Sunday, July 24, 2016

Li Survives Tough Three-Setter to Claim USTA Girls 18s Clay Court Championship; Korda Wins Boys 18s; Noel and Greif Take 16s Titles

©Colette Lewis 2016--
Memphis, TN--

A first singles gold ball was the reward for No. 4 seed Ann Li Sunday afternoon, as she survived a 90-minute rain delay prior to the start of the final and a spirited challenge from No. 9 seed Amanda Meyer to claim a 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 victory at the USTA Girls 18s Clay Court Championships.

Court 4, the show court at the Racquet Club of Memphis, needed extensive maintenance work for about an hour, but the skies cleared and the steamy temperatures that have been smothering the area all week reappeared by the second set of the final.

Li, a 16-year-old from Devon, Pennsylvania, took the opening set by taking her first opportunity late in the set.  With Meyer serving at 4-all 40-15, Li got the game to deuce, then came up with a nasty slice that stayed short and low, drawing an error from Meyer.  On break point, her first since the first game of the match, Li hung on in a rally, with Meyer eventually sending a forehand long.

Serving for the set, Li went up 40-15, but missed a backhand on her first set point. On the second, she got a chance to move forehand and she putaway a swinging forehand volley to take the lead.

"I think in the first set, we were both not playing as well," said Li. "But I think I was kind of more solid than her. But in the second set, I was playing her game style more. I was hitting into her strike zone a lot, so it was easy for her to dictate off the points."

Meyer was having more difficulty holding serve in the second set, but got an important hold in a four-deuce game at 3-3, then broke Li, who was up 30-0, by taking four straight points, including a backhand winner on game point.

Meyer held, converting her first set point when Li missed a second serve return, executing the game planned she had formulated after the first set.

"I just wanted to stay in there and take control of the point a little faster," said the 17-year-old from Delray Beach, Florida. "In the first set, I just gave her too many opportunities to pull me off the court and win the point. So the second set, I just tried to focus on attacking first."

After the 10-minute break between the second and third sets, Li came out with a much more aggressive mindset and quickly took a 2-0 lead. Meyer, who is usually very quiet on the court, berated herself for errors that came from being too energized.

"In the third set I came out with a little too much adrenaline," Meyer said. "I hit the ball a little too hard, my mind was in overdrive.  In the third game, I really focused on calming myself down and taking it point by point, staying in the moment."

Li admitted she began to feel the effects of her two three-set matches on Saturday late in the second set.

"In the ten minutes, I really tried to regroup and stay positive," said Li. "Because I was a little angry at the end.  I tried to dictate more, because in the second, I was kind of falling behind.  So I was really focusing on attacking her second serve and trying to keep my first serve percentage high and I think I did a good job of that."

Li also said she talked herself out of feeling any fatigue in that break.

""I tried not to think of myself as tired, and when I came out, I didn't feel tired anymore.  That energy really helped me."

Li did give up her early break in the third game, but got another with Meyer serving at 4-2, denying four game points and converting on her first break point with a backhand that forced an error.

Li had a point to go up 5-2 in her service game, but Meyer kept fighting, and got the break back to get to 4-3.

"It was definitely disappointing, because I could have been up 5-2," Li said of that game. "But I think I did a good job of staying calm at that time, doing what I was doing before, and I think that worked."

After two holds, Meyer was serving to stay in the match at 4-5, and Li really applied pressure on the first two points.  Li's forehand volley winner and backhand on the baseline made it 0-30, and she had look at second serves on the next two points.  But Meyer made good deep second serves and won both points to make it 30-all. Meyer won the next point when Li made an unforced error on the backhand, but Meyer then netted a forehand to make it deuce.  On the next point, Li put a ball deep into the backhand corner and Meyer couldn't get into position to return it, sending the backhand wide.  She missed her first serve and the good second serve she had found earlier in the game wasn't there for a third time and she double faulted to give Li the title.

"That was a relief," Li admitted of the double fault, knowing how every point had been so hard to earn in the late stages of the match.

Although Meyer said she was disappointed to lose, she did manage to enjoy her first USTA Level 1 final.

"I was able to savor almost all of the points," said Meyer, who had vowed she would do that after winning her semifinal match. "Except for maybe the double fault at the end. These are the types of matches that make me a better player, and I've got to keep that in mind. Not to be too upset--it's the finals--I went a long way to get here, and overall I'm very happy. I'll come out of this tournament a better player and person."

