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Sunday, December 10, 2017

Osuigwe Claims Orange Bowl Title to End Stellar 2017; France's Gaston Wins Boys Championship

©Colette Lewis 2017--
Plantation, FL--

When Whitney Osuigwe won her 62nd ITF Junior Circuit match of 2017 Sunday with a 6-1, 6-2 win over Margaryta Bilokin in the Grade A Orange Bowl final, her celebration was muted.  The 15-year-old from Bradenton Florida had long since clinched the title of ITF World Junior Champion, and after winning the Eddie Herr singles and doubles title last week, an off-season, even a brief one, was an enticing prospect.

"I'm going to take a couple of days, maybe 10 days off," said the top-seeded Osuigwe, who lost only nine matches in 2017 ITF Junior competition. "And then I'm going to start my preseason."

A year ago, just two years removed from her Junior Orange Bowl 12s title, Osuigwe reached the semifinals of the ITF Grade A Orange Bowl, kick-starting a run that saw her ITF ranking go from 111 at the end of last year all the way to No. 1.

"I had a couple of good wins and got a lot of confidence back," said  Osuigwe, who picked up a victory over Marta Kostyuk of Ukraine, who went on to win the Australian Open girls title the following month. "After that, I did preseason, I got better, obviously stronger. I worked on my serve, movement, everything."

The conditions for Sunday's final at the Veltri Tennis Center were decidedly not tropical, with temperatures in the 50s and winds in the 10-15 mph range, although the clear skies were a pleasant change from the drizzle and low clouds of Saturday evening.

Osuigwe, the reigning French Open girls champion, had gotten off to a slow start in her semifinal win over No. 9 seed Joanna Garland of Taiwan, trailing 5-2 in the first set before recovering to post a 7-6(5), 6-2 victory, so she was determined to avoid a similar mistake Sunday morning.

"It was pretty cold today, so I had a good long warmup today so I could get used to it," said Osuigwe, who prefers the more typical Florida heat to what she faced during the weekend. "Today was super windy, and I think I dealt with it better than she did."

Neither player showed signs of nerves in the opening three games, all of which went to deuce, but Osuigwe prevailed in each one.

"I had a lot of game points the first three games," said Bilokin, a 16-year-old from Ukraine. "I was actually playing well and then after that, I feel I lost a little bit of confidence towards the end of the first set. She was playing well, she was going for her shots."

Bilokin, who was playing in her first Grade A final, having gotten her first win at a Grade A this week, recognized the value of Osuigwe's experience in playing big points.

"That's why she's world No. 1," said Bilokin, who, like Osuigwe, trains at the IMG Academy in Bradenton. "Because those points, when it's deuce, on critical important points, she plays really well. That's why she's No. 1, that's why she won the tournament, that's why she's been doing well lately. I feel I stayed in the points, kept up with her pace pretty well, but probably the mental aspect of the game, those game points, were very critical."

Bilokin, who has committed to Duke for 2019 and said her result this week doesn't impact that decision, dropped the opening game of the second set. When she was unable to convert a break point in Osuigwe's service game, a win for the ITF No. 1 began to feel inevitable.

A second break in a deuce game gave Osuigwe a 4-1 lead, and although Bilokin held to force Osuigwe to serve it out, Osuigwe was able to finish her year and her Orange Bowl career by converting her third match point.

"I'm really happy," said Osuigwe, who is coached by her father Desmond. "I've always done pretty well here, getting to the semis last year and winning the time I played before that. I was really excited to win this tournament and finish off my junior career.  Maybe this is my last junior match, I don't know, but to finish off my junior career like this, that's amazing."

Osuigwe, the first girl to win the Eddie Herr and Orange Bowl titles in the same year since Ana Konjuh of Croatia did it in 2012, will start 2018 on the USTA Pro Circuit at the $25,000 events in Florida next month, and is already looking forward to making her WTA debut at the Miami Open in March.  But before she begins building her WTA ranking, she has a more pressing teenage concern: car shopping in advance of her 16th birthday in April.

Hugo Gaston of France, the No. 11 seed, and unseeded Dostanbek Tashbulatov of Kazakhstan had both reached the final after grueling semifinal wins on Saturday. Gaston needed over three hours to get past top seed Timofey Skatov of Russia 7-6(5), 6-7(6), 7-5, while Tashbulatov had beaten unseeded Daniel Michalski of Poland 6-3, 1-6, 6-4, after also going three sets in his third round and quarterfinal victories.  There would not be a fourth straight marathon victory for Tashbulatov, who fell to Gaston 6-2, 6-3.

When your legs are gone from three consecutive fatigue-inducing matches, Gaston is not the opponent you want to see across the net. The ultra quick left-hander has one of the most devastating drop shots on the ITF Junior Circuit and he used it to physically and mentally exhaust Tashbulatov.

