©Colette Lewis 2009--
Things didn't go as planned at the 2009 USTA Girls 18s National Clay Court Championships, thanks to Mother Nature and unseeded Krista Hardebeck.
Nothing could disrupt the focus of the Orange County California 14-year-old, including the early morning severe thunderstorms that forced the final match indoors, to the clay courts at the Tunica National Tennis Club an hour south of Memphis. With the same imperturbability and precision ground strokes she displayed all week, Hardebeck defeated No. 17 seed Gabriella De Simone 6-2, 6-3 to capture a title in her first National Championship in the 18s division.
De Simone is an avowed devotee of clay courts, although she has a 30-minute drive to find them in the hard court tennis mecca of San Diego, where she lives. After a week on the Racquet Club of Memphis clay courts, she was using her fitness and her forehand to make the most of the long points, but a change of venue for the final didn't help her.
"It was much faster," De Simone said of the Tunica courts. "Slow courts are obviously better for me, and the faster the better for her. I didn't adjust, I didn't do what I had to do, and I made a lot of unforced errors."
Hardebeck conceded that the surface did play differently from the outdoor clay courts at the Racquet Club.
"Maybe this court was a little bit faster, and that probably did help me, because I'm able to attack a little bit more. They felt a little bit drier."
As she had in Saturday's semifinal against No. 2 seed Ellen Tsay, Hardebeck took control of the points with a combination of aggressive placement and few unforced errors. De Simone admitted that is a very difficult combination to overcome.
"She comes up with winners and she doesn't miss," said De Simone. "That's tough to beat; someone who can hit winners and doesn't make a lot of unforced errors is always a tough player to play."
Hardebeck, who got off to a slow start in several of her matches during the week, was pleased that she shook off her nerves early, and when she got a break with the score 2-2 in the first set, she found her groove. Hardebeck won seven straight games before De Simone finally halted her run, breaking Hardebeck to make it 3-1 in the second set. But De Simone was broken right back, and when Hardebeck held at love in the following game, it was 5-1.
Like her hero Rafael Nadal, De Simone never stopped fighting, and she saved two match points serving at 5-1 to force Hardebeck to serve it out, which she failed to do, double faulting on the second break point she faced.
De Simone desperately needed a hold in the next game to put some doubt in Hardebeck's mind, but Hardebeck looked as calm as ever in the opening two points, rapping two forehand winners, the second on a deadly angle cross court on a short ball that De Simone yielded, taking a 0-30 lead. De Simone hit the baseline with a forehand to make it 15-30, but Hardebeck kept the pressure on De Simone's backhand, a tactic that had proved successful throughout the match. At 15-40, De Simone was forced into a defensive slice, the first of which was deep enough to stay in the point, but Hardebeck went right back to that corner, and this time De Simone's slice floated long. With a smile and a quiet fist pump, Hardebeck approached the net for the handshake; it wasn't until reminded that she had earned a qualifying wild card into the WTA event next February in Memphis that she showed genuine excitement.
"Oh my gosh, I totally forgot about that," Hardebeck said, her eyes widening and her conversational voice getting louder. "Yaaay, I'm excited. Yes, I will be going to that then. School can wait."
There's plenty of tennis to be played before that, and Hardebeck will play on the Southern California section's Junior Fed Cup team before competing for the 18s National Championships in Berkeley, Calif. next month.
"I know Hard Courts is going to be extremely difficult, so it's kind of good to have a little bit more confidence going in, not thinking, oh, these girls are so much better than me. I can say that I can compete against them, that I have a chance."
In the near future, Hardebeck, who admitted that she was sore and tired midweek and was motivated by the thought of avoiding the two-a-days in the back draw, will rest. She is spending a week at Southern California beach house with friends, but her first celebration will be ice cream.
"When I land, I'm going to have my dad take me to my favorite place, Yogurtland, for self-serve yogurt--peanut butter, chocolate and vanilla. You can pick any flavors you want, it's amazing."
But maybe not quite as amazing as an unseeded 14-year-old winning a gold ball in the 18s in her first try.
The doubles final was also played at the Tunica Indoor courts, and again the champions were unseeded. Kayla Duncan and Allison Falkin defeated No. 2 seed Whitney Kay and Ellen Tsay 4-6, 6-4, 6-3.
Duncan and Falkin, who had never played together before, were down a set and two breaks, trailing 4-1 in the second, but won seven straight games to take control of the match.
The key game was at 4-4 in the second, with Duncan, a rising sophomore at TCU playing in her last junior event, serving. In the eight-deuce game, Duncan and Falkin fought off five consecutive break points and six overall before finally earning their 5-4 lead, then broke Kay to even the match.
"We just decided that if we got back to the basics of our game, hitting cross courts until we got a chance at the net, that we could come back," said Duncan.
"Our main goal was just to play solid," said Falkin, who served out the championship after Duncan was unable to finish it serving with a 5-1 third set lead. "I was very nervous, but I just told myself that if I can make my serve, Kayla's at the net."
On match point, it was Duncan at the net who made the play, a perfectly executed backhand volley that punctuated a stellar week of tennis, which included wins over teams seeded 9, 1, 6, 8 and 2.
"I think our games matched up really well together," said Duncan. "We both like to play the same game. I'm sure on any given day there's a lot of good teams that could have beaten us, but we just happened to be on."
"Everything just went our way," said Falkin.
Third Place and Consolation
The bronze ball in singles went to second seed Tsay, who defeated Nida Hamilton, a No. 17 seed 3-6, 6-3, 6-1.
No. 8 seed Emina Bektas took fifth place with two wins at the Racquet Club of Memphis Sunday. She defeated No. 4 Danielle Collins 6-4, 2-6, 6-4.
Third place in doubles went to No. 4 seeds Brett Ellen Keeler and Sarah Lee, who downed No. 8 seeds Kate Fuller and Britney Sanders 6-3, 4-6, 6-4
For complete draws, see the TennisLink site.
Sunday, July 26, 2009