©Colette Lewis 2008--
The quirkiness of grass court tennis isn't to everyone's liking, but the four competitiors who advanced to the finals of the 2008 International Grass Court championships on Thursday have found it suits their games well.
Mississippi's Devin Britton, a semifinalist in Philadelphia in 2006, has the classic big serve and first volley game that has always been effective on the surface, and in his 6-4, 6-4 victory over Jordan Cox Thursday, he demonstrated the importance of having the ace in his arsenal. After breaking Cox at 4-4 in the opening set, Britton went up 40-0 on three unreturnable first serves. But back-to-back double faults and a missed volley brought Cox even, and in the three more deuces to come, it was Britton's serve that saved him, finally finishing off the set with two aces. In the second set, Britton again broke at 4-4, when Cox helped him by throwing in a couple of double faults, and serving for the match, the fourth seed needed only two match points, hitting a service winner at 40-30 to reach the final.
"I served well on the big points," said Britton, who is close friends with Cox. "I tried to choke a couple of times, but my serve helped me out of it. I was making him play and you could tell towards the end of the set that he was thinking about it. He missed a few volleys he should have made."
Britton's opponent in the final, Ryan Lipman, is also playing the Grass Courts for the third consecutive year, and will repeat his 2007 finals appearance after a 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 victory over Matt Kandath Thursday.
Kandath, a 16-year-old from upstate New York, jumped out to a quick 3-0 in the first set, but Lipman adjusted and came back to win six of the next seven games. In the second set however, it was Kandath, who hits two-handed forehands and backhands, who took control, winning a four-deuce game with Lipman serving at 3-4 and then serving out the set in the next game. It was the first set the unseeded Lipman had lost this week.
"I was getting kind of frustrated, because you don't play many people on grass who stay back and hit winners left and right," said Lipman, a 17-year-old from Nashville, Tenn. "I was hitting low slices and he was picking them up for winners, and it was confusing, to say the least."
Lipman credited the new balls in the third set for assisting him. "It helped me," Lipman said. "It gave him less time to prepare for the ball." Lipman got the only break he needed with Kandath serving at 2-3, and held on to it, putting him in the final for the second time in two years.
Against Britton, he has one strategy. "Return. I'm just going to try to put everything at his feet and make him play up," said Lipman. "Obviously, I'm going to have to serve well, because he has good returns, and he likes the grass just as much as I do."
Britton acknowledges the differences in their games in spite of their mutual affection for the surface.
"He's got a one-handed backhand that he slices most of the time," said Britton, 17. "He's more of a finesse player. He's going to be slicing short on most of his returns. I'll be serving big, he'll be placing his serves. It's different, but it'll be a good matchup I think."
In the girls final, two 16-year-olds who haven't met before in singles, but know each other's games will aim for the title. Unseeded Beatrice Capra, a quarterfinalist in Philadelphia the past two years, and No. 8 seed Gabriela Dabrowski, who is playing the event for the first time, earned their spots in Saturday's final with straight sets wins on a picture-perfect Thursday afternoon.
Capra, who is from Ellicott City, Maryland, downed 13-year-old Sachia Vickery 6-4, 6-1, while Dabrowski outmaneuvered No. 3 seed Lauren McHale 6-4, 6-0.
Capra admitted to some nerves against her younger opponent, and the first set was not pretty, ending as it did with Capra breaking Vickery for the fourth time.
"It was really tough for me," said Capra. "I was so nervous going out there, I couldn't hit a ball. But after I started being agressive, I knew if I just kept pressing on her, I knew I would be okay."
Capra took a 4-0 lead in the second set, and Vickery couldn't find any way to counteract the depth of Capra's shots, which often kept the smaller Vickery well behind the baseline. But Capra was impressed with her opponent's game.
"She was very consistent, and then she could whip off a winner," Capra said of Vickery. "She was a very smart player, and I think she played really well."
Dabrowski, who is from Ottawa, Canada, doesn't get much opportunity to play on grass in that country, but she was able to practice at the nearby Merion Cricket Club prior to the tournament and has proven very adept at the slices and the dropshots that can be so effective on the surface.
"I don't mind it," said Dabrowski, who has yet to drop a set this week, and defeated top seed Alexa Guarachi on Wednesday. "I think it's something really different, a new challenge."
Against McHale, Dabrowski took control midway through the first set and never looked back, returning well and keeping McHale off balance throughout the second set.
Although Capra and Dabrowski have never played in singles, they competed against each other in doubles last month in Montreal, during the Junior Fed Cup regional qualifying. Dabrowski and Capra both won their singles matches, with the world championship spot coming down to the doubles. Capra, playing with Brooke Bolender, also her partner here in Philadelphia, downed Dabrowski and her partner, Katrina Paliivets, 7-6(3) 6-7(4) 6-2.
"I try and forget past matches," Dabrowski said of that disappointing loss. "I just try to go out there and play point by point, not thinking about revenge, although it could be there in the back of my head."
Neither Lipman and Capra will have a day off Friday, as they will be playing in the doubles finals. Lipman, who won the title last year with Ryan Harrison, is playing with Ryan Noble this year, and in Thursday afternoon's semifinal, they defeated top seeds Denis Kudla and Alex Llompart 7-6(5), 6-4. They will face No. 3 seeds Cox and Raymond Sarmiento, who downed No. 2 seeds Britton and Harry Fowler 6-4, 6-4.
Capra and Bolender, who recently won a $10,000 Pro Circuit event in South Carolina, saved three match points in the third set to ease past Jessica Alexander and Lauren Embree 3-6, 6-3, 7-5. With Bolender serving at 4-5 in the third, Alexander and Embree had their chances to end it, but Bolender hit a forehand volley winner, Alexander made an error and Capra executed a difficult overhead winner to negate those opportunities, and they rode that momentum through a break of Embree in the next game, giving Capra the chance to serve it out.
Capra and Bolender's opponents in Friday's final will be Kate Fuller and Nicolle Stracar, also unseeded, who defeated Elianne Douglas-Miron and Laura Slater 6-3, 7-5.
For complete results and draws, visit the TennisLink site.
Thursday, June 12, 2008