Noel, Black, Spizzirri start strong at Orange Bowl

Arthur Kapetanakis | December 05, 2018

PLANTATION, Fla. – Three seeded Americans made strong starts Tuesday at the Orange Bowl, the final Grade A event on the ITF calendar for 2018, as the boys' and girls' 18s singles draws trimmed to 32 during the second day of opening-round play.


Alexa Noel, seeded No. 4 in the girls’ 18s draw, was the highest-ranked American in action on Tuesday. She lived up to that billing in a dominant 6-0, 6-3 performance on the stadium court against qualifier Ashley Vielma, expertly mixing pace and slice to control the match and frustrate her opponent.       


“In the first set, I just came out swinging,” Noel (pictured above) said, noting the different conditions from her training base at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. Last week, she reached the quarterfinals at the Eddie Herr International Championship, held at IMG.


“In order to make the ball [in these conditions], you actually have to accelerate faster,” she explained. “That’s what I’ve been working on, and I think that’s what I did really well today.”


As Vielma made a final push late in set two, Noel’s off-speed game kept her opponent at bay.


“I don’t necessarily try to slice everything, that’s just kind of my natural reaction,” she said. It works really well because the girls are used to the same-paced ball, ‘Hit, hit, hit.’ I think that my slice is definitely effective when I use it the right way.”


Hurricane Tyra Black also got off to a flying start, taking an early 5-2 lead in her opening-round match, but her opponent, Anna Hertel of Poland, was in the ascendency as she leveled the first set at 5-5. From there, Black rediscovered her form to win eight of the last 10 games in a 7-5, 6-2 victory.


“I was focusing on a lot of stuff, and I was a little nervous, being up 5-2 in my first match. I started playing really well, then I got a little tight there,” she said of her three-game blip in the first set. “But then I just started to feel the ball, and everything came together after that.”


Black, who resides in nearby Boca Raton, Fla., and trains at the Freddie Rodriguez Tennis School, arrived in Plantation fully recovered from a long but successful trip to Mexico, during which she won two doubles titles and reached the singles final at the Grade 1 event in Campeche. She played a total of 20 matches from Nov. 12-25, including a brutal stretch of seven matches in 48 hours after rain wreaked havoc on the order of play. As a result, she sat out the Eddie Herr with niggling injuries and tired legs.


She was a perfect two-for-two on Tuesday, as she returned to Court 7 with partner Coco Gauff to secure an opening-round win in the doubles competition. Black and Gauff, who have been friends for nearly a decade, are out to back up their title at the Grade A event in Mexico in November.


Emma Navarro, who won the USTA Clay Court Championships in July, was also victorious on Tuesday, turning back Croatia’s Tara Wurth, 6-4, 6-3. Navarro fell to Noel in the semifinals of a Grade 1 event in Belgium this June and reached the doubles semis at the junior US Open, with Chloe Beck.


Neel Rajesh, who took home the boys’ title at the USTA Clay Courts, joined Navarro in the winner’s circle, with a 6-3, 6-3 win over Natan Rodrigues of Brazil. Rajesh qualified for the main draw with three qualifying wins and has now won eight straight sets in South Florida after dropping the opener of his qualifying campaign.


No. 12 Eliot Spizzirri was the top-seeded American boy to take the court, and he used his solid all-around game to defeat Roko Horvat of Croatia, 7-6, 6-2.


“I had a game plan going in, and he was doing well with it, especially on the forehand side, so I had to change things up a little bit,” he said. “In the end, it worked out.”


Spizzirri is currently sitting at a career-high ITF junior ranking of No. 42, after winning the Grade 1 event in Campeche last month, in addition to a pair of doubles semifinal appearances in Mexico. He was also a finalist at the Pan American ITF Championship in October, where he lost to Govind Nanda in the final.


Things were not so sunny for No. 17 Emilio Nava and Elizabeth Mandlik, the No. 7-seeded girl, as both could not find their ‘A’ games in falling victim to a pair of upset bids. Fifteen-year-old Kailie Evans, the top seed in the girls’ 16s draw, faced a similar fate in a three-set, second-round loss.


Also in girls’ 16 play, No. 3 Tara Malik was a 7-5, 6-3 winner over Sophia Fornaris, while No. 4 Madison Sieg topped Lina Mohamed, 6-4, 7-6, to reach the last 16.


Dali Blanch, the boys’ No. 1 seed, advanced to Round 3 with a 6-3, 6-4 result against wild-card Gabrielius Guzauskas, while No. 2 Alexander Bernard got by wild-card Evan Wen, 6-3, 6-1.


Victor Lilov bowed out of both the 16s singles and doubles draws with a pair of second-round losses but will be back in action in the 14s competition next week. He partnered with another 14-year-old, Bruno Kuzuhara (his teammate at the ITF World Junior Tennis event this summer, where the U.S. won its first title since 2012) to reach the second round in doubles play.


Wednesday begins Round 2 for the boys’ and girls’ 18s draws, with just 32 competitors remaining in each, and Round 3 for the 16s contests. The 18s doubles competitions will complete first-round play and begin some second-round action, while both 16s doubles events enter the quarterfinal stage.


For complete schedules, results and more, visit the Orange Bowl website.


Photo Credit: Andrew Ong/USTA



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