American girls dominating at Orange Bowl

Arthur Kapetanakis | December 06, 2018

Wednesday at the Orange Bowl was a banner day for the Red, White and Blue in the girls’ 18s draw, as nine Americans booked a place in the last 16 on home soil, competing on the green clay courts of the Frank Veltri Tennis Center in Plantation, Fla. After temperatures climbed into the 80s on Monday and Tuesday, cooler conditions prevailed on Wednesday, though wind was a factor for the first time.


Only six of the 16 seeds are still standing in the girls’ competition, led by reigning junior French Open champion and No. 1 seed Coco Gauff, who advanced on the stadium court.


The match of the day came on Court 11, as No. 5 Hurricane Tyra Black (pictured above) escaped an upset bid in an all-American encounter against Kylie Collins, 2-6, 7-6, 6-0. The world No. 22 saved a match point at 4-5 in set two and overcame a point penalty that put her in a Love-15 hole with Collins serving for the match for a second time, at 6-5.


After a lengthy discussion with the chair umpire following the penalty, a visibly dejected Black lost the first point of the ensuing game to fall behind Love-30. But she sparked back into life to send the second set to a tiebreak, which she won, 7-3. Having let a golden opportunity slip, Collins could not stop a suddenly in-form Black in set three. 


“After that point penalty, I knew I didn’t want to lose the match, and I got into a different mindset,” she said. “I wasn’t fully there on the court today, but once that happened, I just kind of got in game mode after that.”


It was the third meeting between the two in 2018, with Black previously winning at the International Spring Championships in April (an event she would go on to win) and Collins taking their match in Charlotte, N.C., in October. This time, Black zeroed in on Collins’ forehand to turn the tide, though she was one point away from an early exit.


“I was really nervous [on her match point], but I thought, ‘Just hit it.’ She gets nervous too. Everybody does.”


With new life, Black is now two victories away from a potential semifinal showdown with Gauff, who defeated fellow American Fiona Crawley, 6-0, 7-5, on Wednesday. For the second consecutive match, a seemingly routine Gauff victory turned into a battle late. Crawley raised her game to pull ahead late in set two, before her 14-year-old opponent showed her class in the closing stages.


“I feel like I played well the entire match, and she just played better [in the second set],” Gauff said. “She raised her game, and I thought I handled the change pretty well.”


A Delray Beach, Fla., resident, Gauff was not bothered by the South Florida wind. “It’s definitely a little more difficult," she said, “but you’ve got to play in it somehow. For sure, it’s going to happen at another time in the future."


The breeze did not derail the straightforward progress of No. 6 Lea Ma, who advanced in straights over American Charlotte Owensby, in what she considered an ugly match. Ma fought back from a 15-40 deficit in several key games, and that made the difference in her 7-5, 6-1 victory.


“I don’t think I played my best tennis, but I don’t think she did, either,” she said.


While the windy conditions limited her ability to attack as she prefers, Ma’s defense, touch and off-speed game carried her into the third round.   


No. 4 Alexa Noel could not join her compatriots in the last 16, as she became the highest seed to fall in the event, going out to countrywoman Elizabeth Coleman. Noel retired after falling behind in set three, 4-6, 6-3, 4-1.


Emma Navarro (def. No. 8 Kamilla Bartone), Peyton Stearns (def. No. 10 Adrienn Nagy),wild-card Charlotte Chavatipon (def. No. 9 Sohyun Park) and qualifier Hina Inoue (def. No. 14 Gabriella Price) scored upsets of their own, with both Navarro and Inoue dropping their opening sets before storming back to advance. Robin Montgomery, who took out the No. 15 seed in three opening-round sets, continued her strong form with a 6-4, 6-3 victory over American qualifier Abigail Forbes.


At least three Americans will advance to the quarterfinals, with three all-U.S. matchups on tap for Thursday (Black vs. Chavatipon, Navarro vs. Stearns and Montgomery vs. Coleman) – though as many as six U.S. girls could advance.


Just two American boys remain in the 18s singles field, with No. 8 Cannon Kingsley and wild-card Zane Khan carrying the flag for Team USA. Kinglsey has yet to drop a set in South Florida, though he was forced to fight back from a break down to win a second-set tiebreak on Wednesday against Brazil’s Matheus Pucinelli De Almeida. Khan, who nearly withdrew from the Orange Bowl with a lingering shoulder injury that forced him to retire in last week’s Eddie Herr quarterfinals, has also won all four sets he’s played on the week, dropping just 12 games in the process. He followed up one of the biggest wins of his career on Monday, an upset of No. 4 Deney Wassermann, with a 6-3, 6-2 victory over France’s Mathys Erhard.


No. 11 Eliot Spizzirri and No. 12 Govind Nanda were among four seeded boys to fall on Wednesday, though both will end 2018 in the Top 50 of the ITF World Junior Rankings.


In boys’ 16s play, the quarterfinal stage is set, exclusively with seeded players. The field is headed by top-seeded American Dali Blanch, who secured his third consecutive straight-sets victory, this time over Estonian wild card Mark Lajal. Blanch does not feel any added pressure with his designation as the No. 1 seed. Instead, he thinks it is more of a psychological edge.


“I went onto the court knowing that he would be more nervous than I was,” he said. “I just went out and played my game, and I played pretty well.”


Blanch also advanced to the semifinals of the 16s doubles draw, along with Canada’s Marko Stakusic.


He is joined in the last eight of the singles draw by two other Americans, No. 2 Alexander Bernard (who is also perfect across six sets on the week) and No. 12 Aidan Mayo, who will square off against each other for a semifinal berth on Thursday.


The girls’ 16 singles quarterfinals features six Americans, including No. 4 Madison Seig, who advanced via a bizarre, 0-6, 6-0, 6-0 scoreline against Elise Wagle. Also advancing was India Houghton, who took down No. 3 Tara Malik, and wild-card Jaleesa Leslie, who upset No. 2 Jada Bui.


Thursday’s play showcases last-16 action in the 18s singles draw and the quarterfinal slate in the 16s. The 18s doubles competitions will complete Round 2, with semifinal action scheduled for the 16s. For full complete schedules, results, live scoring and more, visit the Orange Bowl website.


Photo Credit: Andrew Ong/USTA



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