Osuigwe & Liu: Worth The Thirty-Seven Years - UBITENNIS
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Osuigwe & Liu: Worth The Thirty-Seven Years

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Whitney Osuigwe (zimbio.com)

By Mark Winters

It had seemingly been eons since two Americans had met in the Girls’ final at the home of clay-court tennis. To be exact, it was thirty-seven years ago, but Claire Liu and Whitney Osuigwe put on a two-hour, seven-minute Roland Garros performance that made the lengthy wait well worth it.

 

Liu of Thousand Oaks, California, seeded No. 6, faced Osuigwe of Bradenton, Florida, seeded No. 7. It was a 17-year-old against a 15-year-old challenge, and the younger, lower seed ran the table. Youth, at a tournament that featured many of the best teenagers in the game, prevailed. Osuigwe got the better of her older opponent, 6-4, 6-7, 6-3.

The contest was staged on Court 1 known as the “Bullring” because of its similarity to a “corrida de toros”. The location, which will be demolished when Stade Roland Garros is expanded, may be the best place at the facility to watch tennis. Not only are spectators “reach out close” to the players, the intimate venue puts one in touch with the beads of sweat, emotion and effort being exerted. It is so personal that dashing slides practically spray those in the arena’s courtside seats with the gritty terre battue.

The small stadium amplified the shot making that took place. On a color chart, they could have been categorized as vibrant. The brightness changed as quickly as the players alternated serve. There was an ebb and flow to the contest. At times an explosive winner was followed by a pulverized error that carried long or wide. Part of the youthful exchange mix even included a shot or two looped deep into the backcourt. In short, it was an impressive display by participants who are not terre battue born and bred.

Following the match, when asked about having a substantial lead in the second set and losing the tiebreak, Osuigwe, who admitted that clay is her favorite surface, said, “My first three rounds were three-setters, and I was down in most of them. I just told myself to keep fighting, and I did and pulled it out.”

Queried about the difficulty of playing someone from the US, the champion admitted, “It’s not another American, but it is tough to play Claire. The last time at the Easter Bowl, she beat me pretty bad (6-1, 6-1 in April).”

She added, “I think, actually, we are going to go into town for dinner (tonight).”

Even though she was disappointed, Liu was very forthcoming when she offered, “I think we both started out a little nervous in the beginning. I capitalized on those nerves earlier so that’s how I went up the break. Then, she just started playing better and better, and I rushed a little bit.

“Overall, she played a really good match. I just tried to hang in there. I got a little lucky in the second (set). She played really well.”

Liu, who won the 2016 Wimbledon Girls’ doubles with Usue Maitane Arconada, pointed out, “I beat her fast at the Easter Bowl, but that was on hard court, and I knew she would learn from that match. I was expecting her to play well, and she did.”

In 1980, the last All-American Girls’ final took place. Kathy Horvath defeated Kelly Henry, 6-2, 6-2 for the Roland Garros Girls’ trophy. Horvath turned professional the year after her Paris success. While on the tour, which she played until 1989, her best Grand Slam singles performance took place at Roland Garros where she was a quarterfinalist in 1983 and ’84. Finalist Henry went on to become a four-time All-American at USC, and had a brief pro career after college.

With Team USA, the theme for the entire year has been ‘professionalism’,” said Erik Kortland, National Coach Women’s Tennis., who is guiding the effort in Paris. “All week we have preached about getting 1% better each day, enjoying the process, and enjoying the moment. The girls have embraced this and it takes away all the pressure.”

In 1993, Martina Hingis was 12-years-old when she became the youngest player to win the Roland Garros Girls’ championship (and the youngest to win a junior Grand Slam title, too). Though Whitney Osuigwe, who is playing in only her second Grand Slam event, is not the youngest to triumph, she brought a thirty-seven-year streak to an end, with performance that belied her age.

“Keep in mind how well all the other American girls did too,” Kortland said. “We had four Americans in the quarters.

“It’s been a pleasure and nothing but pure enjoyment and laughs and smiles the entire week and fun watching the girls become professional young women. We are very proud of them.”

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Serena Williams sets up clash against her sister Venus

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Former world number 1 and 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams rallied from one set down to beat her compatriot Bernarda Pera 4-6 6-4 6-1 to reach the second round at the inaugual edition of the Top Seed Open in Lexington (Kentucky). 

 

Williams was playing her first match since the Fed Cyp tie where she helped lead the United States to a Fed Cup win over Latvia. 

Croatian-born player Pera broke into the top 100 for the first time in 2018, when she reached the third round at the Australian Open and scored her first win over a top 10 when she beat Joanna Konta. She reached three semifinals in Prague, Lausanne and Juurmala, where she beat former French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko in the first round.

In the opening set Pera earned a break in the fifth game and saved two break points on her serve. Pera converted her first set ooprtunity with a forehand winner. 

Williams rallied from 0-40 down at the start of the second set and opened up a 3-1 lead with a break before Pera broke back to draw level to 3-3. When she was down 0-40 at 4-4 Williams saved four break points that would have helped Pera serve for the match. 

Williams earned two set points on Pera’s serve and converted her second chance with a forehand. Williams broke serve at the start of the third set to take a 3-1 lead and fended off two break points in the next game. Williams rallied from 0-40 down by winning the final nine points to claim the win. 

