatures in the 90s and a heat index over 100 greeted the semifinalists Friday at the ITF Grade 1 International Hard Court Championships, with Claire Liu and Oliver Crawford winning tough three-setters over fellow Americans to advance to Saturday morning finals.  Due to an ankle injury to Crawford in the doubles semifinal that followed his singles match, Crawford is unable to compete in the final, however, with Serbia's Miomir Kecmanovic, the No. 2 seed, taking the title in a walkover.

Prior to the unfortunate injury to Crawford, No. 7 seed Xiyu Wang of China created the biggest buzz of the day's action, surprising top seed Anastasia Potapova 6-1, 6-2, to end the Russian's ITF junior winning streak, which stretched back to June, at 16.

The two 15-year-olds had met twice before, back in late 2013 and early 2014 at the Junior Orange Bowl 12s semifinals and Les Petits As third round, with Potapova winning both in straight sets.  Wang, who speaks little English, said she was ready for this meeting, and was not overjoyed by the win over the ITF No. 1 and reigning Wimbledon girls champion, calling it "normal."

Wang, a tall left-hander, hit with great power and depth, but usually that style doesn't pose any problem for Potapova.  On this day, however, Potapova was making bunches of unforced errors, while Wang continued to tee off on Potapova's second serves, hitting one winner after another.

After a first set to forget, Potapova was broken serving at 2-3 in the second.  The expected comeback may have hinged on Wang's next service game, when she saved two break points to consolidate the break.  In the last game, Potapova's return game totally deserted her, failing to get the ball in play three times, the last when she netted a return at 40-15.

"My body is stronger, my fitness is better," Wang said through a translator, describing the reasons she was able to reverse the previous outcomes. "My serve is very good, I think, and was good today."

Like Potapova, No. 2 seed Liu had her own difficulties today, playing unseeded 14-year-old Hailey Baptiste, but Liu somehow managed to fight through stretches of lackluster play for a 6-4, 4-6, 6-2 victory.

"My first serve percentage was really low," said Liu, 16. "I don't know, it was just not a good day.  Every game I served in that first set, she had a break point."

Liu went up a break twice in the first set, at 3-2 and 4-3, but was broken back both times.  Liu got a third straight break to go up 5-4, and although she was forced to save a break point, she did hold to take the lead.

"She's really good," said Liu. "She has a huge forehand. She was pounding it, and she has a really good serve, hitting her spots really well. I think she's really good, and I got a little lucky, tried to fight."

In the second set, Baptiste went up 3-0, but lost that advantage. She went up 5-3, but couldn't serve out the set, although she took it with a chip return and great lob with Liu serving at 4-5, 30-40.

After the 10-minute heat rule break, Liu was able to take control of the match, breaking Baptiste's serve three times en route to a 5-1 lead.

"In the first few points of the games it was really crucial to get ahead," said Liu. "Especially in the third, I think I did better winning the first point, to start me off better."

Liu was looking forward to playing Potapova, who beat her in three sets at Roehampton back in June, admitting to surprise at the result of that semifinal.

"I know she's a lefty, and she hits pretty hard, is aggressive," said Liu of Wang. "I think maybe I practiced with her three years ago, but I don't really know her game."

Liu, the fifth American Wang will have played this week, is just hoping to play better in the final than she did in the semifinal. "I've played better matches this week, and she[Baptiste] played well. I just tried to hang in there."

Kecmanovic started his match against No. 3 seed Youssef Hossam of Egypt an hour after Crawford took the court against Gianni Ross and finished an hour before Crawford and Ross's marathon ended. Kecmanovic, the 2015 Orange Bowl champion, needed just an hour and ten minutes to defeat Hossam 6-1, 6-2.

Crawford, seeded 16th, and Ross, seeded 12th, played for 3 hours and five minutes, with Crawford grinding out a 6-4, 5-7, 6-3 win to advance to his first Grade 1 final.

