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Lam’s string music, playing piano at Carnegie Hall, has her rolling into Girls’ 14s semifinals

CORAL GABLES --- Shannon Lam had to make some big decisions in the past few years. She had to choose between three loves: competing in the swimming pool, on the stage at Carnegie Hall or on the tennis courts in East Brunswick, N.J.

Much to her mother May Lam’s chagrin, she chose tennis strokes over the breaststroke and key strokes.

“She was at Carnegie Hall and winning competitions,’’ said May Lam, a native of China.

But Mom was all smiles after the fourth-seeded Lam outdueled 7th-seed Katie Rolls, 6-4, 6-4 in a rain-delayed match on the hard courts at the Biltmore Tennis Center Sunday afternoon to advance to the semifinals of the Junior Orange Bowl International Championships.

Lam, who lives and trains in New Brunswick, N.J., at the IA Tennis Academy, said that playing piano and swimming helped her tennis game.

“Piano helped me because I have a rhythm on the court during a rally, so it helps me think about the tempo, and swimming helped me [build] my shoulders,’’ said Lam, who’s 13 and earlier this year won the Level 1 Easter Bowl 12s title. “I miss swimming.”

Lam said her key to victory was her consistency.

“I was up 5-1 in the first set but she came back 5-4. Thankfully, she made some unforced errors at ad-out, when she missed an [easy] second serve into the net,’’ Lam said. “She can really run and was getting so many of my drop shots.”

Lam’s Ukrainian coach Edgar Arzamasov said she is a versatile all-court player.

“She can hit any shot she likes, hard, topspin, slice, drop shots,’’ Arzamasov said. “She doesn’t have any weak shots.”

Rolls, who split matches with Lam in a couple of tournaments this year, is No. 1 in Michigan but now trains full-time with the Gomez Tennis Academy in Naples. She has won three Gold balls in National tournaments.

Another quarterfinalist Nina Costalas also trains at the Gomez academy, but she had a tough-luck afternoon when chasing a wide backhand she pulled a hamstring muscle and fell on the adjacent court which held up the quarterfinal match between top seed Iva Jovic and No. 5 Claire An for about 10 minutes.

Jovic was up a set and 3-3 when the fall occurred.

“It was tough to stay concentrated,’’ said Jovic, 14, who won the Easter Bowl 14s in April. “I had a good rhythm going and I was winning. I made sure I kept moving my feet so I wouldn’t get cold.”

Jovic, whose parents are Serbian from Torrance, Calif., reeled off the next three games to secure the match. Jovic hasn’t given up more than three games in any set in her five matches. The late-bloomer decided to focus on tennis instead of soccer during the pandemic.

“I know I can’t beat everyone with power and first strikes. I usually stay solid throughout the whole match until they break down,’’ said Jovic, who trains at the Jack Kramer Club in Los Angeles. “After the lockdown I wasn’t really playing tennis because everything was closed. That gave me more motivation to start working harder and I started winning more tournaments.

“Soccer was so much fun for me and took away a lot of pressure from me to have something else. The footwork for sure helps me move around the court and there’s a lot of running in soccer.”

Jovic said she’s extra motivated because when she played the Junior Orange Bowl 12s two years ago, she lost in the first-round of qualifying.

“I wanted to redeem myself,’’ Jovic smiled.

Costalas, from Malvern, Pa., will get to return home earlier to her three dogs, Wiggly, Bells and Kamona because she was forced to retire at 4-4 to winner Emma Dong, the ninth seed from Vancouver, where she was ranked No. 1 in Canada in the 12s and 14s.

Dong said she’s having trouble finding a facility to train at in Vancouver, after her club closed.

“My club closed down so we can’t really find a place to play,’’ said Dong, who’s currently playing in Tennis Canada [school] in British Columbia. “It’s my first Junior Orange Bowl so this is exciting.”

Dong, said another Emma, Raducanu, the teenager who finished third in this tournament five years ago and won the US Open last summer, is living her dream.

“The amazing tennis pros from Canada are inspiring us. Emma tells me that’s anything is possible,’’ she said.

For sixth-seeded Brit Hannah Klugman her attempt to add to her trophy case came to an end Sunday when she went down 6-3, 6-4 to a stronger, older, second-seeded Rositsa Dencheva from Bulgaria.

“She doesn’t miss really, she stays calm, so she gives me nothing out there,’’ said Klugman, 12, who did battle back from 2-5 in the second set to force Dencheva to serve out the match. “Maybe next time I’ll put more on the ball. She’s just bigger than me right now so I couldn’t really get through her. Maybe next year.”

Dencheva, 14, part of the ITF sponsored Grand Slam Development Fund Team program that brought nine juniors from around the world to the tournament, including Boys’ 14s second seed Timofey Derepasko of Russia. Both won the Eddie Herr International Tennis Championships two weeks ago in Bradenton, however, the second-seeded Derepasko lost his quarterfinal to unseeded Argentine Valentin Garay 6-2, 7-6 (4) on the hard courts of Crandon Park in the Boys’ 14s.

“I’m tired but I try not to show it,’’ said Dencheva, after winning her 11 straight match in the two Level 2 Florida tournaments. “I’m trying to not show my angry emotions because that makes my opponents play better.”

There were more upsets in the Boys’ 14 draw as top-seeded Max Exsted, the Eddie Herr finalist, who splits his time between Minnesota and Miramar, went out to 6th-seed Calvin Baieri of Naples. No. 3 Darwin Blanch of Deerfield Beach, gutted out a 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 victory over No. 8 Maximus Dussault of Stuart. The final semifinalist is No. 5 Alejandro Arcila of Jensen Beach, who advanced when his opponent Thijs Boogaard (9) or the Netherlands, retired with an injury trailing 6-4, 2-0.

In the Boys’ 12s, top seed Teo Davidov, the Eddie Herr champion with two forehands, needed another stroke in a 6-3, 6-4 loss to No. 9 Juan Miguel Bolivar of Colombia, who will play eighth-seeded Jerrid Gaines of Margate, after his 6-1, 6-1 rout of Felipe Mamede of Brazil on the clay courts of Salvadore Park.

On the bottom half of the draw, Svit Suljic of Slovenia, eliminated Klugman’s compatriot, Mark Ceban, the ninth seed, 6-2, 6-2. He will play fifth-seeded Jordan Lee, a finalist at Eddie Herr recently, who upset the second-seeded Navneet Raghuram, 6-3, 3-6, 6-1.

In the Girls’ 12s, Christina Lyutova of Newport Beach, Calif., dispatched Ye Sung Choo of South Korea, 6-1, 6-1. She will play local product No. 8 Zaire Clarke of Greenacres, who upset No. 4 Anita Tu 6-2, 7-6 (3). The other semi pits No. 3 Lia Belibova of Moldova against No. 9 Nancy Lee of Belmont, Mass.

The semifinals and finals of the Boys’ 14s and Girls’ 12s, which are shifting from Crandon Park Tennis Center to the Biltmore Tennis Center, as well as the Girls’ 14s will be live-streamed on www.tennisanalystics.net. Just click button on home screen.

Check tennis@jrorangebowl.org for draws, results, schedule and stories on the tournament. Go to Miamiherald.com for many stories on the tournament as well as tenniszoo.com.

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