©Colette Lewis 2010--
When Caroline Price defeated longtime rival and top seed Whitney Kay 6-3, 6-3 Sunday morning at the Racquet Club of Memphis to earn the 2010 USTA Girls 18s Clay Court championship, it wasn't her fourth gold ball or having her name engraved on the outsized trophy or her wild card into qualifying at the Club's WTA event that was foremost in her mind.
Instead, it was the promise her traveling coach Matt Walker of the Racquet Club of the South made to all the students of his high performance program in February: he would cut off his lengthy locks if any of them won a gold ball, an ITF Grade A event or a $10,000 Pro Circuit tournament.
"It was a pretty big motivation, to shave his head if I won it," said an ebullient Price a few minutes after the trophy presentation was complete. "Someone brought a razor, so we're about to do that."
On yet another steamy Memphis morning, Kay and Price, both 17-year-olds who live in suburban Atlanta, played tentatively in the opening games of the match. Price, the No. 13 seed, took a 2-0 lead, but surrendered it in her next service game, the first of four straight breaks. The left-handed Price wasn't getting a high percentage of first serves in during that stretch, but she was staying with Kay off the ground with her backhand, normally her less potent side. The strengthening of that shot was the silver lining of an injury cloud this spring.
"Easter Bowl this year I tore my (left) wrist and I was put in a cast for almost three months, so while I was in a cast, we worked on my righty forehand, so that when I came back, my backhand would be stronger. My backhand used to be my weakness, but now I feel a lot more comfortable with it. It was sort of like a blessing in disguise."
Price held for 5-3 in the first set, and Kay wasn't able to overcome two double faults in the next game, dropping serve for the fourth time in the set. She had come back from the loss of the first set twice this week however, and when she broke Price to open the second set, then held, it appeared she could force a third set, as she had done in the 2009 Easter Bowl final against Price.
Trailing 0-2 and 0-30, Price got a crucial hold in the third game of the second set, and her first serve began to provide her with opportunities to put away short balls. The only point she lost in the next three games was on a double fault, and any tentativeness she may have displayed early in the set was long gone.
"Caroline played really well, and I feel I was a little off my game," said Kay, who had beaten Price 7-5, 6-3 at a Southern Designated in February. "When I played her last she missed more than she did today, and I was making a few more errors today. She was hitting her backhand well."
After Kay held to make it 5-3, Price stepped to the line to serve out the championship, a scenario she admits she has not always handled well in the past.
"I've had a problem with getting close and then letting down, letting them come back a little bit, and I'll either lose or end up winning a tiebreaker or 7-5," Price said. "So today, you could even ask the ball kids, I was talking to myself. It's not over, just focus one point at a time. She's a great player, she could have pulled out some big shots."
Price was obviously overeager on her first match point, sending a forehand six feet long, but got the job done on the second, when Kay's return went long.
Her loss to Kay prior to her injury wasn't a primary motivating factor for Price.
"It helped, but I wasn't even trying to think about her," said Price. "I was just trying to enjoy the game, I love it. My motivation was to make Matt shave all his hair off."
Walker, who grew up in Memphis and played at the Racquet Club, was willing to keep his end of the bargain.
"The goals are important, and they came up with it," Walker said. "So I'll do it. I agreed to it."
In addition to the shearing of Walker, Price had another celebration in mind.
"We found this huge fountain nearby, and my mom said I could go run through that if I win, so I think I'm going to head over there to cool down."
In the third place match, No. 5 seed Catherine Harrison defeated No. 8 seed Gabrielle Andrews 6-2, 2-6, 6-3. No. 4 seed Kyle McPhillips won the consolation tournament with a 7-5, 6-4 victory over unseeded Whitney Ritchie. Emina Bektas was named the winner of the USTA Sportsmanship Award.
For complete draws, see the TennisLink site.
Sunday, July 25, 2010