Monday, 24 February 2014

Junior Tennis Review - 24/02

Jodie Anna Burrage won her first Grade 4 title
in Oslo this week
ITF/CAT African Closed Junior 18 & Under Championships (Morocco) - Grade B2

Sandra Samir lifted her second junior title of the year as she won the African Championships in Casablanca yesterday. The 16-year old was the top seed and was fully expected to be the class act in this field and she did not disappoint. She barely had to break sweat in dispatched the fourth and third seeds, Lesedi Sheya Jacobs and Theresa Alison van Zyl respectively,  in consecutive rounds to reach the final, where she met fellow Egyptian, Mayar Sherif. It was the first time that she was challenged, but after splitting the opening two sets, she pulled away to clinch a 6-3, 2-6, 6-0 victory and defend the title that she won twelve months ago. Opponents in the singles final, the two Egyptians teamed up to lift the doubles title as they crushed all-comers to win the title without dropping a set. Rita Atik and Lina Qostal were the opposition in the final, but the Moroccan pairing were able to win just two games.

Jalisko Junior Cup (Mexico) - Grade 4

Sydney Arnea Riley won her first ever junior title in Jalisco as she battled past the local favourite, Daniela Morales Beckmann. Riley had to overcome a long semi-final against the in-form Costa Rican, Ariana Rahmanparast, to reach the final and she showed her stamina in beating Morales Beckmann 6-7, 7-6, 6-4 to lift the trophy. It was also a dream run for the junior #773 ranked Mexican, who had never passed the quarter-final stage in a junior tournament until this moment. There was further heartbreak for the Mexican crowd as the top seeded pair of Jessica Hinojosa Gomez and Ana Luisa Perez Lopez were beaten in the doubles final by Megan Horn and Ariana Rahmanparast in a third set tiebreak.

ITF Oslo Open 2014 (Norway) - Grade 4

14-year old Brit, Jodie Anna Burrage, lifted her first Grade 4 title and her second overall junior title in Oslo. It was a dominant week for Burrage as she dropped just fifteen games in her five matches and never looked like dropping a set. The highlight was a 6-2, 6-1 victory over the second seed, Berfu Cengiz, in the semi-final and she showed no sign of nerves as eighth seed, Ulyana Grib, was beaten 6-3, 6-4 in the final. Grib would suffer further disappointment as she lost the final of the doubles competition with her partner Marina Darzyan as they were beaten by the fourth seeded home pair of Alexandra Borg and Pauline Jahren.

Bavarian Junior Championships (Germany) - Grade 4

Tamara Zidansek won her first Grade 4 tournament and first junior tournament in almost 18 months as she overcome Theo Gravouil in the final in Cadolzburg. Her half of the draw opened up as top seed, Karoline Kurz, lost in the first round and the fourth seed took advantage, dropping just one set on route to the title. Her opponent, Gravouil, can also be pleased with her week as she reached her first career junior final. The doubles final was won by the Swiss-German pairing of Jessica Bruehwiler and Anna Gabric, who overcame the Swiss pair of Tamara Arnold and Medina Sahinagic in the final.

ALK Open (Finland) - Grade 4

In a tournament dominated by the Russians (with seven of the eight quarter-finalists), it was fifth seed, Tina Bokhua, who won her first junior title in her fourth final. She won in style, not dropping a single set, although she did play just one seeded player on her run to the title. The final victory was a straight-forward 6-4, 7-5 win over the unseeded Natalia Belova, who had beaten the third seed on route to the final. Belova would take home a trophy though as she teamed with fellow Russian, Polina Bakhmutkina, to beat Darina Leonenko and Aleksandra Vostrikova in the final of the doubles.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Junior Tennis Review - 16/02

Paula Badosa Gibert won the Mediterranee
Avenir Grade 1 event in Morocco
Mediterranee Avenir (Morocco) – Grade 1

A huge shock in this Grade 1 event as unseeded Spaniard, Paula Badosa Gibert, came through qualifying to go all the way to the title without dropping a set. Seven straight sets victories will catapult her from 535 in the junior rankings to the verge of the top 150. She beat three of the top 8 seeds in the tournament, capping it with a win over the very talented Sandra Samir in the final. Top seed, Ioana Ducu, was beaten in the third round by Canada’s Marie-Alexandre Leduc. The doubles ended in a walkover in the final as the team of Anna Bondar and Ioana Ducu pulled out, gifting the title to Viktoria Kuzmova and Kristina Schmiedlova.

