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Friday, March 14, 2008

Embree and Nevolo Return to Spring National Finals; Doubles Champions Crowned

©Colette Lewis 2008--
Mobile, AL--

No. 2 seeds Lauren Embree and Dennis Nevolo have some unfinished business at the USTA Spring Nationals in Mobile. The 2007 finalists earned themselves another shot at titles with straight set victories Friday-- Embree with a 6-0, 6-2 victory over No. 16 seed Hanna Mar and Nevolo with an equally impressive 6-3, 6-1 rout of No. 7 seed Drew Courtney.

Both Embree, who lost to Melanie Oudin in last year's final, and Nevolo, who fell to Brennan Boyajian, were pleased with their level of play during the warm and humid afternoon that followed the morning's showers.

"I played really well today," said Nevolo, who had recently beaten Courtney in the final of a National Open. "I transitioned well, I moved him around early, and was able to dictate play from there."

Embree was equally satisfied.

"I played the best I have so far in the tournament," said Embree, of Marco Island, Fla. "Staying aggressive; I haven't done that in many of my matches."

Embree's opponent in the finals is No. 6 seed Kristie Ahn, who won the only three-setter of the four semifinal contests, taking a strange 6-0, 3-6, 6-0 win from No. 11 seed Lilly Kimbell. In the first set, the 15-year-old from New Jersey had no difficulty with Kimbell's crafty combination of offense and defense, primarily because Kimbell was committing unforced errors in bunches. But the second set turned quickly in Kimbell's favor, when she broke Ahn to even it at 3-3, then reeled off three straight games. Ahn then requested a bathroom break, which turned into a medical timeout.

"Before that, on the court, I couldn't breathe, and I told my mom I need my inhaler," Ahn said. "But she didn't have it here, so it only got worse. That made me throw up."

Ahn returned to the court after seeing the trainer and having ice applied to her neck, but she wasn't expecting to perform as she had in the first nine games.

"I didn't expect to win the third set at all," said Ahn, whose mother arrived with the inhaler just as the match was finishing. "I had to tell myself to breathe, but I was just going out there to give it my best."

Although Ahn was much more subdued than usual on the court, her game showed no effects of her physical problems as she hit out from the baseline and made very few errors, while Kimbell could not recapture the momentum she had achieved to close out the second set.

"I felt really bad for her," Ahn said. "In a way, it's kind of not fair; I took what, a 20-minute break? But we're still friends--I hope this doesn't really change much."

Finalists Embree and Ahn have played often, with Embree holding a 3-1 advantage, having taken the last three encounters. "The first three were close," said Ahn. "The last one was not as close, but I was injured at that time. Hopefully it will be a good match."

Embree is looking to keep the match close by avoiding what she calls Ahn's "awesome" backhand. "She has a really powerful backhand," Embree said. "I tried playing her forehand last time. She's very good; it should be a really good match."

In the boys' final, top seed Bradley Klahn of Poway, Calif. earned an opportunity for his second consecutive USTA National singles title and his fourth gold ball this year. The USTA Winter champion dethroned defending champion and No. 3 seed Brennan Boyajian 6-4, 6-0 in Friday's semifinal, using his power and consistency wear down the Floridian.

Klahn, who has been broken only three times in his six straight-set wins, admits that he has been serving well, but not spectacularly so.

"I've saved a lot of break points, a lot of kids have had chances, and I've been lucky to come up bigger on the bigger points," Klahn said.

In Nevolo, Klahn will face an excellent return, as he knows from their meeting in last year's International Grass Court semifinal, which Klahn won 7-6 (7), 6-2.

"It's going to be a tough match, definitely," said the left-handed Klahn. "He's been cruising through the draw and he feels comfortable here. Last time we played it was grass, and that's completely different. So I'm definitely getting prepared for a battle."

Regardless of the outcome of Saturday's final, Klahn will take home one gold ball, as he and partner Steve Johnson got the better of Nevolo and Evan King 7-5, 6-1 in the doubles final.

Johnson and Klahn got an early 5-2 lead in the opening set, but Klahn was broken at 5-4, only the second time in the tournament they had dropped serve. As rare as a close set was for the pair, neither was concerned.

"We played a good game," said Klahn. "Dennis hit two inside-out angle forehands. Sometimes there is nothing you can do."

"Dennis hit two really good shots and Evan hit a couple of good returns," echoed Johnson. "Sometimes you just have to give it to them, they played too well."

But the brief hope that King and Nevolo had from that game didn't last, as Johnson held and Nevolo was broken when he missed an overhead at 30-40 to give the Californians the first set. They carried the momentum through the second set, and the Winter Champions had their second gold balls in doubles in 2008.

Lauren Herring and Grace Min were also able to duplicate their Winter National championship in the next season, as the unseeded pairing dropped No. 2 seeds Kathryn Talbert and Keri Wong 5-7, 6-3, 7-5 in a match that concluded under the lights.

Min, who had played two consolation singles matches Friday, and had been on the court over six hours on Thursday with two singles and one doubles match, should have been tired, but as the match wore on, both the 13-year-old and her 14-year-old partner seemed to get stronger.

The third set started with six breaks of serve, then each girl held once for 5-5. But Talbert was broken to give Herring an opportunity to serve out the championship, and after saving one break point, she did. Unlike their semifinal win against top seeds Lauren Embree and Rachel Saiontz, when they needed seven match points to seal the victory, Herring and Min required only one to collect the title.

"We played two really tough matches," said Min, from Lawrenceville, Ga. "The one and two seeds, but today it was harder to take control."

"With Kathryn dominating the baseline and Keri a presence at the net, it was harder to be the aggressor," Herring, from Greenville, NC, said. "It was difficult to find a rhythm in this match."

But as they had in Thursday's match, when they saved three match points, Herring and Min found a way to hit the right shot at the right time to pull through, and share another national championship.

The third place doubles matches were played on Friday, with No. 8 seeds Charlie Jones and Ryan Lipman earning the bronze ball over unseeded Ian Chadwell and Patrick Whitner 4-6, 6-2, 6-2. The girls third place went to No. 1 seeds Embree and Saiontz, who defeated unseeded Nida Hamilton and Jaime Yapp-Shing 6-1, 6-4.

The USTA Sportsmanship awards were presented to Lipman and Christina McHale.

For complete results, visit the TennisLink site.

For additional coverage, see collegeandjuniortennis.com.


Stephen said...

Is there any chance of Evan King attending the University of Illinois so that he and Dennis Nevolo can team up in college? I would love to see that happen.