By Joshua Rey, special to USTA.com
KEY BISCAYNE, Fla.
– Record-low temperatures surrounded South Florida on Tuesday, but Alexios Halebian’s performance at the 2010 Dunlop Orange Bowl was anything but cold. With sizzling serves and strokes, the unseeded American upset world No. 1 Juan Sebastian Gomez, 6-4, 6-4, in a Boys’ 18s first-round singles match.
"At first, I thought it was a bad draw," said Halebian. "But as we got closer to the match, I thought I was going to win it."
Halebian (Glendale, Calif.) has now won seven straight matches at the Dunlop Orange Bowl, dating back to his Boys’ 16s title run one year ago.
Still only 16, the left-handed Halebian has further developed a McEnroe-esque serve and a Nadal-like backhand this season, stroking his two-hander deep and flat to flummox his Colombian opponent.
"My backhand cross-court and my forehand up-the-line have improved," said Halebian. "Those are the little things that lefties need to play."
Halebian could not have asked for a better start, breaking Gomez in the first game when the Youth Olympic Games gold medalist shanked two straight shots in the whipping wind. The American consolidated with a love service hold following two service winners, an inside-out forehand put-away and a successful serve-and-volley play.
"He chose to serve, even though it was windy," said Halebian. "That early break helped, and then I was serving really well."
Unable to break Gomez for a second time in the first set, Halebian did not face a break point in any of his five service games. Serving at 5-4, 30-15, he scrambled up, back, left and then right to retrieve four consecutive shots before Gomez netted an overhead.
One point later, Halebian hit an unreturnable serve to clinch a one-set lead.
He jumped on top of Gomez early in the second set, breaking for 1-0 with a well-angled passing shot, taking a 3-0 lead with an inside-out forehand winner, and racing to 5-1 with an ace.
"I pretty much had the match until then," said Halebian. "I was feeling good, and I could hit the ball more aggressively since I was winning."
Gomez did not go away easily, drawing back to 4-5 after breaking Halebian for the first time in the match.
With a second chance to serve for the victory, Halebian served-and-volleyed at 30-15 but pushed his forehand volley just wide of the sideline.
At 30-30, he nipped the same sideline with a backhand during a lengthy rally that finally finished when Halebian’s short cross-court forehand forced Gomez into a backhand error.
On his first match point, Halebian hit one last service winner in the wind to book a second-round match with Luis Patino of Mexico.
"With the way I toss the ball, I can hit it wherever I want to," said Halebian. "That’s my best shot, and I felt very confident on serve. That helped me a lot."
Marcos Giron, Halebian’s opponent in the 2009 Boys’ 16s final, was also in action Tuesday.
Like his countryman, Giron (Thousand Oaks, Calif.) drew a difficult opponent in the form of No. 2 seed Dominic Thiem of Austria.
With Giron leading 2-1, the Austrian appeared weary after covering the entire court in an extended exchange that ended when the American drew Thiem to the net and passed him with a down-the-line backhand.
Giron held four break points in the fourth game of the first set but could not convert his chances – Thiem saving one with a nifty half-volley and another with fearless strokes that landed just inches inside the baseline.
Holding for 2-2 appeared to give Thiem his second wind.
"In the next game, I broke him," said Thiem, "so that was for sure a very important game."
At 1-1, love-40 in the second set, Giron won a pair or points by serving-and-volleying. But when he used the tactic for a third time, Thiem passed him with a cross-court return winner.
When Giron got to deuce in Thiem’s next service game, the Austrian eliminated any hope of a comeback with the swift swing of a one-handed, down-the-line backhand winner.
By virtue of his 6-2, 6-1 victory over Giron, Thiem increased his winning streak on the ITF Junior Circuit to 13 matches.
"He’s a very good player, and there were many tough rallies," said Thiem. "The match was much closer than the score."
Thiem grew up playing on clay in Austria but said that he has spent the last three months training exclusively on hard courts. That helps explain how he won back-to-back titles at the Yucatan World Cup in Mexico and the Eddie Herr Championships in Bradenton, Fla.
But for all his accomplishments in the past three weeks, Thiem has nothing on 5-foot-2 Lauren Davis (Gates Mills, Ohio).
The 17-year-old American advanced to the second round of the Girls’ 18s singles event with a 6-1, 6-0 victory over Elisabeth Abanda of Canada. Counting junior and professional matches, Davis has now won 19 consecutive matches and 28 of 29 since the US Open.
