Fourteen-year-old Michelle Larcher de Brito of Portugal may have lost to Kristina Brandi at the Dow Corning Classic Wednesday night, but the crowd gathered at the Midland Tennis Center left knowing they had seen a very special talent.
The 29-year-old Brandi, ranked 184 on the WTA tour, managed to hang on to win the first round match at the $75,000 Women's Pro Circuit event 4-6, 6-2, 7-5. But she had to withstand a third set surge by Larcher de Brito, who came back from 4-0 down in the final set.
"The third set was tough," said Brandi. "She really raised her level in the third set and I had to win it."
Brandi served for the match at 5-3, but Larcher de Brito pounded three outright winners, and the hundreds of fans still around after nearly two hours loudly cheered and applauded. At the changeover, both players were given ovations as they took their positions, and when Larcher de Brito held for 5-5, the fans had visions of the drama of a third-set tiebreak.
"As soon as the crowd went into it, I went into it as well," said Larcher de Brito. "The crowd helped me a lot. I was feeling down, but they brought my spirits up, and I started playing better and better."
The tennis played was baseline to baseline, pace and more pace, with no lobs, volleys or drop shots. Several of the rallies had the crowd gasping at the speed of the exchanges, neither player flinching until one had painted a line.
"I knew I had to move her around," Brandi said. "If I was hitting the ball to her, she could control the point, so I was trying to move her and be as aggressive and forward through the court. She did come up with some errors, but she also came up with some great shots."
Facing a break point at 5-5, Brandi recovered to win the four-deuce game, and the tension increased. Larcher de Brito had difficulty with her serve throughout the match and a wild double fault in the final game didn't help her confidence. But netting two of her usually solid ground strokes proved to be her undoing and her valiant comeback fell short. A standing ovation at the match's conclusion couldn't console a disappointed Larcher de Brito.
"My serve wasn't working at all," said Larcher de Brito. "I got maybe one first serve every three points. But I just tried to play my best. I've learned a lot and there's many matches ahead of me."
Brandi accepted the pressure of facing the upstart with nothing to lose with the wisdom of a veteran of the tennis wars.
"I came out not knowing anything about this girl, and I knew she wouldn't have any pressure; she would just come out and play," Brandi said.
The fans at the Dow Corning Tennis Classic have four more days of tennis matches to anticipate, but those in attendance Wednesday night left knowing they'd witnessed a memorable moment in tournament history.
The evening's first match was in stark contrast to the Brandi-Larcher de Brito contest, as Brenda Schultz put on a serve and volley clinic in dismantling No. 4 seed Alexsandra Wozniack 6-0, 6-3.
For complete draws, see the Pro Circuit page at usta.com.
Wednesday, February 7, 2007