"I just played how I can, but it was too tough, I couldn't move," said the 17-year-old Tashbulatov, who was playing in his first ITF Grade A tournament this week. "I wanted to play another, better game in the final, that's why I'm a little bit disappointed. He has one of the best drop shots and today, I wasn't fast."

Both sets started similarly, with each player getting a hold, then Tashbulatov getting broken.  In the second set, Gaston was down 15-40 serving at 2-1, but Tashbulatov could not convert either of those two break points, one of which Gaston saved with an untouchable drop shot.

Tashbulatov held his next two service games to make it 4-3, but Gaston, who didn't drop serve in the match, held for 5-3 and a weary Tashbulatov was broken at love to end it.

Gaston, the first boys champion from France since Gianni Mina in 2009, was able to fight off the fatigue by concentrating on the finish line.

"I'm a little tired," admitted the 17-year-old from Toulouse, who was playing in his first Grade A final. "But it's my last match of the year, so I said, we don't care, go."

Gaston admits that he enjoys having such an effective weapon in his drop shot.

"Yeah, I love this shot," said Gaston. "The backhand too, but the drop shot, yeah, I love it."

Gaston, who lost in the first round of the Eddie Herr last week, said he didn't expect to win the tournament, with his previous best ITF Junior Circuit result the final of a Grade 1 this summer.

"But I think I play good tournament," said Gaston, who had collected one win in his four previous Grade A tournaments. "I won a Grade A, so I am very happy, and maybe this is not the last one. I hope I win some, in grand slams."

Both players are taking some time off, with Tashbulatov doing his preseason training in nearby Delray Beach, while Gaston heads back to France, with both planning to play the Australian Open Junior Championships in January.

The boys doubles title went to the Czech team of Tomas Machac and Ondrej Styler.  The No. 2 seeds defeated top seeds Nicolas Mejia of Colombia and Uisung Park of Korea 6-4, 6-4.

"We've played together just a few times, but I think we're a good pair," Styler said. "He proved it this tournament, so I think we'll keep playing together."

"He has a better forehand and I have a better backhand," Machac said, when asked why they proved to be such a good team this week. "He has a good serve, I have a good return. It's perfect."

Machac and Styler, both 17, were taken to a match tiebreaker just once, in their quarterfinal win over Andrew Fenty and William Woodall, yet even a straight-sets victory over the top seeds wasn't overly impressive to Styler.

"I think we played good, nothing unreal special, but it was a good performance," said Styler. "We adapt well to the weather and played good in the windy conditions. We are happy to win this event."

The 71st Orange Bowl closed with the girls doubles final, won by Joanna Garland of Taiwan and Naho Sato of Japan.  The No. 2 seeds defeated No. 4 seeds Yasmine Mansouri and Yuki Naito of Japan 6-4, 6-3, winning three of the four deciding deuce points in the second set.

Although Garland and Sato were playing together for the first time, they had already formed the bond they needed.

"She's my best friend," said Sato, 16, who reached the Eddie Herr doubles final with Thailand's Thasaporn Naklo. "We had to enjoy. We keep communicating, keep the chemistry going."

"We were good friends before," said Garland, also 16, on how they got together for this event. "We knew today would be a tough one, and we were prepared for it. Yesterday was a bit shaky (a 6-4, 1-6 11-9 win over Selma Cadar of Romania and Himari Sato of Japan), but we relaxed. I think the chemistry got better throughout the week. We played well; they might have been a bit nervous, but we thought our tactics through."

For complete draws, see the USTA's tournament page.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Osuigwe and Bilokin Advance to Girls Orange Bowl Final; Gaston and Tashbulatov to Meet for Boys Title; Saar and Ionel Win 16s Championships

©Colette Lewis 2017--
Plantation, FL--

Top seed Whitney Osuigwe and unseeded Margaryta Bilokin will meet Sunday for the ITF Grade A Orange Bowl title, after claiming victories Saturday in contrasting fashion.

After a five hour rain delay, the schedule was revised and Osuigwe was still under the impression that her match with No. 9 seed Joanna Garland of Taiwan was second on after the 3 p.m. start time. It showed in her game, as she fell behind 5-2, with Garland twice failing to serve out the first set.

"I didn't even get a warmup," said Osuigwe, who went on to post a 7-6(5), 6-2 victory. "I ran for about five minutes. They gave us a longer warmup in the beginning so that helped. But the same conditions I had, she had as well. She told me she only got to hit for five minutes."

Osuigwe looked out of sorts and off her game, but she managed to find a way to get back in the first set.

"I wasn't really playing good tennis," said the 15-year-old from Bradenton Florida, who was facing Garland for the first time. "I started hitting some higher balls, getting more balls in the court and she started missing a couple. I think that took her confidence down and I got a couple of loose points and was able to come back."

Unlike Osuigwe, who will play in her fourth Grade A final Sunday, Bilokin had never won a match in a Grade A until this week, having played in just two.  The 16-year-old Ukrainian's run started with an impressive 6-3, 6-0 win over No. 3 seed Elysia Bolton and also beat No. 15 seed Sada Nahimana of Burundi and No. 5 seed Naho Sato of Japan to reach the semifinals.

