Morton and Mamalat Meet for Girls Title; Lipman and Vinsant Will Decide Boys Grass Court Championship Saturday
©Colette Lewis 2010--
Long three-set matches are an anomaly at the International Grass Courts, but you wouldn't know it from Friday's singles semifinals. All four semifinals went the distance on a picture-perfect day at the Philadelphia Cricket Club, and except for the victory by No. 3 seed Shane Vinsant, the decisions went to the underdogs.
Wild card Maxx Lipman lost his first set of the tournament to No. 6 seed Brandon Burke of Jamaica, but regrouped for a 6-4, 1-6, 6-0 win, while Vinsant needed a comeback to prevail over unseeded Mitchell Polnet 4-6, 6-3, 6-4.
In the girls semifinals, unseeded Skylar Morton spotted top seed Lauren Herring a quick first set, but came back for a 1-6, 6-3, 6-2 win to earn her place in the final against another unseeded player, Anna Mamalat. Mamalat withstood a third set comeback by No. 8 seed Kyle McPhillips to claim a 6-3, 3-6, 6-4 victory.
Lipman let an early break in the first set slip away with a flurry of unforced errors, but he managed to get the break right back to take a 4-3 lead, then held his next two service games for the set.
Burke took a lead in the second set, serving well for a 1-0 lead, then outlasting Lipman in a seven-deuce game to go up 2-0. Burke kept rolling, taking a 5-0 lead, but even after falling that far behind, Lipman wasn't conceding the set or discouraged about the remainder of the match.
"There were a lot of close games that didn't go my way," said the 15-year-old from Nashville. "I tried to stay positive--I knew I could win those games in the third, and I did. It was good to see me bounce back from a rough second set, cut down my errors and play a good set."
Lipman took control in the third set to earn a spot in the finals, matching his older brother Ryan's accomplishment in 2007 and 2008.
Against Vinsant, Polnet was able to make the only break of the first set hold up, but despite dropping the first set, Vinsant didn't blame it on a slow start.
"I didn't really start that slow," said the 16-year-old from Texas. "He's really good, especially on grass. I've never played someone on grass who could pass that well. I figured out a few things that helped me, but I wouldn't say I started slow. He played well."
In the second set, it was Vinsant who got the only break, in the second game, and despite needing four set points serving at 5-3, it was enough. Approaching more often to Polnet's forehand helped him neutralize Polnet's passing shots, and a few volley errors started to creep into Polnet's game, but the outcome was in doubt right up until the last point.
After trading breaks with Polnet early in the third set, Vinsant got another break at 4-4, but several good returns gave Polnet a break point at 30-40 with Vinsant serving for the match. Polnet hit a good lob on that point, but Vinsant hit an even better overhead while backpeddling to get it back to deuce, and two volley winners later, he had reached the final.
"I've been struggling a little bit lately, the past six months, so it means a lot to have a good tournament," said Vinsant, who is playing the Grass Courts for the first time. "I'm trying to get some momentum again."
Vinsant and Lipman haven't played before in singles, although they did play in the second round of doubles earlier in the week.
The girls final between Mamalat and Morton will be their first meeting since the 12s, a meeting that didn't look likely when Morton dropped the first set to Herring in very short order.
"She played really well," said Morton, a 16-year-old from suburban Washington DC. "And I wasn't constructing my points as well. The points were over really fast, so I tried to slow it down, focus on neutralizing the return and move in myself."
In the second set, Herring was broken at 1-1 in a five-deuce game, with two double faults contributing to the loss of that game. Morton began to read Herring's serve better as the match wore on, and picked up the pace on her ground strokes as well. In the third set, Herring was broken in the fourth game, with several of the chair umpire's calls increasing her frustration. Morton kept playing aggressively, and too many errors from Herring kept her from getting the break back.
The other girls semifinal was a completely different style of game, with both Mamalat and McPhillips slicing seemingly 80 percent of the time and hitting drop shots the other 20 percent. So committed were they to their grass games, that even drop shots when returning serve were used to keep the other off balance.
McPhillips had difficulty getting her first serve in play, and Mamalat went after the returns on the second aggressively, taking a 4-0 lead before McPhillips started to find her game. Mamalat stopped a run of three straight games by McPhillips with a hold, then broke McPhillips again to take the opening set 6-3. In the second set, McPhillips began to serve more effectively and decrease her errors, but it took plenty of long points before she could claim the second set 6-3.
It was Mamalat who started strongly in the third set, breaking McPhillips in the opening game and again in the fifth game, to build a 5-1 lead. McPhillips again strung together three straight games to make it 5-4, leaving Mamalat with just one chance to convert what had seemed an insurmountable lead. At 30-30, Mamalat got a fortunate net cord winner to earn her first match point, but McPhillips saved that with a brilliant backhand dropshot. A backhand winner on the next point gave McPhillips a game point to pull even, but Mamalat saved that with a backhand winner of her own, and when McPhillips made a rare error on the next point, Mamalat had match point No. 2. This time she converted, hitting a two-handed forehand winner to reach her first ITF final.
"I knew I had to just stay calm and not worry about the last point, worry about the next point and go on from there," said the 16-year-old Mamalat, who despite living in Philadelphia, said she doesn't practice on grass. "I knew I had to stay focused. I knew she wasn't going to give up, so I had to keep fighting."
Mamalat admitted that she didn't expect to be in the final when the week started, but she's enjoying her run and is determined to continue using her slice and drop shot Saturday. "And get my first serve in," she said.
The girls final will begin at 11 a.m. Saturday, with the boys final to follow.
Only one of the doubles finals scheduled for Friday afternoon was played. In the girls doubles, the No. 2 seeds Herring and McPhillips were awarded the title when top seeds Kelsey Laurente and Hai-Li Kong could not play due to a conflict with a scheduled flight.
In the boys doubles, Emmett Egger and Vinsant, the No. 2 seeds, claimed their first tournament win as a team, defeating unseeded Anthony Delcore and Vikram Hundal 6-2, 7-6(4).
A team now for more than a year, Egger and Vinsant have reached final after final, including Kalamazoo, but until today, had not won a title together.
"After like eight finals, we'd never won one, so after the first set, we were super intense," said Egger. "We knew we couldn't let down, even for a second, because we wanted to get it done."
"We practice together all the time, so our communication is good," Vinsant said. "We've figured some things out that helps us."
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