Crawford was up two breaks in the first set, but managed to hold on to one to take the lead. He was up a break twice in the second set, but was unable to consolidate either time, with Ross breaking Crawford at love at 5-6 to claim the second set.

Another early Crawford break, this in the first game, gave him some breathing room, but although that one break held up, it wasn't easy for Crawford to protect it.

"I obviously like to play from ahead, serve first in all the sets," said the 17-year-old from South Carolina. "I like to play with a bit of a lead, makes me feel a bit more comfortable. Playing from behind is a bit more pressure, in my opinion."

Crawford had a chance to go up two breaks with Ross serving at 1-3, but Ross held, and Crawford had to save two break points serving at 4-3, 15-40. But Ross missed a backhand volley, and a forehand and Crawford held.  Ross didn't force Crawford to serve again, dropping his serve at love to give Crawford the victory.

"It's never easy to close it out, especially someone like Gianni," said Crawford. "Gianni competed all the way until the end. Someone with his game style, who makes a lot of balls and hits very heavy and plays aggressively when he's ahead in the rallies is definitely not easy to close out. I knew I had to play my best tennis all the way through the match to beat him."

The boys final Saturday will not take place however, after Crawford rolled his ankle in his doubles semifinal in the afternoon.  He continued to play, but was limping noticeably throughout the remainder of the match, which he and Patrick Kypson, the No. 7 seeds, lost to unseeded Danny Thomas and William Woodall 6-7(4), 6-3, 14-12.

Thomas and Woodall will play unseeded Sebastian Korda and Nicolas Meija, who beat unseeded Yshai Oliel of Israel and Andrew Fenty 2-6, 6-3, 10-5, in Saturday morning's boys doubles final.

The girls doubles final will be played after the girls singles final, with Liu and Sofia Sewing taking on No. 8 seeds Morgan Coppoc and Victoria Emma.  Liu and Sewing defeated No. 4 seeds Caty McNally and Natasha Subhash 1-6, 6-1, 10-8, while Coppoc and Emma took out unseeded Victoria Flores and Kate Paulus 6-3, 6-2.

Complete draws are available at the tournament page.

Twelve Americans, six men and six women, reached the final round of qualifying for the US Open, with three of each advancing to the main draw.

CiCi Bellis defeated Alison Van Uytvanck 6-2, 6-7(5), 6-2, avenging two three-set losses to the Belgian back in July.  Bellis, who made her US Open debut at age 15 as the National 18s champion back in 2014, will play Viktorija Golubic of Switzerland in the first round.

Jessica Pegula, the No. 28 seed in qualifying, advanced to the main draw with a 4-6, 6-0, 6-3 win over Riza Ozaki of Japan. Pegula has drawn No. 4 seed Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland.  Taylor Townsend beat fellow American Jennifer Brady 7-5, 6-4 and will face Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark.

Both Christian and Ryan Harrison advanced to the main draw of the US Open.  Ryan, the No. 11 seed, defeated Henri Laaksonen of Switzerland 6-3, 6-2 and will play Adrian Mannarino of France in the first round. Christian, who has suffered through years of injuries, illness and surgery, will make his slam debut against Paul-Henri Mathieu of France after defeating Steven Diez of Canada 1-6, 6-4, 6-2 in the final round of qualifying.

Jared Donaldson, the No. 14 seed in qualifying, beat Santiago Giraldo of Colombia 6-2, 6-2 and has drawn No. 14 seed David Goffin of Belgium in the first round.

The draws were released today, with 17 US men in the main draw. Unfortunately, four of them play each other, with No. 20 seed John Isner facing wild card Frances Tiafoe and No. 26 seed Jack Sock meeting Taylor Fritz.  NCAA champion Mackenzie McDonald will play qualifier Jan Satral of the Czech Republic and Kalamazoo champion Michael Mmoh has drawn Jeremy Chardy of France in the first round.