“It was a really calm atmosphere, really chill. I can’t say I disliked it. It was different. I have been through so many things in my career. I think I won today because I was calm for once, so that was really helpful”, said Serena Williams after the match. 

Serena set up a clash against her sister Venus, who beat Victoria Azarenka 6-3 6-2. Serena holds a 18-12 head-to-head lead over Venus. 

Both players held serve in the first four games. She hit an ace to hold serve for 3-2 before earning three break points. The US player converted her first chance to take a 4-2 lead after a double fault from Azarenka. Williams served for the set at 5-3. Azarenka earned a chance to get back on serve as Williams netted a forehand error at 30-30. Williams saved it and earned a set point. 

Azarenka made a double fault in the first game of the second set to face a break point. Williams got a double break to open up a 3-0 lead. Azarenka got her first game at 4-1. Williams pulled away to 5-1 with her solid serve. Azarenka held serve for 2-5. In the next game Williams earned her first match point and sealed the win with a lob winner. 

 

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Simona Halep makes a winning start to her Prague Open campaign

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Number 1 seed and last year’s Wimbledon champion Simona Halep edged past Polona Hercog 6-1 1-6 7-6 (7-3) in two and a half hours in the opening round of the Prague Open on her seventh match point after 2 hours and 31 minutes. Halep played her first match since claiming her 20th title in Dubai. 

 

Halep wasted six match points before claiming the win in the tie-break of the third set to secure his spot in the Round of 16. Halep won four points more than Hercog and saved five of the 11 break points he faced. 

Both players traded breaks in the second and third games of the opening set. Halep earned two consecutive breaks in the fourth and sixth games to win the first set 6-1, as Hercog made 12 unforced errors to only two winners. 

Hercog came back from a break down early in the second set to get three consecutive breaks and won the second set 6-1. 

Both players traded breaks in the fourth and fifth games of the decider. Halep earned another break to open up a 5-3 lead. Hercog broke back in the ninth game and saved six match points in the 10th and 12th games to set up a decisive tie-break. Halep claimed the tie-break 7-3. 

Before the five-month break Halep lost to Garbine Muguruza in the semifinal of the Australian Open and won the Dubai final. 

Last week’s Palermo semifinalist Camila Giorgi came back from one set down to beat Ukraine’s Marta Kostyuk 4-6 6-2 7-6 (7-4) after 2 hours and 14 minutes. Giorgi converted six of her eight break points. 

Kostyuk earned the first break in the fourth game. Giorgi broke straight back in the fifth game. Both players traded breaks in the sixth and seventh games. Giorgi saved a break point in the eighth game to draw level to 4-4. Kostyuk broke for the third time in the 10th game to win the first set 6-4 after 44 minutes. 

Giorgi broke twice in a row to race out to a 4-0 lead, Kostyuk pulled one break back in the sixth game for 2-4, but Giorgi broke again in the seventh game to win the second set 6-2 in 31 minutes. 

Kostyuk broke serve in the third game of the decider to open up a 3-0 lead. Giorgi broke back to draw level to 3-3. In the eighth game the Italian star fended off another break. The set came down to the tie-break. Giorgi opened up a 4-2 lead. Both players traded mini-breaks. Giorgi earned two match points and converted her first chance to win the tie-break 7-4. 

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Petra Martic advances to the second round at the Prague Open

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Number 2 seed and Roland Garros quarter finalist Petra Martic edged past world number 101 Varvara Gracheva 7-6 (7-2) 6-3 after 1 hour and 50 minutes to advance to the second round at the Prague Open.

 

Martic earned the first break in the third game to take a 2-1 lead. Gracheva broke back at love to draw level to 5-5, as Martic was serving for the first set. Martic hit two dropshots to force a tie-break. The Croatian player won the tie-break 7-2, as Gacheva made five unforrced errors out of nine points. 

Martic needed a medical time-out between sets, but she converted her third break point at deuce to race out to a 3-0 lead with a series of dropshots and smashes. The world number 15 wasted three game points for a 4-1 lead. Gracheva broke back in the fifth game after four deuces. Martic brought up another break point with a drop-shot and converted his chance to take a 4-2 lead as Gracheva sent a forehand long. 

Martic dropped two more points on her serve and converted her first match point with a kick serve and a forehand.

“It was not an eay match, especially in the first set. Unfortunately I could not serve it out, but I am happy I brought my level up in the tie-break where it mattered. It’s definitely not ideal. I have some aches here and there, the body is still adjusting to matches and playing one after another, but I think it’s normal and I hope I can maintain it to last this tournament”, said Martic. 

Elise Mertens battled past Jasmine Paolini 7-5 4-6 6-3 after two hours and 41 minutes. In the first set Paolini missed two break points at 3-2 15-40 before dropping her serve in the next game at 15. The Italian player saved a set point at 4-5 and broke back to draw level to 5-5. Mertens broke again in the 11th game and served out the first set on her third set point to win the first set 7-5. 

Mertens went up a break to take a 3-1 lead, but Paolini broke back to draw level to 3-3. Paolini saved two game points in the 10th game before breaking serve to win the second set 6-4. Mertens earned an early break in the first game of the third set. In the next game Paolini missed two break-back points. 

Paolini broke back in the fourth game, but she dropped her serve in the fifth game after missing a game point for 3-2. Mertens held her service game after saving a break point to take a 4-2 lead. The Belgian player broke again in the eighth game at 15 at 5-3 and secured the win on the first match point. 

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