"That gave me confidence," Bilokin said of her first round win, "and in the second round I played a girl [Clara Tauson], who I lost to last week at Eddie Herr and I had motivation to beat her and get revenge. But definitely that first match was a confidence booster."

In her 6-1, 6-1 win over wild card Chloe Beck Saturday, Bilokin said she maintained her concentration despite knowing what was on the line.

"I can't say she wasn't playing well," said Bilokin, who has committed to Duke for 2019. "I mean I was very focused and I tried to play every single point like it was my last point. I feel like I played really well, didn't let her play her game, let her step in. We had some long games, but I think those were because I was playing a little shorter, pushing, instead of being aggressive and keeping the ball deep and attacking."

Bilokin, who trains at IMG Academy said she doesn't practice with Osuigwe, who also trains there, but notes that they have played twice  in the past four months, with Osuigwe winning in the first round of the US Open and in the semifinals in at the Pan American Closed, both in straight sets.

"I'm definitely looking forward to that match," said Bilokin. "The finals of Orange Bowl, big stage, I'm definitely looking forward to that."

"She's been playing good this last half of the year," Osuigwe said. "I'm around her a lot, she trains at IMG, and it's always a good match against her so I'm excited."

The boys final Sunday will feature No. 11 seed Hugo Gaston of France and unseeded Dostanbek Tashbulatov of Kazakhstan after both posted tough semifinal victories Saturday.

Gaston defeated top seed Timofey Skatov of Russia 7-6(5), 6-7(6), 7-5 in a match that lasted more than three hours.  Gaston had a chance to close out Skatov in the second set tiebreaker, serving at 6-5, but he netted a forehand and needed to grind out another set.  At 5-all in the third, Skatov played a loose service game, giving Gaston, a 17-year-old left-hander, an opportunity to serve out the match.  Up 40-0, Gaston saw two match points slip away, but he converted on the third when Skatov netted a forehand.

Gaston had earned only one win in four Grade As this year before this week, but he has much more experience than Tashbulatov, who is playing in his first Grade A period, having never cracked the ITF Junior Top 100.

A 6-3, 1-6, 6-4 win over unseeded Daniel Michalski of Poland today was Tashbulatov's third straight marathon match, a run that he admitted was beginning to wear on him.

"It was a very tough match because one day before and yesterday I played three and a half hours," said the slightly built 17-year-old, who took out Americans Brandon Nakashima and Govind Nanda in those two matches. "It was very tough and physical for me. And also my emotions, was unbelievable. My first time in a Grade A, it was so scary."

Tashbulatov, who lost in the second round of the Eddie Herr last week, said he is playing more aggressively and fearlessly this week.

"When I am not scared, I think I can beat anyone."

The weather is expected to be sunny and cool for the 10 a.m. start on Sunday, with the girls final to be followed by the boys final.

The doubles finals are set after two semifinals this evening. The top two seeds will meet for the boys title, with No. 1 Nicolas Meija of Colombia and Uisung Park of Korea playing No. 2 seeds Tomas Machac and Ondrej Styler of the Czech Republic.  The girls doubles final will feature No. 4 seeds Yasmine Mansouri of France and Yuki Naito of Japan against No. 2 seeds Garland and Naho Sato of Japan.

The 16s champions were crowned on Saturday, just in time for girls winner Katriin Saar, who had a flight back to Estonia on Saturday night.

No. 13 seed Saar eased that time pressure by defeating unseeded Fiona Crawley 6-3, 6-3, returning home from her first trip to the United States with the winner's crystal bowl of oranges.

"I'm shaking. To win the Orange Bowl, that's an amazing feeling," said the 15-year-old, who didn't lose a set all week. "To end the year here, on such a high note."

Saar got the first break of the match with Crawley serving at 2-3, but gave the break right back.  She took advantage of a Crawley double fault on game point to earn a 5-3 lead and was able to close out the first set, although both players admitted to having difficulty controlling their nerves in the opening games.

"It's the finals, of course I'm nervous," said Saar, who gradually eliminated the unforced errors from her game and pressured Crawley with her pace and depth throughout the second set.

"I was really nervous, but you've got to let that go," said Crawley, a 15-year-old from San Antonio Texas. "After the first couple of games, I kind of adjusted and figured out her game a little. She hits it really hard and deep. I had never played her and that's part of why I was nervous, because it's scary playing someone you've never known before.  I get nervous every single match, and especially in an Orange Bowl final."

Crawley held to open the second set, but Saar reeled off four straight games to take a 4-1 lead.  Crawley fought back to make it 4-3, but those two games served as a wakeup call for Saar.

"I just had to focus," said Saar, who credited her serve as a key factor in her ability to control points. "At 4-1, I thought that I was going to win, so I was not concentrating enough. But at 4-3, I was like, get it together, finish the game."

