©Colette Lewis 2010--
They've won a gold ball together, but when Georgia's Caroline Price and Whitney Kay take the court on Sunday morning, they will be in a more familiar position--facing each other for a singles championship, this one the title at the USTA girls 18 Clay Courts.
In Saturday's semifinals, Price, the No. 13 seed, came from 5-2 down in the second set to defeat No. 5 seed and local favorite Catherine Harrison 6-2, 7-5, while the top seeded Kay put an end to the impressive run of 13-year-old Gabrielle Andrews 6-4, 6-2.
For the sixth straight day, there was no threat of rain, and although the temperature did not reach 100 as predicted, the heat index did. It didn't take Price and Harrison long to warm up, given those numbers, but it was Price who came out firing in the morning's first semifinal.
Price hit a sizzling forehand return winner to earn her first break, taking a 3-1 lead in the opening set. Harrison had a chance to get that break back in the seventh game, when Price fell behind 15-40 on her serve, but Harrison netted three consecutive shots, and Price held with an ace.
"I was just getting more balls in play," said Price, a 5-foot-11 left-hander. "I think we were both nervous, but I would just get one more ball and then she'd miss. I was fortunate in the first set, because I don't think she was playing her best."
After Price broke to take the first set, Harrison struck back, holding easily and taking a 5-1 lead in the second set. There seemed little doubt that a third set would decide the match, when Price began to come back, using what she called her "one point at a time" strategy. Harrison was broken serving for the set at 5-2 and at 5-4 she earned her first and only set point. After a long rally of punishing ground strokes, Harrison put a backhand into the net, the first of three straight backhands she would net, and Price had pulled even. She held, and now the pressure was squarely on Harrison, who was unable to force a tiebreaker, dropping serve for the third straight time, and with it, the match.
Harrison, who lives in suburban Memphis, had several dozen supporters cheering for her, while Price had only her mother providing encouragement. But Price took some tips from her father Mark, a former NBA star, about playing "on the road."
"He used to tell me when he would go to stadiums where there were tons of people, he would use it as a pump-up. I used it to help me get more determined, telling myself, I can do this, when people were cheering against me."
Although Gabrielle Andrews, known as Gabby to friends and family, also had local support from her relatives in the Memphis area, they weren't able to help her overcome the more experienced Kay.
Kay led the entire match, and each time Andrews got a break back, she was immediately broken in the next game. Kay was broken serving for the set at 5-4, something of a pattern for her this week, and in the next game Andrews was up 40-15, but an untimely double fault and several unforced errors gave Kay the first set.
"I think experience definitely helps," said Kay, who turned 17 last month. "She missed a few shots that she probably should have made. She probably got a little tight, thinking big point here, but I got a little lucky on some of them."
In the second set, Kay built a 4-0 lead, but Andrews brought it back to 4-2 and had two break points to get back on serve in the seventh game. Kay hit a perfect drop shot to save the first, and Andrews hit a backhand wide on the second, and Kay took a 5-2 lead. Andrews had two game points to force Kay to serve out the match in the next game, but couldn't convert and Kay earned her spot in the final on her first match point.
Back in April of 2009, Price and Kay, both from suburban Atlanta, met in the finals of the Easter Bowl 16s, with Price winning in three sets, then joining forces to earn the doubles title in Rancho Las Palmas. The most recent result in their long intrasectional rivalry came in February, with Kay winning that Southern Designated final 7-5, 6-3.
"It's really important to hold serve against Caroline, try to break her early on," Kay said.
Price, 17, still isn't convinced that clay is the surface best suited to her game.
"I'm not a fan of clay," Price confessed. "I have kind of a hard court game, with a big serve and forehand, but my coach has been helping me a lot, and we've been working on putting one more extra ball in play. Normally on hard, I can hit a shot and it won't come back, but he's gotten me to expect it back. But it's not my favorite."
Kay wasn't ready to concede that she had an advantage.
"She looks like she's playing well on clay too," Kay said. "So we'll see."
In the doubles final, the unseeded team of Breaunna Addison and Kelsey Laurente claimed the title with a comprehensive 6-1, 6-1 victory over the seventh-seeded team of Katie Goepel and Blair Shankle.
Addison and Laurente, who were the champion and finalist respectively at the Dunlop Orange Bowl 16s last December, had not had success in their first pairing several years ago, but were happy to be playing together once Addison received a wild card into this year's Clay Courts.
The two 15-year-olds from Florida survived two match tiebreakers in the early rounds, but from the round of 16 on, they dominated their opponents.
"I think when one of us isn't playing so well, the other one can pick her up," Addison said. "I'd start getting nervous and she would come through for me, and when she got nervous, it'd be vice versa."
"We help each other out," agreed Laurente, who won the 14s Clay Court singles championship last year, and looks very comfortable on the surface.
"My coach says my game is better on hard courts, but I just love sliding on clay," Laurente said.
Addison had played two consolation matches earlier in the day, while Laurente had played one, but neither showed any signs of fatigue in the late afternoon heat.
"I just tried to focus on each point and making smart decisions, so I wouldn't have to be out here as long," Addison said. "I knew this was going to be a tough match, that both of them are great players, so I just tried to focus."
Addison and Laurente didn't have any big plans to celebrate their victory, with Laurente looking forward to a shower and Addison doing some math homework.
"We'll leave with smiles on our faces, though," Laurente promised.
In the third place match in doubles, Mara Schmidt and Tina Tehrani defeated Elizabeth Begley and Alecia Kauss 6-3, 7-6(2) in a battle of unseeded teams.
There will be three matches on Sunday morning, beginning with the consolation final, where No. 4 seed Kyle McPhillips will play unseeded Whitney Ritchie. Also at 8 a.m., Harrison and Andrews will play for the bronze ball in singles, with the championship singles match beginning at 10 a.m. CDT.
For complete results, see the TennisLink site.
Saturday, July 24, 2010