Even with Sloane Stephens' withdrawal early today, the US has 22 women in the main draw.  As with the men, there are two all-US first round matches, with No. 8 seed Madison Keys facing Alison Riske and Madison Brengle meeting San Diego champion Kayla Day.  NCAA champion Danielle Collins got a much better draw this time around, after getting No. 2 seed Simona Halep in 2014, when she also won the NCAA title.  Collins will play Evgeniya Rodina of Russia, who is currently ranked 102.  Last year's San Diego champion Sonya Kenin, who earned a wild card this year in the USTA's Wild Card Challenge, drew No. 10 seed and Cincinnati champion Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic.

The men's draw is here, the women's draw is here. Play begins Monday, with the order of play for Monday likely to be posted Saturday.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Ross Defeats Top Seed Olivieri, Baptiste's Run Continues into Semifinals at ITF Grade 1 International Hard Courts

©Colette Lewis 2016--
College Park, MD--

An American finalist is assured in both the girls and boys singles draw after quarterfinal play in the ITF Grade 1 International Hard Court Championships Thursday, with No. 12 seed Gianni Ross and No. 16 seed Oliver Crawford playing for a place in the boys final and No. 2 seed Claire Liu and unseeded Hailey Baptiste facing off in Friday's semifinals.

Crawford defeated No. 10 seed Yshai Oliel of Israel 7-6(5), 6-4 to reach his third Grade 1 semifinal of the year, while Easter Bowl champion Ross picked up one of his best junior victories, beating No. 1 seed and ITF No. 10 Genaro Olivieri of Argentina 7-6(2), 6-4.

Ross had to make an adjustment in the first set, after Olivieri's game style and favored side didn't fit with his expectations.

"I was a little surprised on the way he played at the start of the match," Ross said. "I thought he was more of a clay court-esque type of player. But he was hitting through the court, and I was like, what?  I had to adjust real quick, because my game plan was opposite of what I ended up playing. I played more to his forehand than backhand, because his backhand was cash money early, so it was a weird start."

Olivieri broke Ross for the third time in the opening set to go up 5-4, but he never got to set point, with a forehand from Ross forcing an error at 30-40.

"I actually served bad," Ross said. "I missed a lot of first serves and at times gave up mentally on first serves. I should have focused really hard and just make sure I was getting first serves, hit big to his forehand, but it was like zero percent first serves. If I had the stats, I could tell you, but it was probably below fifty for sure."

Ross's serving improved in the tiebreaker, which he ended from 5-2 up with a second serve ace and an ace.

"It was a really, really tough first set," Ross said of the 75 minutes he needed to secure it. "It wasn't slow tennis, it was like, boom, boom, boom, boom.  But neither of us is the type who is going to bail out on a point because we can just step up and hit an ace on the next point. We've got to make sure every point counts."

The second set differed from the first only in the number of breaks, with Ross getting the only one at 3-3, with Olivieri donating several points with unforced errors. Serving at 4-3, Ross needed two deuces and four game points to finally hold, but he served out the win when Olivieri netted a backhand on the second match point.

Ross could not remember the last time he and Crawford played, although he did win the third place match they played in the Kalamazoo 16s back in 2014.

"We have similar games, and it's going to be fun," said Ross, a 17-year-old from Illinois, who now lives and trains in Boca Raton, Florida. "We're pretty good friends too. I just want to go out and play my best, and hopefully he does the same."

The other semifinal will feature a clash of doubles partners, with No. 3 seed Youssef Hossam of Egypt playing No. 2 seed Miomir Kecmanovic of Serbia.  Hossam outlasted No. 7 seed Sam Riffice 6-4, 6-7(3), 6-3 and Kecmanovic defeated No. 9 seed Khumoyun Sultonov of Uzbekistan 6-2, 6-1. The match will be their first meeting on the ITF junior circuit.

