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Monday, March 14, 2011

Page Upsets Third-seeded McDonald in Boys Second Round; Form Holds for Girls Seeds in National Spring Championships

©Colette Lewis 2011--
Mobile, AL--

The second day of play at the USTA 18s National Spring Championships was similar to the first weather-wise, with intermittent cloud cover, warm temperatures and little wind. But after losing six of the 32 girls seeds in Sunday's first round, including No. 4 seed Emina Bektas and No. 7 seed Ashley Dai, only two No. 17 seeds lost today, and it was the boys draw that produced the surprises.

I didn't see more than a few points of the biggest one, Brian Page's 6-3, 7-5 win over No. 3 seed Mackenzie McDonald, because the top three seeds in the boys division were surprisingly sent to the old courts across the street, and it took me a while to realize where they were. But I did speak to Page, a 16-year-old from Illinois, after the match, and he told me he trailed 3-0 in both sets. Page had never played the 15-year-old McDonald in tournament competition, but he had a game strategy anyway.

"I had to come in, get him on the defense and stay on offense," said the 6-foot-1 Page, who considers his serve a major asset. "I needed to keep it to his forehand a little more, because I think his backhand is his better shot."

Often juniors will get tight when they are close to a big win--and Page admitted this was one of his best victories--but he said he felt no nerves until the very end of the match.

"I wasn't that nervous during the match," Page said. "Maybe serving at the end, but I served a good game, so it wasn't that much of a factor. I served very well today. It was probably my best shot."

In addition to McDonald, two other Top 8 seeds lost in the second round. Seventh seed Alex Sidney was beaten by Nicholas Hu 6-0, 3-6, 6-3 and eighth seed Danny Riggs went out to Casey Kay 6-1, 6-3.

The boys draw also produced the only 7-6 in the third decision of the day, with No. 17 seed Mitchell Polnet surviving Matthew Saiontz 7-5, 5-7, 7-6(5). As Polnet said to his friends after the match, it was like playing a left-handed Pat Rafter, as Saiontz either serves and volleys on every point or chips and charges when his opponent is serving.

I only watched the match from 4-3 in the third, but I saw more serve-and-volley points in the final six games than I'm likely to see in the remainder of the tournament. Saiontz, 18, served for the match at 5-4, but couldn't get any closer than 30-30 in that game. On the next point, Polnet hit a good return at Saiontz's feet, causing him to miss the volley. Saiontz thought he had gotten the game to deuce with a first serve ace up the T, but Polnet called it wide and the chair umpire agreed. Polnet hit a return winner on the second serve and it was 5-5.

Both players held to send the match to a tiebreaker, with Polnet getting a minibreak for a 4-2 lead at the changeover. Saiontz continued to serve and volley, with his backhand volley particularly effective, but luck wasn't with him when Polnet's passing shot nicked the netcord and bounced past him for a winner and a 5-3 lead. Saiontz missed a backhand to give Polnet a 6-3 lead, but saved one match point with, what else?, a backhand volley. In the middle of the point, with Saiontz serving down 4-6, a gust of wind sent the card bearing his name from the scoring device onto the court, and a let had to be played. When Saiontz went to retrieve it, and saw that it was his name, he could only smile ruefully. He got his first serve in, but instead of getting the usual return at his feet, Polnet this time, perhaps inadvertently, sent the return very high, and Saiontz netted the high forehand volley to end a very entertaining match.

The most compelling girls match I saw on Monday was Lindsay Graff's 6-7(3), 6-3, 6-3 win over Megan Horter. I shouldn't say I saw the match, because it took over three hours and 10 minutes to finish, and I was watching other matches in the meantime, but what I did see was very high quality. Graff, a No. 17 seed, had also lost the opening set in her first round match, but she showed no signs of fatigue late in the third set against Horter, in a match that routinely featured 15 to 20 stroke rallies. Graff, who will play for Princeton this fall, served for the match at 5-2, but Horter, a Baylor recruit, fought back for the break. Serving to put the pressure back on Graff, Horter had an opportunity to hold, and there was absolutely no advantage to the seed in the backhand rallies. But Horter's forehand was giving her fits in the games I saw, and once Graff forced Horter to hit one, her chances to win the point skyrocketed. It was just such a forehand error that cost Horter the match as she was broken to end it, but the several dozen spectators watching broke into applause to acknowledge the competitive effort that both Graff and Horter put into the match.

The only two girls seeds to lose in Tuesday's second round were No. 17 seeds Kourtney Keegan and Kasey Gardiner. Keegan lost to wild card Blair Martin 6-4, 2-6, 6-4, and Gardiner was beaten by Sherry Li 6-3, 3-6, 6-3.

No. 5 seed Lauren Herring is suffering from a wrist injury and withdrew from the doubles draw, but will wait until Tuesday to decide whether she will continue in the singles draw. With the top-seeded team of Herring and partner Ronit Yurovsky out of the girls doubles, and boys No. 1 seeds Hunter Callahan and Henry Steer losing today to Aaron Chaffee and Jeffrey Offerdahl 6-4, 5-7, 10-6, the doubles draws are now more open than the singles. Both Robert Stineman, the boys top seed, and Kyle McPhillips, the girls top seed, had no difficulty in the second round matches today.

For complete draws, see the TennisLink site.


Clark Coleman said...

Off topic, but related to an entry from a few weeks ago. Not only have the Florida women held onto the #1 spot in the March 15 ITA rankings, with Stanford #2, but the Tennessee men are now #1 and Virginia is #2.