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Friday, March 20, 2009

Sock and Saba Meet for Boys Title, Capra and Scholl to Decide Girls USTA Spring National Championship

©Colette Lewis 2009--
Mobile, AL--

Jack Sock has been there many times before; for Frederick Saba, it's a new experience. And when they take the court on Saturday morning with a gold ball on the line at the USTA Spring National Championships, they will be meeting for the first time.

In contrast, the girls finalists, top seed Beatrice Capra and unseeded Chichi Scholl, are doubles partners who frequently train together in Florida and have known each other since the 12s. But whether strangers or friends, all four are looking forward to capturing a national title.

The fourth-seeded Sock, who is the reigning 16s Winter champion, has won 14 gold balls in his illustrious junior career, earning his chance for another with a 6-4, 6-2 win over No. 13 seed Sekou Bangoura Jr. Sock fell behind 2-0 in the opening set, but broke back immediately and then again at 2-2, and held for the first set.

"I used my forehand really well to move him around as much as possible," said Sock, 16, of Lincoln, Neb. "I played pretty well and it didn't seem like he had his day. I moved well and attacked when I could. He's one of those guys who you have to attack on the right shot or he'll pass you, so I waited for my time."

Bangoura, generally very quiet on the court, became increasingly frustrated as the unforced errors mounted, and he expressed his disappointment in his level of play both verbally and with his body language. But he couldn't dent Sock's confidence as he finished off the second set with great efficiency.

Saba, a 17-year-old from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., will be playing in his first National Championship final after downing No. 2 seed Connor Smith 7-5, 2-1, ret. inj. in Friday's other boys semifinal.

Serving at 5-4 in the first set, Smith had six set points, but couldn't convert any of them, and after ten deuces, Saba finally pulled even when Smith's forehand went long. A deflated Smith was broken again at 5-6, and at the set break called the trainer due to problems with his feet, his left foot in particular. He managed to hold serve once, but when Saba held for a 2-1 lead, Smith retired.

"I had heard that his foot was bad, but I didn't know it was that bad," said Saba, the 11th seed. "What I usually like to do with my opponents is move them around and make them play a lot of balls, and that actually translated into helping me win the match."

During that crucial game, Saba blamed his return for giving Smith so many set points.

"It was quite funny, because on the deuce points I would miss the return, and on each set point, I was playing amazing points," said Saba, who has not lost a set in his six victories. "I just tried to execute one ball at a time and it helped me come back and win the set."

Saba isn't too concerned about his lack of experience in National Championships, saying it's not a "huge deal, it's just a game after all," while according to Sock, the familiarity with the big match is "a little bit" of an advantage.

"I've never seen him play before this tournament, never even heard of him before this tournament," Sock admitted. "But he's a good player, and I'll have to play well to beat him."

In the girls final, Capra and Scholl are also approaching the championship match from different directions.

Capra, the 16-year-old from Maryland who now trains in Florida, has been in the final of the Clay Courts, Grass Courts and Pan American ITF Grade 1 in the past eight months and is ranked 32 in the ITF World Junior rankings. Scholl, from Pompano Beach, has been playing Open and Pro Circuit events in Florida and wasn't surprised that she was unseeded in Mobile.

"I've been playing well lately, and have had pretty good junior results, but I just haven't been playing that many big national tournaments," said Scholl, who battled past unseeded Monica Turewicz 6-3, 6-2 to earn her berth in the finals.

Capra, who took out unseeded Mary Clayton 6-1, 6-1 in a match that took quite a bit more effort than that score might indicate, said the top seeding wasn't any burden for her.

"I came to play this tournament to get some matches in and to work on my game," Capra said. "I'm really actually surprised how well I've done so far, keeping to my game plan, so there's not really any pressure."

According to Capra, she and Scholl used to play doubles in the 12s all the time, but until a recent pairing in a Pro Circuit event in Florida, they hadn't teamed up. But Capra is well aware of Scholl's strengths.

"Chichi's a grind," Capra said. "She gets a lot of balls back and she's going to fight until the end, so I think I'm going to have to be really aggressive and take control of the match, and not let her push me around."

In the girls doubles semifinals played late Friday afternoon, Capra and Scholl lost to the eventual champions, Emina Bektas and Lilly Kimbell 4-6, 6-1, 6-2. After a brief dinner break, the girls final was played under the lights, with attendance increased by a charity tennis tournament being played on adjacent courts.

Bektas and Kimbell, the No. 4 seeds, defeated Julie Sabacinski and Brittany Sanders, a No. 9 seeded team, 6-3, 6-1.

Bektas and Kimbell, who train together at the John Newcombe Academy, had won a National Open in their only previous tournament as a team.

"I had a good feeling about this tournament," said Kimbell, who was stranded overnight in the Dallas airport last Saturday and close to missing her first match time. "But you never know who you're going to run into."

Bektas and Kimbell ran into the defending champions, Lauren Herring and Grace Min, in the third round, and got over that hurdle 3-6, 6-2, 6-2.

As for the keys to their success as a team, Kimbell and Bektas had ready answers.

"Emina's really powerful and she comes into the net a lot too," Kimbell said. "I just help put away the volleys."

"Lilly's poaching off my serve often helps," Bektas said.

In the boys doubles semifinals, played at the same time as the girls, the top two seeded teams advanced to the finals, but it was anything but easy.

No. 2 seeds Chris Cha and Lawrence Formentera overcame No. 4 seeds Smith and Spencer Wolf 6-7(2), 6-4, 6-4 in a match that lasted more than two and-a-half hours, while top seeds Ian Chadwell and Sock took a 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 decision from No. 3 seeds Christopher Schultz and Joshua Tchan. With Sock's involvement in both championship matches, the boys doubles will be played Saturday afternoon.

For complete results, see the TennisLink site.