Saturday, October 15, 2011

Krueger, Townsend Take Titles at ITF Pan American Closed

©Colette Lewis 2011--
Tulsa, OK--

For all her excellent play over the past nine months, No. 11 seed Taylor Townsend was in something of a title drought. She put an end to that against No. 14 seed Chalena Scholl Saturday morning when she won a roller coaster second set to post a 6-1, 7-5 victory in the championship match of the ITF B1 Pan American Closed.

Top seed Mitchell Kruger also claimed his first ITF Grade 1 title, defeating unseeded Noah Rubin 6-4, 6-1 in the boys final, played under cloudless skies at the Michael D. Case Tennis Center on the University of Tulsa campus.

Townsend has reached the semifinals of two USTA Pro Circuit events this year, finished fifth at the USTA 18s Clay Courts, fourth at the USTA 18s Hard Courts and won two rounds at the US Open junior championships, but her last tournament title was at the Plaza Cup, at USTA Regional event back in January.

When Townsend took the first set from an error-prone Scholl 6-1--her 11th consecutive set without losing as many as four games--that second title seemed very close.

Townsend took a 4-0 lead in the second set, but then Scholl came alive, winning five games in a row. The 16-year-old from Florida eliminated her unforced errors and played her forehand more aggressively, while Townsend couldn't find the service box or the court for most of the middle of the set. When Townsend missed a routine backhand volley serving at 30-40, 4-3, Scholl had taken the momentum, and held in the next game for her first lead of the match.

"I think all the pressure was off her, because I was up a set and 4-0," said Townsend, who trains at the USTA National Center in Boca Raton. "It happens when you're down like that, you just keep swinging. She started playing a lot better, hitting good, heavy balls and using her forehand to dictate the points, and I started getting frustrated."

Townsend ended Scholl's streak with an easy hold for 5-5, and the set turned in the next game. Scholl was up 40-15 in the game, but Townsend began to reassert herself in the rallies, hanging with Scholl from the baseline until Scholl made two consecutive backhand errors. Scholl also didn't get more than one-third of her first serves in during the game, allowing Townsend to put her under pressure from the second serve on. Scholl saved one break point with a forehand winner, but made two forehand errors to give Townsend the chance to serve for the match.

Townsend got off to a shaky start serving at 6-5, falling behind 0-30, but her forehand winner on the next point was pivotal, as was Scholl's netted forehand on the next point. Townsend, who had not spent much time at the net in the match, unlike earlier in the week, approached and put away a forehand there to earn championship point. The 15-year-old from Atlanta missed her first serve, but Scholl's forehand return on the second serve went just long to give Townsend another straight-set victory.

Scholl did not attribute her slow start to nerves, but rather to Townsend's unexpected position behind the baseline.

"She definitely came in less than I thought she would," said Scholl, who was also playing in her first ITF Grade 1 final. "I think that's kind of what threw me off in the first set. Wrong strategy and too many mistakes in the first."

Although she felt she played better in the second set, more patiently, with fewer errors, Scholl still expressed disappointment with her play throughout the match.

"It still wasn't my best day," said Scholl, who is planning on playing several of the $10,000 ITF Women's Circuit events in Jamaica for her next competition. "I was starting to play a little better, but I couldn't keep the momentum going."

Townsend hopes to keep her momentum going in the ITF junior events later this year, but also plans to continue to play Pro Circuit events as an amateur.

"I definitely want to keep my ITF ranking up, but I want to work on my pro ranking so I can get it high enough where I can get into junior grand slams on my own, because of my pro ranking," said Townsend, currently ranked 427 on the WTA tour.

As for ending the title drought, Townsend smiled broadly when she was asked how it feels.

"I've been doing really well, but I haven't had a title in a really long time, since Plaza Cup, so it feels really good."

Like Townsend, boys champion Krueger saw his own comfortable lead melt away against 15-year-old Noah Rubin. Leading 4-0, 40-0 in the opening set, Krueger couldn't hold serve, and Rubin, as he had done in his upset of No. 2 seed Marco Aurei Nunez on Friday, found his way back into the match.

"I guess I just let up a little bit mentally," said the top-seeded Krueger, 17. "I think I double faulted on one or two of the points and he hit return winners. I wish I could have stepped on him a little more, but I'm glad I got away with that last deuce game."

