Smith Takes Out Top Seed Stineman, Harrison Downs Austin in Spring Nationals Quarterfinal Action Thursday
©Colette Lewis 2011--
Austin Smith has yet to lose a set at the USTA 18s National Spring Championships, and that didn't change on Thursday, even when facing top seed Robert Stineman. The unseeded 17-year-old played outstanding tennis from start to finish to post a 6-4, 6-2 win over Stineman and earn a semifinal meeting with fellow Georgian Hunter Reese on Friday.
On another day of perfect weather, the quality of play nearly equaled the conditions, with very few errors from either Stineman or Smith as each held to 4-4 in the first set. Smith got the first break at that crucial stage, and held to take the first set.
"He was up 40-30, and I moved around a little, changed my position, and I think I kind of got in his head," Smith said. "Honestly, I think that was one of the biggest things, moving around on his serve a little bit, giving him different looks. He started missing more than he usually does."
Stineman's first serve usually sets up the point for him, whether he is getting free points or finishing the floating returns at the net. But Smith was making the returns on Stineman's best serves, and continued to keep the pressure on with big ground strokes, intelligently placed.
"Before the match that was my whole goal, because I know he likes to come in," Smith said. "If I could keep him back, I felt I could play heavier and stronger, get a lot of short balls, and really capitalize if I could keep him back deep."
Smith has long has a reputation as a great ball-striker, but sustaining a consistently high level of play has proven difficult for him. There was no letdown today, however, as he went up 4-0 in the second set before Stineman got his only break of Smith's serve at 4-1. By then, it was just too late for the Stanford recruit to halt the momentum, as Smith broke in the next game and served out the match with a minimum of drama, hitting two service winners and, on match point, a relaxed putaway of a defensive floater.
Stineman said that he couldn't say that he played badly, and was quick to credit Smith for the quality of tennis he displayed throughout the match. As for Smith, he is pleased his form has held as he goes deeper and deeper in the draw.
"I started the tournament out pretty strongly and kept it throughout, so that's been big for me," Smith said. "Getting through in straights every match so far has also helped conserve energy. I'm happy with how I'm playing, but I'm not done yet, so I hopefully will keep it going."
Despite both being from the Atlanta area, Reese and Smith have not played recently.
"It's been at least a couple of years, I think," Smith said of their previous meeting. "It was tight, like three sets. I think he got the better of me that day."
Reese, a redshirt freshman at the University of Tennessee, had the shortest of the four quarterfinal matches, beating another of Georgia's junior standouts, No. 17 seed Vikram Hundal 6-2, 6-0.
In the bottom half of the boys draw, two 17 seeds made their way into the semifinals, with Zack McCourt downing No. 13 seed and 18s Winter National champion Eric Johnson 7-6(2), 6-3, and Nicholas Naumann ousting No. 5 seed Hunter Callahan 7-6(2), 6-7(3), 6-3. Naumann served for the match at 5-4 in the second set, but never reached match point, and in the subsequent tiebreaker was unable to hold serve even once, with all three of his points on Callahan's serve.
With the match over two hours and 30 minutes in length, both players looked tired in the third set. Temperatures in the upper 70s and cloudless skies undoubtedly contributed to their lack of energy, but there were no breaks of serve in the final set until Callahan was serving at 3-4. A couple of unforced errors and an unlucky net cord and suddenly Naumann was again serving for the match as it neared the three-hour mark. This time, the 17-year-old Texan made it look easy, serving and volleying on all four points, executing perfectly, as he no doubt wished he had done an hour before.
On the girls side, top seeded Kyle McPhillips got by Meghan Blevins, a No. 17 seed 6-4 6-3. In each set, McPhillips got an early lead, lost it, then recovered, setting up a semifinal contest with 2010 Spring National Champion Danielle Collins, the No. 6 seed. Collins also beat a 17 seed, looking very sharp in a 6-1, 6-3 victory over fellow Floridian Chalena Scholl.
Another 17 seed, Lynn Chi, ended the run of unseeded Sherry Li, taking a 7-6(5), 7-6(4) decision. Chi's opponent in the semifinals will be No. 8 seed Catherine Harrison, who avenged her two previous losses to Brooke Austin, the No. 3 seed, 7-6(5), 6-1.
Harrison led 5-3 in the opening set, but Austin took the next three games. Harrison was serving to get to a tiebreaker, but faced three set points down 0-40.
"When she got up 6-5, 40-0, I said, I've hit eight errors in a row, she hasn't had to hit one winner," said Harrison. "So I said, try to hit to the middle of the court, take away her angles. She missed two backhands and I hit a winner, and then I came back to win the tiebreak."
Harrison described the match as "weird" primarily because most of the rallies were short with errors and winners alternating.
Austin didn't play well in the second half of the tiebreaker, with a double fault, two backhand errors and a forehand into the net at set point sealing her fate.
But after coming from a set and a break behind in against Taylor Townsend on Wednesday, Austin wasn't likely to doubt her chances, even when Harrison took 5-1 lead in the second set.
"Brooke is an amazing fighter, fights for every point" said Harrison. "I actually watched her come back from 5-1 down in the finals of the Atlanta ITF, so I knew she had the mental toughness to do that. I had to pretend that this game was the final game, because she can get on a roll and come back easily."
The last game went nine deuces, with Harrison saving eight break points, and Austin saving one match point with a forehand winner after the third deuce. Harrison finally put three points in a row together when Austin made a backhand error, then sent a forehand long, and Harrison blasted a two-handed forehand winner to convert her second match point.
"I really had to stay focused that last game, and luckily, I pulled it out," said Harrison, who beat her next opponent, Chi, in the third round of the 18s Clay Courts last year.
Harrison will play for a gold ball in doubles on Friday, as she and Kaitlin Ray, the No. 5 seeds, defeated unseeded Mia King and Taylor Townsend 6-0, 6-2 in Thursday's late afternoon semifinals. Harrison and Ray will meet No. 4 seeds McPhillips and Skylar Morton, who downed the unseeded team of Blevins and Mary Jeremiah 6-1, 6-3.
The boys doubles finals will feature two No. 9 seeded teams. Brett Clark and Gordon Watson earned their spot in Friday's final with a 6-2, 6-4 win over No. 2 seed Eric Johnson and Mackenzie McDonald, while Anton Kovrigin and Jason Luu took the only three-setter of the day, beating Harrison Adams and Naumann 6-2, 4-6, 6-3.
For complete draws, see the TennisLink site.