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Friday, July 20, 2012

Andrews vs. Collins, Austin vs. Loeb in USTA Girls 18s Clay Court Semifinals

©Colette Lewis 2012--
Memphis, TN--

Three of the top four seeds and a 2011 semifinalist have reached the final four at the USTA Girls 18s National Clay Courts after another brutally hot day of play Friday at the Racquet Club of Memphis.

No. 2 seed Brooke Austin and Caroline Doyle, a No. 17 seed, started the morning off with some outstanding tennis, with Austin eventually taking a 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 decision over her fellow 16-year-old.

Once Doyle adjusted to the pace of Austin's ball, she was able to hang in all the rallies, and her lefty serve and forehand produced nearly as many winners as Austin, who can paint the lines when she has a rhythm, as she did this morning.

Although Doyle had the momentum after the 10 minute break between sets, she was broken in the first game of the third set after failing to convert five game points and double faulting an Austin's first break point. After Austin came back from 0-40 down in the next game, winning five straight points to make it 2-0, Doyle desperately needed a hold, but she couldn't get it, as the errors that were absent in the second set began to crop up.  Austin held and broke again for a 5-0 lead, but she played a loose game serving for the match, and was broken at 15.

Doyle saved two match points in the next game, with a forehand winner and an ace, and serving at 5-2, Austin again played a sloppy game and was broken for 5-3.  In the final game, the quality of play that had been evident throughout most of the first two sets, but had dipped in the third, returned.  With Doyle serving at 3-5, 30-40, she and Austin played a match point that would make any highlight show, with great offense and defense by both girls. Doyle eventually saved that match point, number three, with an overhead. Another long and entertaining rally ended with an Doyle forehand going long for match point No. 4, which Doyle saved with a forehand winner. Her forehand went long on the next point to give Austin her fifth match point, and Austin finally converted, blasting a backhand winner.

"She definitely started just going for her shots more," Austin said. "She wasn't as tentative, especially at the end there, her forehands. But I feel like her serve, she wasn't placing it as well as she did in the second set. I just tried to keep the ball in the middle of the court and take away her forehand angles."

Austin doesn't train on clay and had only 30 minutes of practice on the surface before starting the tournament, so there was no suggestion that she change her aggressive game style.

"I just try to play my game and not try to adjust to clay court tennis," said Austin, who is playing in Memphis for the first time. "Typically that doesn't work well for me, so I just play like I normally do."

Austin likes to play a lot, and since she last lost, in the second round of the $10,000 Pro Circuit event in Hilton Head at the end of May, she has won two lower level sectional events (primarily to break in a new racquet), the Midwest Closed, a National Open, and an ITA Summer Circuit event at Purdue. With her five wins here in Memphis, her winning streak is at 33, and something's got to give in her semifinal match with No. 4 seed Jamie Loeb, who has a 30-match win streak of her own going.

Loeb picked up No. 30 today against unseeded Sherry Li, by a 6-2 6-2 score, so it's fair to say the summer's two hottest players will face off in equally torrid temperatures for a place in Sunday's final.

The other semifinal is a repeat of last year's with Gabby Andrews again facing Danielle Collins. That ended in Andrews favor, 7-6(5) 5-1 ret., when Collins couldn't continue due to complications from a previous bout of mononucleosis.

Defending champion Andrews earned her 12th straight win in Memphis, defeating No. 14 seed Kourtney Keegan 6-3, 6-4 after trailing 4-1 in the final set.

Collins, seeded 16th, had a considerably tougher time with unseeded Louisa Chirico before pulling out a 5-7, 6-3, 6-3 win in the midday heat, which reached 100 degrees, with a heat advisory in effect for the area.

Collins, who had not played a competitive match in over five months prior to this tournament, believes her win over Jessica Ho in the second round helped propel her back to the semifinals.

"My first match gave me a lot of confidence, coming back," said Collins, 18. "It made me realize how mentally tough I am, and it helped me out a lot in the long run. I'm so glad I had that match."

Against Chirico, whom she had never played, Collins had begun with a strategy of hitting to Chirico's backhand, but had to change that as the match progressed.

"She moves around her backhand sometimes, so I thought she might favor her forehand side more," Collins said. "So I tried to attack her backhand a lot, but she was coming up with some amazing down the line shots and cross court off her backhand when she was on the run, so I had to change my game plan, go more into her forehand. And once I slowed down the pace a little bit, I kind of wore her out."

During last year's tournament, one of Collins' symptoms was excessive sweating, but even in the heat this year, she has had no such issues.

"I feel so much healthier and have so much more energy now," Collins said. "I feel better, more fit, and physically, I think I should be ready. She's going to make me win the match, she's not going to give me any free points, and I'm going to have to work for it. She's a really tough competitor. I played her once after Clay Courts (last year) at Fed Cup, and we had a three-setter that I ended up winning, on hard courts. But it was tough, I really had to work for it."

The doubles semifinals are also set for Saturday.  Top seeds Madeline Lipp and Jamie Loeb won their quarterfinal match over unseeded Hadley Berg and Mary Closs 6-3, 6-4 and will face No. 9 seeds Louisa Chirico and Denise Starr. Chirico and Starr defeated No. 8 seeds Catherine Harrison and Kendal Woodard 4-6, 7-6(3), 14-12.

No. 2 seeds Ashley Dai and Maegan Manasse defeated Gabby Andrews and Lauren Marker, a No. 9 seeded team, 6-4, 6-1 and will face Tess Bernard-Feigenbaum and Spencer Liang, also a No. 9 seed, in the semifinals. Bernard-Feigenbaum and Liang defeated No. 3 seeds Brooke Austin and Kourtney Keegan 6-3, 6-7(4), 11-9 Friday evening.

For complete results, see the TennisLink site.