Danilovic upsets defending champ Kenin at Metropolia Orange Bowl

December 10, 2015 06:30 AM

By Pat Mitsch, special to USTA.com
– Olga Danilovic never doubted she could win the biggest match of her young career, much in the same way her father likely believed he could score on Michael Jordan.

Brimming with confidence bestowed by her father, former Miami Heat shooting guard Sasha Danilovic, the 14-year-old Serb ousted the top-seeded defending champion Sofia “Sonya” Kenin (pictured above), 6-0, 5-7, 7-5, in the girls’ 18s first round of the Metropolia Orange Bowl Wednesday at the Frank Veltri Tennis Center.

Danilovic leveraged her lanky, 6-foot frame to overpower Kenin with relentless serves and ground strokes, a stark contrast from the last time these two played each other – one week ago at the Eddie Herr championships in Bradenton, Fla., where Kenin won, 6-2, 6-0, in the second round.

Danilovic took that defeat as a lesson on how to beat the world’s No. 2-ranked junior and came out thinking and swinging big on Wednesday.

“I didn’t know her (at Eddie Herr), so I didn’t know what to play. So she attacked me,” said Danilovic, who had never played in a Grade A event – the highest designation of junior tournament on the ITF circuit – until the Orange Bowl. “This time, I know how I have to play, and I started playing from the first point like that – more aggressive.

“I felt I can beat her,” she added. “From the first point to the last point, I felt I can beat her.”

The topsy-turvy match ended with some controversy, after Kenin – who pushed the match to three sets after losing the first, 6-0 – saved one of two match points at 5-6 down in the third. During the rally on Danilovic’s second match point, Danilovic hit a ball deep, near the line, that Kenin believed to be long. With no call from the chair umpire, she half-swung on the return and shanked it, then protested with the chair umpire as Danilovic celebrated.

“I felt like I was getting overpowered by her in the beginning, so I knew she wouldn’t be able to last that long,” said Kenin, a native of nearby Pembroke Pines, Fla., who reached the US Open girls’ singles final in September. “I tried to come back in the second set, but the third set just didn’t go my way.”

Kenin, 16, says she’ll play in mostly professional tournaments and some junior Grand Slams in 2016, but the majority of her junior career is behind her. Danilovic’s, meanwhile, is just getting started.

“This is the biggest tournament, so I tried to come here to see how I’m playing against the best girls. I felt like I can play with them,” she said. “It’s incredible. The feeling is really incredible.”

Despite Kenin’s loss, nearly half of the players remaining in the girls’ 18s field (15) are American, including No. 4 seed Usue Arconada (College Park, Md.), No. 6 seed Kayla Day (Santa Barbara, Calif.), 2014 US Open junior semifinalist Caroline Dolehide (Hinsdale, Ill.), Claire Liu (Thousand Oaks, Calif.), Stanford recruit Emma Higuchi (Los Angeles), Kariann Pierre-Louis (Miami), Alexandra Sanford (Westerville, Ohio), Hanna Chang (Fontana, Calif.) and Abigail Desiatnikov (Sandy Springs, Ga.), all of whom won first-round matches on Wednesday, some of which were resumed in progress after rain halted play Tuesday night.

In contrast to last year’s boys’ 18s draw – which was filled with top American contenders, such as eventual champion Stefan Kozlov as well as Taylor Fritz, Tommy Paul, Reilly Opelka and Michael Mmoh – 14th-seeded Ulises Blanch (Pompano Beach, Fla.) is the highest-seeded of the six American boys to reach the second round this year. Four American boys advanced on Tuesday: 2014 Orange Bowl 16s champ Sam Riffice (Roseville, Calif.), John McNally (Cincinnati), Robert Loeb (Hilton Head Island, S.C.) and Mwendwa Mbithi (Boca Raton, Fla.).

Both the second and third rounds of the boys’ and girls’ 16s singles draws will be played on Thursday to make up for the rain delays earlier in the week. The boys’ and girls’ 18s fields will then play the third and quarterfinal rounds of singles on Friday in order to ensure the tournament concludes as scheduled on Sunday.

Visit OrangeBowlTennis.org for the latest draws and order of play.