American Tuck falls in boys’ 12s final of Junior Orange Bowl, but Long Island’s Kennedy reaches boys’ 14s final
By Harvey Fialkov
Special to the Herald
CORAL GABLES --- Tabb Tuck emptied his bucket but no matter what strategy he employed or variety of shots he attempted, his powerful opponent Korean Dongjae Kim had the answer in a 6-3, 6-1 victory to win the boys’ 12s division of the Junior Orange Bowl International Championships Monday morning at a sun-splashed Salvadore Park.
“He was on fire today,’’ said Tuck, 12, the No. 2 seed from Birmingham, Alabama. “Even at 3-1 up in the first set he was barely missing. Once he started making those, I really couldn’t do anything. He was hitting so many winners. His forehand is lethal.”
The ninth-seeded Kim, a sturdy 5-foot-10, is the fifth Korean boy to win the 61-year-old Junior Orange Bowl (12s), with the last being Seongchan-Hong in 2009. Kim avenged a round-of-16, 7-5, 6-0 loss to Tuck in the Level 2 Eddie Herr International Championships a few weeks ago.
“I had more confidence with my forehand [this week],’’ said Kim via Korean Federation official and translator Chang Hun Yoo. “I was a little nervous at the beginning but after that I got my mind better.”
That left Jack Kennedy of Huntington, Long Island as the lone American boy live for a title. The sixth-seeded Kennedy continued his rampage through the boys’ 14s draw that he began at Crandon Park before shifting to the hard courts at the Biltmore Hotel on Monday with a 6-4, 6-2 victory over China’s Weiyi Kong (17th seed).
Kennedy, who has yet to drop a set in his six matches, caught a break when the Nos. 2 and 4 seeds withdrew just before the tournament began. He has beaten two-unseeded players and four boys seeded 17th, including Cruz Hewitt, the son of Aussie great Lleyton Hewitt.
Kennedy, 14, who won the USTA National Clay Court singles and doubles titles, as well as the recent Herr doubles title, has gained more confidence with each victory.
“He’s understanding his game, his identity as a player and sticking to it,’’ said Kennedy’s primary coach Greg Lumpkin of John McEnroe’s satellite academy on Long Island. “He’s got incredible instinct, works really hard and is a sponge in practice.”
Kennedy’s tennis IQ is off the charts and he utilized his savvy when failing to serve out the first set at 5-3. He came right back and broke Kong with a sliced backhand followed by a backhand volley winner. He then pointed to his head, ala Swiss great Stan Wawrinka, to show his, “mental toughness.”
“I felt the nerves trying to close out the set but in the 5-4 game I forgot about it, moved on, stayed disciplined and tried to put the ball in play,’’ Kennedy said.
He raced to a 3-1 lead in the second set but faced two break points before holding and once again pointing to his head.
“That was a big game, so I did the Wawrinka thing again to show my mental toughness,’’ he said. “He took a medical for his hip and I knew he was struggling physically. I definitely felt the confidence.”
Kennedy will face the powerful forehand of third-seeded Ivan Ivanov, a Bulgarian training in Spain at Rafael Nadal’s tennis academy, who routed Taiwan’s Kuan-Shou Chen (7), 6-0, 6-1.
Ivanov made a quick recovery from a three-hour quarterfinal victory over Jack Secord (9) on Sunday in which he faced five match points before winning 15-13 in the third-set tiebreaker.
“It wasn’t my best yesterday, but we still fight and got the win,’’ Ivanov said. “I showed myself today and improved. … This is my love, the pressure of long matches, the thing that makes my life. … Jack is one of my friends. I don’t really know how he plays but I know he likes to attack. We’re going to see him tomorrow.”
Kennedy said of Ivanov’s dynamic forehand. “He’s a big hitter; that big forehand is nothing I can’t handle.”
Tuck, who lost in the finals of Herr and also finished runner-up in the USTA National Hard Courts this year, thought the third time would be a charm, but the bigger bowl of oranges went to Kim, who reeled off nine straight games from 1-3 down of the first set.
“He could put his forehand anywhere he wants, deep, short, angle, anywhere,’’ said Tuck, who hadn’t dropped a set in his first six matches.
“I usually get free points on my serve, but he was hitting every return deep and I couldn’t do much off it. … Overall, I’m really happy with Eddie Herr and the final here. I played some of the best tennis of my life and I’m super confident going into the new year.”
It has been an impressive month for the Korean Tennis Federation, who brought eight boys and girls from home to compete in the Herr and Junior Orange Bowl tournaments. Korean Sehyuk Cho, the top seed in the boys’ 14s lost in the quarters, but he won the Herr 14s and the under-14s Wimbledon event. However, he broke away from the Korean Federation and is represented by IMG in Bradenton. Korean Hyunyee Lee won the Herr girls’ 16s.
In the girls’ 12s division, which also shifted from Crandon to the hard courts at the Biltmore Hotel, Korean second seed Yeri Hong nearly blew a set and 5-2 lead and actually faced match point in the third set before prevailing 6-2, 6-7 (5), 7-5 over Haniya Minhas (3) of Pakistan. It was a Herr semifinal rematch also won by Hong 10-6 in the third-set superbreaker. Hong is pursuing the junior version of the Sunshine Sweep as she won the Herr 12s’ title.
“I was more aggressive and consistent on the big points,’’ Hong said via interpreter Yoo.
The speedy Hong will play top-seeded Christina Lyutova, a Russian native representing the US (green card), who knocked off Herr finalist and fourth seed Yui Komada of Japan, 6-3, 7-6 (4). Lyutova, who trains at Gorin Tennis Academy near Seattle, is on a mission to win the 12s’ title after losing the final last year to Lia Belbova of Moldavia.
“Yes, [last year’s loss] fired me up and I said I will come back here next year, and I will win,’’ said Lyutova, 12, who bypassed the Herr tournament to win the USTA National Indoors in Toledo, Ohio.
In the girls’ 14s, top-seeded Hannah Klugman of Great Britain was tested for the first time this week, but staved off third-seeded Emerson Jones of Australia, 6-2, 6-3 in the first semifinal. The long-legged 13-year-old, a native and resident of Wimbledon, hasn’t come close to losing a set this week and was on a run of at least 25 straight games before Emerson, 14, who’s ranked 40th on the ITF 18-and-under World Rankings, won her first game.
Klugman, who lost in the 14s’ quarterfinals here last year to Bulgaria’s Rositsa Dencheva (quarterfinalist of the Orange Bowl 18s this month), will face Adelina Lachinova in the 9 a.m. final Tuesday after the fourth-seeded Latvian blunted the power of second seed and Herr 14s 6-foot-2 champion Yihan Qu of China, 7-6 (3), 6-4, by counterpunching and running everything down.
Lachinova and Ivanov are scholarship recipients of the ITF Grand Slam Player Development Program. She lost to Klugman in a rain-interrupted match earlier this year at the ITF World Junior (team) Tennis Championships.
“I tried to stay aggressive also in response,’’ Lachinova said in Russian but was translated by Igor Semichin. “I tried to hit angles because I know [Qu] will play crosscourt. I handled her power by moving her to the sides.
“I will be calmer [against Klugman]. Last time I won the first set, but rain delayed the match for 90 minutes. I got angry. I will try to play more deep to crush her rhythm. She has a good serve so I must hold my serve better.”