The No. 1 seed in the girls draw has been rounding into form after two tight first round matches, and in Thursday's quarterfinal, Anastasia Potapova of Russia defeated No. 10 seed Caty McNally 6-4, 6-1 to extend her ITF junior winning streak to 16.  The Wimbledon girls champion will face fellow 15-year-old Xiyu Wang of China, after the No. 7 seed defeated No. 4 seed Maria Mateas 6-4, 6-1.

Fourteen-year-old Hailey Baptiste won her first ITF Grade 1 match on Monday and her total is now four after beating reigning USTA 16s champion Nicole Mossmer 3-6, 6-4, 6-1.   She will play No. 2 seed Claire Liu, who has lost just ten games in four matches this week, and reached the semifinals with a 6-1, 6-0 win over unseeded Alana Smith.

"I was trying to be aggressive and to pressure her," said the 16-year-old from California, whose familiarity with Smith's game was formed just this week. "One thing, later in the match, that I was focusing on, was trying to move the ball. I didn't want her in one corner, I wanted to keep her moving and I think that gave me a lot of short balls and let me come into the net."

Last year at this time, Liu was preparing for her final round qualifying match at the US Open, but although she said she'd rather be at the US Open, "results-wise, I don't think I'm doing that well and I totally agree with the wild cards they gave out. I'm not mad about that or anything."

Liu, who lost in the second round (as a seed, it was her first match) at the USTA Nationals in San Diego, sees this tournament as better preparation for the US Open Junior Championships in ten days.

"It's good for me to play this and start winning some matches to get my confidence up for the US Open," said Liu.

Liu is looking forward to playing Baptiste, who, like Liu, is more comfortable at the net than most juniors.

"She hits the ball big, has a big forehand, and she has really good hands," said Liu, who had the opportunity to play Baptiste in doubles Thursday afternoon. "She's really good."

Baptiste, who trains at the Junior Tennis Champions Center, will have her share of fans on the porch veranda that overlooks the show court, but Liu is not worried about that.

"I like playing with the crowd against me," said Liu, who has been playing internationally for more than three years. "It gets me pumped up. It'll be fun, for sure."

The doubles semifinals are set, with one seeded team remaining in the boys draw and two seeded girls teams left.

Liu and partner Sofia Sewing, who are unseeded, will face No. 4 seeds McNally and Natasha Subhash.  Unseeded Victoria Flores and Kate Paulus play No. 8 seed Morgan Coppoc and Victoria Emma in the other semifinal.

Crawford and Patrick Kypson are the only boys seeds left, with the No. 7 seeds taking on Danny Thomas and William Woodall, who beat No. 1 seeds Hossam and Kecmanovic 6-1, 6-3 in this afternoon's quarterfinals.  Sebastian Korda and Nicolas Mejia of Colombia will face Yshai Oliel of Israel and JTCC student Andrew Fenty in the other semifinal.

For complete results and Friday's order of play, see the tournament webpage.

Rain has disrupted the second round of qualifying at the US Open today, but Alexander Sarkissian and Ryan Harrison have moved into the final round of qualifying with wins earlier today. Sarkissian beat Quentin Halys of France 7-6(5), 6-2 and Harrison defeated Joris De Loore of Belgium 7-6(5), 6-4.  Christian Harrison, Noah Rubin, Jared Donaldson, Reilly Opelka and Sekou Bangoura are either still on court or yet to begin.

CiCi Bellis, Kristie Ahn, Asia Muhammad, Jessica Pegula and Taylor Townsend are now just one win away from the main draw, with Usue Arconada and Melanie Oudin interrupted in their second round matches and Jennifer Brady just getting underway as of 7 p.m.

Bellis defeated Grace Min 6-4, 6-0, Ahn took out No. 5 seed Kai-Lin Zhang of China 1-6, 6-4, 6-3, Muhammad beat Cindy Burger of the Netherlands 6-2, 6-2, Pegula downed An-Sophie Mestach of Belgium 6-4 6-3 and Townsend cruised past Olga Savchuk of Ukraine 6-0, 6-2.

