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New York | Americans Nava & Yepifanova reach junior finals

The weather has been playing a bit of havoc with the junior championships at the US Open this year in New York, but after a glorious day on Saturday, the draws are pretty well back on track, again.

A couple of Americans made it into the singles finals after double-duty due to the washout on Friday.

Both the boys’ singles and girls’ singles quarter-finals and semi-finals were played on Saturday, with the last semifinals of Day 13 ending several hours after Bianca Andreescu raised the women’s singles trophy in Arthur Ashe Stadium.

It made for a special atmosphere as fans filtered into the smaller courts to watch the world’s best juniors battle for a spot in the last major of the season.

Emilio Nava, the No 8 seed, was first to go through in decisive fashion, dropping just 8 games across 2 matches to reach his second Grand Slam final of 2019.

The 2019 Australian Open runner-up knocked off Jiri Lehecka of the Czech Republic, 6-3 6-1, and then sailed past Long Island native Cannon Kingsley, 6-4 6-0.

Nava, of Woodland Hills, California, is playing the final junior Slam of his career, and told that he never played two rounds in a junior Grand Slam before.

“I was having fun,” he said. “Just out there, ripping my shots, running down every ball, and that was the most important thing.”

Nava is coached by his mother, Xóchitl Escobedo, who represented Mexico in the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea.
What does he like most about her as a coach?

“Her yelling,” Nava said with a smile. “She gets me fired up.”

Nava spent less than 2 hours on Louis Armstrong Stadium, where both of his matches were played, needing just 53 minutes to defeat Lehecka in the quarters, and then taking compatriot Kingsley in 59 minutes.

“In my first match [against Lehecka], I had a tough first set, then I ended up relaxing in the second and going for my shots a little more,” Nava said.

“I think the same [against Kingsley] this afternoon as well. Really tough first set–serving for the set he had a break point–then I just relaxed in the second, hit my shots.”

Kingsley, who had won a tough physical battle with left-hander Dominic Stricker of Switzerland, 7-6(4) 6-3, to reach his first junior slam semi-final, was impressed with Nava’s level throughout the match.

“I think I had a little bit of a longer match than him in my first match today, but he played, like, really well,” Kingsley said.
“I don’t think it would have made much of a difference the way he was playing today. But I’m just happy I had a good last junior tournament.”

Nava, who was initially not seeded due to an administrative error when the draw first came out last Saturday, said his close calls in the first two rounds have helped him loosen up.

“Now I’m just playing really relaxed,” said the 17-year-old, who is playing just his second event since an oblique injury at the end of June.

“I won, but I’m not really supposed to be here. But yeah, I’m definitely out here having fun.”

Nava, the cousin of ATP pro Ernesto Escobedo, is expecting to have an advantage against Forejtek, who had not advanced beyond the round of 16 in any junior slam prior to this week.

“When I played in Australia I was a bit nervous,” Nava admitted. “It was the same as with (Australian champion Lorenzo) Musetti, because he played here in the final (last year).

“I won the first set and was playing pretty relaxed and in the third, got a little tight at the end. But now I think that will definitely help, for sure.”

Nava will face No 4 seed Jonas Forejtek of the Czech Rebublic in Sunday’s final on Louis Armstrong Stadium.

Forejtek, 18, defeated German qualifier Milan Welte, 3-6 7-5 7-5, before knocking off American Brandon Nakashima, 7-6 6-3.

“The second match I was a little bit tired but I was also more confident, so I was playing better,” Forejtek, sporting a New York Yankees cap, told reporters on Saturday.

The Czech says he entered the tournament without very much confidence but an improved serve and more experience on hard courts has helped him achieve his best result at a junior Slam.

Forejtek does have experience in junior slam finals, having won the Australian Open and Wimbledon boys doubles titles this year, beating Kingsley and Nava in the Melbourne final.

Unlike Nava, who has played on show courts Court 17, Grandstand and Louis Armstrong this week, Forejtek will get his first look at Armstrong at practice Sunday morning.

In the quarter-finals, against Welte, Forejtek led 5-1 in the final set, but had to save a break point at 5-all before converting his fourth match point, but against Nakashima, the Czech was able to apply pressure by coming to net on key points in his straight sets victory.

“I don’t have a problem with that,” said the 18-year-old, who won a $25,000 ITF World Tennis Tour tournament last month.

“But with Nakashima I missed some easy volleys, so that was not so good. But on the important points, at the end, when it was 7-6, 5-3, important point, I went to the net and won the point.”

Nakashima was not pleased with his level of play against Forejtek, after beating his doubles partner, No 14 seed Valentin Royer of France, 6-4 6-4, in the quarter-finals.

“I wasn’t feeling it as well as I was in the first match,” Nakashima said. “He was getting more balls in play than my first opponent.

“He’s a solid player. In the tiebreaker, I didn’t get a good start and he played some pretty good points. It was very solid on my end; just some sloppy errors that cost me the first set.”

In the girls’ singles Colombia’s Maria Camila Osorio Serrano is hoping to end her junior career on a high note.

After defeating Latvia’s Kamilla Bartone, 6-3 6-4, Osorio rallied from 3-0 down in the third set to stop Russia’s Oksana Selekhmeteva, 6-3 6-7 6-4.
The Colombian broke down in tears after the victory on Court 7, then hugged her coach and team before sending away some happy young fans with tennis balls.

She will face American qualifier Alexandra Yepifanova, who won a pair of three-setters on Saturday.

