©Colette Lewis 2012--
When USTA 18s Spring National champions Brooke Austin and Ronnie Schneider return to Indianapolis, their next practice match might have a bit more on the line than usual. The title of overall Mobile champion is at stake, after both won tight three-set victories in Saturday morning finals.
Schneider is fortunate Austin didn't demand an immediate playoff, as the 17-year-old from Bloomington, Ind. started cramping late in the final game of his 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 win over Midwest rival Jared Hiltzik.
With Hiltzik serving at 4-5, 0-30, Schneider cracked a forehand winner to earn three match points, only to feel cramps setting in.
"I said, oh, no, this is bad, this is really bad," said Schneider. "One point away, and then I lose the next two points, and think if this goes to deuce, I'm in serious trouble."
Hiltzik saved the first match point with an aggressive forehand putaway, and the second with an ace. The third, a deep and aggressive forehand that Hiltzik had a play on, let go and called out, was not saved, when the chair umpire overruled Hiltzik's call and immediately announced, game set and match Schneider.
"It felt good coming off my racquet, and it surprised me when it was called out," said Schneider. "But the thing was, where I was, I didn't see it land."
Hiltzik had been overruled earlier, and he apologized to Schneider and the chair umpire after realizing he had mistakenly called a ball out that was actually in. But of the match-ending call, Hiltzik thought the mistake was the chair's.
"I had a chance to play the ball and I knew it was going out," said Hiltzik. "I let it go, it was out, but I can't help it."
The unusual ending overshadowed an entertaining encounter that featured more drama than their previous two matches, which ended with 6-0 third sets.
At 1-1 in the third, that possibility was gone, but Schneider won the next 3 games, and Hiltzik had to scramble to get back on serve. An overrule that went against Schneider and two errors led to a break with Hiltzik holding in the next game to make it 4-4. Schneider held at 15 to make it 5-4, and managed to stay upright for the final five points of the match.
"That shot ended up going in, and I was very thankful, because as soon as it did, my legs were done," said Schneider, who lost to Hiltzik last month 6-3, 5-7, 6-0. "With Jared, you're going to have to do a lot of running, and I had to put all my energy into every single ball I hit. Against Jared, you have to hit like four or five winners to actually win the point."
Schneider was able to hit his usual assortment of forehand winners, but Hiltzik's backhand, especially when he hit it down the line, wasn't up to its usual standard, with that exchange nearly always ending in Schneider's favor. Schneider never conceded a point, and was even prepared for Hiltzik's excellent tweener in the fifth game of the third set, volleying it away for a winner.
Winter National champion Hiltzik, who suffered his first loss since Schneider beat him 6-4, 4-6, 6-0 in November, wasn't happy with his level of play.
"I don't think either of us played our best out there," said Hiltzik. "I became very passive, which was not my goal, and he just took advantage of that. We keep going back and forth, and if the streak continues, I'll win next time, I guess. But he's always fun to play against."
Schneider assessed his own play differently.
"I played well, especially in the first and third sets," said Schneider. "I was really aggressive with my feet and really worked the point well."
Although Schneider was able to leave the court under his own power, he did receive medical assistance after the match, leading him to concede that Austin would probably win if she insisted on playing the set immediately.
"The one time she would actually win would be now," said Schneider. "I feel like if I got two games in, I'd be cramping and I'd probably just try to drop shot and peg her."
It's not as if Austin breezed through her 2-6, 6-3, 6-2 win over unseeded Lexi Borr. Austin trailed by a set and 2-0 before she finally found the answer to the 16-year-old left-hander, playing in her first Level 1 USTA National Championship final.
"It took me a while to get adjusted to her," said Austin, who had separated her shoulder at a National Open last month and was unsure if she would play Mobile up until the last minute. "She hits topspin and then backspin, mixes it up. It's sort of different and it took me a while to get used to it. And I wasn't really moving my feet that well in the first set and a half."
