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Sunday, March 11, 2012

Kuhlman Saves Five Match Points in Win over No. 16 Seed Davidson; Top Seeds Move into Second Round at USTA 18s Spring Nationals

©Colette Lewis 2012--
Mobile, AL--

On a gray and chilly first day at the USTA 18s Spring National Championships, plenty of seeds lost, but none of the Top 4 in either the boys or girls draws.

Seven girls seeds fell, with No. 7 seed Makenzie Craft the highest to go. Craft lost 6-3, 7-5 to 14-year old wild card Madison Bourguignon, but Bourguignon wasn't the only 14-year-old to take down a seed today, with Junior Orange Bowl 14s champion Katerina Stewart also coming away with a win in her first USTA Level 1 in the 18s.

Stewart was simply too consistent for Lauren Marker, a No. 17 seed, and Marker was unable to do enough damage with her forehand to prevent Stewart from earning a 6-3, 6-1 victory.

"I knew her backhand was weaker, and she couldn't move very well," said Stewart, who received entry into this event by winning a National Open in Florida last month. "That was basically my strategy, and I was just playing my game out there."

Stewart joked that she was shortest and youngest player in the field, although Bourguignon is actually a few months younger, but she had gained confidence from her National Open victory even though all the opponents she faces are unfamiliar to her.

"I don't know how any of these girls play, so I just play my game," said Stewart, from Miami, Fla. "I just have to experiment with them, but the competition is good."

Top seed Jamie Loeb received a last-minute bye when there was no alternate to fill the draw. No. 2 seed Whitney Kay had a quick 6-3, 6-1 win over Cassie Pough, and No. 3 seed Frances Altick overcame a late speed bump to beat Ashley Bongart 6-1, 6-3.

Ninth seed Maci Epstein lost to Keisha Clousing 6-4, 6-3, and in addition to Marker, four other No. 17 seeds lost.

The boys draw saw eight seeds lose, seven of them No. 17 seeds, with No. 11 seed Anthony Delcore, beaten 6-1, 6-0 by Richard Del Nunzio, the only Top 16 seed to fall. Top seed Jared Hiltzik was challenged by Thomas Caputo, but he steadied himself for a 6-4, 6-4 win.

With 40 matches going at any one time, it's difficult to focus on just one, but I was expecting a good match between wild card Josie Kuhlman and No. 16 seed Taylor Davidson. For all that anticipation, I couldn't have imagined it would turn into a 3 hour and 54 minute marathon requiring Kuhlman to save five match points before emerging with a 7-6(6), 4-6, 7-5 victory.

Davidson served for the ninety-minute first set at 5-4, then had two set points at 6-4 in the tiebreaker, but her forehand let her down at that crucial stage, with four consecutive errors giving Kuhlman the set.

The second set saw the 17-year-old Davidson take leads of 3-0 and 5-2, but again Kuhlman fought back. Serving at 4-5, Kuhlman went down 0-40, but on her third set point, Davidson was finally able to convert.

After the 10-minute break between the second and third sets, both girls held serve until Kuhlman was broken at 2-3. Davidson held for a 5-2 lead, and that's when Kuhlman began to wonder if a comeback was feasible.

"When I was down 2-5, I was just praying for a miracle," said the 16-year-old Floridian. "I guess I got one."

With Kuhlman serving to stay in the match, she saved her first match point when Davidson netted a defensive forehand slice. On the second match point of the game, Kuhlman played aggressively, charging the net and hitting a forehand volley for a winner. She hit a second volley winner to get to game point and converted it when Davidson netted a forehand return.

Davidson had match points No. 3 and No. 4 in the next game, but her growing impatience and fatigue was beginning to produce gambles, with her backhand finding the net on both points.

Kuhlman faced her fifth and final match point serving at 4-5, when Davidson hit a big forehand just past the baseline at 30-40. Hoping to avoid the long rallies that had marked most of the first two and a half sets, Davidson was attempting to finish points at the net more, but two volley errors after that forehand made it 5-5.

The next game was more of the same from Davidson, as she was broken at love with netted volleys and errant backhands. With Kuhlman now trying to win her fifth straight game, she fell behind 15-30, and a third set tiebreaker loomed. But Davidson, who kept her composure but was too tired to construct points as she had done earlier in the match, didn't win another point, hitting two wide ground strokes and then netting a backhand to hand the victory to Kuhlman.

"Taylor played really well throughout the match and didn't make many errors in the third, attacking everything," said Kuhlman. "When I got down 5-2, I just kept fighting, got myself back into a couple of games, and I think mentally she might have broken down a little."

Kuhlman admitted she was tired as the third set approached, but somehow survived the physical and mental fatigue.

"After the second set, my legs were a little sore, but I just tried to push through it, keep fighting hard, and that's what I did. I knew it was going to be a tough match because she's a tough player. I was prepared for anything."

For complete results, including the first round doubles, see the TennisLink site.