Li is not one to show much emotion on the court, and with the way the match ended, an on-court celebration was not forthcoming.  But she was all smiles at the trophy presentation and excited to have her first major USTA singles title.

"It feels really good. Honestly, when I was sitting there, it kind of felt like I won a grand slam," Li said. "It felt really good. A lot of hard work, and all of it paid off."

 Li was unable to add a second gold ball in the doubles championship, with No. 2 seeds Elysia Bolton and Abigail Chiu picking up the title with a 6-2, 6-2 win over No. 3 seeds Li and Anna Brylin in the late afternoon final.

Bolton, from New York, and Chiu, from Texas, had played together only once before, losing in an ITF Grade 4 final, but they now have eight gold balls in doubles between them.

"We played really well today," said Bolton, who won the Easter Bowl Grade B1 ITF title in April with Chiara Lommer. "I think that's the best we've played all tournament."

"I had a lot of fun this week," Chiu said. "This is my second time playing with Elysia, and I think our games complement each other well, and we've played really well throughout this tournament. I'm really happy to have won a gold ball in one of my last Super Nationals."

"It was fun to play with her, because she's always really funny on the court," Bolton said. "I've played with some really great partners. Playing with Chiara at Easter Bowl and Abby here, I've had a lot of fun playing doubles recently."

Chiu and Bolton will not be teaming up for the Nationals next month in San Diego, with Bolton already committed to playing with someone else when she was first approached by Chiu.

The third bronze ball in doubles went to No. 1 seeds Lexi Milunovich and Anna Rogers, who beat Lommer and Victoria Flores, the No. 4 seeds, 7-5, 0-6, 6-3.

The singles bronze ball was won by the unseeded Lommer, who defeated Isabella Lorenzini, a No. 9 seed, 6-2, 6-1 in the third place singles match.

Bolton, a No. 9 seed, took fifth place, winning the consolation tournament with a 6-2, 6-4 decision over Nami Otsuka, a No. 17 seed.

Bolton was also the recipient of the USTA Sportsmanship Award.

For complete draws, see the Tennis Link site.

At the girls 16s, No. 17 seed Alexa Noel made it two straight Clay titles. The 2015 champion in the girls 14s defeated No. 5 seed Amber O'Dell 1-6, 6-4, 6-3. 

At the boys 16s, No. 7 seed Lukas Greif took the title with a 6-1, 6-1 win over No. 14 seed Jenson Brooksby.

Unseeded Sebastian Korda, son of former ATP player Petr Korda, took the boys 18s title, defeating No. 7 seed Alexandre Rotsaert 6-4, 6-1 in the final.

Both Korda and Li have earned wild cards into the main draw of the US Open Junior Championships with the title.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Ann Li, Amanda Meyer Meet Sunday for Girls 18s Clay Court Title; Finals Set in 16s, Boys 18s; Champions Crowned in 12s and 14s Divisions

©Colette Lewis 2016--
Memphis, TN--

No. 4 seed Ann Li came into her Girls 18s Clay Court Championships semifinal match with Chiara Lommer having lost only ten games in her five victories. Down a set and a break to the unseeded Lommer, Li tapped into the energy reserves those routine matches allowed her to store, came back to post a 4-6, 7-6(5), 6-4 win.

Lommer was down a break twice in the opening set, but each time the 17-year-old from Illinois immediately broke back, playing aggressively and winning most of the backhand battles.  After holding for 5-4, Lommer broke to take the set, with Li making two backhand errors after saving one set point.

"She was steady from the baseline and I was, in the first set, maybe trying to do too much," Li said.

Down 3-1 in the second set after being broken at love, Li did what Lommer had done in the first set, getting the break right back when Lommer made a few rare unforced errors.  Li then began to hold serve more easily, while Lommer had to win lengthy service games to stay ahead, including saving two break points at 5-5.

In the tiebreaker, Li went up 4-2 and 5-3, but Lommer pulled even when Li netted a backhand after a long rally for 5-5.  Li held with a big forehand forcing an error to earn a set point on Lommer's serve, and she converted it when Lommer's backhand went wide.

Although just two points from a loss, Li didn't show any sign of nerves.

