Any Minnesota tourist would be delighted to be in South Florida this week, as the Saturday forecast back home is high of 8 degrees and low of minus-2. For 15-year-old Alexis Nelson, a native of St. Paul, the visit has been particularly heartwarming.
Not only has she been wearing short sleeves, but also she advanced to Saturday’s 16s girls final of the Orange Bowl International tennis championship. She will play fifth-seeded Charlotte Robillard-Millette of Canada.
Nelson, who is unseeded, upset No. 4 seed Lisa Ponomar of Germany 7-5, 4-6, 6-4 on Friday in a semifinal match that lasted nearly three hours. After taking a commanding 7-5, 4-1 lead, Nelson let her guard down, dropped five consecutive games, but managed to rally for the biggest win of her career.
“Everyone in this tournament is so tough, physically and mentally, so if you give anybody a chance, just a little hope of coming back, thinking they can come out on top, they’re going to take that chance and look for those opportunities,” Nelson said.
“I’ve played a lot of these tournaments where there are big prizes on the line, and I’ve had a couple or really disappointing losses where it wasn’t just the fact that I lost, it’s that I was mentally beaten, and I gave up. This match could have gone either way, and I’m so happy I kept fighting.”
Considering she spends much of the year training indoors, it is quite an accomplishment for Nelson to go this deep at one of the world’s most prestigious junior events. On clay, no less, a surface on which she rarely practices.
“There aren’t that many clubs in Minnesota, obviously,” she said, smiling. But her father, David, was a high school tennis player in North Dakota and continues to compete. He taught Alexis the game when she was 5 years old, and remains her coach.
“It’s not so much where you are, it’s your mind-set on the court every day,” Nelson said.
When she isn’t playing tennis, Nelson dabbles in soccer, figure skating, badminton and biking. She also loves crafting.
On the boys’ side, the 16s final Saturday will be an all-Korean affair between top seed Yunseong Chung and No. 2 seed Chan-Young Oh. Both knocked out Americans in the semis. Chung beat Sameer Kumar 6-1, 6-3, and Oh beat Eduardo Nava 6-3, 7-5.
In the 18s, unseeded 15-year-old Sofia Kenin of Pembroke Pines upset No. 5 Marie Bouzkova 6-2, 7-6 (7-5) in the quarterfinals. Sixth seed Ioana Ducu beat No. 3 Tornado Black of Boca Raton 5-7, 6-3, 6-4. Americans Francis Tiafoe and 15-year-old Stefan Kozlov of Pembroke Pines advanced to the boys’ semifinals. Kozlov beat Naoki Nakagawa 6-1, 5-7, 6-3 and will face No. 1 Alexander Zverev of Germany.
Kozlov beat Zverev the last time they played, but he said, “I’ll definitely be the underdog because he’s not No. 1 in the world for nothing.”