For results and Friday's order of play, see the US Open website.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Smith, Baptiste and Mossmer Unseeded Quarterfinalists at ITF Grade 1 International Hard Courts, Crawford Ousts Fourth Seed Popyrin; Arconada Among 21 Americans Advancing to Second Round of US Open Qualifying

©Colette Lewis 2016--
College Park, MD--

Hailey Baptiste knows and likes the fast hard courts at the Junior Tennis Champions Center, having grown up on them. That level of comfort has led to a breakout tournament this week at the Grade 1 International Hard Court Championships, with the 14-year-old reaching the quarterfinals in both singles and doubles.

After defeating No. 14 seed Federica Bilardo of Italy in Tuesday's second round, Baptiste continued to impress, downing unseeded Maria Portillo Ramirez of Mexico 7-5, 6-3 in Wednesday's round of 16.

Baptiste confirmed she is not interested in long rallies from the baseline.

"I attack with my forehand, move my way into the net," Baptiste said. "A lot of first strikes, getting myself to move forward and put the point away at the net."

Baptiste's first ITF tournament was last year's tournament here, where she lost in the opening round as a wild card.

"I just came out here to have fun and I didn't expect to do anything great, because I wasn't very experienced playing international players," Baptiste said. "But the next ITFs I played, lower grades, I started doing better, getting more points and more experience and I feel over the year, I've improved my game by a lot."

Baptiste's results in the two major USTA 16s events this summer--third place at the Clay Courts and fourth place in San Diego--are a testimony to that improvement.

"Winning a lot of matches in a tournament gives you a lot of confidence," Baptiste said. "I had a lot of momentum coming into this tournament and I think was prepared. I knew how I was going to have to play to win matches."

Baptiste's opponent in the quarterfinals is the girl who won the 16s in San Diego, unseeded Nicole Mossmer, who beat unseeded Vlada Koval of Russia 4-6, 6-4, 7-6(1) in two hours and 48 minutes.

The girls bottom half of the draw features four Americans and yet another unseeded player, 16-year-old Alana Smith, who needed three hours to get by No. 11 seed Morgan Coppoc 7-6(5), 1-6, 6-4.

Smith admitted she downed a Red Bull to keep her energy up, but after beating No. 6 seed Malene Helgo of Norway in the first round and 2015 USTA 16s champion Abigail Desiatnikov in the second round, she believed she would find a way to finish on top.

"I went into the match with a lot of confidence, a lot more confidence," said Smith, who moved from Maryland to Florida to train with Bill Adams at the beginning of the year. "I didn't let myself get in my head. Usually I get in my head a lot and end up not closing out matches. But this is the best run I've ever had."

Smith will play No. 2 seed Claire Liu, who had a bit of trouble closing out No. 16 seed Siqi Cao of China up 6-1, 5-1, but took her third straight win with by a 6-1, 6-4 score.

The top half is all seeded players, with No. 1 Anastasia Potapova of Russia facing No. 10 seed Caty McNally, who beat, by 6-2, 6-1 scores, McCartney Kessler and Elysia Bolton respectively.  Potapova and McNally haven't met in ITF junior play, but two years ago they played in the Eddie Herr 14s final and the Junior Orange Bowl quarterfinals, with Potapova winning both matches in three sets.

The other girls quarterfinal features No. 4 seed Maria Mateas and No. 7 seed Xiyu Wang of China.  Wang defeated unseeded Sabina Dadaciu 7-5, 6-4 and Mateas took out Layne Sleeth of Canada 6-4, 6-4.

The boys quarterfinals feature three Americans, with No. 7 seed Sam Riffice, No. 12 seed Gianni Ross and No. 16 seed Oliver Crawford advancing with victories today.  Riffice beat unseeded Alexandre Rotsaert 6-3, 6-2 and Ross defeated unseeded Nicolas Mejia of Colombia 7-5, 6-1.  Ross will play top seed Genaro Olivieri of Argentina, who took out unseeded Adam Neff 6-2, 6-2.