"I'm actually a pretty calm person usually," said the 16-year-old from Pennsylvania. "I just tried to breathe, stay calm and positive. Not focusing on the past, but on the right now. Being confident in yourself, I think it helps a lot."

During the 10-minute break between the second and third sets, Li phoned her coach Jon Glover, who recently joined the USTA as a National Coach.

"It was mostly about me," said Li, who also works with USTA coaches Erik Kortland and Jay Devashetty in New York. "I was trying to mix up my shots and get into the net."

The third set opened with two breaks of serve, but five straight holds followed. Serving at 3-4, Lommer saved two break points, while Li rode her forehand to an easy hold in the next game to make it 5-4.

Li's pressure extended into the next game, with a backhand forcing an error and a forehand return winner making it 0-30.  Lommer netted a forehand after a long rally to give Li three match points, but two netted forehands had her down to her last one.

Lommer got her first serve in, but Li was ready and sent a good deep return to the baseline. Lommer couldn't quite get set for it and hit her reply wide to end the two-hour and 40-minute match.

"After two, I said, I need to get this one right now," said Li. "I don't want to drag it out any longer. I had to put it all out there, but fortunately, it wasn't too hot and it was pretty cloudy, so I'm lucky I had that energy."

Li will play Amanda Meyer in Sunday morning's final, their first meeting, after Meyer defeated fellow No. 9 seed Isabella Lorenzini 6-4, 6-3.

Meyer started well, taking a 3-1 lead in the first set, but lost three straight games. Lorenzini was unable to capitalize on the change in momentum however, with her serve going off at that crucial stage in the set.  She double faulted twice in losing serve at 4-3, and after Meyer held for a 5-4 lead, Lorenzini double faulted three times, including on set point, to give Meyer the set.

In the second set, Meyer trailed briefly at after getting broken at 1-1, but won three straight games and never trailed after that. In the final game, Lorenzini missed an easy forehand putaway that would have given her a break point, instead giving Meyer a match point, which Meyer converted when Lorenzini netted a forehand.

Meyer said that both she and Lorenzini returned well, accounting for most of the breaks in the match, and she also detected a change in strategy from Lorenzini in the second set.

"Her return was really solid," said the 17-year-old from Florida. "She tried to hit it higher, I think. I felt like I adapted to that.  But overall, it was mostly the returns.  I put a lot of pressure on her serve, and I think that made the difference."

Meyer, who won the Bobby Curtis Florida Closed last month, detailed the improvements in her game, which she said have been mostly on the mental side.

"Focus, concentration, staying in the point," said Meyer, who is coached by Mandy Wilson at the Evert Academy in Boca Raton. "Having a presence on the court. That's what my coach really puts emphasis on, the mental part of the game."

Neither Li nor Meyer have played in a USTA Level 1 singles final before, but Meyer is not concerned about that.

"I'm just going to go out and play," Meyer said. "It's my first final, I'm going to enjoy it, go out and play my game. Just savor every point."

Li may be playing in her first singles final at a USTA major championship, but she will go for her second consecutive Clay Court doubles title when she and Anna Brylin, the No. 3 seeds, play No. 2 seeds Elysia Bolton and Abigail Chiu.  Li, who won the 16s doubles title at the Clay Courts in Virginia Beach with Natasha Subhash, and Brylin, who was in that final against Li and Subhash with partner Clarissa Hand, defeated top seeds Lexi Milunovich and Anna Rogers 6-4, 3-6, 6-2.  Li and Brylin won the bronze ball at this year's 18s Winter Nationals, their only other tournament as a team. Bolton and Chiu advanced with a 4-6, 6-2, 6-4 win over No. 4 seeds Lommer and Victoria Flores.

Bolton will also play in the consolation singles final, taking on Nami Otsuka.

For draws, see the Tennis Link site.

The finals are set for the girls 16s and the boys 16s and 18s after today's semifinals.

In the girls 16s, Alexa Noel will go for her second straight Clay Court singles championship.  The 2015 14s winner, seeded 17, will play No. 5 seed Amber O'Dell Sunday in Virginia Beach.

In the boys 16s, Jenson Brooksby, the No. 14 seed, will face No. 7 seed Lukas Greif.

In the boys 18s, unseeded Sebastian Korda will play No. 7 seed Alexandre Rotsaert, who also reached the 18s final last year in Delray Beach, losing to Sam Riffice.

