Ksenia Efremova and Marco Ontiveros Castro (GER) have each won their maiden Super Category tournaments, lifting the winner’s trophy in Portugal. They defeated in-form players Hollie Smart (GBR) and Savva Rybkin in what was a story of contrasts. The win had been a long time coming for the Russian starlet, while the German has stunned many pundits by nabbing a major on the Tennis Europe Junior Tour.
In the final, Efremova bolted out of the gates to a 4-1 lead, which Smart whittled down to 5-5, by asserting herself more and successfully venturing to the net on occasion. Efremova, miserly with her unforced errors, broke back and took the first set, before breaking away in the second and taking the title 7-5 6-1.
An elated Efremova was all smiles after her big win, “I feel very, very happy because I was recently in two big finals, and this time I did it, so I’m very happy with that! At the beginning (after getting the break) I really slowed down a bit and she came back. At 5-5 I played more aggressively and I won.”
Efremova, the 2022 Junior Masters champ, has been putting in the hours at the Mouratoglou Academy since then and since racked up a slew of trophies: she won Tim Essonne, was Runner-up in Stockholm and was also pipped at the post in the final of the 16&U event in Torelló. Smart, too, has been on a fantastic run. This was her third consecutive TEJT final, having come into the championship decider on a 15-match winning streak on the tour, having taken the 14&U title in Wrexham as well as the 16&U event in Coimbra.
Ontiveros Castro also began the final full of adrenaline and leapt to a 4-0 lead in the first set, breaking Rybkin twice, and quickly forged ahead to take the opener 6-2. Rybkin rallied and secured a break in the second set but failed to close it out when serving at 5-3 up. The doubt and nerves that seeped in were all Ontiveros needed to pounce on Rybkin and bring the hard-hitting encounter to 5-5, only for the German to pull away and take the title 6-2 7-5.
We also spoke to Ontiveros after the final and he reflected back on his performance in Maia. “‘I’m feeling very happy because it was very tough, especially the semifinal. I’m just very happy to win this. Now I’m flying to Most for a Category 1 event, and I hope I win there too!”
Having previously won a 12&U event at home in Germany in 2021 and a 14&U tournament last year in Croatia, Ontiveros is now in the big leagues. Watch for a big jump in the #RaceToMonteCarlo from the German. Rybkin, regardless how disappointing a loss can be, can be heartened by the fact that he has now made five finals in a row after his shock R3 loss in Tarbes. He was a finalist in Tim Essonne, as well as two J30 events, and now here in Maia. One of those five finals included a dominant win at the Super Category event in Stockholm.
One standout amongst all the top-notch achievements in Maia was the amazing result of boys’ semifinalist, the unseeded Alexey Frolov. He fought his way through qualifying and took out no less than three seeded players, Mustafa Ege Sek (TUR, 4), Vincent Jakob Reisach (GER, 14) and Artem Semenov (10). Frolov came into the event with few points, despite having been the surprise champ at Tim Essonne, thus having to play qualies. In the match of the tournament, Frolov held a match point against Ontiveros in the second set tiebreak, but succumbed to the fifth seed, with the German winning their semifinal encounter 6-7(8) 7-6(7) 6-3 in 3 hours and 20 minutes.
With the ups come the downs and of course, as with any major tournament, there are bound to be some surprises along the way, the biggest of which this year might have been the dismissal of the top boys’ seed in the round of 16 by Spaniard Adolfo Abascal 6-1 6-3. Although he claimed that the surface was not the issue with his performance, current race leader Mark Ceban simply acknowledged that his opponent played better tennis on the day. Abascal would then fall to the eventual champion in the quarters.
The number two girls’ seed from the Czech Republic, Sofie Hettlerova also found herself out of the event at the same stage as Ceban, having fallen to Antonia Stoyanov (NED). The Dutch player in turn was stopped at the quarterfinal stage by Ioana-Stefania Boain (ROU) who was then halted by Smart in the semis. Efremova for her part had a three-set fight against Lucie Slamenikova (CZE) in the semis, having earlier outdone Oliwia Sybicka (POL) in the quarters.
No need to be in the doldrums for Sybicka however, as she teamed up with Smart in the girls’ doubles. In what would be a great performance in Maia by any standards having made the singles final, Smart also took home a winner’s trophy in the doubles. The British-Polish combination defeated Victoria Barros (BRA) & Carla Vazquez (ESP) 5-7 6-4 11-9 to take the title. The boys’ doubles champs were the popular combination of Mustafa Ege Sek & Samim Filiz. The Turks defeated the Slovene pairing of Richard Krizan & Leon Sloboda 6-2 7-6(3) in the final.
Fittingly, in the very same week that Carlos Alcaraz won this title six years ago, we are back in Maia on the heels of his win is Barcelona win in the very same week on the professional circuit. Perhaps it won’t be too long before we see this year’s champions holding aloft ATP and WTA trophies.
For the past 22 years, this town on the outskirts of Porto has hosted one of the biggest tournaments on the Tennis Europe Junior Tour. In fact, Maia is known in Portugal as the “city of sports”. We had a chance to talk to the Maia City Councillor in charge of sports Hernani Ribeiro (pictured with Alcaraz): “Tennis is one of the most important sports we have here in Maia. Nuno Borges, world number 74, is from Maia and we are very proud of that. And with Tennis Europe, well, it’s a very good collaboration. We very much like hosting this tournament and we have held other events in the past, because it’s where we want to invest in and promote youth events. We also host ATP challengers in Maia, but our heart is with the youngsters and these kinds of tournaments.”
With a list of partners as long as your arm, an exemplary player transport and accommodation service, as well as an endless supply of food, beverages and player support at the tournament, the participants and their teams could want for nothing. As Councillor Ribeiro stated, “This tournament is improving year after year. Next year, the 30th year, will be even better!”
Meanwhile, in Vic, Spain, Kolos Kincses (HUN) and Sofia Kryvoruchko (UKR) won the 16 & Under Category 1 Memorial Nacho Juncosa. Kincses teamed up with Joao Morgado (POR) and secured the doubles title as well. Part of a swing of top-tier tournaments on the Iberian Peninsula during the clay-court season, this is a tournament offering players plenty of points in the #RaceToMonteCarlo. The players also had the opportunity to attend the Tennis Europe Junior School, where they got an insight into the importance of Nutrition & Hydration as well as handling Media & Social Media.
More highlights from last week:
- Tennis Europe was invited as an Education Partner to the IMG Future Stars 12 & Under Invitational event in Athens, where many of the world’s best 12 & Under players gathered for the special tournament. Following a week of matches, workshops, and the Junior School, Yeri Hong (KOR) and Evan Giurescu (FRA) claimed the coveted titles.
- Gabriel Niedermayr (AUT) & Serena Agostini (ITA) won their first Tennis Europe singles title at the 14 & Under Category 2 Mladost Grill Open in Zagreb, Croatia.
- Veronika Sekerkova (CZE) & Jan Sadzik (POL) won the 16 & Under Category 2 event in Brno, Czech Republic.
- The Avenue Cup in Burgas, Bulgaria saw Briyana Ivanova (BUL) & Ziya Ayberk Aydin (TUR) victorious.
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