©Colette Lewis 2008--
Lauren Embree shed her bridesmaid dress on Sunday, collecting the winner's trophy and her first gold ball in 18s singles competition when she defeated top seed Beatrice Capra 6-4, 6-2 on the sticky-hot center court at the Racquet Club of Memphis.
Embree had reached the finals at last year's Clay Court Championships, falling to Missy Clayton, and in 2008, had taken second place at both the USTA Spring Championships and the Easter Bowl. But this week, the 17-year-old from Marco Island, Fla. was on top of her formidable clay court game, taking all seven of her matches in straight sets.
Embree, seeded third, managed to win Sunday morning without much help from her serve. After breaking Capra in the opening game and taking a 2-1 lead, she gave it back with two double faults in the next game. Embree also chipped in two more double faults when serving at 4-3 in the first set, dropping serve again, but Capra was having struggles of her own on serve, and she double faulted on game point to give Embree a 5-4 lead.
"I was frustrated because I couldn't get a serve in the box, and I kept double faulting on big points," Embree said. "I didn't really feel confident in it, and when I serve sometimes my back bothers me, so that gets in my head and I think it's my back, but I just have to believe in my serve."
Despite all her troubles when serving, Embree came up with a service winner on her second set point, and with the first set tucked away, the double faults decreased dramatically. In the second set, Capra took a 2-1 lead and had three break points to go up 3-1, but that's when the match began to unravel for the 16-year-old from Ellicott City, Md.
Frustrated with failing to convert those opportunities, Capra received a point penalty for racquet abuse, and at 15-40, let an Embree shot go, only to see it drop on the baseline. Capra won only two points in the next two games, giving Embree a 5-2 lead, and the chance to serve out the championship. At 30-30, Embree hit a service winner and on her first match point, angled a backhand putaway at the net to claim the impressive trophy and the WTA Cellular South Cup qualifying wild card next February.
Capra's analysis of the match centered on her own lack of energy during the second set, after the first set took nearly an hour to complete.
"I thought I came out pretty strong, I thought I was playing well, but in the end, I didn't have enough energy, mental energy, to keep it up," said Capra, whose WTA ranking currently stands at 736. "In the end I got really tired, and I couldn't keep more than three balls in play."
Embree has demonstrated throughout her junior career the value of defense, and she has been able to retain that skill while building her offensive firepower.
"She was very consistent," Capra said with a sigh. "She always kept one more ball in play for me to hit and it was hard for me to keep up with her physically."
"I couldn't really sense it," Embree said of Capra's fatigue. "But it's been a really long week for all of us."
Although her celebration was muted, Embree was obviously pleased to have come out on top in a final after the previous disappointments.
"It's a big relief to finally win a super national," she said. "I've gotten to finals of a lot of them, but haven't won any (18s)."
As for the qualifying wild card, Embree first asked when the tournament was, and when told it was in February, and indoors, she allowed that preparation for it might be a problem, but she wasn't about to decline the opportunity to play on that level.
"There are no indoor courts in Florida," she said with a laugh. "But I'll use it. Just for fun."
There were two other singles matches on Sunday morning. Ninth seed Rachel Saiontz, Embree's doubles partner, won the consolation tournament, defeating No. 11 Hideko Tachibana 6-1, 6-4. And the day's most crowd-pleasing match was No. 5 seed Kristie Ahn's 6-3, 5-7, 6-3 victory over No 4 seed Jacqueline Cako for third place. Both girls were intent on winning the bronze ball, and as the fist pumps and c'mons escalated, the crowd gathered for the singles final was captivated by the tennis and the emotion.
For the complete draws, visit the TennisLink site.
Sunday, July 20, 2008