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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Top Seeds McPhillips and Stineman Reach Quarterfinals; Third Seed Austin Gets Come-from-behind Win over Townsend at Spring Nationals

©Colette Lewis 2011--
Mobile, AL--

It was another beautiful day for the 16 fourth round matches at the USTA 18s National Spring Championships, with clear skies and just an occasional whisper of a breeze providing the backdrop to the action on the hard courts of the Mobile Tennis Center.

I positioned myself so I could watch both top seeds, with Kyle McPhillips playing Maci Epstein, a No. 17 seed, and Robert Stineman also taking on a 17 seed, Harrison Adams.

I was expecting Stineman would be tested by Adams, who had defeated No. 14 seed Jeremy Efferding in two tiebreakers on Tuesday, but Adams played poorly from the start and never got into the match, falling 6-2, 6-1. Adams is a very vocal player, berating himself and his luck often, but he also talks to himself about strategic decisions and play patterns. He couldn't seem to get over how many game points he failed to win in the 12 games he lost, but at one stage, Adams paid Stineman a very loud compliment. "Does this guy have rockets attached to his feet?" Adams said when Stineman had tracked down yet another volley or drop shot, or cross court angle. Adams, who trains at the John Newcombe Academy in Texas, simply had no answers for Stineman, who used his big advantage in the serve department very well. Next for Stineman will be Austin Smith, the only unseeded boy remaining in the draw. Smith, who has yet to lose a set in the tournament, beat Mitchell Polnet, a No. 17 seed, 6-3, 7-6(6).

Meanwhile, McPhillips and Epstein were having some very long games, and despite the routine sounding 6-2, 6-2 win for McPhillips, the match lasted nearly 90 minutes. With Epstein serving at 2-4 in the second set, she and McPhillips went to deuce so many times that Stineman and Adams played four games, with two changeovers, before McPhillips finally got the break. Epstein, a 17-year-old from Florida, hits with tremendous pace, and her serve is among the best in the girls field, but it was her service games that were extending the match, with McPhillips usually holding easily. McPhillips will face Meghan Blevins, a No. 17 seed, in Thursday's quarterfinals.

Once McPhillips and Stineman were safely through, I turned my attention to the match featuring No. 3 seed Brooke Austin and unseeded Taylor Townsend. Two of the youngest players in the draw, the 15-year-old Austin and the 14-year-old Townsend had just split sets, with Townsend dominating in the first 6-3, and Austin getting out of a tight spot serving at 4-4 in the second, when Townsend had a game point to take a 5-4 lead. But Austin held and broke Townsend, and even with a 10-minute break and the subsequent loss of serve to open the third set, Austin was able to keep her momentum through the final set, which she won 6-2.

"I started trying to attack her serve more, so she didn't get a chance to come in," said Austin, who saw plenty of Townsend at the net, putting away volleys, in the first set. "After that first game (of the third set), when I was literally shaking, I lost my nerves and started playing my normal game."

Townsend didn't look to come to the net as often as she normally does, partly because Austin was hitting the lines and the corners, giving Townsend nothing to work with as far as approach shots; she was too busy defending. Austin thought fatigue may have contributed to Townsend losing the final four games of the match.

"I think she got tired of running back and forth at the end," Austin said. "She kind of ran out of gas and her serve started breaking down."

Austin and Townsend are not just close in age (Austin just turned 15, Townsend will be 15 next month), but are good friends.

"Taylor and I are basically sisters," Austin said. "We met each other at our first national tournament and we've been friends ever since. That was when we were 8, we're 15 now, and we've traveled out of the country together (at the ITF World Junior Tennis Championships, which the US won), we've roomed together, we've been through a lot together.

"It was really hard actually. Last night we were talking on Skype for like a half hour. I think today we were both kind of awkward, didn't know what to say. But I think we'll be fine by tomorrow."

Austin will play No. 8 seed Catherine Harrison, who beat Ellie Yates, the No. 11 seed, 6-3, 6-1. Austin said they have played twice before, once back in the 12s, and more recently, in last year's Kentucky ITF, with Austin winning both in close three-set matches.

For the second day in a row, unseeded Sherry Li came from a set down to take out a seed. Li, who beat No. 2 seed Whitney Kay on Tuesday, outlasted No. 14 seed Tina Jiang 1-6, 6-2, 6-2. She will play Lynn Chi, who defeated No. 9 seed Ronit Yurovsky 7-6(6), 6-3.

Defending champion Danielle Collins rolled past unseeded Mia King 6-3, 6-0 and will meet Chalena Scholl, a 17 seed. Scholl, whose older sister Chichi reached the final in Mobile two years ago, downed Melissa Kopinski, also a 17 seed, 6-4, 6-2.

On the boys side, No. 4 seed Hunter Reese, a 7-5, 6-4 winner over Ashok Narayana, a No. 17 seed, will play Vikram Hundal, a 17 seed who beat unseeded Jared Hiltzik. Zack McCourt, who beat fellow No. 17 seed Connor Farren 6-3, 7-6(4) will play No. 13 seed Eric Johnson in Thursday's quarterfinals. Johnson, the reigning 18 National Winter champion, beat unseeded Brian Page, 6-4, 6-1.

The only three-setter in the boys draw on Wednesday went to No. 5 seed Hunter Callahan, who came back to beat Justin Crenshaw 3-6, 6-1, 6-4. Callahan will play No. 17 seed Nicolas Naumann, who defeated Garrett Gordon, also a 17 seed, 6-0, 6-2.

The doubles semifinals are set for Thursday afternoon. Unseeded Blevins and Mary Jeremiah will play No. 4 seeds McPhillips and Skylar Morton in one match, with Harrison and Kaitlin Ray, the No. 5 seeds, meeting the unseeded King and Townsend.

In the boys doubles semifinals, there are three No. 9 seeded teams in the final four. No. 2 seeds Johnson and Mackenzie McDonald will play Brett Clark and Gordon Watson, and Anton Kovrigin and Jason Luu will play Adams and Naumann.

For complete draws, including consolation, see the TennisLink site.