Saar held at love, finishing the game with an ace, and broke Crawley to claim the title.

"She was an excellent player and she played very well today," said Crawley, who will play the 18s in the upcoming USTA Winter Nationals later this month. "She was definitely more solid all around than anybody I think I played this tournament."

Asked if she had any expectations that she would leave Florida as the Orange Bowl champion, Saar replied, "well, I didn't come here to lose."

Saar will concentrate on ITF events in 2018, hoping to follow in the footsteps of fellow Estonian Anett Kontaveit, now WTA No. 34, who won the Orange Bowl Grade A title in 2011.

As darkness began to descend on the Veltri Tennis Center, the cool wind and occasional drizzle made for a dreary start to the boys final, especially for champion Nicholas David Ionel.  Facing fellow Romanian and top seed Nini Dica, Ionel dropped the first set 6-0 in less than 20 minutes.

"The conditions were very bad," said the 15-year-old, who eventually posted a 0-6, 7-5, 6-2 victory. "It was pretty cold and I was not really warmed up. At the beginning of the set, he started really well."

Ionel said he was determined to stay positive, despite having suffered a 6-0, 6-1 loss to Dica in the Romanian National 16s championships.

"I just tried to stay focused and come back," Ionel said.

Dica held to open the second set, only to see Ionel take the next three games. Dica got the break back to make it 3-3 and both players held to 5-all.  Ionel then got the break he needed and with the help of a deft offensive lob and a forehand winner, he closed out the set.

"I started not missing so much," said Ionel, who trains at the IMG Academy. "I hit consistent and heavy balls. First set I tried to make more winners and I missed."

Ionel opened the third set with a break and sealed the win with another break to take a 4-1 lead, and closed out the match with an easy hold at 5-2.

A finalist at last week's Eddie Herr Championships, Ionel was happy to get the winner's trophy this time.

"It's a very important tournament and I hope this will help me in the future," said Ionel, who plans to play only ITF tournaments now, starting with the big Brazil tournaments in February. "I have a lot of confidence right now."

Friday, December 8, 2017

Top Seed Osuigwe, Wild Card Beck Advance to Orange Bowl Semifinals; Crawley Reaches 16s Final; American Teams Claim 16s Doubles Titles

©Colette Lewis 2017--
Plantation, FL--

American girls will be carrying the home country's banner into the weekend at the Orange Bowl, with Whitney Osuigwe and Chloe Beck reaching the 18s singles semifinals and Fiona Crawley advancing to the 16s championship match.

Osuigwe, who was officially named ITF World Junior girls champion for 2017, was tested by unseeded Vanessa Ong in Friday's quarterfinal at the Veltri Tennis Center, but was able to get past her fellow 15-year-old 5-7, 6-4, 6-2.

Osuigwe said her poor start and Ong's level combined to make the match a difficult one.

"I think she played really well, but the first four games of the match for me, I played pretty careless tennis," said Osuigwe, who also needed three sets to defeat Ong when they played last year. "So I think that really gave her the confidence for the rest of the match. But overall, she played pretty good tennis, and I stepped up my game."

Osuigwe reasserted herself in the second set, going up 5-1, but Ong fought back, saving four set points, three at 3-5 and another with Osuigwe serving at 5-4.  But at 40-30, Osuigwe finally evened the match by cracking a forehand winner.

Ong had some difficulty with double faults at key moments in the match, and she was broken in the first game with a double fault on a game point and again, after pulling even at 2-2, double faulting twice from 15-30 to give Osuigwe the lead back. Osuigwe held and broke again, converting her second match point with a backhand winner to seal her second consecutive appearance in the Orange Bowl semifinals.

Osuigwe said the pressure she put on Ong's second serve was a factor in the double faults.

"I've always had pretty good returns," Osuigwe said. "I think today she really respected my return so she tried to do a little bit too much with her serve."

Osuigwe will face No. 9 seed Joanna Garland of Taiwan Sunday, after Garland defeated unseeded wild card Abigail Forbes 6-0, 3-6, 6-2.

The other girls semifinal will feature two unseeded players in Margaryta Bilokin of Ukraine and Chloe Beck.  Duke recruit Bilokin took out No. 5 seed Naho Sato 3-6, 7-5, 6-4, while wild card Beck came from 4-1 down in the second set to eliminate No. 6 seed Nika Radisic of Slovenia 6-4, 7-5.

Beck said help she has gotten from USTA Mental Skills Specialist Larry Lauer is partly responsible for her surge.

"I was having issues with emotional control and I had really bad nerves," said the 16-year-old from Watkinsville Georgia. "I would get mad, just belittle myself during the match. I met with Larry Lauer down in Orlando right before I came here and I told him everything that was going on and I think that helped a lot. I've been able to keep my emotions in check better than I ever have and not get nervous. I didn't feel nervous at all."

That composure came in handy when she was down 4-1 40-0 in the second set.