"I’m being a lot more aggressive but also consistent at the same time," said Davis. "I won’t give my opponent any free points."
Besides capturing titles at the Yucatan World Cup and Eddie Herr Championships, Davis also won two tournaments on the ITF Women’s Circuit: a $10,000 clay-court event in Williamsburg, Va. and a $25,000 hard-courter in Puerto Rico.
"I’m really happy that I’ve been doing well," said Davis. "I’ve been going to tournaments with no expectations and just playing my game. That’s been working."
Before her hot streak, Davis actually lost four straight matches over the summer, starting in the USTA National Championships semifinals and culminating in a first-round defeat to eventual champion Daria Gavrilova at the US Open.
It would have been easy for Davis to deny that losing matches shook her confidence.
"No, it did," she admitted. "But I know from experience that you can’t give up. You just have to train harder and harder."
Like Davis, Lauren Herring (Greenville, N.C.) also won a professional tournament on clay after the US Open. So when she fell behind 0-5 in the second-set of her match with qualifier Julia Elbaba (Oyster Bay, N.Y.), Herring still had reason to believe.
The future Georgia Bulldog clawed her way back from a bagel and into a tiebreak, which she dominated 7-0 to cap a 6-2, 7-6 win.
"I had a little bit more experience than her, so I kept calm the whole time," said Herring, who saved two set points at 1-5. "I was not feeling good about the way I was playing, but I was confident that I could pull through."
Two other unseeded players to keep an eye on this week are doubles partners Grace Min (Duluth, Ga.) and Eugenie Bouchard (Canada).
According to USTA trainer Brian O’Malley, the 5-foot-4 Min can easily squat 225 pounds, and she overpowered Donna Vekic of Croatia 6-2, 6-2.
Min saved four break points in the final game of the first set with two unreturnable first serves, a daring serve-and-volley play and an inside-out forehand winner. She clinched the set by backing up a forehand approach with a down-the-line backhand volley out of Vekic’s reach.
Bouchard broke open a close encounter with No. 2 seed Elina Svitolina by following a down-the-line backhand return with a cross-court backhand winner to clinch the first set against the French Open champion.
"I tried going for the return because I knew that to win the points I had to be more aggressive," said Bouchard, who went on to win, 7-5, 6-2. "I definitely took my chance because you don’t know how many you’re going to get."
Six qualifiers won their first-round main-draw matches on Tuesday, including Jeremy Efferding (Lake Worth, Fla.) and Anne-liz Jeukeng-Nkamgouo (Kansas City, Mo.).
Playing just his third tournament since emergency appendectomy surgery in July, Efferding hasn’t dropped a set through four Boys’ 18s matches this week. He defeated Emmett Egger (Issaquah, Wash.), 6-4, 6-3, to set up a second-round showdown with No. 6 seed Oliver Golding of Great Britain.
"I’m feeling good, getting back into it and competing, trying to get as many matches as I can," said Efferding. "I was happy to get through qualies. That was really big for me. I had to battle against some really tough players, and that helped build my confidence."
Jeukeng-Nkamgouo knocked out No. 14 seed Zarah Razafimahatratra of Madagascar, 7-5, 7-5, in a Girls’ 18s match that featured 16 service breaks and two of the longest last names in tennis.
Difficult as it may be, Jeukeng-Nkamgouo is a name worth remembering. The 14-year-old has reached four quarterfinals and two semifinals on the ITF Junior Circuit this year, all with a one-handed backhand that is improving with every match.
"In 2005, I fell on the court and broke my left wrist," recalled Jeukeng-Nkamgouo, who won a Girls’ 12s sectional tournament while wearing a cast.
"When I got it off, I tried hitting a two-handed backhand again, but it wasn’t the same," she added. "Ever since then, I’ve been playing with a one-handed backhand."
On Wednesday, Dunlop Orange Bowl matches in all divisions will be held at Crandon Park Tennis Center, beginning at 8 a.m.
Admission to the 2010 Dunlop Orange Bowl is free.
64th Dunlop Orange Bowl International Tennis Championships
Crandon Park Tennis Center
Key Biscayne, Fla.
