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Monday, July 18, 2011

Finalists from 2010 Exit in Second Round at Girls 18s Clay Courts

©Colette Lewis 2011--
Memphis TN--

It's rare enough in junior tennis to have the two finalists from the previous year's tournament back to defend. To have them return and lose on the same day, to two doubles partners, well, that isn't likely to be repeated any time soon.

On a hot and humid second day of the USTA Girls 18s Clay Courts at the Racquet Club of Memphis, 15-year-old Katrine Steffensen of New York started the upsets when she defeated 2010 champion Caroline Price 6-3, 6-0.

Katrine Steffensen, who at 5-foot-2-and-half-inches is approximately 10 inches shorter than Price, broke Price, the No. 11 seed, to open the match, and led the rest of the way, using her steadiness from the baseline and some excellent passing shots to keep Price off her game.

Steffensen hadn't played Price before, but she knew Price was the defending champion, which she thought may have given her an advantage psychologically.

"I knew she had won this last year, so obviously she's pretty good on clay, so I didn't really play with any pressure," Steffensen said. "I just tried to be aggressive, but patient at the same time, and I knew I had to serve well."

She did that, never dropping her own serve, although in the first set, Price had several opportunities to get that opening break back, which she failed to do, and was broken to end the set. Knowing that she was unlikely to outsteady Steffensen from the baseline, Price came in at every opportunity, but Steffensen found ways to pass Price despite her considerable wingspan.

"Usually I would hit a low shot, or pass her," Steffensen said. "I was trying to avoid hitting it right in her strike zone, because I knew she could easily put it away. She's crowding the net, so it puts pressure on me to make a better shot."

Steffensen handled that pressure well, and rolled through the second set, emphatically denying Price the opportunity to repeat.

Steffensen's doubles partner, Denise Starr, also from New York, had a decidedly longer road to her 6-7(4), 7-6(3), 6-4 victory over No. 2 seed and 2010 finalist Whitney Kay. Beginning around 1:30 p.m., and extending through the hottest part of the 94 degree day, the match ended over three hours later when, with Kay serving at 4-5, 15-40, Starr held her ground in a long baseline rally until Kay found the net with a forehand.

Starr had been unable to close out the match serving for it at 5-3 in the third, and she had had a similar problem in the second set, when she was up 4-2 and serving at 6-5, but still was forced to win the tiebreaker to extend the match. Several doubles faults at key moments proved costly to the 16-year-old right-hander, and she acknowledged her struggles in that department.

"My second serve hasn't been that good the last four months, and I've been working on it," said Starr, who recently reached the semifinals of a $10,000 Pro Circuit event in Delaware, beating Steffensen in the quarterfinals there. "It's kind of on and off. When I'm emotionally down, it stops working, and when I'm emotionally up, it starts working again."

Even with an inconsistent second serve, Starr was able to keep great depth on her ground strokes, and she collected many points by keeping Kay on the defensive.

"I knew she doesn't really hit the ball that hard," said Starr, who generates a lot of power when she has time to set up her long forehand stroke. "She's consistent, so my game plan was to be aggressive, so she wouldn't push me to make a mistake."

The 10-minute mandatory break between the second and third sets did nothing to stall Starr's momentum and she took a quick 3-0 lead, breaking Kay in the second game with a backhand winner. Starr held her advantage until serving at 5-3, but a couple of forehand errors at 30-30 gave Kay hope.

Kay couldn't capitalize however, and a double fault put her in a 0-30 hole at 4-5. Another unforced error, this one a backhand into the net, gave Starr three match points, and although Kay survived one when Starr's backhand went wide, she couldn't find the consistency she needed in that final point.

In addition to Price and Kay, a few other seeds lost their opening matches, although only one other Top 16 seed, Madeline Lipp(12), who fell to Rachel James-Baker 6-3, 6-2.

No. 17 seeds losing were Makenzie Craft (to Lindsay Graff), Tina Jiang (to Laila Judah) and Crystal Yen (to Samantha Asch).

Another colossal upset was also on the horizon when top seed Gabby Andrews dropped the first set to Julia Casselbury, but Andrews recovered for a 4-6, 6-3, 6-3 victory.

Casselbury played aggressive tennis in the opening set, and Andrews didn't control the court with her backhand, as she often does. Casselbury sent back most of Andrews' winners, which Andrews admitted surprised her.

"She got to a lot of balls that I didn't expect her to get," said the 14-year-old Californian, who reached the semifinals here last year. "I wasn't ready for that extra ball and then would just spray it. She was a really good player, and it was a good first round."

In the second set, Andrews took a 4-1 lead and managed to save two break points serving at 4-2 to assure she would even the match. She served out the second set at love, and came back from the 10-minute break to take a quick 3-0 lead. Up two breaks, Andrews gave one back immediately, and serving at 3-2, she was down break point when she came up with a perfectly executed drop shot winner.

"I thought, why don't I just hit a drop shot and see what happens," Andrews said. "I take risks. I don't even know why I did it, because she was getting to all my drop shots."

Casselbury didn't get to that one, Andrews held for 4-2 and although Casselbury, a 17-year-old from Pennsylvania, kept the pressure on by holding her next two service games, Andrews served out the match without much drama.

No. 3 seed Danielle Collins was also pushed to three sets before overcoming fellow Floridian Courtney Colton 6-3, 4-6, 6-4. No. 4 seed Catherine Harrison was the only top 4 seed to win in straight sets. Harrison, last year's bronze ball winner, beat Sarah Gealer 6-4, 6-1.

The second and third rounds of doubles were scheduled for today. In another coincidence, Kay and Price were set to play Starr and Steffensen in a third round doubles match. For those results, and the complete singles draws, see the TennisLink site.