Condor de Plata (Bolivia) – Grade 2

Raquel Pedraza made up for last week's disappointment as she lifted her first junior title. The 16-year old American beat her compatriot, Gabrielle Faith Andrews, in straight sets in the final to cap off a successful week, where she dropped just the single set. There was home joy in the doubles, as Bolivia's Daniela Ruiz teamed up with Paraguayan Gabriela Ferrerira Sanabria to defeat second seeds, Nicole Frenkel and Ellyse Hamlin in a third set tiebreak.

Trofeul D.Sturdza (Moldova) – Grade 2

In a tournament dominated by the Russians, it was 15-year old Daria Kruzhkova who lifted her first Grade 2 title and fourth junior title overall. The second seed did not drop a set throughout the tournament, beating unseeded compatriot Ksenia Stashenkova in the final. Stashenkova had progressed against the top seed, Anna Blinkova, in the semi-final when Blinkova retired after the first set. The injury that forced Blinkova out of the singles also caused her and Kruzkhova to forfeit the doubles final with the Romanian pair of Ioana Diana Pietroiu and Andrada Ioana Surdeanu benefiting.

NZ ITF Summer Championships 2014 (New Zealand) – Grade 3

13-year old, Destanee Aiava, improved to 16-2 for the year and extended her winning run to 10 matches as she destroyed the field at the NZ Summer Championships. Not only did she not drop a set, nobody got closer than 6-3 as she handed out five 6-1 sets on route to the title. Second seed, Claire Yonnkee Choi Spackman, was dispatched for the loss of just two games, while top seed, Madison Inglis, won just three games as the youngster obliterated the competition. Spackman would lift a trophy though as she won the doubles event with her partner, Rosie Cheng, who were awarded the title after the Hule sisters withdrew ahead of the final.

Copenhagen Winter Cup (Denmark) – Grade 4

The tournament had its dream final as the top two seeds faced off. Eventually, it would be the British top seed, Katie Swan, who would overcome the local favourite, Julie Noe, in a final set tiebreak. Neither players had dropped a set on their path to the final, but it was a tough battle to determine the champion. Swan would complete the pair as she lifted the doubles title with her partner, Claudia Wiktorin, as they beat Wilhelmina Palmer and Ida Seljevoll Skancke 12-10 in the third set tiebreak.

Queretaro Junior Cup (Mexico) – Grade 4

Costa Rica’s Ariana Rahmanparast won her first ever junior title, but had to do it the hard way as she battled through three back-to-back three set matches before top seed, Jenna Friedel, retired at 6-4, 2-1 down in the final. Despite that, there can be few arguments that she deserved the title, beating three of the top four seeds in the tournament. Sofia Wicker was the best hope for the home fans, but eventually succumbed to Jenna Friedel in the semi-finals. Rahmanparast nearly capped off the perfect week as she reached the final of the doubles with her partner Arisha Ladhani, but they were pipped at the post by the American duo of Hada Chang and Sydney Arnea Riley.

ITF 4 Indoor Almere 2014 (Netherlands) – Grade 4

There was British success in the Netherlands as Anastasia Mikheeva beat the home favourite, Liza Lebedzeva, to lift her second Grade 4 title of her career. The 14-year old dropped just the single set during her run to the title, that being in the semi-final against the eighth seed, Isolde de Jong. Having defeated three of the top eight seeds, Mikheeva can be pleased with her week. Lebedzeva made up for the disappointment of losing the singles final as she lifted the doubles title with her partner, Vinciane Remy, as their opponents withdrew ahead of the final.

6th Kenya International Junior Championships (Kenya) – Grade 5

The tournament saw a pair of first-time finalists as seventh seed, Jessica Crivelletto, took on British eighth seed, Katarina Weymouth. It would be the Swiss player that emerged victorious to lift her first ever junior title after a three set battle. There was disappointment for local hopeful, Kenya’s Stephanie Mbaya, who crashed in the second round, despite being seeded fourth for the tournament. However, Crivelletto was unable to win a second title as she lost in the doubles final with her partner Anita Ance Detlava as the unseeded Austrian pair of Antonia Paleczek and Victoria Walter won 11-9 in the third set tiebreak.