The champions were decided in the 12s and 14s divisions today.

No. 9 seed Christine Canete defeated No. 17 seed Ellie Coleman 6-1, 6-1 to take the girls 14s title in Plantation, Florida. Canete won the Winter National 12s in January.

No. 9 seed Zane Khan defeated brother Faris Khan, the No. 7 seed, 6-4, 6-4 to win the boys 14s title in Fort Lauderdale, with the twins also capturing the doubles championship. Khan defeated Faris for the 12s Clays and Hard Courts National titles in 2014.

No. 6 seed Katja Wiersholm, sister of Virginia's Henrik Wiersholm, won the girls 12s title in Boca Raton, beating No. 2 seed Robin Montgomery 7-6(5), 0-6, 7-6(4) in the final.

Evan Wen, the only top seed to win a singles title at the Clays, defeated No. 6 seed Victor Lilov 3-6, 6-4, 6-4 to win the boys 12s in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Blumberg Chooses UNC; Li and Lommer, Meyer and Lorenzini Advance to Girls 18s Clay Court Semifinals; Finals Set in 12s and 14s Clays

©Colette Lewis 2016--
Memphis, TN--

I had an opportunity to talk with William Blumberg about his commitment to the University of North Carolina earlier this month at Wimbledon and this article for the Tennis Recruiting Network is the result of that conversation. The top-ranked recruit in the Class of 2017, Blumberg plans to start school in January.  With Brayden Schnur, who has played No. 1 for the Tar Heels the past three years, announcing today that he has turned pro, Blumberg will be asked to contribute immediately.

Today in Memphis, the brutal heat continued, with the high temperature topping out at 100, and the heat index nearing 120.  As a result, the quality of the tennis in the quarterfinals of Girls 18s Clay Court Championships was uneven, although No. 4 seed Ann Li managed to maintain her level, advancing with a 6-0, 6-1 win over unseeded Chelsea Kung.

Li, who has lost only 10 games in her five wins this week, said she has found her form on the surface.

"I think I'm really comfortable on clay now," said the 16-year-old from Pennsylvania, who trains with the USTA in New York. "I was practicing on clay before I came here and I'm moving really well and playing my game, executing well."

Li said she finds the conditions in Florida, where she also trains occasionally, even more oppressive, although she admits her short match times have made this week less taxing than it could be.

"It really helps to quicken the match, not drag everything," said Li. "I can save my energy for later matches."

Li will play unseeded Chiara Lommer, who outlasted No. 9 seed Elysia Bolton 6-3, 7-6(4).

Bolton became ill late in the second set of the match, vomiting on the court when returning serve leading 6-5.  A delay to clean the court did not derail Lommer, who held serve and then closed out the match in the tiebreaker.

"She really hid it well," Lommer said of Bolton's difficulties. "I had no idea up until 5-all, when she went up to the ref and told him. She was doing a great job, playing and competing really well."

The first set saw Lommer get a break in the fourth game and she made it stand up. Lommer served well, while Bolton's backhand was the source of most of her errors.

The second set was the opposite of the first, with eight of the first nine games going to the returner.

"I was just not concentrating at all on my service targets," Lommer said. "I was starting to groove a little bit more on her serve and I think she was doing the same with my serve."

Bolton was up 4-2 and 5-3, but was immediately broken right back. Serving for the set, Bolton didn't make Lommer work for the break, with unforced errors sandwiched around a good return and a double fault putting the set back on serve. Lommer began to serve better in her final two service games, and although she held service only twice in the tiebreaker, that was enough, with Bolton sending a final backhand long on Lommer's second match point.

Lommer, who played in Europe this summer and qualified for the Wimbledon Junior Championships, had to adjust to the major changes in temperatures and surface in a short time.

"I just came from college orientation too," said the 17-year-old left-hander from Illinois, who starts at the University of Michigan this fall. "So I didn't play the entire week leading up to this. And coming from the grass to the clay was a bit of an adjustment, and I'm still having a tough time with the footing on some balls. The heat is different. I'm used to it now, but the first two days were a struggle."

Lommer, who is 116 in the ITF World Junior rankings, took out a No. 9 seed in the second round, and admitted to being puzzled by not receiving a seed in this tournament.

"They say there's a seeding committee, that is apparently supposed to seed based off of ITF and UTR and everything else," said Lommer. "I don't know. This is my last junior tournament, so seeded or not seeded, I was going to give my best."

