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Friday, March 16, 2007

Embree and Oudin Reach Girls Final; Boyajian and Nevolo to Decide Boys Title at Spring Nationals

©Colette Lewis 2007--
Mobile, AL--

A cool, damp and breezy morning gave way to brilliant spring sunshine at the Mobile Tennis Center Friday, but for No. 3 seed Asia Muhammad, the clouds and the chill were secondary problems.

Playing No. 1 seed Melanie Oudin is hard enough when fit and healthy, as her previous five opponents, who have won a grand total of nine games from her, can attest. Unfortunately, Muhammad, of Henderson, Nevada, was suffering from a stomach virus, and even the extra time gained when wet courts delayed the start couldn't provide relief. Oudin's energetic play didn't flag, although there was a subdued quality surrounding the match due to Muhammad's illness.

"I tried not to think about that at all," said Oudin, 15, of Marietta, Georgia. "Even if she is sick, she can still play unbelievable tennis, so I left that out of my head and kept focused."

Although Oudin tried to ignore Muhammad's condition, she admitted that she was "trying to keep the points long, to keep her out there as long as I could." Playing aggressively yet conservatively, Oudin's strategy worked, earning her a place in the final against No. 4 seed Lauren Embree.

Embree, also 15, had a healthy opponent in Alison Riske, the ninth seed, and it showed in the 7-5, 6-3 score. Both girls feature better ground strokes and returns than serves, so there many breaks throughout the match. Embree, of Marco Island, Florida, was serving for the first set at 5-3, but Riske, of McMurray Pennsylvania, survived that game before succumbing to a determined Embree.

"I tried not getting on the defense too much," said Embree, who was a finalist at the most recent Winter Nationals and won the 16s Hard Courts last summer. "She had really good volleys, and when she was on offense, she was really good, so I tried to take control of the point on the first ball."

Embree and Oudin haven't met recently, but both are aware of the challenges they face in the final.

"She's gotten a lot better, improved a lot," said Embree of Oudin. "Hopefully I'll be able to get a lot of balls back and take control of the point."

"Lauren can keep so many balls in play," Oudin said. "She moves extremely well, so I'm going to have to be aggressive, come in and make my volleys--make all my shots, because she gets everything back."

Embree's counterpart on the boys' side is No. 6 seed Brennan Boyajian, also from Florida, and also the reigning 16s Hard Court champion. In his 6-4, 7-6 (0) victory over 17 seed Wil Spencer, Boyajian was able to neutralize the pace of the Spencer forehand, and go from offense to defense when he needed to.

With Spencer serving at 4-4 40-15 in the second set, Boyajian bore down, winning four straight points, the final on a forehand winner.

"I knew I had to win that game," Boyajian said, "because I hadn't held serve on that other side, against the wind, for practically the whole match."

It looked like that might change when Boyajian took a 40-15 lead to earn two match points, but Spencer came up with his best tennis then, hitting two lines with a forehand, pounding a backhand winner and then, for variety, closing out the game with a drop volley winner, a shot Boyajian described as "amazing."

Boyajian regularly berates himself on court, but he couldn't find fault with his play in that game, so he had no reaction at all.

"It didn't bother me," Boyajian said. "He deserved it. I thought to myself, now we're even--he was up 40-15 and I was up 40-15, so it was like a bonus game."

Boyajian didn't have any more room for error, however, when he faced a set point serving at 5-6. Determined not to play safe, he hit out, and an aggressive forehand forced an error from Spencer, and they went to a tiebreak.

For all the drama and the fearless tennis displayed in the previous four games, the tiebreak was anticlimatic, with Boyajian taking control from the beginning and Spencer making error after error.

"I started on the good side," said Boyajian. "That helped, and I was loose and going for my shots. I got the lead and he got a little frustrated."

Boyajian will face the No. 12 seed Dennis Nevolo, of Illinois, who defeated 17 seed Eric Quigley of Kentucky 6-1, 1-6, 6-2.

"I just played a little more solid than he did," said Nevolo of the first set. "In the second set he came out playing really, really well and I was a little flat, not moving very well. I just did not play good tennis."

Despite the valley of that second set, Nevolo quickly refocused in the third, getting a break in the first game that Quigley could not recover from.

Boyajian and Nevolo have not played since the 12s, many inches and pounds ago, but on Saturday, they will meet twice--in the singles and doubles finals.

Boyajian and his partner, Zach Hunter, the No. 1 seeds, will square off against Nevolo and his partner, Bradley Klahn, the No. 2 seeds.

In the girls double final, Embree and Rachel Saiontz, the No. 10 seeds, will meet third seeds Stacey Lee and Christina McHale.

The consolation finals and the third place singles and doubles matches will also be played on Saturday.

For complete draws, see the TennisLink site.

For additional coverage by Marcia Frost, visit collegeandjuniortennis.com.