Borr put Austin on the defensive from the beginning of the match, which is not how Austin likes to win points. She prefers to stand on or inside the baseline and go for the lines, but Borr's depth and placement, plus her own errors, took her out of that comfort zone.
After Austin evened the match, she got some advice from Schneider's coach Bryan Smith, the son of Jeff Smith, who is Austin's primary coach in Indianapolis.
"He told me to hit a lot more to her forehand, and in the third, it started breaking down," Austin said. "I started figuring out how to get her off-balance, get her to hit more short balls, and take more balls out of the air."
Borr broke Austin to open the third set, but then lost five straight games to give Austin a chance to serve for the match. She was unable to finish on her serve, admitting that she began to feel a few nerves, but Borr wasn't able to capitalize. In the long final game, Borr attempted to inject more of the aggressive play that had worked so well for her earlier, but when her forehand volley went wide on match point, Austin had the title.
"I was probably feeling a little fatigued from the past few matches," said a disappointed Borr, playing in just her second National Level 1 in the 18s. "She played really well, started making a lot of shots, and I probably should have been more aggressive at that point, but I let it get away from me."
Despite the loss, Borr knows she will ultimately look back on the positives.
"It was a great tournament for me, and I learned a lot," said Borr, her voice full of emotion, a tear spilling down her cheek. "I learned I could compete with these girls."
With her tenth gold ball, Austin wasn't facing those questions, but she was pleased to end a fall and winter full of injuries.
"It's been a while," said the 16-year-old, who was out more than four months with stress fractures in her foot. "I'm still in shock right now, because two days before the tournament started I couldn't lift my arm. So it's a nice surprise for me, that's for sure."
The girls doubles championship was also played Saturday morning, with future North Carolina Tar Heels Whitney Kay and Ashley Dai, the No. 2 seeds, taking the title 6-1, 7-5 over top seeds Madeline Lipp and Jamie Loeb.
Kay and Dai, who start their college careers in Chapel Hill this fall, had not played together prior to pairing up in Mobile, and were fortunate to escape an early upset.
"It was a little struggle in the first match," said Kay. "We had a bye and then got a walkover, so we were playing our first match in the third round. We saved one or two match points and won 13-11 in the (match) tiebreaker."
Despite a lack of experience playing together, Kay and Dai had a ready explanation for their chemistry.
"It works together well because we're good friends and try to keep each other positive, stay upbeat," said Kay, who ends her junior career with 13 gold balls. "I feel we know where each other is going to go, even though it's our first time playing together."
"She keeps me calm," said Dai, who now has five gold balls. "And that's good, I don't get really pissed with her. And it's fun."
Third place in girls doubles went to No. 8 seeds Tess Bernard-Feigenbaum and Spencer Liang, who defeated No. 5 seeds Zoe Katz and Maegan Manasse 6-1, 6-3. Bernard-Feigenbaum had survived a full body cramp after a late night singles match on Tuesday, requiring an ambulance and hospitalization, but after an IV, she was back on the court for two doubles matches the next day.
The bronze balls in singles went to Ryan Shane and Manasse. No. 15 seed Shane defeated No. 5 seed Gage Brymer 7-6(5), 5-7, 6-4 in a three-hour marathon. Manasse collected third place in the girls singles when Dai withdrew prior to Saturday's scheduled match.
In the consolation finals, Rachel Pierson, a No. 17 seed, avenged her main draw loss to Josie Kuhlman, beating the unseeded wild card 6-4, 6-2 to finish in fifth place. Henry Craig, also a 17 seed, beat unseeded Andrew Schafer 5-7, 6-1, 6-3. The match should have been decided in a match tiebreaker, but a full third set was played in error.
In addition to the gold balls for singles and doubles, Ronnie Schneider also won the sportsmanship award. Whitney Kay received the girls sportsmanship award.
For complete results, see the TennisLink site.