Lommer is not playing the Nationals in San Diego, opting for a vacation before she starts college.

"This is my chance here," she said.

The semifinal in the top half features two No. 9 seeds.  Isabella Lorenzini took out top seed Janice Shin 6-3, 6-3 to set up a meeting with Amanda Meyer, who advanced when unseeded Nina Sorkin retired with an ab injury after losing the first set 6-2.

Lorenzini got off to a quick 4-1 lead in the first set, and although she was unable to serve out the set at 5-2, Shin, unable to play her usual consistent game, was broken for the fifth time to give Lorenzini the set.

Shin's shouts of frustration at her unforced errors multiplied in the second set, even though she was able to stay close in the early stages. But after Lorenzini broke her from 40-0 up to take a 5-3 lead, Shin was in a tough spot, and Lorenzini closed out the win by taking the last four points after trailing 0-30.

The doubles semifinals are set, with the top four seeds advancing.

No. 1 seeds Lexi Mulinovich and Amanda Rogers will play No. 3 seeds Anna Brylin and Li in one semifinal and No. 2 seeds Bolton and Abigail Chiu will play No. 4 seeds Lommer and Victoria Flores.

The finals are set for the 12s and 14s divisions in the National Clay Courts.

In the boys 12s, No. 1 seed Evan Wen will face No. 6 seed Victor Lilov.
In the girls 12s,  No. 6 seed Katja Wiersholm (Henrik's sister) meets No. 2 seed Robin Montgomery.

In the boys 14s, the Khan brothers, Faris and Zane, who played each other for the gold ball in both the 12s Clay Courts and 12s National Hard Courts in 2014, will meet again for a USTA National title.

In the girls 14s, Ellie Coleman will face Christine Canete in the final.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Meyer Tops Chi in Four-Hour Marathon; Three Unseeded Players Reach Quarterfinals at USTA Girls 18s Clay Courts; Bellis Reaches Quarterfinals at WTA Stanford

©Colette Lewis 2016--
Memphis, TN--

A grueling four-hour match in the heat and humidity is a staple of every Girls 18s Clay Court Championship I've attended in the past nine years, and Thursday's round of 16 delivered today, with No. 9 seed Amanda Meyer's 7-6(6), 4-6, 6-4 win over No. 3 seed Meible Chi.

Because it was played on Court 1, which has no spectator seating, keeping up on all the ebbs and flows of the match was difficult, but as matches on the other three courts in the row started and ended, sometimes twice, there was no mistaking the effort of the two Floridians as hour after hour went by.

Chi was suffering physically more than two and a half hours into the match, getting treatment for a back injury, and, leading 5-3 in the second set, began cramping. Standing well behind the baseline, bent over and leaning on her racquet, Chi received treatment on that spot during the game.  She managed to close out the set, which gave her the mandatory (and not heat-related) 10-minute break to continue her recovery.

Meyer felt she had an advantage once the third set began.

"Knowing that she was still a little hurt, I tried to make the balls and take control of the point as quickly as possible, and stay in the rallies, not give up and go after everything," said Meyer, who turned 17 Monday. "I felt like I handled the conditions a little better."

Meyer got a double fault from Chi to go up 4-3 in the third set and consolidated the break for a 5-3 lead. Chi held at love to force Meyer to serve out the match, and Meyer made it easy on herself by making every first serve. She held at love, and after nearly four hours, Chi and Meyer exchanged a hug at the net.

"I train with Meible and we do a lot of practice matches together," said Meyer, a rising senior who is still considering her college options, while the 17-year-old Chi is starting at Duke this fall. "We sort of knew each others games, so it was just a battle of who could be the most consistent and who could take control of the point faster, who could stay in there mentally."

Training in Florida, Meyer has much experience and affection for the Har-Tru surface.

"I love the clay," said Meyer, who won the Florida State Closed on it last month. "It's my favorite surface. I was beyond excited to come here, and I'm just happy to play on this surface."

Chi finished the match, but she withdrew from the back draw and doubles.

Meyer's quarterfinal opponent is unseeded Nina Sorkin, who has won all five of her matches in straight sets, including today's 6-0, 6-3 victory over unseeded Nicole Conard.

The other quarterfinal in the top half of the draw features No. 1 seed Janice Shin against Isabella Lorenzini, a No. 9 seed.

