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Saturday, July 25, 2009

California Girls Hardebeck and De Simone Reach USTA 18s Clay Court Finals

©Colette Lewis 2009—
Memphis, TN—

Hard courts are the surface of choice in their Southern California homes, but 14-year-old Krista Hardebeck and 16-year-old Gabriella De Simone have proven to be very comfortable on the green clay of the Racquet Club of Memphis, thank you. Both continued their impressive results in Saturday's semifinals, taking straight set wins to set up an all-California clash for the title Sunday.

De Simone, a No. 17 seed, is a big fan of Rafael Nadal and clay court tennis, and she is excited that her 6-1, 6-4 semifinal win over Nida Hamilton gives her the opportunity to play another match on her favorite surface.

“I love clay, and there’s only one tournament a year for me on clay,” said De Simone, who is coached by Patricia Tarabini, a French Open mixed doubles champion from Argentina. “I’d love to do more, but I’m just happy do be doing well here.”

The match opened with two exceedingly long games, with Hamilton, also a No. 17 seed, starting the match with an eight-deuce serving game that lasted over 10 minutes. She double faulted five times in that game, eventually losing it. In the second game, De Simone needed five deuces before finally taking a 2-0 lead, and it wasn’t high quality tennis from either player.

“I think it was nerves,” said De Simone, who lives in the San Diego area, and trained for the tournament at clay courts about 30 minutes from her home. “We’re both players who make a lot of balls, we both have kind of a similar game style, ad we were making so many errors, which is very unusual for us. I was late and short, but I tried to step up and find my forehand and take the point with it.”

Hamilton didn’t hold serve in the opening set, getting her only game when she broke at 3-0, but still it took over 50 minutes to complete, with neither girl taking advantage of the myriad chances they had.

The level of play rose in the second set, although neither De Simone nor Hamilton hit the ball with the same authority they had displayed in their quarterfinal wins over higher seeds. Hamilton broke to open the second set, De Simone got it right back, before four consecutive holds had De Simone up 4-3. Hamilton played a very loose game and was broken when she missed an easy put-away volley three feet long, but De Simone was broken at love serving for the match. Hamilton couldn’t raise her game however, and two unforced errors to start the final game put her down 0-30. She won the next point, but made another error to give De Simone her first match point, and it was over quickly when Hamilton hit a forehand wide, putting De Simone in her first National Championship final.

In preparation for Sunday’s contest, the superstitious De Simone will have her usual dinner--chicken Parmigiana--at nearby Ciao Bella restaurant, then turn on her computer to watch some French Open tennis on You Tube.

“I'm very excited," she said of her first final. "To do it in the next age group is unbelievable.”

Krista Hardebeck is also playing in her first National final, and technically she is playing two age groups up, as she doesn't turn 15 until September. With her t-shirts and slight stature, she’s not an intimidating presence, but once she gets her ground strokes dialed in, no opponent is safe. Once that happened today, No. 2 seed Ellen Tsay was in peril, losing to the unseeded right-hander from Santa Ana, Calif. 7-5, 6-1.

Tsay had the upper hand early, taking a 4-1 lead in the opening set, and was a point from a 5-1 advantage with Hardebeck serving at 1-4, 15-40. But as she has been doing all week, Hardebeck began to find the lines on the big points, or locate a short, sharp angle that didn’t appear to exist.

The fifteen-year-old Tsay did serve for the first set at 5-3, but she didn’t come close to taking it there, serving poorly and letting Hardebeck dictate play. In the next game, the left-hander from Pleasanton, Calif. did have a set point at 30-40, but Hardebeck stepped well into the court and hit a huge winner inches from the sideline to end that threat and hold for 5-5.

Unable to make a first serve in the following game, Tsay eventually paid for that when Hardebeck converted on her third break point. Although Tsay did have some success when she approached the net and volleyed away from the very quick Hardebeck, the younger girl began to pass with much more authority as the match wore on. Hardebeck made a rare error on her first set point at 6-5, but hit a forehand winner on the second to secure it 7-5.

A shaken Tsay then lost eight straight points to open the second set, and although she held in the third game, she could not threaten a confident Hardebeck. Serving at 2-1, Hardebeck was down 15-40, but she continued to play aggressively from the baseline, and when Tsay was broken in the next game, there was little doubt about the finish, which came two games later, again delivered by a Hardebeck forehand winner.

Hardebeck ranked her victory over Tsay, the 2008 Easter Bowl 16s champion, as “definitely in the Top Ten,” and expressed great excitement about her first National final.

“Oh my gosh, I have never won a ball of any color, and now I know I’m going to win one no matter what,” said Hardebeck. “I’m just going to go out there and try my best and see what happens.”

With both she and De Simone from the same section, they have played regularly, and have split their last two meetings.

“For a little bit, we were playing a lot,” said Hardebeck, whose first tournament on clay was last week's Intersectionals. “I think three times. Then I played her in December--she beat me in December, and I beat her in May.”

Even though she won the 16s International Spring Championships in Carson in April (De Simone won that title in 2008), Hardebeck points to May as the time when she began to see real improvement in her game.

“That’s when I started having a few good wins. Since then I think I’ve been doing better, getting it together. When I go out there now, I say to myself, you are going to win this match, and you just have to focus on what to do.”

In the doubles semifinals, there were few of the momentum swings that usually characterize evenly matched contests at the national level. The unseeded team of Kayla Duncan and Alison Falkin ousted a fourth seeded team in Saturday's semifinal, beating No. 8 seed Kate Fuller and Britney Sanders 6-4, 6-2 and will try to eliminate another on Sunday, when they face No. 2 seed Whitney Kay and Ellen Tsay. Kay and Tsay struggled at the beginning of both sets in the match against fourth seeds Brett Ellen Keeler and Sarah Lee, but seized control near the end of each to take a 6-2, 6-3 decision.

The consolation semifinals will feature No. 8 seed Emina Bektas against Nicole Melichar and No. 4 seed Danielle Collins against No. 3 seed Blair Seideman.

For complete results, see the TennisLink site.


johnny said...

collette, i was just wondering if you knew when the kalamazoo seedings would become available.

Colette Lewis said...

Probably a week from today