Monday, 10 February 2014

Junior Tennis Review - 10/02

Sandra Samir won her sixth junior title in Hammamet this week
ITF Juniors Tennis Club Hammamet (Tunisia) – Grade 2

It was a tournament that Sandra Samir was expected to win and the 16-year old Egyptian did not disappoint. After dropping a set in her first match against Anastasiya Shoshyna, she was flawless throughout the rest of the tournament, eventually defeating Anna Bondar of Hungary 6-4, 7-5 in the final. It was a sixth junior title for the Eddie Herr finalist, who is likely to find herself seeded at Roland Garros in May. The doubles saw a second dose of heartache for Anna Bondar, who with her partner Rebeka Stolmar, lost in two tiebreaks to the second seeds, Justina Mikulskyte and Mirabelle Njoze.

Donetsk City Cup (Ukraine) – Grade 2

Boasting the top seed in the tournament in Helen Ploskina, the Ukrainian fans were optimistic of a home winner this week. However, it was the unfancied Maryna Veksler, ranked 389 in the juniors, who came closest to providing a Ukrainian champion, having beaten Ploskina in the semi-final. In her first junior tournament in over six months, Veksler beat two three seeded players on her run to the final, but eventually fell short against the fourth seed from Russia, Natalia Vikhlyantseva. It was a third junior title for Vikhlyantseva, but her first at Grade 2 level, and she capped an excellent week by lifting the doubles title with her partner Veronica Miroshnichenko.

Inka Bowl (Peru) – Grade 2

Julieta Lara Estable, clinched the biggest title of her career thus far by lifting the Inca Bowl trophy. The unseeded Argentinian, ranked 797 in the juniors, was rarely troubled during her run to the title, dropping just a single set in her five matches. Her biggest challenge was against the top seeded American, Dasha Ivanova, in the quarter-finals, but she came through that and beat Raquel Pedraza 6-4, 7-6 in the final. The doubles saw Mary Catherine Haffey and Alexis Prokopuik, pairing together for the first time, beat Anna Brogan and Meghan Kelley in the final.

Swiss Junior Trophy (Switzerland) – Grade 4

Swiss hopes were high for a home champion and the local fans were rewarded when 15-year old Tamara Arnold came out victorious in an all-Swiss final, beating Medina Sahinagic 6-3, 6-0. It was a first career title for Arnold in her first ever final, who will now be hoping to continue the good form into the future. Beating three of the top eight seeds during her run to the title will give her plenty of confidence to push up the rankings. There was also home success in the doubles as third seeds, Chiara Grimm and Aline Thommen beat the Dutch pair of Elise Moeyes and Claire Verwerda in the final.

2014 Tecnifibre Tennis Central Championships (New Zealand) – Grade 4

It was a week to remember for the second seed, Destanee Aiava. The 13-year old Australian continued her extraordinary start to the year with her first ever junior title. After reaching the semi-final in Traralgon and the third round of the Australian Open, she breezed through the field, dropping just one set, capping it with a 6-2, 7-5 win in the final against the top seed, Chihiro Muramatsu. In the doubles, there was success for the Hule sisters with Chloe and Petra defeating Jiaqing Mo and Le Zhao in the final.

Nairobi International Junior Championships III (Kenya) – Grade 5

Zimbabwe’s Nicole Dzenga, the eighth highest ranked African junior, came through to lift her first junior title, beating Israeli Keren Rozen in the final. It was a tough battle in the final, but Dzenga clinched the final set 6-4, having split the opening two sets, but Rozen will also be pleased to have reached her first ever final. Mariana Carreira and Georgia Lawson lifted their second doubles title in as many weeks as they crushed the second seeded pair of Devanshi Bhimjiyani and Isha Budwal in the final 6-1, 6-0.

ITF Junior Tournament: Egypt 1 (Egypt) – Grade 5

The home fans in Cairo had an all-Egyptian final to enjoy as third seed, Iaila Elnimr, defeated his compatriot, Dina Hegab 7-5, 6-1 to lift the title. The 14-year old won his first ever junior title, battling his way through a number of tough three matches to clinch the title. He made it a pair of trophies as he joined Lamis Alhussein Abdel Aziz to win the doubles, beating Rana Essam and Vicky Geurinckx in the final.

Monday, 3 February 2014

Elizaveta Kulichkova - Star of the Future?

