©Colette Lewis 2007--
Number six seed Brennan Boyajian snared his first gold ball in the 18s age division with a 7-6(6), 6-2 victory over Dennis Nevolo, while top seed Melanie Oudin earned her first in any age group, shutting out Lauren Embree 6-0, 6-0 on a clear and chilly Saturday morning at the Mobile Tennis Center.
Oudin, 15, was the top seed in a Level One national event for the first time in her career, but she played as if she was accustomed to being the favorite, losing only nine games in her seven matches.
Her opening game against Embree took nearly ten minutes to complete, but when Oudin emerged from that test with a break, she never looked back. During that lengthy first game, Embree executed a perfectly disguised drop shot, but the ultra-quick Oudin sprinted to it and not only got it back, but zipped a winner by Embree. Although that shot stood out as a highlight, the most impressive part of Oudin's victory was the consistency and focus she maintained.
Asked how she could stay motivated when up 6-0, 4-0, Oudin, of Marietta, Georgia, had a ready answer.
"I try to keep focused like each game is 5-all in the third," she said. "At any given time your opponent can come back, and you don't want to let them get any hope, so I try to win every single point."
Oudin didn't accomplish that, but fourth seed Embree, the 2006 girls 16s national champion and 16 Orange Bowl finalist, admitted that she was powerless to stem the momentum Oudin kept building.
"I didn't play that well," said Embree, 15, from Marco Island, Florida, "but she was just too good today. There was nothing I could do. She's in great shape, she has good ground strokes--she's just good all around."
Any of the many players who lost to Boyajian in 2006--and there were many, as he won the Easter Bowl, Clay Courts and Kalamazoo in the 16s--might have been hoping for an adjustment period when he began playing 18s last fall, but with his win in Mobile, only his second National Level One event in 18s, it's obvious he's picking up where he left off.
Neither Boyajian or Nevolo have overpowering serves, and in the first set, nerves, cold and breeze limited their holds of serve to two each.
"I held my serve just once against the wind in the whole entire match. It was freezing--I'm not too good in the cold," said Boyajian, a Weston, Florida resident. "I couldn't feel my pinky for the first five games."
There were many long and varied points, not just baseline rallies, and even with Boyajian up 6-4 in the opening set's tiebreak, the outcome was still very much in doubt. Nevolo brought it back to 6-all, but a missed overhead cost him the next point, and when he caught the net on the next, Boyajian had secured the first set.
Boyajian could breathe easier then, but even the prospect of losing the first set wasn't cause for alarm.
"I knew even if I lost the first set, he was looking kind of tired," said Boyajian. "Our points were pretty long. So I was thinking even if I lost the first, I could win the second and third."
The twelfth seeded Nevolo, like Boyajian a 17-year-old high school junior, couldn't find fault with his performance in the tiebreak.
"I had chances to win, I thought I played it the right way," said Nevolo, of Gurnee, Illinois. "I just didn't get the set. In the second set, he played really solid, he doesn't miss much at all. You have to hit like two volley winners just to hit one. And I think he raises his game when it gets close."
The second set was not as tight as the first, with Boyajian obviously warmed up and relaxed with a set in hand. Although there were tight moments here and there in the second, Boyajian won the points when he needed to, and on his third match point he converted for the championship. As befits a player who's been there often, Boyajian barely reacted--a mild fist pump and a stroll to the net to shake hands was the sum of his celebration.
Nevolo got his revenge later in the afternoon, as he and partner Bradley Klahn of Poway, California, the second seeds, claimed the doubles title over top seeds Boyajian and Zach Hunter 6-3, 6-0. Nevolo and Klahn had never played together before, but Nevolo made the observation that they both could volley, so the adjustment period was a short one.
Nevolo and Klahn won a national title in their first attempt--not bad, but not nearly as remarkable as the team of Stacey Lee and Christina McHale, the girls' winners, who didn't pair up until after the first round.
Lee was scheduled to compete with Jacqueline Wu, the No. 6 seed, who aggravated a wrist injury in a first round singles win and withdrew. Since Lee and Wu were the No. 3 seeds, they had a first round bye, and the rules allow a player to be substituted before a team's first match, so Lee scrambled to find a partner still in the tournament who was not playing doubles. She landed on Christina McHale, the 14-year-old from her section, and by week's end, they were national champions.
It didn't look as if they'd finish so well. In Friday's semifinal, they saved a match point against Carolyn McVeigh and Asia Muhammad, and in the final against Embree and Rachel Saiontz, they were down 5-0 in the first set before they began to get rolling. But Lee and McHale chipped away and much as they had done in the semifinals, persevered, for a 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 victory.
Third place in the girls doubles went to No. 5 seeds McVeigh and Muhammad, who defeated second seeds Shinann Featherston and Lindsay Clark 6-4, 7-6 (1), while the bronze ball in the boys doubles was awarded to No. 4 seeds Zach Nichols and Jack Seider who beat Tyler Davis and Eric Quigley, the No. 7 seeds, 5-7, 7-5, 6-4.
Wil Spencer won the bronze ball in boys' singles, with a 6-1, 6-1 victory over Quigley, like Spencer, a 17 seed. No. 3 seed Muhammad captured her second bronze ball of the day with a 7-6 (6), 6-4 decision over Alison Riske, seeded No. 9.
In the consolation finals, fifth place went to Chelsea Preeg, the No. 5 seed, who defeated No. 13 seed Featherston 6-4, 6-0, while the boys' fifth place winner was Alex Domijan, a 17 seed, who beat No. 8 seed Will Guzick 6-3, 6-0.
For complete draws, see the TennisLink site.
For additional coverage by Marcia Frost, visit collegeandjuniortennis.com.
Saturday, March 17, 2007