After being broken serving for the set at 5-3, during which Krueger approached the net three times and got passed twice and missed a volley on the third, Krueger played one of his classic multi-deuce games on his opponent's serve. Although only eight deuces, short when compared to Krueger's previous 10-deuce and 11-deuce games in earlier wins, it was tense and dramatic nonetheless.

Krueger, telling himself to "step up man," on numerous occasions, had four set points before Rubin finally earned a game point. Alternating forced errors with outright winners, neither Rubin nor Krueger was tentative. Rubin had two more game points, Krueger had another set point before Krueger finally took it with a gigantic forehand winner just inches from the baseline.

"I just started playing not to lose, I think," said Krueger, who is from the Dallas-Fort Worth area in Texas. "When I was feeling I could take it, I started playing a little tighter. He definitely was playing free, hitting out on every shot, and I felt I wasn't hitting out on the ball very much, so I tried to make that adjustment later in that long deuce game, just go for my shots. That's the thing, I wasn't going for much, but still missing."

That forehand to win the opening set was evidence that Krueger had changed his approach, and he opened the set serving well to take a 1-0 lead. Rubin held for 1-1, but then began making unforced errors, which he had avoided in the later stages of the first set.

"He stepped up, and it was a windy day, so I'm not sure I played the wind as well," said Rubin. "He attacked when he wanted to and needed to. I won't say I played awful, but he played well and I didn't play my best."

Rubin didn't hold serve in either his next two service games, and Krueger served for the championship at 5-1. At 30-30, his drop shot, which hadn't been effective against the very quick Rubin, finally earned him a point, after Rubin got to it, but couldn't return it. On match point, Krueger hit an ace that Rubin disputed, but the chair and the line umpire were in agreement, ending the match.

Krueger believes his victory today could be a breakthrough for him, and it certainly assures him a place in all the junior grand slams next year.

"I've always had decent results, and I've been around a lot of guys that have had decent results, and then they have one good result and they shoot up," said Krueger, who will move up considerably from his current ITF junior ranking of 35. "I'm glad to finally get a good bump in the points. I think I did a good job of playing really smart this whole tournament, especially when I was having some bad streaks in my game in a couple of these matches and I was able to grind through them."

Krueger will return home to the Dallas area next week to play the $15,000 Mansfield Pro Circuit event, where he received a wild card into the main draw.

The boys doubles championship, played at the same time as the girls singles final, was won by the No. 4 seeded Canadian team of Filip Peliwo and Samuel Monette. They defeated the unseeded team of Ognjen Samardzic and Ryan Smith 6-3, 4-6, 10-3. Five of the first six games of the match were won on deciding points in the no-ad scoring format, a testament to how evenly matched both teams were. But in the tiebreaker, it was all Peliwo and Monette, who won seven straight points down 0-1, and were not challenged.

The same can't be said for the girls doubles final, which also ended in a match tiebreaker, but not for the seeded team. Unseeded Breaunna Addison and Catherine Harrison saw their 8-3 tiebreaker lead over No. 2 seeds Gabby Andrews and Townsend disappear completely, but they held on for a 3-6, 6-4, 10-8 win.

Addison and Harrison, who had never played together before, got a key error from Townsend, who missed an overhead to give them match point at 9-8, and Addison hit a unreturnable first serve for the championship.

"They came out strong," said Harrison, "and we were struggling to hold. But in the second set, once we broke Taylor's serve, even though we got broken right back, I felt a momentum shift."

At 4-4 in the second, Andrews was broken in her service game on a deciding point, with Harrison's return winner finding the corner of the alley. Addison served out the set to set up the first match tiebreaker Andrews and Townsend had played all week.

"Besides my one return to make it 8-all, we didn't make one error," said Harrison. "They just played good points. There may have been a little tightness in there, but they played well to get it back to 8-all."

At 8-7, pop music from the nearby softball field began blaring over the outside speakers, but Addison wasn't distracted.

"The music, when it started playing, relaxed me," Addison said. "I thought, darn, I know those lyrics, but focus, focus. Somehow, that energy helped us."

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wotten wun said...

Props to Taylor Townsend for her resolve and fighting spirit!