Shin advanced with a 6-1, 7-5 victory over No. 9 seed Lexi Milunovich, coming from 4-2 down in the second set to avoid exceeding two hours on the court.  Lorenzini put an end to the run of 12-year-old Cori Gauff, earning a 6-3, 6-2 win.

"I really didn't think about her age or anything, I just played her like I would play anyone else," said the 17-year-old, who has verbally committed to Michigan. "I know she's good, and she's also taller than I am, but I just went out there and played how I'd played my previous matches."

Lorenzini went up a quick two breaks, as Gauff double faulted on game points in both her first and second service games. Gauff got two breaks of her own, but held only once in the set, and again double faulted to end the first set.

The second set was closer, with Gauff able to hold serve in her first two attempts, but she was broken the next two times, unable to play consistently enough to pressure Lorenzini.

"I honestly think people are too scared, because she's 12," said Lorenzini, who acknowledged her own feisty reputation. "I don't think she was expecting me to go out there and fight for it. But I love competing. She's a great player, she's very young, and I'm happy I beat her."

In the bottom half, unseeded Chelsea Kung will play No. 4 seed Ann Li and No. 9 seed Elysia Bolton will play unseeded Chiara Lommer.

Kung picked up her second straight three-set win over a seed, beating Emma Kurtz 6-2, 4-6, 6-1, while Li continued her dominant play, defeating No. 17 seed Anna Brylin 6-1, 6-1. Li has lost just nine games in her four wins.

Bolton defeated unseeded Abigail Forbes 6-3, 6-2 and will play unseeded Chiara Lommer, who beat No. 17 seed Anika Yarlagadda 7-5, 6-2. Lommer, who will start at Michigan this fall, has won all five of her matches in straight sets, while Bolton hasn't surrendered more than three games in any set and has kept her time on court to a minimum, a huge plus in the 100-degree heat.

Lightning in the area caused a delay in the round of 16 doubles matches scheduled for the afternoon, but all matches were completed, with the quarterfinals set for Friday. Three singles quarterfinalists, Bolton, Li and Lommer, have advanced to the doubles quarterfinals. For the draws, see the TennisLink site.

I haven't had an opportunity to follow the other tournaments going on in the US this week as I normally would, but wanted to mention Usue Arconada's first WTA win at the Citi Open in Washington DC, a 7-6(3), 6-4 decision over fellow wild card Francoise Abanda of Canada, and CiCi Bellis' run to her first WTA quarterfinal at the Bank of the West Classic at Stanford.  Bellis, a wild card, defeated Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia, the No. 6 seed, 6-4, 6-4 in the first round and tonight topped qualifier Sachia Vickery 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 to earn a meeting with top seed Venus Williams on Friday.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Yarlagadda Ousts No. 2 Seed Martinelli; Six Unseeded Players Reach Round of 16 as Rain Again Disrupts USTA Girls 18s Clay Court Championships

©Colette Lewis 2016--
Memphis, TN--

Dangerous heat and humidity were expected this week in Memphis, and that forecast has been on target, but the rain that has interrupted play the past three afternoons at the USTA Girls 18s Clay Courts has been something of a surprise.  Arriving at around 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday, the heavy thunderstorm came after just seven of the 16 main draw matches were completed, with the rest in progress, or not yet started.

The heavy rain that drenched the Racquet Club of Memphis left only three courts playable after the more than three-hour delay, so matches were moved to those courts from their original locations, with those closest to finishing going on first.  Eventually four more courts dried enough to allow play, but the last match did not go on until after 7 p.m.

The day started with sunny skies, the usual stifling humidity, and an upset.  No. 2 seed Samantha Martinelli, last year's 16s Clay Courts champion, saw her winning streak on the surface end with No. 17 Anika Yarlagadda recording a 7-5, 6-0 victory.

Martinelli had finished playing after 7 p.m. on Tuesday night, earning a 6-4, 6-7(4), 7-5 win over Sophia Patel that took over three hours, not including an interruption due to lightning. Just over 12 hours later she was back on court, and the energy-sapping conditions conspired to keep her from finding her game.

Neither player could hold serve in the first seven games of the match, but when Yarlagadda finally did hold, in the eighth game, she earned an opportunity to serve out the set at 5-4.  That didn't happen, but she got another chance at 6-5 and made no mistake, holding at love to claim the first set.

