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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Third set Tiebreakers Spice Up Spring Nationals

©Colette Lewis 2008--
Mobile, AL--

After Wednesday's routine boys' results at the Spring Nationals, Mobile was due for some excitement, and two third-set tiebreakers, one in the boys' quarterfinals and one in the girls' doubles semifinals, provided it.

Seventh seed Drew Courtney squeezed past No. 4 seed Steve Johnson 6-3, 2-6, 7-6 (3) to reach the semifinals, and unseeded Lauren Herring and Grace Min saved three match points to oust No. 2 seeds Lauren Embree and Rachel Saiontz 6-3, 3-6, 7-6(9).

Courtney and Johnson played some outstanding tennis in the final set, but it was Courtney, from Virginia, who sustained that level in the tiebreaker. The future Cavalier kept his big serve and forehand under control in the decider, hitting three winners off that side, while California's Johnson, a USC recruit, couldn't find the court with his forehand.

Courtney will meet No. 2 seed and 2007 finalist Dennis Nevolo, who repeated his quarterfinal victory of a year ago over No. 5 seed Alex Domijan 7-5, 6-3. Domijan served for the first set at 5-4, but Illinois' Nevolo broke the Floridian for the first time at that crucial juncture. Domijan was unable to hit through Nevolo, who was comfortable in the many forehand-to-backhand exchanges, and Domijan also didn't get the usual number of free points on his first serve.

At 3-3 in the second set, Nevolo saved several break points to hold, then broke Domijan for 5-3. In the always nerve-wracking serve-it-out game, Nevolo saved a couple more break points, and Domijan brushed away two match points, but the shot of the day came at fourth deuce.

With Domijan lining up an easy overhead putaway, Nevolo saw Domijan was going for an angle and ran to the vacant adjacent court where he caught up with overhead, then sent a backhand winner past a stunned Domijan.

"All he had to do was go down the line," Nevolo said, "but he tried to make a perfect angle. I was in the alley of the other court, and he hit it right to me basically, so I just hit it down the line for a winner."

On his fourth match point, Nevolo, who had been matching pace with the hard-hitting Domijan, kept it deep and coaxed a backhand error from Domijan, giving Nevolo his third win over the 16-year-old in their three meetings.

The other boys semifinal will feature No. 1 seed Bradley Klahn against No. 3 seed and defending champion Brennan Boyajian. Both have been cruising through the draw all week, and that continued Thursday. Klahn stopped the run of unseeded Alex Brigham 6-1, 6-3, and Boyajian handled alphabetical seed (17-32) David Nguyen 6-1, 6-2.

The girls semifinals have only one of the top four seeds remaining, that being No. 2 seed and 2007 finalist Lauren Embree, a 6-1, 6-4 winner Thursday over fellow Floridian Monica Chow, the seventh seed. Embree will meet Hanna Mar, who followed her upset of No. 3 Keri Wong on Wednesday with another in Thursday's quarterfinal, taking out No. 5 seed Jacqueline Cako 1-6, 7-6(5), 6-1.

Lilly Kimbell, the No. 11 seed, rolled past alphabetical seed Blair Seideman 6-2, 6-1 to set up a clash with No. 6 seed Kristie Ahn. Ahn upended No. 4 seed Catherine Isip 6-0, 6-2.

The doubles finalists were decided on Thursday afternoon--or in the case of the girls--Thursday evening.

For nearly three hours Winter National 18s doubles champions Herring and Min battled Embree and Saiontz, in as unpredictable a tennis match as can be imagined. After dropping the second set, Herring, 14, and Min, 13, looked as if they had lost their edge, falling behind two breaks and facing 4-1 and 5-2 deficits. With Min serving at 3-5, they saved two match points to make it 5-4, but Saiontz had another opportunity to close the door. She couldn't do it, and when Herring held at love to take a 6-5 lead, all the momentum had swung back to them. Embree fell behind 15-40, but she and Saiontz saved those two match points, assuring that whichever team won, match points would be saved.

Herring and Min raced out to a 6-2 lead in the tiebreaker, but Embree and Saiontz won the next five points, giving them their third match point. But Embree netted a volley to make it 7-7, and they wouldn't get another chance. Herring stuck a backhand volley winner with Min serving at 8-7, and the roller coaster of a match finally came to a halt.

Herring and Min face the No. 2 seed team of Kathryn Talbert and Keri Wong, who defeated the unseeded team of Nida Hamilton and Jamie Yapp-Shing 6-1, 6-1.

The boys doubles finalists will feature the 2007 champions, but this time on opposite sides of the net. Bradley Klahn and Dennis Nevolo teamed for the gold balls last year, but this year Klahn is playing with Steve Johnson and Nevolo with Evan King. On Thursday, Klahn and Johnson, the No. 1 seeds, defeated No. 8 seeds Charlie Jones and Ryan Lipman 6-3, 6-3, while King and Nevolo, the No. 2 seeds, downed unseeded Ian Chadwell and Patrick Whitner 6-4, 6-1.

For complete draws see the TennisLink site.

For more coverage of the Spring Nationals, see collegeandjuniortennis.com.