December 5-12, 2010
Girls’ 18s Singles – First Round
 Lauren Davis (Gates Mills, Ohio) d. Elisabeth Abanda (Canada) 6-1, 6-0
 Ilona Kremen (Belarus) d. Sachia Vickery (Miramar, Fla.) 6-3, 2-6, 6-1
[Q] Anne-liz Jeukeng-Nkamgouo (Kansas City, Mo.) d.  Zarah Razafimahatratra (Madagascar) 7-5, 7-5
Demi Schuurs (Netherlands) d.  Ganna Poznikhirenko (Ukraine) 6-2, 2-6, 7-5
Ekaterina Semenova (Russia) d. Jennifer Ren (Great Britain) 7-6(2), 6-2
[SE] Lauren Herring (Greenville, N.C.) d. [Q] Julia Elbaba (Oyster Bay, N.Y.) 6-2, 7-6(0)
Jessica Ren (Great Britain) d. [LL] Elena Maltseva (Russia) 6-3, 6-4
[WC] Anna Mamalat (Philadelphia) d. [Q] Alexandria Stiteler (Bradenton, Fla.) 6-3, 6-3
 An-Sophie Mestach (Belgium) d. [Q] Marcela Zacarias (Mexico) 6-1, 7-6(6)
[Q] Yuliana Lizarazo (Colombia) d. Krista Hardebeck (Santa Ana, Calif.) 7-5, 3-6, 6-3
 Yulia Putintseva (Russia) d. Chanelle Van Nguyen (Coconut Grove, Fla.) 6-3, 6-1
 Madison Keys (Boca Raton, Fla.) d. [Q] Tristen Z. Dewar (Bradenton, Fla.) 6-3, 6-1
Grace Min (Duluth, Ga.) d. [LL] Donna Vekic (Croatia) 6-2, 6-2
[Q] Chichi Scholl (Pompano Beach, Fla.) d. Ellen Allgurin (Sweden) 0-6, 7-6(5), 6-3
Eugenie Bouchard (Canada) d.  Elina Svitolina (Ukraine) 7-5, 6-2
[Q] Stephanie Nauta (Bradenton, Fla.) d. Natalie Beazant (Great Britain) 6-1, 6-2
Boys’ 18s Singles – First Round
[Q] Nik Razborsek (Slovenia) d. Timur Neymatov (Russia) 6-2, 1-0 ret.
Luis Patino (Mexico) d. Julien Cagnina (Belgium) 3-6, 6-4, 6-3
 Mate Pavic (Croatia) d. Kimmer Coppejans (Belgium) 6-4, 7-5
 Liam Broady (Great Britain) d. [Q] Wilfredo Gonzalez (Guatemala) 6-1, 6-1
Alexios Halebian (Glendale, Calif.) d.  Juan Sebastian Gomez (Colombia) 6-4, 6-4
 Bjorn Fratangelo (Pittsburgh) d. Ryota Kishi (Japan) 6-0, 6-7(6), 7-6(5)
 Roberto Quiroz (Ecuador) d. [WC] Thai-Son Kwiatkowski (Charlotte, N.C.) 6-2, 7-6(8)
Patrick Ofner (Austria) d. [LL] Hunter Callahan (Lower Gwynedd, Pa.) 6-1, 6-2
 Oliver Golding (Great Britain) d. Thiago Moura Monteiro (Brazil) 6-1 6-2
Dimitar Kuzmanov (Bulgaria) d. [Q] Connor Farren (Hillsborough, Calif.) 6-1, 6-3
 Jannick Lupescu (Netherlands) d. [WC] Alexander Petrone (Staten Island, N.Y.) 6-1, 7-6(5)
 Mate Zsiga (Hungary) d. Jeroen Vanneste (Belgium) 6-4, 6-1
 Joris de Loore (Belgium) d. Evgeny Karlovskiy (Russia) 6-4, 6-2
Gonzales Austin (Miami) d. [Q] Edward Nguyen (Canada) 6-3, 5-7, 6-2
[Q] Jeremy Efferding (Lake Worth, Fla.) d. [WC] Emmett A. Egger (Issaquah, Wash.) 6-4, 6-3
Dennis Novikov (Boca Raton, Fla.) d. [Q] Luis Elizondo (Weston, Fla.) 6-2, 6-1
 Dominic Thiem (Austria) d. [WC] Marcos Giron (Thousand Oaks, Calif.) 6-2, 6-1
[LL] Gordan Brkic (Croatia) d. [Q] Benjamin Ugarte (Chile) 6-2, 6-4
[Q] Mitchell J. Polnet (Churchville, Pa.) d. Filip Peliwo (Canada) 6-3, 6-2
For Boys’ 18s & Girls’ 18s doubles results, and Boys’ 16s & Girls’ 16s results from the Biltmore Tennis Center, please click on the draw links located at DunlopOrangeBowl.com