Crawford advanced with a 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 victory over No. 4 seed Alexei Popyrin of Australia, avenging a loss to Popyrin on clay at the Grade 1 in Italy back in May.

Crawford likes playing big servers and the 6-foot-4 Popyrin certainly qualifies.

"He played really well break point down," said Crawford. "He saved four break points in his second service game (in the third set) and three of those were aces. But I felt if I kept in it, a few more break points would come my way and it did in the 2-3 game, and I was able to consolidate. I definitely enjoy playing big servers; I feel it's more fun to return big serves and you do get a few free points when you have some lucky returns."

With his win, Crawford will likely receive the US Open Junior Championships wild card that is being awarded after the results from this week's tournament, as he is the only US player in the quarterfinals who is not in the main draw in New York.

"I saw on your post that the best player here gets the wild card and I'm the only one who got this far, but it's not guaranteed," Crawford said. "I'm told I have a good chance of getting it, but I'm going to keep playing tennis, not to worry too much about it."

Crawford recently announced he has verbally committed to Florida, although he has yet to visit the Gainesville campus.

"People have said it's kind of a funny decision, but I know that Florida's the school," said the 17-year-old from South Carolina, who is a rising senior. "I really like the coaching staff. I don't think you can get a better coaching staff in college tennis, and I like the guys on the team. The location's very good, and I'll also be near Orlando. There's a lot of plusses going to Florida."

Crawford's quarterfinal opponent is No. 10 seed Yshai Oliel of Israel, who defeated No. 6 seed Chien Hsun Lo of Taiwan 6-2, 6-4.  Crawford and Oliel met in the final round of qualifying at this year's French Open, with Oliel winning in three sets.

Riffice will play No. 3 seed Youssef Hossam of Egypt, who beat unseeded Patrick Kypson 7-5, 6-2. The fourth boys quarterfinal has No. 2 seed Miomir Kecmanovic of Serbia against No. 9 seed Khumoyun Sultonov of Uzbekistan.  Kecmanovic defeated No. 14 seed Trent Bryde 6-2, 7-6(4) and Sultonov outlasted No. 8 seed Juan Carolos Aguilar of Bolivia 4-6, 6-1, 6-2.  Sultonov beat Kecmanovic at the Grade 1 in Roehampton earlier this summer.

In doubles, Baptiste ended her banner day by teaming with Lea Ma to beat top seeds Potapova and Koval 7-6(1), 7-5.  Only three seeded teams remain in the girls quarterfinals, with No. 4 seeds McNally and Natasha Subhash the highest seeds left.

No. 2 boys seeds Olivieri and Aguilar also were eliminated, losing to Oliel and Andrew Fenty 6-3, 6-1.

Complete results and Thursday's order of play can be found at the tournament web page.

The first round of men's and women's US Open qualifying was completed today, with 12 US players joining the nine that advanced with wins on Tuesday.

Usue Arconada, who received a last-minute wild card, earned her first slam victory with a 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 decision over Ya-Hsuan Lee of Taiwan. Another 17-year-old, CiCi Bellis, advanced with a 6-0, 6-2 win over Lina Gjorcheska of Macedonia. Grace Min beat Julia Boserup 6-4, 6-2; Taylor Townsend downed Elizaveta Kulichkova of Russia 6-4, 6-4; Jennifer Brady overcame Anastasia Pivovarova of Russia 1-6, 6-3, 7-6(5) and Melanie Oudin beat Caroline Dolehide 6-4, 6-3 in an all-US wild card battle.

US men who advanced to the second round included four wild cards: Ryan Shane, a 2-6, 6-4, 6-1 winner over Kimmer Coppejans of Belgium; Reilly Opelka, who beat Edouard Roger-Vasselin of France 3-6, 6-4, 6-3; Sekou Bangoura, who defeated Gonzalo Lama of Chile 6-2, 6-1 and Christian Harrison who got by Luke Saville of Australia 4-6, 6-0, 7-5.

