©Colette Lewis 2009--
The weather was reminiscent of Wimbledon, with on and off showers threatening to disrupt the girls and boys International Grass Court finals throughout the day at the Philadelphia Cricket Club, but by late Saturday afternoon the silver plates were hoisted by the champions: qualifier Lauren Davis and No. 4 seed Raymond Sarmiento. Davis defeated top seed Brooke Bolender 6-2, 3-6, 6-2 and Sarmiento downed qualifier Michael Zhu 6-2, 6-3.
Davis, the reigning USTA girls 16s champion, played a phenomenal first set against Bolender, hitting both her slice and her two-handed backhand with depth and precision. Davis's return was particularly effective, and Bolender often looked unprepared for the pace of it, and slow to react. When the top seed came into the net, often on good approaches, Davis would hit an applause-inducing pass, or if both were at the net, would finish the point with a perfectly placed volley.
Davis was broken serving at 4-1--her serve was the one part of her game that she didn't seem confident in--but she got that break right back with yet another passing shot winner, and held for the set.
The sprinkles had begun, just drops here and there, but with Bolender serving in the first game of the second set, the rain became steadier, and play was suspended. It couldn't have come at a better time for Bolender.
"She started off really well, and I was a little nervous," Bolender said. "It was nice to be able to calm down and clear my head before the second set. I think it was hard for her because she had all the momentum, and it was probably frustrating to have to stop and start again."
Davis said she thought she took the hour and twenty minute delay in stride.
"I tried my best to keep my focus," said Davis. "I read, which really helps me. I thought I was prepared for it, but I guess I wasn't."
Davis broke Bolender in the opening game, but after four straight breaks, it was 2-2 in the second set. Bolender picked up her game, and the errors that were absent from Davis's game in the first set cropped up often in the second. Bolender was the player finding the lines and finishing the volleys; it was if the players had swapped games during the rain delay. Bolender held for 3-2, and two more times in the set, and the match was even.
The third set started as the first two had for Bolender, being broken early. This time she wasn't able to recover as she had in the second set, and it was her serve that was the culprit. She double faulted on game point to drop her first two serves, and was down 4-0 in a hurry. Bolender broke and held to make it 4-2, and had a break point to get back on serve in the next game, but Davis saved it, taking a 5-2 lead and finding the winners that had deserted her in the second set.
As raindrops began to fall again, Bolender served to stay in the match. It was a long and well-played game that went to five deuces before Davis finally ended it with a forehand winner, earning her first ITF title and her seventh victory of the week.
"Even though I was a qualifier, I knew I could beat a lot of the people in this tournament," Davis said. "That there would be tough matches, but that I would just have to buckle down and win them. But the qualifying matches actually helped me, even though they weren't the hardest, because I got a head start."
The sprinkles that accompanied the end of the girls match soon ended and although there were dark clouds hovering, the boys final was played without disruption and was completed in less than a hour, with the seed, not the qualifier, prevailing.
Zhu struggled with nerves in the opening set, and was able to hold serve only once, although he did manage to break Sarmiento in the third game. In the second set, Zhu seemed to find his game, and after having beaten top seed JT Sundling in the semifinals from a set down, it wasn't inconceivable he would do the same Saturday.
When he broke Sarmiento at love at 2-2 in the second, that scenario began to take shape; Zhu hit three clean winners that Sarmiento could only shake his head at.
But Zhu couldn't consolidate his break. He battled back from 0-40 to earn three game points in the four-deuce game, but Sarmiento came up with a serve return winner and a volley winner to climb back to 3-3.
"I'm pretty sure that was set there if he had held," Sarmiento said. "Not for sure, but he definitely had the edge in that set. I just tried my best to put pressure on his serve, to break him right back. He played a really good game at 2-all; he can do that, he can get on rolls, so I had to do my best to bounce back."
Zhu admitted that both his lack of experience and Sarmiento's game contributed to his defeat.
"It was my first time being in the final in an ITF," said Zhu, who was playing his eighth singles match in eight days. "I don't even have a ranking, I just got some points here, and it never crossed my mind that I would make it this far. It was difficult, because he also has great returns, and I can't serve and volley on that. He's got great all-around strokes, and that's basically what you need, the confidence and the experience."
Sarmiento, who won the doubles title with Nathan Pasha on Friday, had only a few pre-match jitters.
"Once I got started, I felt comfortable on the court," Sarmiento said, and that ease showed in the final three games of match, when he had no difficulty swinging aggressively and taking every opportunity Zhu gave him.
Sarmiento is heading for Europe next week to visit an aunt in the Netherlands and to play a Futures event and two ITF junior tournaments. The surface? Clay.
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Saturday, June 13, 2009