©Colette Lewis 2009--
The week didn't start well for top seed Beatrice Capra, but it ended with a National Championship Saturday, in weather so beautiful the dreary first few days of the event were nearly forgotten. Capra defeated unseeded Chichi Scholl 6-2, 6-2 in the girls final, and in the boys championship, No. 11 seed Frederick Saba secured his first gold ball with a 7-5, 6-2 win over No. 4 seed Jack Sock.
Capra, who was traveling alone, had suffered flight delays, and when she finally arrived in Mobile, at 1 a.m., her luggage didn't. But the rain delays gave her time to settle in, and she was determined not to start the year like she had in 2008.
"Last year I got off to a bad start and didn't win a match until Carson," Capra said, referring to the early April ITF event in California. "That was kind of in my head again--I didn't want to go without winning a match again--but I have, because I went to Australia and didn't win a match, and then I played two pro tournaments and I didn't win a match. I was really nervous coming into this tournament, but I was able to push through it."
After dropping a set to Lauren Davis in the third round, a match Capra believes was the turning point in her tournament, she didn't lose another set, and in fact only dropped 12 games in her next four victories.
Against Scholl, Capra came out really "pumped," breaking Scholl at love to open the match and again in Scholl's next service game. Capra made virtually no unforced errors in that stretch, while Scholl was so erratic that she began to berate herself loudly in German, her parents' native language. Despite being broken in her next service game, Capra was confident that all she needed to do was to stick to her game plan.
"She started to play better and she started to keep a lot more balls in play," Capra said. "I think I got really anxious, really wanted to win, but I wasn't worried because I knew what I had to do to win."
Scholl moves very well and can take control of a match from the baseline, but Capra's defensive genius can frustrate even the most patient player. Scholl admits that quality eluded her Saturday morning.
"I know her game, I play doubles with her," said Scholl, when asked about regularly seeing a sure winner come back as a deep lob from Capra. "I wanted to finish the points too fast, and that was a problem."
Scholl took her first lead by winning the opening game of the second set, but that was also her last lead. Capra broke her the next three times she served to eliminate any thought of a dramatic comeback from Scholl.
"I needed to push her around, push her deep and mix it up a little; get it out of her strike zone," said Capra, who turns 17 next month. "I knew if I always kept getting one more ball back, she was eventually going to get frustrated."
Despite reaching the final unseeded, Scholl wasn't entirely happy with her tournament.
"A lot of my matches were close, and I didn't feel I played well," said Scholl, who turns 17 in July. "I won the matches, I won the deciding points and that was good for me. I fought well but I don't think I played well throughout the tournament."
Saba, who like Capra, trains at Nick Saviano's academy in Sunrise, Fla., is one player who will admit to playing well throughout the tournament. In his first National Level 1 final, Saba showed no nerves and no weaknesses in upending the much more experienced Sock. Down 4-2 in the first set, Saba held and broke, and it was Sock who blinked serving at 5-6. A double fault put Sock behind 0-40, and although he saved the first set point with a nifty drop shot, on the next one, his forehand went into the bottom of the net.
At the start of the second set, Saba held his first service game while Sock, who wasn't staying in the points long enough to get any rhythm, was broken. In the next game Saba had a 40-0 lead, then lost four straight points, but won the next three to take a 3-0 lead.
Sock had one other glimpse at breaking back, with Saba serving at 4-2 0-30, but an ace, a serve and volley winner, a Sock error and forehand winner gave him the 5-2 lead. Even then, Saba refused to let his impending win disrupt his focus.
"What I try to do, which is probably the hardest thing to do in tennis, is one point at a time, one ball at a time, live in the moment," Saba said when asked about those chances to surrender his early break. "I pushed a few volleys wide, but I said no big deal, just keep coming forward and playing your game."
Sock, who was not familiar with Saba's game, admitted he was caught off guard by the Floridian's style.
"He played phenomenal today," Sock said. "He surprised me with some of the things he did, being aggressive. I didn't know he came to the net as much as he did today. His forehand was on today, he put it wherever he wanted to."
Saba's forehand is undoubtedly his strongest shot, but that willingness to move into the court to hit it was the difference in the match. Sock was not passing well, but part of that was Saba's unerring sense of when to approach the service line to finish.
"I thought I played extremely well," said Saba, who did not drop a set in his seven victories. "I was moving well, making a lot of balls, and whenever a short ball came up around the court, I tried to get up to it as quick as possible and take control of the point."
With his first ball of any kind, Saba also earned a wild card into the upcoming Futures event at the Mobile Tennis Center, but will discuss the opportunity with his family and his coach before deciding whether he will accept it.
For Sock, it was the first silver ball of his junior career, but he collected gold ball No. 15 in the doubles, as he and partner Ian Chadwell, the top seeds, defeated No. 2 seeds Chris Cha and Lawrence Formentera 6-3, 6-4.
Chadwell and Sock, playing together for the first time, used the prevailing teenage method of orchestrating a partnership, using Facebook and cell phone to connect only two days before the tournament began.
"His 150-mph serve is pretty good and helps me at the net," Sock said when asked how they meshed so quickly. "It's usually a guaranteed hold for him. His power and aggressiveness is good with my touch and feel around the net."
"I think our games are somewhat opposite, so we both complement each other," Chadwell said. "What I don't have, he has, and what he doesn't have, I have. I think that's what was the big difference between everyone else and us."
In the other matches played on Saturday, fifth place in girls singles went to Lauren Davis, a No. 17 seed, who defeated seventh-seeded Stephanie Hoffpauir 6-1, 6-1. Christopher Mengel won the boys back draw when fellow 17 seed Spencer Wolf was unable to play the consolation final. Wolf and partner Connor Smith, the fourth seeds, took the bronze balls in boys doubles, defeating No. 3 seed Christopher Schultz and Joshua Tchan 6-4, 6-3. No. 2 seeds Ester Goldfeld and Ellen Tsay took third in the girls doubles, leading 6-2 over No. 5 seeds Capra and Scholl when Capra retired with a foot injury.
Unseeded Monica Turewicz won the bronze ball in girls singles with a 6-2, 6-4 victory over Mary Clayton, who was also unseeded. No. 13 seed Sekou Bangoura Jr. finished third in the boys singles when No. 2 seed Smith was unable to compete.
The USTA sportsmanship awards were won by Wolf and Clayton.
For complete results, see the TennisLink site.
Tomorrow, my coverage shifts two hours north to Montgomery, where Alabama and Tennessee are playing the final of the Blue Gray Classic. See that tournament's website for the results of previous matches.
Saturday, March 21, 2009