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Friday, March 16, 2012

Hiltzik and Schneider Renew Rivalry in 18 Spring Nationals Final; Austin and Borr Meet for Girls Championship


©Colette Lewis 2012--
Mobile, AL--

With a gold ball on the line this time, Ronnie Schneider and Jared Hiltzik will play the rubber match in their current rivalry Saturday morning in the final of the USTA 18s Spring National Championship. The last two times the Midwesterners have played, in finals of National Opens in November and last month, each won 6-0 in the third set.

"We both got off to awful, awful starts in those third sets," said Schneider, who dealt Winter National champion Hiltzik his last loss back in November. "We both had chances to make those sets respectable, but we both played awful in the sets we lost."

So far this week, neither has played an awful set, or even a mediocre one, with both winning all six of their matches in straight sets, including Friday's semifinals.

Schneider, the No. 3 seed, beat No. 15 seed Ryan Shane 6-2, 6-3, while top seed Hiltzik had a bit more difficulty with No. 5 seed Gage Brymer, taking a 6-2, 7-5 decision on a clear and unseasonably warm day at the Mobile Tennis Center.

Hiltzik thought his defense was a major factor in his defeat of Brymer, who served for the second set at 5-4.

"I got a little anxious in the second set," said Hiltzik, of Wilmette, Ill. "I just had to start making a lot of balls. I think Gage played pretty well, but my game was a little tougher for him to play against. I get a lot of balls back, and he's used to hitting a lot of winners."

Schneider was confident he could handle Shane, having beating him in straight sets at last month's National Open.

"I beat him pretty handily there, but I knew this was going to be tougher, because he beat Nick (Wood, the No. 6 seed) really bad and Jonathan (Ho, the No. 12 seed), in straight sets, and looked really, really good," said Schneider, from Bloomington, Ind. "But I knew my game of staying close to the baseline and getting the ball back to him quicker, working the point in a different way than the other two had, well, when I went on the court, I was confident of what I was going to do. And I did all those things."

Even though Schneider triumphed in one of the toughest pressure situations in American junior tennis, the final of Kalamazoo, he knows he has no advantage over Hiltzik in that department.

"If Jared hadn't played that Winter final, I would say I definitely would have an advantage, but having played and won that final, I know he has the confidence," said Schneider, a junior who has committed to North Carolina for 2013. "He's got some great shots. He uses his backhand well and his speed really well. It's a different game than you see from most players--rip, rip the forehand."

"We've been going at it since boys 12s," said Hiltzik, who will join the University of Illinois in the fall and is superstitiously alternating between his two lucky Fighting Illini shirts, one of which has his coach Billy Heiser's name on the back. "It's always been really competitive matches. We've only had a few straight-set matches. It's whoever's better that day."


The third Midwesterner in the finals is Brooke Austin, who frequently trains with Schneider in Indianapolis. Austin, the No. 6 seed, overcame a stern challenge by No. 15 seed Maegan Manasse to record a 6-0, 6-7(5), 6-2 semifinal victory.

"She was making a lot of unforced errors," Austin said of Manasse's slow start. "In the second, she got it together, and literally didn't miss for the first three games. She started playing really well."

In the second set tiebreaker, Austin lead 5-2, but Manasse coaxed three unforced errors from Austin, and hit two winners to take the final five points and force a third set.

With the temperatures in the mid-80s, a third hour of tennis might have been daunting for Austin, who is playing only her sixth tournament since stress fractures in her foot kept her off the court from early August through late December. But while she was unable to compete, she worked on her fitness.

"I did fitness two-a-days all the time I was out," said the 16-year-old Austin. "I feel pretty good."

She looked fresh to open the third set, taking an early 4-1 lead, but Manasse, a 16-year-old from Redondo Beach, Calif., made Austin earn her win. Manasse went down 15-40 serving at 2-5, but saved five match points before Austin finally wore her down, forcing a forehand way long on the sixth match point.

