Tennis

U.S. boys fall in quarterfinals at Orange Bowl International Tennis

Junior Orange Bowl Tennis International: A chat with UM coach Mario Rincon

University of Miami men's tennis coach Mario Rincon explains why he attends the junior Orange Bowl International Tennis Championship each year, and recruiting is a primary reason. Michelle Kaufman / Miami Herald Staff
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University of Miami men's tennis coach Mario Rincon explains why he attends the junior Orange Bowl International Tennis Championship each year, and recruiting is a primary reason. Michelle Kaufman / Miami Herald Staff

The sun was shining bright at the Orange Bowl International Tennis Championship on Friday, but heavy rain earlier in the week continued to have an effect on the event, as many players were forced to play two matches in the same day to make up postponed matches.

American Sam Riffice had a particularly grueling Friday, as his morning third-round 18-under match against Japan’s Toru Horie dragged on for nearly three hours before he finally closed it out 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 (7-2). Tournament rules say a player who was on the court more than two hours is required to get a minimum of two hours’ rest before the next match.

Riffice had about four hours of rest and then lost his quarterfinal against No. 2 seed Mate Valkusz of Hungary 6-2, 6-2. It was quite a test for Riffice, the 16s champion last year who missed two months with a partially torn hamstring this fall and is just getting back in match form.

“I was cramping a little bit at the end of that match, and I’m thankful I got through it without my legs going into full cramp,’’ Riffice said after the morning match. “I spend a lot of time with the trainers and, hopefully, I can keep bringing my best tennis.’’

Riffice is 16, and a native of Roseville, California. He trains in Boca Raton at the USTA training center and is part of a group of about a half-dozen 15- and 16-year old boys chosen by the USTA to work under the tutelage of eight-time Grand Slam champion Ivan Lendl. It is part of a USTA Player Development initiative to get former champions involved with up-and-comers.

“He’s a great coach; I learned a lot from him,’’ Riffice said. “Just watching every practice, you have to give 100 percent. You can have shorter practices but higher intensity. He’s someone to look up to, someone who’s done what we’ve done and a lot more, and he can help us reach the next step.’’

Another American who had a double shift was Ulises Blanch, who won his third-round match 6-3, 6-2 but then lost the afternoon quarterfinal to No. 9 seed Miomir Kecmanovic 6-2, 6-4. Blanch has had an interesting upbringing and certainly has more frequent-flier miles than most junior players. He was born in Puerto Rico, moved to Seattle as an infant, and because of his father’s job, he has lived in China, India, Thailand and now calls Buenos Aires home.

In 16s, American qualifier Lea Ma of Dix Hills, New York, reached the semifinals by upsetting top-seed Selma Cadar of Romania 6-3, 2-6, 6-4. Boys qualifier Nico Mejia of Colombia, who lives in Miami, reached the semis by rallying from down 5-2 in the third set to beat 15th seed Miguel Pereira of Chile 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (7-4) in an emotionally charged match.

Watching from the sideline was University of Miami coach Mario Rincon, a Colombia native who has known Mejia’s family for years.

“When I went down 5-2, I just told myself that I’ve come back from matches like this before, and I could do it again,’’ said Mejia, who trains at the Miami Shores Country Club. “I kept fighting until the last point, and thank God I was able to come through.’’

The tournament continues through Sunday at the Frank Veltri Tennis Center in Plantation.

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