"She had a couple points to go up 5-1," Beck said. "To be honest, I didn't really think about it. I was just trying to play every point the same and not look at it any differently."

Beck had not played Radisic before and had gotten contradictory scouting reports.

"I heard a bunch of different things," Beck said. "Some people said she attacks and slaps and some people said she has good loop balls. But she did a mix of both. She had a nice deep spin ball and would wait until she had a good ball to smash down my throat. She was very solid. I do little things to try to make my opponents mad, but I'm just trying to roll balls deep and stay in the point, not go for something too big early in the point."

Beck's breakout this week is something of a surprise to her.

"You want to win every tournament, but I definitely didn't think that I'd be here," Beck said.

Bilokin and Beck have played three times in the past two years, with the Ukrainian taking all three matches in straight sets.

Both US boys in the quarterfinals were defeated Friday. Wild card Tyler Zink lost to No. 11 seed Hugo Gaston of France 6-1, 6-1  and Govind Nanda was beaten by unseeded Dostanbek Taashbulatov of Kazakhstan 7-6(6), 6-7(2), 6-1.  Gaston will face top seed Timofey Skatov of Russia, a 6-4, 6-3 winner over unseeded Admir Kalender of Croatia and Tashbulatov will play unseeded Daniel Michalski of Poland, who beat No. 15 seed George Loffhagen of Great Britain 3-6, 6-4, 6-1.

The girls 16s final will feature No. 13 seed Katriin Saar of Estonia and unseeded Texan Fiona Crawley. Saar prevented an all-US final with a 6-3, 6-1 win over unseeded Jaedan Brown, while Crawley took out top seed Andreea Velcea of Romania 6-2, 6-3.

Crawley was aware that Velcea had been on the court for a long time in her quarterfinal win over Katrina Scott on Thursday.

"She played a three-and-a-half-hour three-setter yesterday, so I'm sure she was tired," said the 15-year-old from San Antonio Texas. "I played three sets too, but mine wasn't as long as hers. I had already finished mine and she was still in her second set."

Velcea, 16, took a medical timeout trailing 2-1 in the second set, and emerged from that with a significant wrap on her left thigh. But it was Crawley who suffered in the next game, dropping her serve with a double fault on break point, yet she didn't let it bother her.

"That always kind of throws you off, when they have that break and you have to go back out," said Crawley, who trains several times a week at the John Newcombe Tennis Ranch in New Braunfels Texas. "At least it threw me off a little."

Although she is from Texas, where she doesn't have an opportunity to train on the surface, Crawley, who won the 16s USTA Clay Courts this year in Virginia Beach, loves clay. She said it reminds her of the surface she grew up playing on in Japan, where her father was stationed in the Air Force.

"They only have omnicourt, so it's pretty similar to clay," said Crawley who was there from age 6-9. "It's like turf grass with sand, so you can slide on it. It's kind of different, they don't have it in America."

Crawley, who has played in only one ITF event in her junior career, said playing in the Orange Bowl final is special for her.

"I've been in a national final, but never an international final," said Crawley, who has beaten players from Estonia, Slovenia, Korea and Romania this week. "So yeah, it's exciting."

The 16s doubles finals were played Friday, with two American teams claiming the winner's Tiffany bowl of oranges.

Unseeded Eliot Spizzirri and Spencer Whitaker defeated Georgi Mavrodiev and Scott Sculley, also unseeded, 5-7, 6-3, 10-5 in the all-American boys final.

Spizzirri and Whitaker may not have been seeded, but the pair has now won two prestigious "Bowls" this year.

"Easter Bowl was our first one [together] and we won it, so we were like wow, we should probably play more," said Spizzirri, who went on to reach the Clay Court quarterfinals and the Kalamazoo semifinals this year with Whitaker.

This week, the pair had not dropped a set until the final, but that did not shake their confidence on Friday.

"We were pretty mad because we thought we should have won the first set," said Spizzirri, who turns 16 later this month. "We were playing, I think, better doubles, and it kind of slipped away at the end, but we were confident that our game would overall be better and in the next set we just kept on going."

"In the second half of the first set was definitely all four of us serving pretty big, so each one of our service games was pretty one-sided," the 16-year-old Whitaker said. "It just so happened that that last game slipped away and we knew we had that extra level that we can go to, if we really feel it."

Unlike the boys champions, girls winners Kylie Collins and Kacie Harvey had never played together before this week, but the No. 2 seeds defeated Briana Crowley and Puerto Rico's Maria Aguiar 6-3, 6-1 to close out a successful debut.

"At the beginning of the week, it was not like shaky, but we were still figuring some things out," said Collins, who turned 15 this week. "Kacie told me she's really confident in her tiebreakers, so that was really nice and I think we played really well. We communicated and moved well on court together."

