Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Epstein Downs Sixth Seed Dai; Unseeded Steffensen and Starr Reach Round of 16 at Girls 18s Clay Courts

©Colette Lewis 2011--
Memphis, TN--

It was another scorching day for the fourth round of the USTA Girls 18s Clay Court Championships, but the top seeds didn't appear troubled by the heat and humidity, with Gabby Andrews, Danielle Collins and Catherine Harrison all managing straight set victories.

The fourth-seeded Harrison's battle with 17 seed Jamie Loeb, who was a finalist at the Girls 16s Clay Courts last year, was expected to be very competitive, but Harrison took control from the beginning and posted a 6-0, 6-3 victory. Perhaps motivated by her loss to Loeb in the back draw at the 16s Nationals, Harrison came out very focused, served well and simply hit the ball too hard and too close to the lines for Loeb. The 16-year-old New Yorker never lost her composure and recovered from dropping the first eight games of the match to come within a point or two of pulling even in Harrison's final two service games. But she couldn't shake Harrison's confidence, and in just over an hour, Harrison completed the win by breaking Loeb.

Top seed Andrews followed Harrison on Stadium Court, and a similar scenario began to unfold when ReeRee Li, a No. 17 seed, also lost the first set 6-0. But Li found her form, challenged Andrews, and even took a brief lead with a break in the fifth game of the second set. She gave it right back however, losing her next service game to make it 3-3. Li saved a match point serving at 4-5 with a big forehand that Andrews couldn't handle, and when she broke Andrews in the next game with a clean backhand winner, momentum seemed to be on the Yale recruit's side.

But Andrews again got the break right back, aided by a Li double fault, and took the subsequent tiebreaker to post a 6-0, 7-6(2) victory.

With third seed Danielle Collins taking a 6-2, 6-3 victory from No. 17 seed Ashley Noyes, that puts three of the four top seeds in Thursday's round of 16, with only No. 2 seed Whitney Kay, who lost in the second round, missing.

But it's not any of the seeded players, 13 of whom have reached the fifth round, who have been most impressive this week. That honor would go to 15-year-old Katrine Steffensen, who has lost only eight games in her four victories. After beating defending champion Caroline Price in the second round 6-3, 6-0, Steffensen has rolled on, with her 6-1, 6-1 victory today over Madeline Hamilton, a 17 seed, vying for the shortest match of the day. Steffensen will play No. 3 seed Collins on Thursday.

Denise Starr, another unseeded player who has had a big impact on the draw, beginning with her three-set win over Kay in the second round, didn't have it quite as easy as her doubles partner Steffensen today, but did post a 7-6(3), 6-2 win over unseeded Maegan Manasse.

Maci Epstein, one of three No. 17 seeds to reach the fifth round (the others are Julie Vrabel and Hannah King), pummeled her way past No. 6 seed Ashley Dai 6-1, 6-2. Using her considerable power, Epstein kept Dai defending, and was able to get control of the points immediately on her service games.

"I felt pretty good, and my serve was on. I think that's what gave me the match," said Epstein, who lost in the first round last year, and admits that clay is not her favorite surface. "But it calms me down, slows everything down. I can start rushing through things."

Epstein is a rising senior, but is still early in the college selection process. As for the dozens of college coaches watching her win this afternoon, Epstein didn't find that stressful, only motivating.

"It keeps me focused," said the Floridian.

The lengthy clay court marathons haven't been much in evidence this week at the Racquet Club of Memphis, but there were two of them today in the fourth round. No. 9 seed Stephanie Vlad, who will play Epstein on Thursday, needed over three hours to subdue Taylor Davidson, a No. 17 seed, 6-2, 3-6, 7-5. And in the last singles match to finish Wednesday evening, Samantha Asch won another three-hour encounter, beating Rachael James-Baker 3-6, 7-6(5), 6-3 in a battle of unseeded players.

Asch will play Starr on Thursday, ensuring that an unseeded player will reach the quarterfinals.

The doubles quarterfinalists will be decided this evening, with several round of 16 matches still underway.

For complete draws, see the TennisLink site.

For additional coverage of the Clay Courts, see Marcia Frost's reports at collegeandjuniortennnis.com.