Martinelli was broken to open the second set, and unlike the first set, Yarlagadda was able to hold easily in her first two service games. Martinelli looked a step slow, with many of her shots finding the net, while Yarlagadda was able to dictate play, and she closed out the match without allowing Martinelli a game point in the second set.

"I felt I was able to hit a lot more winners than I might have if I would have played her yesterday when she was more fresh," said the 14-year-old from Michigan. "But overall, I think I did play very well today, and I don't think she played her absolute best."

Yarlagadda, who won the Division I Michigan High School singles title as a freshman at West Bloomfield last month, doesn't play much on clay, but she thinks it suits her game style.

"I did play Intersectionals, and that's on clay," Yarlagadda said of the 16s sectional team competition last week in Louisiana. "So I got a week of practice and that really helped me.  I like it. I don't really finish points a lot, I'm more like a grinder, so I like the clay. The balls are slower, I can get to more and when I do have a chance to finish it, I will. On clay, the big hitters can't really hit that hard, so I like it."

Although she likes the surface, Yarlagadda is not fond of the weather in Memphis.

"It's been rough," she said. "It was so hot, even at 8 a.m. I was exhausted. But if this is where the tournament's going to be, you've got to get used to the heat."

Yarlagadda will face unseeded Chiara Lommer, who beat Maryann Rompf 6-4, 6-0 in the last main draw match to finish Wednesday night.

Top seed Janice Shin and No. 3 seed Meibel Chi were able to get their matches in before the rain, primarily by keeping them short.  Chi defeated No. 17 seed Catherine Cable 6-2, 7-5 and Shin beat No. 17 seed Anastasiya Joyner 6-2, 6-1. No. 4 seed Ann Li cruised past unseeded Thea Rice 6-3, 6-0 and will play No. 17 seed Anna Brylin, who beat No. 9 seed Anna Rogers 4-6, 6-1, 6-3.

Shin will play Lexi Milunivich, a No. 9 seed, in Thursday's round of 16, while Chi will face Amanda Meyer, also a No. 9 seed.

In addition to Lommer, five other unseeded players advanced to the fifth round. Twelve-year-old Cori Gauff continued her run, beating unseeded Kate Paulus 4-6, 6-4, 6-2, with the rain delay coming right after Gauff won the second set with a late break.  Gauff will play Isabella Lorenzini, a No. 9 seed, next.

Two unseeded players square off when Nina Sorkin plays Nicole Conard, and unseeded Chelsea Kung, a 6-7(7), 6-4, 6-3 winner over No. 9 seed Tatum Rice, will face No. 5 seed Emma Kurtz.

Abigail Forbes, the sixth unseeded player in the round of 16, plays No. 9 seed Elysia Bolton, who defeated Andrea Amortegui 6-0, 6-1.  Bolton has lost only eight games in her three wins. Forbes ended the run of Jessica Anzo 6-0, 3-6, 6-1.

The round of 16 doubles matches originally scheduled for this evening were postponed.

For complete draws, see the TennisLink site.

At the Girls 14s in Plantation, the top two seeds--Mae Fmar Canete
and Fiona Crawley--failed to make the quarterfinals, with No. 6 seed Charlotte Owensby the highest seed remaining.  The top two seeds in the Boys 14s in Fort Lauderdale--Spencer Whitaker
and Spencer Brachman--were eliminated in today's round of 16.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Second Seed Martinelli Survives in Long Three-Setter; 12-Year-Old Gauff Advances to Round of 32 at Girls 18s Clay Court Championships

©Colette Lewis 2016--
Memphis, TN--

Last year's 16s Clay Court champion had all she could handle in Tuesday's third round of the USTA 18s Clay Courts, but No. 2 seed Samantha Martinelli kept her cool in the oppressive Memphis heat to post a 6-4, 6-7(4), 7-5 win over Sophia Patel.

Martinelli had a match point in the second set, and saw two more match points get away in the third set, with the 17-year-old from Las Vegas finally putting away the stubborn Patel on her third attempt to serve out the match.

The first set, which was interrupted in the fifth game for over an hour due to lightning in the area, featured only one hold of serve by either player, with Martinelli getting that in the third game.

