©Colette Lewis 2007—
Ryan Thacher overcame not only Rhyne Williams on Sunday morning at the USTA Home Depot Training Center, but also what he called a personal “demon”—the wind.
The 17-year-old left-hander’s 6-1, 6-2 victory over Williams, his 46th straight win, was earned under less than ideal conditions for a tennis match. The cool temperatures didn’t affect play, but the blustery winds definitely had an impact.
“It’s just not conducive to playing your best tennis,” said Thacher, of Studio City, California. “Every game’s going to be tight—the wind’s going to blow one of your balls out, or it’s going to mess with your ball toss on the serve. I’m not a big fan of the wind.”
Thacher, an unseeded wild card, jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead, but Williams, who had overcome a 4-0 second set deficit against Wil Spencer in the semifinals, had opportunities to get back in it on Thacher’s next two serves. But Thacher’s outstanding defensive play denied those chances.
“I felt like I was playing a backboard out there,” said the seventh-seeded Williams, who lives in Knoxville, Tennessee. “He moves really well for a big guy, and he covers the court with his long arms. I didn’t really get any free points on my serve either. He’s so long, it seems he can reach any ball easily.”
There were no breaks early in the second set, although both players faced break points. Thacher was the first to convert with Williams serving at 2-2, and the 16-year-old right-hander’s frustration was on full display when he bounced a ball well out of the court and received a warning for ball abuse. The following game demoralized Williams even more when Thacher somehow ran down a perfect drop shot and sliding into the ball, flicked a winner. The few dozen incredulous spectators, who had been quiet throughout the match, broke into applause at the preposterous get, and even Thacher was impressed.
“That one was particularly good,” Thacher said. “Usually I run to that ball, I get there and miss. I can definitely move well on the court, and I’ve developed this weird sliding thing that’s helpful, as long as I’m not going to injure myself. The hardest part is to get to balls like that and still put them in play, and I just happened to be doing it today.”
Williams acknowledged another factor leading to Thacher’s domination of the match’s big moments.
“On the key points, he was a little mentally stronger than me,” Williams said. “He was willing to put in one more ball while I was kind of rushing my shots and going for the winner right off the bat, instead of setting up the point like he was doing to me.”
Although 18 months younger than Thacher, Williams' experience in ITF events is actually much greater. Thacher has only played two ITF events—the 2006 International Spring Championships and the 2007 ISC. His third will be next week’s ITF B1, the Easter Bowl, but despite his success in Carson, he’s not raising his expectations.
“It’ll be a great trip, I’ll have fun with it regardless of what happens, and I’ll just go out there and play, and hope for the best.”
Sacha Jones won’t be at the Easter Bowl in Palm Springs, since it is closed to players outside the United States, but the 16-year-old from New Zealand was delighted to have won her second ITF Grade 1 event with her 6-3, 6-1 victory over Mallory Cecil.
“It was a good battle, and it’s so nice to win another Grade 1,” said Jones, whose brother GD plays at the University of Illinois. “I won another one in Asia just over a year ago, but this one is much bigger-- much tougher competition.”
Although she didn’t lose a set during the tournament, Jones, the No. 3 seed, had her share of tough sets. Against the fifth seeded Cecil, she jumped out to a 4-1, two-break lead to start the match, but had to hold on through a marathon game at 5-3 to secure the first set.
“It was really tough conditions to play in,” Jones said. “it’s not easy playing in such windy conditions, and I don’t know that either of us played our best tennis, but it was a good battle.”
Jones managed to keep the depth on her shots despite having to adjust to the gusts, and kept Cecil on her heels throughout most of the contest.
“I was spraying balls, I was playing more defensive and playing not to lose instead of playing to win,” said the 16-year-old Cecil. “I just didn’t close out those big points when I needed to. She and I play very similar, but she was the aggressive one, and I was the one who was put on defense.”
Cecil, of South Carolina, will now head for the Easter Bowl, while Jones is on her way back to New Zealand to play for that country’s Fed Cup team this week, and will also play several major junior events in the coming months.
“I would like to improve my senior ranking (she is #557 WTA now), but I’m also really looking forward to playing these juniors tournaments in Italy and Belgium and France, and take it from there and see what happens.”
For complete draws of the 2007 International Spring Championships, see usta.com.
Sunday, April 15, 2007