"I like the match tiebreaks," the 16-year-old Harvey said, with two wins this week in those third sets in the quarterfinals and semifinals. "It's like all in and I like that feeling, giving it everything and you win or lose. It feels good to win, especially with Kylie. She's a great partner and for the first time playing together, I think we played really well together."

Both Collins and Harvey said the final was their best performance of the week.

"We stayed focused when we were up," said Collins. "In the past matches we had lost a 2-0 lead a lot, but today we stayed on top of it. We made sure we're up at the net, putting it away up there."

The weather forecast is dire for Saturday, so tournament officials decided to ask players in 18s doubles if they would be interested in playing their semifinal matches this evening.  Two semifinals were played, with No. 2 seeds Tomas Machac and Ondrej Styler of the Czech Republic reaching the final with a 6-3, 6-1 win over wild cards Brandon Nakashima and Emilio Nava.

In the girls semifinal match that was played, top seeds and Eddie Herr champions Osuigwe and Caty McNally were beaten by No. 4 seeds Yasmine Mansouri of France and Yuki Naito of Japan 6-4, 0-6, 10-6.

See the tournament website for Saturday's order of play, link to live scoring and complete draws.

My Eddie Herr International Recap

Before play begins today at the Orange Bowl, with the 16s singles semifinals and doubles finals and the 18s quarterfinals in singles and doubles, it's time to wrap up last week's Eddie Herr championships. My Tennis Recruiting Network recap of the five championships won by Americans is available now; photos of the semifinalists and videos of the finalists will be posted at a later date, when I have an opportunity to process them.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Top Seeds, Three Wild Cards Advance to Orange Bowl Quarterfinals; Crawley and Brown Reach Semifinals in 16s Division

©Colette Lewis 2017--
Plantation, FL--

No. 1 seeds Whitney Osuigwe and Timofey Skatov have been solid at the top of the Orange Bowl draws, but it's been chaos below them, with only four seeded girls and three seeded boys advancing to the quarterfinals of the last ITF Grade A of 2017.

Osuigwe earned a 6-0, 6-2 victory over No. 16 seed Yasmine Mansouri of France, whom she had beaten last week in the Eddie Herr semifinals, while Skatov of Russia also dropped only two games, defeating Jonas Forejtek of the Czech Republic 6-2, 6-0. Skatov will play unseeded Admir Kalender of Croatia, who ended the run of qualifier Sumit Sarkar with a 6-4, 6-7(3), 6-4 win.

Three wild cards have advanced to the quarterfinals, including 16-year-old Tyler Zink, who defeated No. 14 seed Aidan McHugh of Great Britain 6-3, 6-4.

Zink, who has yet to drop a set this week, said his commitment to moving forward has paid off.

"He was kind of struggling when I would be more aggressive and come to the net," said Zink, who has been training at the IMG Academy since the beginning of this year. "So I was really working on my approach shot and my transition game, and it really worked out today."

Zink said he must keep that aggressive mindset as he develops his game.

"My goal is to go pro, so I know that's what's going to get me to the top, staying aggressive and going after my shots," Zink said.

Zink hadn't reached a Grade A quarterfinal before today, so that is something of a milestone for him.

"I knew it was something I could do," Zink said. "It's kind of coming together now and I'm really happy. My hard work is definitely starting to pay off and I'm very happy to be here."

Zink will face No. 11 seed Hugo Gaston of France, who beat No. 8 seed Ondrej Styler of the Czech Republic 6-4, 6-4.

The other American boy in the quarterfinals is unseeded Govind Nanda, who took out Texas A&M recruit Alejandro Vedri Asensi of Spain 6-3, 6-1. Nanda will face Dostanbek Tashbulatov of Kazakhstan, who beat wild card Brandon Nakashima 6-7(1), 6-4, 6-4.

The fourth boys quarterfinal will feature No. 15 seed George Loffhagen of Great Britain and unseeded Daniel Michalski of Poland.  Loffhagen, who had eliminated Eddie Herr champion Adrian Andreev of Bulgaria in the first round, took out No. 2 seed Uisung Park of Korea, who retired trailing 6-1, 4-0.  Park later returned to play doubles, so his injury or illness in the Loffhagen match was not serious.

The girls draw features the other two wild cards, with Abigail Forbes and Chloe Beck getting their second wins over seeds this week.  Forbes, who has won all her matches in three sets, beat No. 4 seed Yuki Naito in the first round and today took out No. 13 seed Hurricane Tyra Black 6-0, 4-6, 6-4.  Beck, who beat No. 2 seed Alexa Noel in Wednesday's second round, defeated No. 14 seed Layne Sleeth of Canada 3-6, 6-4, 6-2.  Forbes will face No. 9 seed Joanna Garland of Taiwan in the quarterfinals and Beck will play No. 6 seed Nika Radisic of Slovenia.

No. 5 seed Naho Sato of Japan will face Duke recruit Margaryta Bilokin of Ukraine, who has beaten two seeds, both in straight sets, this week. Bilokin took out No. 3 seed Elysia Bolton in the first round and today she eliminated No. 15 seed Sada Nahimana of Burundi 6-2, 7-6(5).