First, she won 11 of the final 12 games to defeat American Reese Brantmeier, 4-6 6-3 6-1, and then, in the final match of the evening on Court 17, Yepifanova upset No 5 seed Qinwen Zheng of China, 3-6 6-4 7-5.

“I gained a lot of confidence in qualies,” Yepifanova said. “And then playing matches after that, I knew that I could beat these girls and was confident in my abilities.

“Even though my recent results didn’t match up to playing the final at US Open, I feel like I was capable of being here, and I am.”

In the all-US girls quarter-final against wild card Brantmeier, Yepifanova trailed 6-4, 3-0 before requesting a medical timeout.

When she returned, with her left thigh wrapped, the American qualifier won 8 consecutive games to take a 2-0 lead in the 3rd set and went on to claim a 4-6 6-3 6-1 win.

In the semis, Yepifanova won her 3rd consecutive match from a set down, and admitted that she needed time to adapt to Zheng’s big hitting, falling behind 4-0 to open the match.

“The girl came out blasting the ball from both sides,” the 16-year-old from Florida said. “She was playing great; I was like, what do I do?”

Zheng couldn’t sustain that level and Yepifanova raised her game in the 2nd and 3rd sets.

She broke to serve for the match at 5-4, but Zheng forced an error at 30-15, then hit a clean forehand winner to earn a break point, and Yepifanova double faulted.

It was Zheng’s turn to double fault at 30-40 in the next game and, with a second chance to serve out the match, Yepifanova got a lot more first serves in than she had in her previous attempt.

“First serves were crucial,” Yepifanova said. “That was my plan for the match: serve plus one mostly.

“The first time I served for the match, I was up 30-15 and I could just feel my arms getting heavy, myself shaking.

“The second time, I made myself relax and take more time and make the first serve, focus on that mostly.”

Yepifanova went with a body serve on match point and Zheng couldn’t get it back in play, giving the American her 8th win in the past 9 days.

“As anyone would be in my situation, I was pretty disappointed that I didn’t get the main draw wild card,” said Yepifanova, who now trains at IMG, but is still grieving the recent death of Konstantin Anisimov, her coach since she was 12.

“But now looking back it, I feel it was good, because I gained so much confidence after qualifying…After that, I knew I could win matches at the Open, even knowing I’m playing such a big tournament.”

Yepifanova admits her form coming into the tournament, after a second round loss in San Diego and a first round lost at the College Park Grade 1, did not suggest a run like this, but she is not really surprised.

“I know that my results recently didn’t really match up to this, but I knew I was capable of playing very well,” Yepifanova said.

“I knew that I was capable of playing girls who are ranked much higher than I am, so this is surprising, it’s the US Open, I’m in the finals, but at the same time, I knew I could be at this level.”

Yepifanova’s opponent in Sunday’s final, Osorio, had comebacks of her own to take pride in.

“You can’t imagine how I feel right now,” said Osorio, who reached the semi-finals here last year and at the French Open this year.

“In the 3rd set I was 3-0 down and I was like, what is this? Cami you have this chance, just take it.

“I called the physio for my leg and I had the time to stop and think what I am doing.

“I get on the court and just think, relax, this is your last tournament, just enjoy and that’s what I did. I was so focused on every point.”

Osorio and Yepifanova will be meeting for the first time on Sunday.

The girls doubles final, originally scheduled for Saturday afternoon, was delayed until Sunday due to the two three-set matches that Selekhmeteva played in singles.

She and Bartone, the No 5 seeds, will face the unseeded team of Aubane Droguet & Selena Janicijevic of France in the final.

The boys doubles final did go off as scheduled on Saturday, with the unseeded American team of Eliot Spizzirri & Tyler Zink defeating Andrew Paulson of the Czech Republic & Alexander Zgirovsky of Belarus, 7-6(4) 6-4.

There were no breaks of serve in the first set and just one deuce point, but in the 2nd set 4 of the first 6 games were decided on that no-ad point, with each team winning two.

After Zink dropped serve on a deciding point, he and Spizzirri won a deciding point in the next game after Zgirovsky had led 40-15 in the game.

“The first time we got broken in the match and we broke right back,” Spizzirri said. “It was a big game, getting that back, shutting down all the momentum they got from breaking us. I think was definitely a key moment in that second set.”

As a large crowd continued to build on Court 6 with the women’s final in Ashe Stadium over, Zink held for 5-4, putting the pressure on Zgirovsky.

Down 15-40, Zgirovsky came up with a backhand volley winner to save the first match point, and Spizzirri missed a backhand long on the 2nd match point but, on the deciding point, Zink sent his return to Paulson at the net, then waited to see whether the forehand volley Paulson hit would be in or out.

“I wasn’t sure if it was going out or not,” said Spizzirri. “It was like sitting in the air forever, I was like, please go out.”

Zink & Spizzirri won a Grade 1 title in Brazil in February and vowed to play together as much as they could the rest of the year.

“We loved our chemistry together and decided to play for the whole year,” Zink said. “French and Wimbledon we had two pretty tough losses, where it could have gone either way.

“And then Kalamazoo, I had to pull out because of illness. We definitely got a little unlucky here and there, but just super grateful that it kind of clicked here.”

“There’s no better time for it to click,” Spizzirri said. “This is our last junior tournament, US Open, our home tourney.”

“Yeah, there’s no better time to click,” Zink said. “We both went after it this week, but we knew the whole time we could do this.”

“We just kept building, building and getting better, and like I said, we’re so happy that it clicked here, at our last event,” Spizzirri said.



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