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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Rain Pushes Third Round Late into the Night, as Pierson and Levine Post Upsets at USTA 18s Spring Nationals

©Colette Lewis 2012--
Mobile, AL--

A four-hour rain delay and an attack of the giant grasshoppers didn't faze Rachel Pierson, who downed No. 2 seed Whitney Kay 6-3, 6-1 in the third round of the USTA 18s Spring Nationals. Pierson, a 17-year-old from New Jersey who now trains with Grant Doyle in Austin, Texas, actually appreciated yet another rain delay, which stopped play between 1:15 and 5:15 p.m., after her second round match and before her third round match.

"When I thought I was going to play at 1:50, I was overheated and I was a little tired," said Pierson, a 17 seed. "I got to go back and take a really nice nap, shower and refresh, and that was key for me. I was really grateful for that. It sounds horrible, but I was happy for the rain."

It was after 7 p.m. when Kay and Pierson took the court, with dusk settling over the busy 60-court complex. Pierson, a powerful 6-footer, made few errors, served well, and took advantage of Kay's off-night.

"I thought I played really smart, I was really patient," said Pierson, who had not played Kay before. "She's an excellent player. She missed, I think, more than she usually does, and I picked on her forehand. I think she lost a little confidence in that shot so I really exposed that. It was a really tough match, and all the games went to deuce."

Pierson was able to keep her focus despite the distraction of the grasshoppers and mosquitoes, which began appearing once the lights came on.

"At a certain point in the match, these big, giant grasshoppers came out on our court, and between points, I had to shovel them off, I had 15 that I had to shovel off. I felt bad, doing it between points, but I couldn't step on them and fall," said Pierson. "And the mosquitoes, I was slapping myself between points."

Pierson credits Doyle with dramatically improving her game, saying she's a "different player because of him." She's also had the opportunity to get on the court with Doyle's more famous pupil, Ryan Harrison.

"It's pretty cool. Once I got to play a doubles game with Ryan Harrison, and I was like, crap, I'm not going to be good enough," said Pierson. "But it was really cool. Occasionally Ashley Weinhold gets to come out and I get to hit with her. I get really lucky and I get to hit with some very good players who are a lot better than me, and that really helps me improve."

The major upset in the boys draw also came in the third round, with Josh Levine, a 17 seed, defeating No. 4 seed Nolan Paige 6-3, 6-2. Levine was up 5-3 with Paige serving when the downpour began, but he didn't let the break derail his upset bid.

"He was serving at 30-15," said Levine, a New Yorker who starts at Duke in the fall. "I had to keep focus, be prepared so I could start off quick. Three more points and I would have the set."

Levine did just that, breaking Paige, who has committed to Stanford, by winning several prolonged rallies.

"I was keeping it to his backhand and waiting for my opportunity to step up and hit the ball, come to the net," said Levine, who had last played Paige in the 14s Clay Courts, a match he also won. "It gave me a little confidence, knowing I was up 1-0 head-to-head, but that was a long time ago, and both of our games have changed."

Paige had played a difficult second round match, beating Shane Monroe by the unusual score of 0-6, 7-6(4), 6-0, and Levine thought his more routine second round win may have helped him.

"He was definitely mentally tired, because the kid he played first round got into his head a little bit," Levine said. "So I knew he was going to be tired, physically and mentally, so I tried just to keep the points long, stick to the game plan."

The game plan worked right through the final game, when Paige was serving at 2-5. Levine simply got every ball back, handled the changes in pace and added a little sizzle when he executed a difficult backhand overhead that wrong-footed Paige. Levine converted the second of his two match points, and he was into the fourth round, where he will play No. 14 seed Casey Kay.

The top three boys seeds--Jared Hiltzik, Brett Clark and Ronnie Schneider--all advanced to the fourth round with straight-set wins. Two unseeded players reached the round of 16, with Maxx Lipman defeating his friend and doubles partner Sean Karl, the No. 7 seed, 6-1, 6-2, and Andrew Schafer, the Eddie Herr 16s finalist, downing unseeded Sam Swank by the same score.

Girls top seed Jamie Loeb reached the fourth round before dark, but No. 4 seed Madeline Lipp was on court until 10:30 p.m. before finally subduing a No. 17 seed Tess Bernard-Feigenbaum 7-6(6), 4-6, 7-6(6). No. 6 seed Brooke Austin also played past 10 p.m. before getting by Courtney Colton, a 17 seed, 6-4, 6-7(4), 6-3.

For complete results, see the TennisLink site.