Noah Rubin won when Yan Bai of China retired trailing 3-0, and Jared Donaldson advanced with a 6-3, 6-4 win over Eduardo Struvay of Colombia.

All 21 Americans will play their second round matches on Thursday. The men's draw is here, the women's draw is here.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Mejia Ousts No. 5 Seed Molleker, Portillo Ramirez Defeats No. 3 Seed Minca at Grade 1 International Hard Courts; Anisimova Among Americans Advancing at US Open Qualifying

©Colette Lewis 2016--
College Park, MD--

The perfect weather conditions continued for Tuesday's second round of the ITF Grade 1 International Hard Court Championships, and so did the exit of seeds in the girls draw, with four more losing after five had been eliminated in Monday's first round.

The highest seed to fall, No. 3 seed Ioana Minca of Romania, couldn't hold off the charge of Maria Portillo Ramirez of Mexico, who took the match 4-6, 6-0, 6-2.

"The first set was tough and I had many opportunities to maybe get that set, but I just kept fighting and believing," said the 17-year-old, who trains with her coach Michael Castillo in San Antonio, Texas  "She's really consistent and can move the ball really well, so you have to be really active and really explosive with your footwork, especially. She's really aggressive so it's important to take control of the point as much as you can."

Portillo Ramirez said the hard work she's been putting into her fitness and footwork the past two months is starting to show in her results. And the strength she's gained is adding another facet to her game.

"My serve really helped me today," said Portillo Ramirez, who is also playing the Grade 1 in Canada next week and the US Open junior qualifying. "I got a lot of free points from it, plus my footwork was a key."

Portillo Ramirez will face another unseeded player, 14-year-old Junior Tennis Champions Center student Hailey Baptiste, who defeated No. 14 seed Federica Bilardo of Italy 6-1, 7-6(3).

USTA National 16s champion Nicole Mossmer took out No. 5 seed Wushuang Zheng of China 6-3, 6-1 at the University of Maryland site and Canadian Layne Sleeth defeated No. 13 seed I-Hsuan Cho of Taiwan 6-7(5), 7-6(6) 1-0 retired, with Cho suffering from cramps and unable to continue.

Only one seed lost in boys action on Tuesday, with No. 5 Rudolf Molleker of Germany falling to Nicolas Mejia of Colombia 6-4, 6-4.

Mejia was prepared for a difficult match, remembering his 1-6, 7-6(0), 6-4 win over Molleker in the Junior Orange Bowl 12s quarterfinals back in 2012.

"We've known each other since we were really young," said Mejia, who is now training at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. "We had a really long match in the Orange Bowl, and I knew it was going to be a really tough match today, but I was able to handle it the correct way. That's one of the matches I remember my whole life, because it was so long and it was a really good match."

Mejia, whose older sister Gabriela played for the University of Miami from 2008-2012, credited his serve as a key to his win.

"I think I served well on the break points, and in the second set I was hitting really good first serves," said Mejia, who won two Grade 4s in Florida back in May and a Grade 4 in Colombia earlier this month. "I was going through the court really well, changing the direction of the ball really well, so I think I played one of my best matches, yesterday and today.  Those are the two best matches I've played in a really long time."

Mejia will face No. 4 seed Alexi Popyrin of Australia on Wednesday.

The comeback of the day goes to No. 7 seed Sam Riffice, who trailed Alexander Donski of Bulgaria 4-1 in the third set, with Donski serving, but came back to post a 6-7(9), 6-3, 7-5 victory in three hours and 10 minutes.  Riffice will play unseeded Alexandre Rotsaert next, after Rotsaert advanced when Austen Huang retired trailing 6-2, 3-0.

