U.S. boys, girls survive QFs at Jr. Davis, Fed Cup
ORLANDO, Fla. — After cruising through the group stages at the Junior Davis Cup and Fed Cup Finals by BNP Paribas, both American teams survived threatening upset bids on Friday, with the boys a point away from elimination on three occasions.
Martin Damm and Toby Kodat fought off a trio of match points in a decisive doubles rubber before prevailing, 14-12, in a heart-pounding match tiebreak to knock off defending champions Spain. The overall tie lasted over seven hours, including a three-hour, 22-minute battle at No. 1 singles that ended in a third-set tiebreak loss for Damm.
Meanwhile, Connie Ma and Robin Montgomery trailed in both sets of their sudden-death doubles match, before dismissing a gritty Italian outfit that ended Team USA’s perfect run of 20 consecutive sets won in the competition.
Both Kodat (pictured above, left) and Ma doubled up for Team USA, winning at both No. 2 singles and the doubles flight to secure victory for their respective teams.
The boys’ tie started with Kodat, who got the boys on the board in Tennis Channel’s featured tie. His 6-2, 6-2 victory over Daniel Merida Aguilar improved the team’s singles record to 7-0 on the week, with 14 sets won out of 14.
Damm (above, right) extended that streak to 15. He was on course to wrap up the tie against fellow lefty Daniel Rincon Yaguee, but after winning a first-set tiebreak, the American lost a topsy-turvy match, 6-7, 6-4, 7-6.
The one-hour, 19-minute deciding set required 27 minutes for the opening two games. When Damm broke for a 2-0 lead, it started a run of four straight breaks before things settled down as the tiebreak loomed. The Spaniard’s steady game held up under pressure, and a Damm double fault ended the match, 7-2 in the breaker.
After an hour’s rest, Damm and Kodat returned to the Har-Tru Championship Court at the USTA National Tennis Center to take on Rincon Yaguee and Alejandro Turriziana Alvarez. Captain Philippe Oudshoorn had the option of subbing out Damm after his singles marathon, but elected to keep his top-choice doubles pairing together.
“I believe strongly that we have the best doubles team in this tournament,” he said, despite their loss to Canada in group play. “What we saw in the first set [against Spain], that’s them.”
A dominant 6-2 opening set by the Americans was highlighted by a tweener from Damm. But the Americans’ energy dipped in the second, allowing Spain to level and force a match tiebreak with a 6-3 set.
A sublime touch volley from a very active Kodat brought up match point for Team USA at 9-8. But the Spaniards battled back and created three match points of their own. But big hitting from both Americans erased them all, and from 11-12 down, they rallied to win the final three points for victory.
For Dali Blanch, the third member of Team USA, the drama had his heart racing and palms sweaty.
“I was really nervous, but I just had faith,” he said of the match’s frantic finish. “They’re a great doubles team… They know each other, they know what each one’s going to do when. They’ve got good communication, all of that works for them.”
In Saturday’s semis, the top-seeded Americans will face No. 3 France. No. 2 Japan will take on No. 4 Serbia in the other semi, as the tournament’s Top 4 teams battle it out.
For the No. 2-seeded girls, Ma kicked things off with a smooth 6-0, 6-2 victory over Italy’s Matilde Paoletti. In her three singles matches on the week, Ma has dropped a combined five games and won three bagel sets. She was never broken on Friday, winning 79 percent of first-serve points in the match.
Captain Jamea Jackson counts her team’s depth as a major strength, and that showed in the one-sided No. 2 singles match.
“They’re all well-rounded,” she said of her young team, which features two potential 2020 returners in Montgomery and Katrina Scott, both born in 2004. “Not only are they good, but they all play differently and so that gives us some options in each and every match.”
Scott struggled on serve in her No. 1 singles match, falling, 6-4, 7-6, to Lisa Pigato. The American, who notched a US Open women’s singles qualifying win last month, won just 54-percent of her service points and was broken four times on 15 break points. Jackson is confident her leading lady will bounce back on Saturday.
“She’s going to learn from it,” she said of the loss. “As you can see, she’s a fighter, and she’s going to come out wanting even more tomorrow. I guarantee you she’s going to be ready to go.”
In the doubles decider, it was Ma and Montgomery against Paoletti and Pigato. Despite trailing in both sets, the Americans found a way to win, 7-6, 6-2, to keep hopes of a three-peat alive. Jackson lauded her charges for getting the job done without their best tennis.
“I think that that is an amazing lesson for younger players,” she said. “Anybody can win when they’re playing well. But the real champions can do it when they’re not at their best, and they did that today, so I was very proud of them.
Down 5-2 in the opener, Team USA forced a tiebreak, where Montgomery came up big with a flurry of crucial volleys and an unreturned serve to seal the breaker, 7-3.
“There definitely was pressure,” she said. “But Jamea just told us we still have to play like we have nothing to lose and not think of the end result, and that’s what we did. We did a pretty good job executing.”
In set two, the Italians battled to a 2-0 lead, before the U.S. found a new gear to reel off the final six games. Ma, who was a part of Team USA’s 2018 Junior Fed Cup champion team (alongside Coco Gauff and Alexa Noel), drew on that experience as the pressure mounted on Friday.
“I just know that even if you’re down you can always come back,” she said, referencing the match tiebreak that decided last year’s final. “It doesn’t matter how tight it is or how much you are down.”
They will now take on No. 6-seeded Germany in Saturday’s semis. The opposite semi pits No. 1 Russia against the third-seeded Czech Republic. After their first test of the tournament, Jackson and her team are ready for more.
"This is what it’s all about, honestly,” she said. “It would be great if you could walk on the court and win every match, but you’re not going to remember those. And it’s pretty unlikely that it’s really going to be that way.
“Now every match is going to get tougher. When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”
Fans can watch the American girls go on Tennis Channel, which will feature their match against the Germans from 11 a.m.
Highlights can be viewed on the USTA's Twitter page.
- Team USA carries the American flag at the Junior Davis and Fed Cup Opening Ceremony.
- Katrina Scott carries the American flag at the Junior Davis and Fed Cup Opening Ceremony.
- Toby Kodat and Martin Damm in junior Davis Cup doubles action at the USTA National Campus.
- Connie Ma in Junior Fed Cup action at the USTA National Campus.
- Katrina Scott in Junior Fed Cup action at the USTA National Campus.
- Robin Montgomery in Junior Fed Cup action at the USTA National Campus.
- Toby Kodat in junior Davis Cup action at the USTA National Campus.
- Dali Blanch in Junior Davis Cup action at the USTA National Campus.
- Team USA captain and USTA national coach Philippe Oudshoorn (right) coaches Martin Damm at the Junior Davis Cup.
- Team USA captain and USTA national coach Jamea Jackson (left) with senior Fed Cup captain Cathy Rinaldi.