Osuigwe will face unseeded Vanessa Ong, who beat No. 8 seed Caty McNally 2-6, 6-4, 6-2, coming back from 6-2, 3-1 down.

"I think being down kind of loosened me up," said the 15-year-old Ong. "I was like, whatever happens, the pressure is on her, and I think that helped a lot. I started making more balls and as soon I started to make more balls, she started to get tight, I think, and that's when she started to miss more."

Ong has had a tough year, with a variety of injuries keeping her from playing.

"I got injured at the beginning of summer, and I didn't play a tournament until [ITF Grade 1] College Park," Ong said. "It [ab] still hurt, so I took off until the Grade A in Mexico and that was my first tournament back."

Ong won five matches in the three tournaments prior to the Orange Bowl, a positive development in her return to the junior circuit.

"I'm finally feeling a lot better," Ong said. "[The clay] definitely made it a lot tougher because of the long points, but it was a good way to get back and hit a lot of balls, just be back and competing."

Osuigwe and Ong played in May of last year in the quarterfinals of the Grade 4 ITF in nearby Delray Beach, with Osuigwe winning 6-1, 2-6, 6-4.

The semifinals are set in the 16s singles, with two unseeded American girls advancing with three-set wins.  Fiona Crawley, the reigning USTA 16s Clay Court champion, defeated qualifier Hyeran Yun of Korea 6-1, 6-7(2), 6-2 and will face top seed Andreea Velcea of Romania. Velcea ended the winning streak of Eddie Herr champion Katrina Scott in a 6-7(4), 6-3, 6-4 decision that took over three and half hours to complete.  In the bottom half of the draw, Jaedan Brown defeated No. 3 seed Oana Corneanu of Romania 6-4, 3-6, 6-0 and will play No. 13 seed Katriin Saar of Estonia.

Romanians dominated the boys 16s singles semifinals, with two of them, No. 3 seed Cezar Cretu and No. 6 seed Nicholas Ionel, meeting for a place in the final. In the top half of the draw, No. 1 seed Nini Dica will play No. 4 seed Sebastian Rodriguez of Peru. Ionel defeated No. 2 seed Eliot Spizzirri 6-4, 6-2 and Rodriguez beat No. 8 seed Blaise Bicknell to eliminate the two Americans in the quarterfinals.

The doubles finals are set for Friday, with three unseeded teams still in the running for titles.  Briana Crowley and Puerto Rico's Maria Aguiar will play No. 2 seeds Kylie Collins and Kacie Harvey for the girls championship.  Two unseeded teams from the United States will face off for the boys title, with Georgi Mavrodiev and Scott Sculley taking on Spizzirri and Spencer Whitaker.

Complete draws and the order of play for Friday can be found at the tournament website.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Beck Ends Noel's Winning Streak; Osuigwe Defeats Gauff in Three Sets in Orange Bowl Second Round Action

©Colette Lewis 2017--
Plantation, FL--

Wild card Chloe Beck ended the winning streak of No. 2 seed Alexa Noel Wednesday in the second round of the Orange Bowl, defeating the Abierto Juvenil and Yucatan Cup champion 6-3, 6-3.

Noel, whose ITF junior ranking went from 161 to 20 with her 12 straight victories in Mexico, started quickly, taking a 3-0 lead in the first set.  But Beck remained committed to playing what she called smart tennis to pick up her second Top 25 win in the span of two weeks.

"I just played smart the entire time and I tried to not worry about it if she hit some crazy slices that I couldn't get," said the 16-year-old from Georgia, who beat No. 3 seed Lulu Sun of Switzerland in the first round of the Eddie Herr last week. "Playing someone like her, I know it's going to be tough, but I weathered the storm, just said 'good shot' when she hit a slice that was just too good."

With all her variety, Noel has many options on every point, but Beck saw that Noel wasn't executing well.

"She was getting a little frustrated when I would just keep staying in points and she would make an error," Beck said. "She got frustrated at herself, so I just told myself to keep her moving side to side and she ended up making mistakes."

When Beck beat Sun last week, she knew she could not let Sun get a rhythm; against the unpredictable Noel, Beck had to adopt a different strategy.

"I was not going for too huge of shots," Beck said. "I was just trying to play smart tennis, not making a lot of errors. I was rolling a couple of balls and waiting to get the perfect shot and then attack, instead of from the first shot trying to rip the ball."

Beck will face No. 14 seed Layne Sleeth of Canada in the third round, after Sleeth defeated Dalayna Hewitt 6-1, 6-3.

The grandstand court was the place to be for girls marquee match of the day between top seed and French Open champion Whitney Osuigwe and US Open finalist Coco Gauff, with Osuigwe claiming a 6-2, 3-6, 6-1 victory. A large crowd surrounded the court, with some seeking shade from the palms and the small shelter on a warm and sunny day. The first set was a bit ragged from both players, with the 13-year-old Gauff in particular struggling with her serve.

