©Colette Lewis 2011--
There was a message today for most of the players remaining in the USTA Girls 18s Clay Courts: the routine, straight-set victories are no more.
On another suffocatingly hot day that saw the temperatures top out at an even 100 degrees, only three of the eight main draw matches were completed in straight sets. No. 3 seed Danielle Collins, No. 7 seed Samantha Crawford and No. 17 seed Hannah King all had to fight back from a set down in the energy-sapping conditions, and No. 5 seed Taylor Townsend and Denise Starr also needed three sets and that many hours to advance.
Townsend had won the first set from No. 15 seed Chalena Scholl 6-4, failing to serve out the set at 5-3, but breaking Scholl in the next game. Scholl was hardly deflated however, and took the second set 6-2, serving well and hitting with enough depth to keep Townsend from employing her attacking game.
"She was mostly hitting a really good heavy ball," said the 15-year-old left-hander. "She was keeping me back, pushing me back deep so I couldn't do anything with the ball to get myself into the net. She was doing a good job of keeping patient and making me make the mistake."
During the 10-minute break between the second and third sets, Townsend, who trains at the USTA Center in Boca Raton, consulted with National Coach Kathy Rinaldi about strategy.
"She told me I had to keep my emotions in check, not too high, not too low," said Townsend. "And she was telling me to be patient, because I was forcing, making a lot of mistakes trying to force the ball. You can still play your game, but wait until you get the right opportunity."
Rinaldi's advice didn't help Townsend avoid going down 4-1, with Scholl serving for 5-1 in the final set. But ultimately it did pay off, as Townsend started her comeback there, and won the last five games of the match to take the 6-4, 2-6, 6-4 victory.
"I told myself to be patient, that the pressure was not on me, it was on her," Townsend said. "I played more free, more patient, waiting to get my right shot to come to the net. It worked well, because she started making more errors and that gave me a boost in the match."
Townsend will play top seed Gabby Andrews in Friday's quarterfinals, after Andrews played some of her best tennis of the week in dismissing No. 10 seed Sydney Campbell 6-2, 6-1.
Townsend and Andrews are close friends, with both describing the other as a sister, but both are determined not to let their relationship affect the match.
"It's competition, and we've got to put that aside," said Townsend, who has won all three of their previous meetings, including the most recent one, last year in the third round of the Atlanta ITF. "Off the court we're best friends and sisters, but on the court, we're worst enemies," she said with a laugh.
Andrews echoed those sentiments.
"It's going to be difficult, of course it is," said the 14-year-old Southern Californian, who said she was looking forward to it nonetheless. "I'm playing practically my sister on the other side of the court. But once you're on the court, it's a different story."
In the other quarterfinal in the top half, Collins will meet King after Collins defeated unseeded Katrine Steffensen 4-6, 6-1, 6-2 and King knocked off No. 8 seed Ronit Yurovsky 3-6, 6-1, 7-5. King, another 15-year-old left-hander, served for the match at 5-4 in the third set, but was broken to make it 5-5. Many of the points were long baseline rallies, so the serve wasn't a great advantage for either player, and Yurovsky dropped serve again to give King a second chance to serve it out. This time King had no difficulty, holding at love to avoid third set tiebreaker.
In the bottom half, Samantha Crawford was on the brink of defeat in the third set against No. 16 seed Lynn Chi. After losing the first set 6-4, Crawford twice served for the second set, at 5-4, and 6-5, but couldn't hold either time. She dominated the tiebreaker to take it 7-6(2), then after the break had a 4-1 lead in the third set, only to see that evaporate. Having lost three straight games and serving at 4-4, Crawford was down 0-40, and just one more point would have Chi serving for the match. But an ace and a service winner made it 30-40 and on the next point, Crawford won a long forehand to forehand rally, with Chi hitting her final one long. Another service winner and backhand winner gave Crawford her fifth straight point and a 5-4 lead.
Chi had a game point in the next game, but again sent a forehand long for deuce, and then another, giving Crawford a match point. When Chi's backhand went wide, Crawford had the victory that had seemed unlikely just a few minutes earlier. In the quarterfinals, Crawford will play Denise Starr, the only unseeded player remaining in the draw. Starr downed Samantha Asch, also unseeded, by a score of 6-1, 6-7(1), 6-1.
No. 4 seed Catherine Harrison will relinquish her usual 8:00 a.m. start time on Friday to Andrews and Townsend, but the Memphis-area resident is still likely to have her share of fans when she plays No. 9 seed Stephanie Vlad in Friday's second match on Stadium Court. Harrison, the only player still vying for the title who has not dropped a set, beat No. 17 seed Julie Vrabel 6-2, 6-4, starting fast, as she has done all week. Vlad did not start fast against No. 17 seed Maci Epstein, falling behind 3-1, with Epstein serving at 40-15. But the hard-hitting Epstein lost that game and the next seven, as Vlad handled the pace and made few errors her 6-3, 6-1 victory.
The doubles quarterfinals were played Thursday afternoon, or at least three of the four were. An evening thunderstorm disrupted the match between No. 3 seed Collins and Epstein against No. 9 seeds Ashley Dai and Kelsey Laurente. Dai and Laurente had won the first set and were up a break in the second when the skies opened, so I don't believe the match was completed.
The top seeded team of Crawford and Townsend advanced to the semifinals with a 6-2, 6-4 win over unseeded Anna Mamalat and Rebecca Siegler. They will play Chi and Scholl, the No. 4 seeds, who beat No. 5 seed Andrews and Mia King 7-5, 3-6, 10-6.
No. 2 seeds Whitney Kay and Caroline Price downed No. 6 seeds Harrison and King 6-2, 6-3, and will await the winner of the unfinished match.
For complete draws, see the TennisLink site.
For more USTA clay court coverage, see Marcia Frost's collegeandjuniortennis.com.