Top seeds Genaro Olivieri of Argentina and Anastasia Potapova of Russia had their hands full today, but both escaped with two-set victories.  Olivieri needed over two hours to get past Karl Friberg of Sweden 6-4, 7-5 and Potapova took out unseeded 13-year-old wild card Alexa Noel 7-6(4), 6-4. Noel, who trains at the JTCC, kept the world's top junior guessing with her slicing and variety, but Potapova's habit of winning, even when not playing her best, surfaced when she needed it.  She will play qualifier McCartney Kessler, who beat Malkia Menguene 5-7, 6-3, 6-2.

The No. 2 seeds had much less difficulty advancing with Claire Liu beating Katya Townsend 6-0, 6-0 and Miomir Kecmanovic of Serbia taking out Kyrylo Tsygura 6-1, 6-1.

The first round of doubles saw one major upset, with No. 2 seeds Maria Carle of Argentina and Zheng losing to Victoria Flores and Kate Paulus 6-4, 7-6(5).

For complete draws and Wednesday's order of play, see the tournament webpage.

Sixteen Americans were in action on the first day of US Open qualifying, with five men and four women advancing to the second round.  Kristie Ahn defeated wild card Francesca Di Lorenzo 1-6, 6-3, 6-4 in the only all-US battle Tuesday.  Asia Muhammad defeated Sofia Shapatava of Georgia 6-4, 6-4, No. 28 seed Jessica Pegula downed Nigina Abduraimova of Uzbekistan 6-1, 7-6(6) and 14-year-old wild card Amanda Anisimova eliminated No. 17 seed Veronica Cepede Royg of Paraguay 6-3, 6-4.  The US men advancing to the second round are No. 13 seed Dennis Novikov, who beat Federico Gaio of Italy 7-6(8), 5-7, 6-2; No. 10 seed Tim Smyczek who defeated Alexander Kudryavtsev of Russia 6-3, 6-4; No. 11 seed Ryan Harrison who got by Cedrik-Marcel Stebe of Germany 7-6(1), 6-3; Alexander Sarkissian, who beat Gregoire Barrere of France 6-4, 6-2 and Mitchell Krueger, who outlasted Nikola Milojevic of Serbia 6-1, 3-6, 6-3.

The following 22 US players take the courts for their first round matches Wednesday:

Christian Harrison (wild card)
Austin Krajicek(23)
Noah Rubin
Stefan Kozlov
Tommy Paul
Daniel Nguyen
Ryan Shane (wild card)
Jared Donaldson(14)
Reilly Opelka (wild card)
Sekou Bangoura (wild card)

Sachia Vickery
Usue Arconada (wild card)
Jamie Loeb
CiCi Bellis
Grace Min
Julia Boserup(21)
Taylor Townsend
Jennifer Brady(18)
Caroline Dolehide (wild card)
Melanie Oudin (wild card)
Nicole Frenkel (wild card)
Sophie Chang (wild card)

The women's draws are here, the men's draws are here.

US Open Junior Championships Wild Cards

I received this list of the US Open Junior Championships wild cards today from the USTA, although with late withdrawals, some may not be needed and go to other candidates. The tournament begins on Sunday, September 4, 2016.

Main Draw:
Trent Bryde
Zeke Clark
Lukas Greif
Vasil Kirkov
Sebastian Korda
Gianni Ross
(One reserved following College Park)
French reciprocal – Corentin Moutet

Alafia Ayeni
Jenson Brooksby
Patrick Kypson
Alexandre Rotsaert
(One reserved following College Park)
Japanese HS champion Yuta Kikuchi

Main Draw:
Carson Branstine
Nicole Frenkel
Ann Li
Nicole Mossmer
Whitney Osuigwe
Caroline Dolehide
(2 reserved following Int’l Hard Courts)

Vanessa Ong
Alexa Noel
Katie Volynets
(2 reserved following Int’l Hard Courts)

Japanese HS champion Eri Shimizu