ONLY 10 MATCHES COMPLETED AS RAIN SOAKS NJT INTERNATIONAL MASTERS
For the third successive day rain forced play to be suspended at the Nike Junior Tour International Masters played at Club Med Sandpiper Bay on Sunday. Only 10 matches were able to be completed and the tournament will need some decent weather on Monday in order to get back on track.
Five of the boys Under-12 matches and the same number of girls Under-14 matches were brought to their conclusion.
One of the players who was able to get his first match of the tournament behind him was second seed Alexei Popyrin in the boys Under-12 draw. He played a shaky first set in his contest against Gabriel Francois Decamps of Brazil, but once he had that behind him he went on to close out the match 7-6 (7-4) 6-2.
The lapse halfway through the opening was not entirely of his own making, as early in the match the players were called off for the first rain break of the day. The boys Under-12 competition is played on clay and with the rain being light, they were told to stay close to the courts. Within a few minutes the rain stopped and they were called back.
“At the start of the match I was playing really well but after the rain break the balls became heavy and I struggled,” explained Popyrin. “But then I adapted to the balls and I began to play better. In the second I played well - and won.”
Throughout the set Decamps had the edge, breaking Popyrin regularly. However, he could not hold on to his own serve. The Brazilian even had a chance to serve for the set but was unable to close it out. The set went to a tie-breaker and for Poyprin that was the turning point of the match. “I haven’t lost a lot of tie-breakers this year so I felt confident I could win it.”
In fact, he has recorded a victory over top seed Artem Dubrivny of Russia this year and that all came in a tie-breaker. “We played in a tournament in Italy on clay and it came down to a third set tie-breaker, which I won 11-9.”
If they meet again in the final, it will be on the faster green clay courts. “I like red clay a little bit better. It gives me more time to hit the ball,” said Popyrin. “But I still prefer to play on hard courts.”
This is his second visit to the NJT International Masters and the youngster, who is now based in Italy, has set high standards for himself this year. “The players this year are really good. But then I am older, wiser, stronger and faster than I was last year. I have had my best season so far.”
Popyrin won four tournaments this year, starting with the Australian Nationals that was played on grass. Then he went on to win two events in Italy and one in Switzerland reached the finals of another event in Italy, as well as the semifinals of a French tournament and the Eddie Herr International last week.
Asked whether he believes he can win here, Popyrin replied: “I hope so. I’ve been working hard for this tournament and I think I can do well.”
For Popyrin the NJT International Masters is a special tournament. “I like all the fun we have every night. Everything at the Club is free and the people are all nice and kind.”
His next opponent will be Mischa Lanz of Switzerland, who scored an impressive 6-1 6-2 victory over Marc Keki of Hungary.
Also through to the next round are Briton Dominic West and talented eighth seeded Chilean Matias Soto Carmona who is drawn to meet Popyrin in the quarter-finals.
BEFEKI LOOKING TO GO OUT IN STYLE
Seventh seed Bianka Befeki of Hungary is currently playing in her third NJT International Masters but as a 14-year-old this event at Club Med Sandpiper Bay will be her last. “I’m really sad. I don’t want to think that this is my last three days at the NJT.
“It is a wonderful tournament and it’s held in so many beautiful places. It’s for the kids. I like the parties and the people and everybody is so helpful.
I reached the Under-12 semifinals in Punta Cana two years ago and I at least want to make the semifinals here. But it is my last time here and I really would love to win.”
She started off well enough, defeating Czech Petra Melounova 6-3 6-0. “I think it was a good match. She played well but I played better. The difference is that she hits four or five or fast balls but I can hit seven or eight.”
Her next opponent will be Israel’s Valeria Nikolaev who put out Elkyzaveta Pletnyeva of Ukraine 6-2 6-1. “I played with her two years ago at the Summer Cup in Italy on clay and I won in the third set. But I think the hard courts will be in my favour because my game is better suited to the faster surface.”
Third seed Ana Konjuh of Croatia had an even easier opening match when proved far too strong for Alena Weiss of Austria, wining through 6-0 6-1. “I thought I played well,” said Konjuh, adding that she was not too perturbed by the rain breaks. “I like the rain because I can relax. I have no problem playing two matches on the next day.”
This is Ana’s second visit to the NJT International Masters. “I played last year in the Bahamas and I thought it was the best tournament I’d ever been to. I made a lot of friends. Every day you have some fun with your friends you hang out with them. It’s great.”
Konjuh has had a very good year and is currently ranked No 1 in Europe. “I won the European Championship in the Czech Republic and the Under-16 Junior Master in Italy.”
Her next opponent has yet to be decided but she is in the top half of the draw and is seeded to meet top seed Maria Shishkina in the semifinals. “We haven’t played for two years but I beat her twice. I’m sure it will be a lot tougher now.”
Other winners on the day were eighth seed Iryna Shymanovich of Belarus, and Nikolena Jovic of Serbia.