"I came out pretty nervous, but my ball is pretty tough for her to hit," the 15-year-old Osuigwe said. "She wasn't expecting it. She hits big and she never really changes the way she plays. She keeps hitting big, even in the first set, when she was missing a couple."

In the second set, the level improved, and after an early exchange of breaks, Gauff got her chance for another at 3-4, 30-40. She converted when Osuigwe netted a forehand early in the rally and Gauff served out the set, hitting a sizzling cross court forehand winner on her second set point.

"On one of my serves I didn't take care of it and I let her back into it," Osuigwe said. "I think that gave her the confidence she needed to start hitting her balls and making more of them."

Despite that second set lapse, Osuigwe approached the third set with confidence.

"I play pretty good third sets," said Osuigwe, who won the Eddie Herr title on Sunday with a 6-1 third set. "But I think I have just a little bit more variety than she does, so I am able to change the way I play, when something's not working. But mainly, I just made more balls than she did."

With her 59 wins in the highest level of ITF junior competition this year, Osuigwe has made a habit of getting through matches when she is not playing her best.

"I've played a lot of matches and I've learned how to grind through some of them," said Osuigwe. "Obviously, she's a pretty good player and all, and I'm pretty tired. I let her back into that second set and that gave her some momentum, but she's a pretty good player and I expected a tough match."

Osuigwe will play No. 16 seed Yasmine Mansouri of France, who she beat 6-1, 6-3 in the Eddie Herr semifinals last week.

"She's going to come back stronger, now that she knows how I play," Osuigwe said. "She's obviously is a really good player and I played really well last time."

Except for Noel, all girls seeds in action Wednesday advanced. There are seven American girls in the round of 16, but only Beck is in the bottom half. Two of Thursday's matches are all-USA, with Vanessa Ong facing No. 8 seed Caty McNally and wild card Abigail Forbes playing No. 14 seed Hurricane Tyra Black.  No. 7 seed Natasha Subhash will face No. 9 seed Joanna Garland of Taiwan.

The boys draw has only six seeds remaining and none of them are Americans.  No. 5 seed Andrew Fenty lost to Admir Kalender of Croatia 6-3, 6-3, No. 7 seed Alex Rotsaert retired after losing the first set to Daniel Michalski of Poland 7-5.  No. 13 seed Drew Baird went out to Dostanbek Tashbulatov of Kazakhstan 6-2, 6-3, leaving four unseeded Americans left in the draw: Govind Nanda, qualifier Sumit Sarkar and wild cards Tyler Zink and Brandon Nakashima.

Nanda defeated Ryan Goetz 7-6(4), 7-6(3), while Zink took out qualifier Marcelo Sepulveda Garza of Mexico 7-6(4), 6-1 and Sarkar beat No. 12 seed Carlos Lopez Montagud of Spain 6-3, 6-0. Nakashima eliminated No. 4 seed and Grade 1 Yucatan Cup champion Juan Cerundolo of Argentina 6-3, 6-3, acknowledging a win over a seeded Argentine on clay is an accomplishment.

"I played pretty solid," said the reigning 16s Kalamazoo champion. "I felt I had a good balance between staying consistent and going for the right shots, while just rallying with the guy. I also had a good mix with coming into the net and finishing off the points there."

Cerundolo, a left-hander, used his drop shot often in the first set, which did not come as a surprise to Nakashima.

"Before the match started, I knew he liked to drop shot off the backhand side," Nakashima said. "I tried to anticipate in the beginning and he was getting me at the beginning, but as the match went on, I felt more comfortable getting to those and reading them."

Nakashima, who qualified and reached the third round at the Yucatan Cup, went back to San Diego instead of playing the Eddie Herr, spending the week prior to the Orange Bowl training on a rare Southern California clay court.

He will face Tashbulatov in the third round Thursday.

Top seed Timofey Skatov of Russia was tested by Germany's Leopold Zima, but advanced with a 6-2, 7-6(5) victory. No. 6 seed Tao Mu of China was defeated by Texas A&M recruit Alejandro Vedri Asensi of Spain 6-4, 6-3.

The first round of 18s doubles was completed today, with top girls seeds Caty McNally and Osuigwe and top boys seeds Nicolas Mejia of Colombia and Uisung Park of Korea advancing.

The quarterfinals are set for the 16s, with two US boys: No. 2 seed Eliot Spizzirri and No. 8 seed Blaise Bicknell and four US girls: Katrina Scott, Fiona Crawley, Jaedan Brown and Rosie Garcia Gross still vying to succeed Steven Sun and Katie Volynets as Orange Bowl champions.

All four American girls, who are unseeded, face international players in the quarterfinals, scheduled for 10 a.m. on Thursday.

The doubles semifinals in the 16s are not before 1:30 p.m.

Complete draws and the order of play are available at the tournament website.