Unlike Hiltzik, Schneider and Austin, all of whom have gold balls, Lexi Borr, the fourth finalist, is making her first appearance in the late stages of a National Level 1 event.

On Saturday, the 16-year-old from New Jersey beat her third seed in a row, defeating No. 8 seed Ashley Dai 6-2, 1-6, 6-4.

The second set, which Dai won quickly, was the first set Borr had lost in the tournament, but it didn't change the momentum in Dai's favor. Borr didn't trail in the final set, although she wasn't able to finish it serving at 5-3.

"I was disappointed I couldn't serve it out," said the left-hander, who hadn't been beyond the quarterfinals in a Level 1 tournament prior to today. "But I had broken her a bunch of times throughout the match, so I still knew that I could do it.

With her coach not with her, Borr consulted with her mother during the 10-minute rest period between the second and third sets.

"She told me to be aggressive, to keep going for my shots, and that the outcome doesn't matter," said Borr. "Dai is a great competitor, and I knew she comes back a lot, but in the third set, I think it was just whoever was being more aggressive and coming in. I just got a few more points than she did."

Both singles finals will be played at 9 a.m. CDT on Saturday.

The semifinals and the finals of the boys doubles were both played on Friday, with Schneider and partner Samuel Shropshire taking the gold balls. Sixth seeds Schneider and Shropshire beat Hiltzik and Brian Page, the top seeds, 7-5, 6-4 in the semifinals, then downed No. 5 seeds Nolan Paige and Aaron Revzin 7-6(3), 6-4 for the championship.

Shropshire and Schneider hadn't played together before this tournament, although Schneider knew who to call when his regular partner, Yale Goldberg, didn't enter in Mobile.

"We played against each other in the semis of Kalamazoo," said Schneider, who took the gold ball in Kalamazoo with Goldberg.

"We tried to play together at a regional tournament a little while ago," said Shropshire, who finished third in Kalamazoo with partner Conrad Harron. "And then this guy ended up winning Kalamazoo, so he had to go to the US Open instead. So this is our second try, and it worked out."

Shropshire and Schneider were down a break early in the opening set, but got it back, breaking Revzin when serving at 4-3. They played a solid tiebreaker, with Shropshire particularly effective in finishing points.

"Sam was all over the net," said Schneider. "They really didn't know what to do. They tried to lob, but I don't think Sam missed an overhead the whole tournament, I'm not kidding."

Shropshire and Schneider needed only one break in the second set, taking a 2-1 lead, and never trailing. Shropshire served out the match at love to capture his first gold ball.

Hiltzik and Page collected the bronze ball, beating unseeded Hunter Goertz and Josh Hagar 1-6, 6-3, 6-4.

The girls doubles final Saturday morning will feature the top two seeds. In Friday's semifinals, top seeds Madeline Lipp and Jamie Loeb beat No. 8 seeds Tess Bernard-Feigenbaum and Spencer Liane 6-4, 2-6, 6-4 and will face No. 2 seeds Dai and Whitney Kay. Dai and Kay beat No. 5 seeds Zoe Katz and Maegan Manasse 4-6, 6-1, 6-4.

The consolation finals will also be played Saturday morning. Josie Kuhlman will play No. 17 seed Rachel Pierson again. It was Kuhlman who eliminated Pierson from the main draw in the fourth round.

The boys consolation final features unseeded Andrew Schafer against Henry Craig, a No. 17 seed. Craig received two walkovers to advance to the final, while Schafer won twice via match tiebreakers.

For complete results, see the TennisLink site.


Sandra said...

I have the privelege to watch Ronnie Schneider play tennis in both the USTA and high school seasons. This young man demonstrates what junior tennis should be. He always displays great respect for the game, the rules and his fellow players. His parents deserve two thumbs up for doing such a great job raising this young man.
I am sure the other players are just as special I just haven't had the honor to meet them or see them play.