©Colette Lewis 2008--
Devin Britton and Gabriela Dabrowski are on their way to the grass courts of London, full of confidence after their hard-fought wins on a steamy hot Saturday at the Philadelphia Cricket Club.
The fourth seeded Britton downed unseeded 2007 finalist Ryan Lipman 6-3, 7-6(7), while Dabrowski, the eighth seed, outlasted unseeded two-time quarterfinalist Beatrice Capra 6-4, 2-6, 6-3.
Dabrowski, a 16-year-old from Ottawa, Canada, was playing her first grass court event, but in her four previous matches, all straight-set wins, she had demonstrated a mature grasp of the strategies the surface requires. In the opening set against Capra, also 16, Dabrowski returned serve very effectively, and was able to capitalize on one of her three break point opportunities, while Capra failed to convert either of the two she saw.
Capra seized control of the second set with a break at 1-2, one of three breaks of Dabrowski she would earn in that set, with her backhand, drop shot and volleys working in concert to disrupt Dabrowski's rhythm. Upon entering the third set, Capra appeared to have the momentum, but it quickly disappeared.
"I thought I was playing a lot more aggressive," said Capra. "I definitely thought if I kept playing like that I could win the match. But she came out strong in the third set--I don't think I won a point until, like the third game--and after that I wasn't playing as aggressive as I should have been."
Dabrowski was able to refocus despite the vulnerability she had shown in the middle set.
"I definitely felt the momentum change in the second set," said Dabrowski. "I felt I was slowing down on my shots, hitting too short. But in the third I tried to start out hard right off the bat, to put the pressure on her right away, not to let her totally into the match."
Down 2-4 in the final set, Capra fought off two break points, and with Dabrowski serving at 4-3, got to deuce, but couldn't get any closer to pulling even.
"I just tried to stay calm and stay focused on my serve game," Dabrowski said of the possibility of a Capra comeback. "I've played some matches where that's happened before, and I think the reason it happens is just a lack of focus for a couple of points."
With that fifth game in hand, the pressure reverted to Capra, and although she saved one match point with a backhand winner, the right-hander from Maryland couldn't handle Dabrowski's depth on the next one, and the Canadian had her first ITF title since October of last year.
For boys winner Britton, it had been an even longer stretch between tournament wins.
"It's been a long while, a very long while," said Britton. "I want to say it was a Grade 5 in El Salvador two years ago(actually March of 2007). So it feels good; it's a relief to get a win."
Although those familiar with Britton's serve-and-volley game wouldn't be surprised by his success on grass, his friend and opponent Lipman is also very adept on the surface, using his array of slices and outstanding feel to work his way through the field this week.
But in the first set of the final, Lipman, from Nashville, Tenn., had little opportunity to display those skills, so dominate was Britton's serving.
"He served great pretty much the whole match," said Lipman who did not have a look at a break point in the first set. "He just made a lot of first serves, and my strategy didn't really work out because I couldn't really touch any balls."
"I served unbelievably," Britton agreed. "My serve is what got me through it. We both served pretty well, but I think I had a better first serve percentage."
The only time Britton was broken, when he was serving for the match at 6-5 in the second, it was his serve that was responsible.
"I was up 30-0 in that game and I don't think I got a first serve in after that," said Britton, who lost four straight points to assure a tiebreaker. "He came up with some good returns off of second serves, I double faulted once. I was lucky to get out of that set."
With the suffocating heat, Britton was not interested in going three sets, even if the points were consistently short. But Lipman came close to forcing that, raising his game in the tiebreaker and showing all the facets of his game. When Britton earned his first match point with an ace at 5-5 in the tiebreaker, the ensuing point was worthy of any highlight reel. Lipman followed his second serve into the net, and then a rapid-fire exchange of five or six volleys ended with Britton diving, but failing to get his response back over the net.
"I don't know that it was a dive," said Britton. "It was more of a slip down, I think. It was a good point; unfortunately Ryan came out on top in that one, but I did end up on the ground for the first time in the tournament."
"That was a heck of a point," said Lipman, 17. "I let it all hang out there, as you could tell after the point. I was yelling pretty loud and I don't usually do that."
Lipman then earned a set point with a first serve winner to take a 7 points to 6 lead, but didn't get either of Britton's second serves in play, and much to the shock of all the spectators, who were expecting another scintillating match point, double faulted to end it when he served again.
Britton credits an improved attitude for his composure after failing to serve out the match at 6-5.
"Any time I start thinking about it or worrying about it, it never ends up good," said the 17-year-old from Jackson, Miss. "Usually after I lose that game on my serve, I'm going to throw the racquet, maybe into the fence or something, but I kept it together and I was proud of myself for that. I felt very good mentally."
And if Dabrowski and Britton should get a few crazy bounces on the grass in Roehampton next week, they can look back on how they coped during the International Grass Courts in Philadelphia for all the inspiration they need.
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Saturday, June 14, 2008