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Thursday, March 15, 2012

Top Seed Hiltzik, Unseeded Borr Reach Semifinals at USTA 18s Spring Nationals

©Colette Lewis 2012--
Mobile, AL--

Thursdays's summer-like weather could have been difficult for those just emerging from the indoor courts so necessary to the northern winter, but Illinois' Jared Hiltzik and New Jersey's Lexi Borr had no trouble adjusting to temperatures in the mid-80s, with both advancing to the semifinals of the USTA 18s Spring National Championships.

Hiltzik, the top seed and Winter National champion, has not lost a set in his first five wins, but in his 7-6(0), 6-2 victory over No. 8 seed Nicholas Naumann, he got a glimpse of how that might happen, blowing a 5-1 lead in the first set. Hiltzik recovered in time to end Naumann's five-game streak and force a tiebreaker, and the future member of the Fighting Illini dominated in the tiebreaker.

Down 3-0 in the tiebreaker, Naumann's forehand was called wide by Hiltzik and the chair agreed with Hiltzik's call. Naumann, who had already received a point penalty for an audible obscenity earlier in the set, argued with the chair then lost the next two points to go down 6-0. In what appeared to be a delayed reaction from the call at 3-0, Naumann then asked the chair umpire "How much did he pay you?" and the chair gave him a game penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct, which ended the tiebreaker.

Hiltzik held his lead in the second set, surviving a very tough game serving at 4-2 with the assist of the chair's let call on a ball approaching near the backstop that gave him a first serve when he was in his motion for his second serve on break point. Naumann, who understandably couldn't help but feel persecuted by that chain of events, argued, but Hiltzik hit a great first serve on his second opportunity, and went on to hold for 5-2, then broke Naumann for the match. Naumann did shake the umpire's hand after the match, and had no further reaction to the loss.

Hiltzik's opponent in the semifinals is No. 5 seed Gage Brymer, who needed three sets to get past Josh Levine, a No. 17 seed, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2. After Brymer had leveled the match, he used the 10-minute break to consult with his father about strategy.

"In the first two sets I was playing more to his backhand side," said Brymer. "My dad saw that he forehand seemed a little weaker, so I started playing that a little more and that seemed to help. He was dictating more with his backhand, hitting aggressive shots mostly from his backhand, so once I concentrated on his forehand, I eliminated that factor."

Both players were frustrated with their performance at times, with soliloquies frequent after any unforced errors. Levine broke to open the third set, with Brymer throwing in multiple double faults, but Levine was unable to consolidate the break, and only held his serve once in the final set.

Brymer and Hiltzik haven't played, although Brymer said he has seen Hiltzik around tournaments since the 12s.

"I know he's a tough player," said Brymer, who just turned 17, while Hiltzik will be 18 in July. "He's had good results and won the Winter Nationals. I try to go into every match knowing a little bit about how every player plays, but I know he's a solid player, and I'll have to play my best, try my hardest and see what happens."

No. 3 seed Ronnie Schneider earned his place in the semifinals with 6-4, 6-1 win over No. 13 seed Brian Page. Page is known for his big serve, but each player held only once in the first set, giving the much smaller Schneider a definite advantage. Schneider's opponent on Friday is No. 15 seed Ryan Shane, who defeated No. 12 seed Jonathan Ho 6-2, 7-5. Although the match was decided in straight sets, and the first set went relatively quickly, the second set was full of multi-deuce games and much anguish when opportunities weren't seized.

In the girls quarterfinals, Borr, a 16-year-old lefthander, continued her breakout tournament, beating No. 3 seed Frances Altick 6-2, 6-2, the third seed the unseeded Borr has beaten this week.

"I lost to her in Winters in the back draw, so I was just trying to play a little bit closer than last time," said Borr, who lost that match 6-4, 6-1. "I was playing really aggressive and getting off the court and finishing up at the net. I kept doing it, and it turned out I won a lot easier than she beat me."

Borr knew she needed to change her game style as she advanced to the 18s division.

"The girls are bigger and stronger and you just can't outsteady them anymore, you have to do something different," said Borr, who lives and trains in Westfield, New Jersey. "So I am trying to be more aggressive with my game. I'm feeling pretty good about my game right now."

Borr will play No. 8 seed Ashley Dai, who won her fifth consecutive match in straight sets Thursday, beating unseeded wild card Josie Kuhlman 6-1, 6-4.

The highest girls seed remaining is No. 6 Brooke Austin, who is just a few months into her comeback after an ankle injury she suffered at the Hard Courts last August. Austin defeated No. 12 seed Sydney Campbell, who had beaten top seed Jamie Loeb on Wednesday, 7-5, 6-3 in Thursday's quarterfinal.

Austin, who finished in sixth place in Mobile last year, faces No. 15 seed Maegan Manasse, who ousted No. 4 seed Madeline Lipp 6-4, 5-7, 6-4.

Manasse, a 16-year-old from Southern California, trailed 4-2 in the final set before she got what she called a "sudden burst of energy" to take the final four games of the match.

"I think we were both playing tired in the third set," said Manasse, who just began home schooling this semester. "Like I said, I just got this one burst of energy, and she tried to pick it up, but it was too late."

Lipp, playing in her third three-setter of the week, hit two consecutive double faults to give away her break serving at 4-2. Manasse made her share of unforced errors, but with Lipp serving at 4-5, trying to stay in the match, Manasse held tough at the most critical juncture. With Lipp serving at 15-30, the longest rally of the third set consisted of at least a score of backhands crosscourt until Manasse finally found a short angle on her backhand, giving it a bit more oomph to send Lipp lunging fruitlessly for it.

With two match points, Manasse needed only one, with Lipp double faulting to end the three-hour and 10 minute match.

"I'm excited," said Manasse, who has never reached the semifinals of a National Level 1 before. "I'll play my best, try my best tomorrow. I'm playing against Brooke Austin, and she's a really good player, so it'll be a good match."

The top seeds in doubles are still in the running for gold balls, with Lipp and Loeb, the No. 1 seeds in the girls doubles, and Hiltzik and Page, the No. 1 seeds in the boys doubles, advancing to the semifinals with straight-set wins this evening.

For complete results, see the TennisLink site.

For additional interviews of previous Players of the Day by Dave Kozlowski, listen to Jonathan Ho, Sydney Campbell, and Rachel Pierson at the Tennis Channel website.