After getting broken in second set to fall behind 2-1, Martinelli won four straight games and served for the match at 5-3, earning a match point at 40-30. Her backhand went long on that point, but a let called, caused by a ball from another court, had broken her concentration.

"I hit what I thought was a winner, but they called a let as I hit it," said Martinelli, whose match had a chair umpire, as all matches at the Racquet Club do. "That got to me mentally a little bit; that was tough to bounce back from."

Patel won four straight games to serve for the set, but was broken, giving Martinelli another chance to end it in straight sets. Patel played an excellent tiebreaker, however, going up 6-1, and converting on her fourth set point.

After the mandatory 10-minute break, Martinelli broke Patel to start the third set and was serving at 4-1 and 5-2.  In her second attempt to serve out the match, and her first in third set, Martinelli didn't earn a match point, with Patel hitting a perfect drop shot at 30-40 for the break.

Martinelli's second and third match points came in the next game, with Patel going down 15-40 on her serve. Although Patel played impressive defense on both points,  Martinelli ended up making forehand errors on both match points and Patel held for 5-4.

Martinelli started her third attempt to serve out the match with two double faults, but recovered with two forehand winners for 30-30. She missed a forehand long to give Patel a break point, and a crazy net cord on a desperate defensive lob by Patel dribbled over to make it 5-5.

"She definitely didn't let the pressure get to her," said Martinelli. "She played like it was any other score. That's fun to play against, but at the same time, a little frustrating."

Unfortunately for Patel, the same problem of holding serve presented itself in the next game, and after coming back from 0-40 to 30-40, Patel could only watch as Martinelli's forehand winner gave her a fourth opportunity to serve out the match.

This time Martinelli got first serves in and blasted her forehand for three straight winners, setting up match point No. 4.  Another great forehand forced an error from Patel and Martinelli had survived.

"I like to pride myself on not changing my game tactics the closer the match gets," Martinelli said. "I want to play as aggressive as I was, I don't want to revert to pushing or anything like that. I just went for my shots in the last game and it worked at the end, at the last minute."

Martinelli admitted that although she trains in Las Vegas, the brand of heat she's encountered this week in Memphis, where the temperature peaked at 100 in the mid-afternoon, has been draining.

"I'm not used to this kind of humidity and heat, being from Denver," said Martinelli. "I was in Virginia Beach last year, and I don't remember it being like this. This place is crazy."

Martinelli was the only Top 4 seed taken to three sets, with No. 1 seed Janice Shin defeating Sasha Cayward 6-1, 6-3 and No. 4 seed Ann Li beating Hada Chang by the same score.  No. 3 seed Meible Chi lost the first three games, two of them on her serve, to Emily Zhou, but Chi began to find her range midway through the first set to post a 7-5, 6-0 victory.

Two No. 5 seeds were eliminated in Tuesday's third round. Alyvia Jones was beaten by Nina Sorkin 6-0, 6-2 and 12-year-old Cori (Coco) Gauff defeated Cameron Corse by the same score.

Gauff, who finished third at the Southern Closed 18s last month, knows she's in a unique position now.

"It's fun playing up, because there's no pressure," said Gauff, who trains at ProWorld Tennis Academy in Delray Beach. "I try to take the advantage. I also get to meet other girls who are going to college or wanting to go pro."

Against Corse, Gauff lost only six points in the first set, with Corse struggling with double faults throughout the match.

"She was having trouble with her serve, which I was surprised about," said Gauff, who will not be able to play ITF junior events until next March, when she turns 13. "When I watched her match yesterday, her serve seemed pretty good, she had a nice kick serve and when she made it in, it was tough to get it back because it would bounce so high.  She was a good player, but I don't think today was one of her best days."

Gauff said she has been growing, with her current height 5-feet-6-and-half inches, and has been fortunate not to be suffering any issues from that.

"I got taller, so I'm not the shortest anymore," Gauff said. "Most people have pain in the knees, but I haven't any pain. The footwork, it's been tough to adjust, but my coaches at ProWorld have been helping me and it's gotten a lot better."

One No. 9 seed, McCartney Kessler, lost today, with Mimi Levine recording a 6-4, 7-6(3) victory.  Levine is one of four unseeded players remaining in that eighth of the draw, with Sorkin, Alycia Parks and Nicole Conard the others.

There were no doubles matches played today, with the round of 16 scheduled for Wednesday evening.

For all results, see the TennisLink site.