©Colette Lewis 2007--
It was a damp, cool and cloudy for most of the 2007 ITF US Grass Courts, but for Saturday's singles finals the warm summer sunshine at the Philadelphia Cricket Club lifted everyone's spirits. Gabriela Paz and Bradley Klahn, the champions, had the most reason for smiles and happiness, but finalists Claire Bartlett and Ryan Lipman left the court knowing they had contributed to a enticing display of grass court tennis.
As the PCC members in their tennis whites strolled by the main court en route to their own Saturday matches, they stopped to admire a particularly deft drop volley or laser-like passing shot. In the day's first match, which Klahn won 7-6, (4), 7-6 (6), there were plenty of opportunities to appreciate those skills, and all the other physical and mental attributes grass demands.
The 16-year-old Klahn seized the first advantage of match when he broke Lipman to take a 5-3 lead in the opening set. That lead didn't last, as Lipman broke back in the next game, but Klahn didn't spend much time dwelling on what might have been.
"I just told myself to relax and have fun," said Klahn. "It's the finals." After winning the first set tiebreak, which he had also done in his semifinal win over Dennis Nevolo, Klahn, the No. 2 seed, may have faced the second set with extra confidence, but Lipman showed no sign of surrender.
"He's never out of it," said Klahn of the 16-year-old from Nashville. "Up a break, down a break, he always fights back."
There were no breaks in that second set until Lipman dropped his serve at 5-5, once again giving Klahn a golden opportunity. But Lipman denied him once more.
"He missed a few volleys here and there," Lipman said. "And I just kept making him play and never gave up."
In the second set tiebreak, the tables were turned however. It was Lipman that took a lead, holding a 5-2 edge with two serves coming. But he lost the next four points, and Klahn was back in control.
"He came up pretty clutch," said Lipman, the No. 5 seed. "Two return winners, so there's not much I could do."
"I just tried to stay positive," said Klahn of his bleak position in that tiebreak. "I had won the first set, so I was still in the lead. There was no reason to get upset."
Even when called for a foot fault at match point (7-6 in the tiebreak), Klahn kept his cool. "It's kind of hard when you get called for a foot fault serving at match point. That's a little tough," he admitted, although he showed no reaction to the call. "But it's still match point, you hit another serve and try to win that point."
Klahn second serve was an excellent one, and it produced a high floating return from Lipman. Klahn knocked off the routine volley, and after a subdued fist pump, approached the net to shake hands.
"It was a great match," said Lipman, who won the tournament's sportsmanship award, and demonstrated that attribute often in the match. "It's too bad one of us had to lose. It was a lot of fun, and I enjoyed being out there."
The girls singles final that followed, a 7-5, 6-4 victory for Paz, was two completely different sets of tennis.
In the first, there were only three breaks of serve. The fifteen-year-old Paz got the initial break to take a 4-2 lead, but gave it right back. Then at 5-6, she broke Bartlett at love for the first set, and took a 3-0 lead in the second set. But after Bartlett, a 17-year-old from Tennessee, held for 3-1, there were six consecutive breaks of serve, the final one giving the Venezuelan a singles title to go with her doubles championship of the previous day.
"It was a really good tournament," admitted the second-seeded Paz, who also added the sportsmanship award to her haul of trophies. "But at the beginning of the match I was kind of like dizzy on the court, going back and forth all the time. She would slice, slice everything, and it was hard to hit the ball."
Paz wasn't as determined to get to the net as Bartlett was, and she never served and volleyed, but she did slice on occasion, and always seemed to select the correct passing shot when Bartlett came in.
When asked asked what Paz had improved from the previous year, when Bartlett had defeated her in the first round at the Grass Courts, Bartlett had a ready answer.
"She's definitely hitting the ball deep and really consistent," said Bartlett, who was unseeded in singles and doubles and reached the finals in both. "I come in a lot, but when she's hitting the ball so deep, it's hard to, so I have to wait a little longer."
Paz, who recently won a Pro Circuit Women's event in Texas as a qualifier, plans to play more U.S. events on that level during the summer, but she isn't abandoning the juniors.
"Now I'm 800 WTA, so I'll start getting into the 25s (thousand dollar prize money tournaments)," said Paz, who trains at the Extreme Tennis Academy in North Miami Beach, Fla. "But I'm going to play U.S. Open juniors, New Jersey, Lexington, Tulsa--the Grade 1s."
The three U.S. players in the finals will spend the next few weeks preparing for the next USTA National championships on an entirely different surface--clay--which are next month.
For complete draws, see the TennisLink site.
Saturday, June 16, 2007