Top Seed Andrews, Unseeded Starr Reach USTA Girls 18s Clay Courts Final; Kay and Price Take Doubles Title
©Colette Lewis 2011--
Unseeded Denise Starr has been able to shrug off first set losses all week, beating the No. 2 and No. 7 seeds from a set down. She put herself in an even more precarious position in the semifinals on Saturday against No. 9 seed Stephanie Vlad of Arizona, losing her first two service games in the final set before roaring back to claim a 3-6, 7-6(5), 6-3 win and a place in the championship match at the USTA Girls 18s Clay Courts.
In the second set, serving from behind, Starr was two points away from defeat at both 4-5 and 5-6.
"I never really give up after I lose a set," said Starr, in the understatement of the week. "When I was down 5-4 and then 6-5, I was just concentrating on having a good serve, being aggressive."
In the 30-all point at 4-5, Starr hit an excellent first serve and then ripped a forehand winner off Vlad's return to get a game point, and then pounded one of her many backhand winners to make it 5-5. At 5-6, Starr won the 30-all point when Vlad was forced into a forehand error, but that game went to deuce. Starr showed great touch on that deuce point, hitting a soft drop volley winner at the net, and when Vlad hit a backhand long, a tiebreaker would decide either the set or the match.
Serving at 5-4 in the tiebreaker, Starr cracked a forehand winner to give herself two set points, but on the first she missed an overhead badly, yanking it into the bottom of the net. If that miss bothered her, she gave no outward sign, and with Vlad serving at 5-6, Starr teed off on yet another backhand with that clean winner sending the match into a third set.
After playing two hours and ten minutes with the heat index in the mid-100s, Starr and Vlad were no doubt relieved to have a ten minute break, but it seemed to stall any momentum Starr might have had.
Vlad broke Starr in the opening game, and then again in the third game, for a 3-0 lead, but that deficit actually helped the 16-year-old from New York.
"When I was down 3-0 in the third, I felt I just let loose, could swing away, and that's what I did," said Starr, who received a USTA wild card into the tournament. "She's very consistent, and I had some trouble with that, but once I found my rhythm, I didn't let the ball come to me, I came to the ball, and that gave me a big advantage to hit winners on her all the time."
Starr didn't look back after taking that advantage, while Vlad began to show frustration as her lead slipped away. With Starr serving at 3-3 deuce, another of the match's many pivotal moments, Starr hit two consecutive backhand winners, and Vlad bounced her racquet, drawing a point penalty for racquet abuse. While she complained that she wasn't given a warning, the call stood and she didn't win another point in the next two games, and after three hours, Starr claimed the victory.
While reaching the finals of a National Championship is new for Starr, who will receive her first USTA championship ball on Sunday morning, win or lose, Gabby Andrews is familiar with the big stage, even at the tender age of 14. The reigning 18s Winter National champion, and a finalist at the Easter Bowl ITF this spring, Andrews earned her way into another final with a 7-6(5), 5-1 ret. victory over No. 3 seed Danielle Collins.
The opening set was classic clay court tennis, with long points usually decided when one player worked herself in position to hit a winner. Collins led 4-2 in the first set, but Andrews won the next three games, and had two set points on Collins' serve at 4-5. Collins, a 17-year-old Floridian, was saved by a mark on the clay on the first, when the chair umpire reversed his call on closer inspection, and the second she saved herself, with a forehand putaway. After two more holds and an hour into the match, a tiebreaker would decide the set.
And a high quality tiebreaker it was. Both Andrews and Collins hit winner after winner, and at 3-3, there were three consecutive drop shot winners--one by Collin, then two straight by Andrews. But at 5-5, Collins made her first error of the tiebreaker, netting a backhand, and Andrews seized the opportunity, crushing a backhand winner on the next point to take the set.
The Californian admitted she had difficulty anticipating Collins' shots.
"She was really smart," said Andrews. "She would mix it up really well, using the drop shots, then hit that high ball to get me to look at a different ball. It was a really tough first set."
After the tiebreaker, Collins took a bathroom break to change her clothes, which she had done in her four-hour quarterfinal win over Hannah King on Friday, only this time, she also changed her shoes. None of the changes helped, with Collins falling behind 4-0 in short order. Collins did hold for 4-1, but with Andrews serving at 4-1, 15-0, Collins went down in the far forehand corner of the Stadium Court, and the chair umpire, Andrews and then shortly thereafter, the trainer, went to her aid. After a few minutes, and against Collins' coach's wishes, she continued to play, but Andrews finished off the game for 5-1. In the next game, Collins was obviously unable to serve and she retired at 0-15. Unable to make it into the clubhouse, Collins sat on another court chair, obviously in pain, and eventually she was taken by ambulance to a local hospital.
She had mentioned on Friday her difficulties with her spleen since recovering from a bout of mononucleosis, and it was that problem that flared again, but she did not require hospitalization for the condition, and is expected improve with rest.
Andrews and Starr have played, but it was a very long time ago.
"I haven't played her since I was like 9," said Andrews, who won that match. "She's been winning a lot of three-set matches. She's a fighter and I have to come prepared, and play my best. Hopefully I'll keep my focus up the whole time."
Andrews is dedicating her win in the semifinal to her cousin Kalim Smith, who last month was paralyzed in a workplace accident.
"He's like my biggest fan," said Andrews, who plans to visit him when she plays the National Hard Courts near his home in San Diego. "It's really sad. He's in a wheelchair now. Tennis matches aren't what's important when you look at the bigger picture."
The final is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. on Sunday at the Racquet Club of Memphis.
The doubles final was played in the searing late afternoon heat, with No. 2 seeds Whitney Kay and Caroline Price winning gold balls with a 6-3, 6-4 victory over No. 4 seeds Lynn Chi and Chalena Scholl.
Kay and Price, who met in the singles final last year, were both eliminated in their opening matches on Monday, so the future North Carolina Tar Heels were more determined than ever to capture the doubles championship.
"I was telling Whitney after we finished that I think we had even more motivation after we lost in the first round," said Price, who added a gold ball in doubles to the one she won in singles on the same court last year.
"We both lost to really good girls, we had tough draws," said Kay, who will join North Carolina in 2012, while Price starts her career at Chapel Hill next month. "You've got to pick yourself up and go get the next match."
Kay and Price, both from suburban Atlanta, didn't lose a set in their six victories this week. Against Chi and Scholl, they made returning serve their focus, and they managed five breaks in the course of the match.
"The key was mostly making solid returns and then being really aggressive at the net on our serves, not giving them a chance to beat us to the net," said Kay.
Kay served for the match at 5-3, but didn't get a match point, as Chi hit two winners at deuce to get back on serve. The aggressive returning paid off for the champions in the next game however, and they broke Scholl at love to end their tournament on a much happier note than it began.
"It definitely made up for the first round losses," said Kay.
The pair will try to make it two National titles in a row next month at the Hard Courts in San Diego.
The consolation final on Sunday morning will feature No. 5 seed Taylor Townsend against No. 12 seed Chalena Scholl. The two played in the main draw in the round of 16, with Townsend posting a tough three-set win after trailing 4-1 in the final set.
For complete draws, see the TennisLink site.
For more from the Clay Court championships in Florida, see collegeandjuniortennis.com.