It may have been a relatively weak tournament, but that will not have bothered Elizaveta Kulichkova. The fourth seed had been one of the favourites going into the tournament having reached the semi-final last year before losing to eventual champion, Ana Konjuh, but with the exception of one lapse of concentration, she breezed through the tournament with consummate ease.
It is likely to be the Novosibirsk-born 17-year old’s final junior tournament, but she has already started to make waves on the senior circuit. She won her first senior title in the Turkish city of Antalya back in April 2012, when having just turned 16, she came through qualifying to lift the trophy without dropping a single set. In just her third senior tournament, it was quite a statement.

She really put her name out there in Istanbul almost a year to the day after her first senior title. Just over a week after her 17th birthday, she stormed through a $50k tournament, beating four top-250 players without dropping a set. While she succumbed to defeat against Donna Vekic in the final, she was beginning to develop the confidence to believe that she was destined for bigger things in the near future.

Her second ITF title came in July 2013 in Istanbul. Once again, she had to come through qualifying, but despite playing five players ranked above her, she never looked like losing and lifted the biggest title of her career with a three set victory over Kateryna Kozlova, ranked over 250 places above her.

2014 would see Kulichkova embark on a 15-match winning run to start the new year, lifting a $25k title in Hong Kong with victories over the likes of Pauline Parmentier and a demolition of Zarina Diyas in the final. It would provide good preparation for her first major goal of 2014 – the Australian Open Junior title.
Wushuang Zheng, Lizette Cabrera and Destanee Aiava were dispatched without any problems, before arguably her biggest challenge against the sixth seeded Latvian, Jelena Ostapenko. After splitting the first two sets 6-1, 1-6, she battled through 6-4 in the deciding set to set up a semi-final match against Ziyue Sun in what was virtually a title decider. A straight-sets victory saw her through to the final where she beat unseeded Croatian, Jana Fett, for the loss of just three games to lift the title.

Remaining in Australia, she played a $50k event in Burnie, where she would continue to show her ability. Former top-50 player, Yung-Jan Chan was beaten in straight sets and home favourite, Arina Rodionova, was also unable to take a set off the young Russian. Misa Eguchi was one step too far in a long battle in the final, but it was her 11th match in 14 days, so some fatigue was understandable.

Only 17, her build is reminiscent of Ana Ivanovic. Already 5ft 9in tall, she is very slim, but is capable of generate easy power from both wings. She hits flat, powerful groundstrokes on both the forehand and the backhand, and finds excellent depth when given the time to pick her shots.

Given her age, some inconsistency is expected, but there are already signs in 2014 that she is beginning to mature. The 15-match winning streak to start the year showed that she is capable of stringing back-to-back weeks together already. With the restrictions on the number of tournaments that she can play due to her age, this ability to get her confidence up and put runs together is crucial.

There are weaknesses in her game though, particularly on the defensive side. She has often struggled against other big hitters as her movement and footwork has let her down, leaving her unable to get into position to play her own shots. She struggles to get many big shots back into play with any great depth or angle, meaning that she is liable to be hit into submission.

Her serve requires more work to turn it into more of a weapon, rather than just a tool to get the ball into play. During the Australian Open final, her fastest speed was just 169kmh with an average of 143kmh. As a comparison, that puts her roughly on a level with the likes of Jie Zheng and slightly below Heather Watson.

While her serve may not be a weapon, she makes the most of her powerful groundstrokes on the return. The graphic below shows a variety of statistics from her run in 2014 thus far, but one that most stands out is the break points created per game – 1.26. In other words, she would expect to create at least one break point in every return game. A conversion rate of 47% is solid and around the WTA average, although as she moves up the levels, she will have to improve to keep her conversion rate up there against higher calibre opposition.
The danger she poses on return is clearly presented by the points won on return statistic. It shows that she has won a hugely impressive 53.2% of points on return this year and with figures like that, it is no surprise that she creates a host of break points opportunities.

This is slightly balanced by the 59.9% of points that she wins behind her own serve, which is below the WTA average. This shows that she really needs to work on this aspect of her game as she moves on to tackle more talented opponents. With her height, she should be able to work on that part of her game.

Overall, she has enjoyed a stunning start to 2014, having already improved her ranking by 75 places in January, moving up to 230 and into contention for entry into qualification for the Grand Slam events later in the year. Having said that, it will be interesting to see whether she enters the Grand Slam or focuses on the higher level ITF events in the early part of this year to bolster her ranking ahead of a real push in the later months of 2014 and early 2015.

Whatever she decides to do, the future looks very bright for the young Russian. Whether she can go right to the top echelons of the game remains to be seen, but it would be no surprise to see the name of Elizaveta Kulichkova hitting the headlines in the future.
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