CORIC AND KONJUH GIVE CROATIA SWEEP OF US OPEN JUNIOR SINGLES CHAMPIONSHIPS
©Colette Lewis 2013--
Flushing Meadows, NY--
Friends for seven years, Croatia's Borna Coric and Ana Konjuh have watched each other progress through the junior ranks. In Sunday afternoon's US Open Junior Championships, but both came back from a set down against unseeded opponents to reach the pinnacle of junior success: a junior slam singles title.
Konjuh needed to summon every ounce of poise and experience to outlast wild card Tornado Alicia Black of the United States 3-6, 6-4, 7-6(6), while Coric defeated Australia's Thanaski Kokkinakis 3-6, 6-3, 6-1.
Black and the second-seeded Konjuh battled for over two hours and 45 minutes in front of a large and decidedly pro-American Court 11 crowd before the 15-year-old Croatian secured the final point and her second junior slam title.
Black set the tone early, having no difficulty with Konjuh's ferocious pace, countering it effectively and staying in points long enough for Konjuh to hit a winner, or more likely, an error. Black broke for a 4-2 lead, only to be broken right back, but she got yet another break from Konjuh, whose first serve percentage for the match was under 50 percent.
Black, several months younger than Konjuh and playing in only her second junior slam main draw, easily held the next service game, energizing the crowd, which grew larger with every point Black won. Shouts of "Let's go USA," and "C'mon Alicia" were frequently heard, as both the American empathy for the underdog and Black's determination made her a crowd favorite.
"It was really nice from the U.S. that they came out there and supported me," said Black, who lost to Konjuh at last year's US Open Juniors in three sets and at the Orange Bowl in straight sets. "I was really happy. I loved them out there."
Konjuh said she understood she wouldn't have much support from the spectators during the match, but that only increased her motivation.
"Well, it's always tough," said the right-hander from Zagreb. "I mean, she's American, that's normal. But somehow that gave me even more power to win, and I'm really happy I had my team out there. They were also loud for me."
The crowd helped Black recover from a 2-0 deficit in the second set, and waited patiently for her to return from off-court treatment on her heavily bandaged left thigh with Konjuh leading 4-3 on serve in the second set.
"I was hurting a lot," Black said, "but I was trying to focus on the match, and not my leg."
Black saved a break point to make it 4-4, and had a chance to go up 5-4 in a four-deuce game, but Konjuh came up with a good second serve to save that break point, and held.
Serving at 4-5, Black had a 30-0 lead, but a double fault and two rare unforced errors from Black gave Konjuh as set point, and she converted when Black's forehand sailed pass the baseline after a long and intense rally.
Konjuh was broken to start the third set, but won the next three games, only to get broken again. Black held for 3-3, and Konjuh stayed in front but only after saving another break point, this time with a brave forehand winner in another long game. At 5-5, Konjuh saved another break point with another inside out forehand winner, then had a bit of good fortune when she took the game on a lucky net cord winner.
Black was taken to deuce in the next game, but Konjuh made two unforced errors and a tiebreaker would decide the championship for only the second time in the 40-year history of the girls tournament.
Konjuh contributed four unforced errors, including a double fault, to go from a 2-0 lead to a 4-2 deficit in the tiebreaker, and Black led 5-3 when Konjuh missed a forehand volley. But Konjuh kept going for the lines, despite what was at stake, and her forehand found a line to make it 5-4. Black missed a forehand long for 5-5, then Konjuh hit a forehand cross court for a winner to give herself a match point. Black saved with a good backhand that forced a nervous-looking error from Konjuh. Konjuh earned her second match point with a forehand that Black's slice couldn't neutralize, and Konjuh converted it when Black's forehand landed wide.
Konjuh admitted luck played a role in the outcome.
"Luck was also one of the things," Konjuh said. "But I gave 100 percent of myself out there on the court. We played almost three hours, just bad luck for her. She made really good results here, and I just said to myself, don't do stupid mistakes, you know. Just keep the ball in the court, and she's gonna miss somehow."
Konjuh also revealed that Black's aggressive counterpunching style is not the game she likes to face.
"She's really good on the baseline, she doesn't miss a lot," Konjuh said. "That kind of game doesn't suit me. I'm going for a winner a lot, and I don't want to play long points and grind. I had to this match, and I'm really happy that I managed to do it."
Konjuh has said in several press conferences that this is her last junior event, and she will concentrate now on improving her WTA ranking which is now at 284.