Heat and humidity come with the territory at the Girls 18s Clay Courts in Memphis, with temperatures in the 90s expected. On Wednesday, the temperature reached 98 degrees and the heat index was 107 during most of the round of 32 matches at the Racquet Club of Memphis. Only a consistent breeze kept the condition from being intolerable, yet even that relief was best experienced in the shade.
The top eight seeds had all managed to reach the fourth round, but that streak ended with three of them falling, including third seed Ashley Dai. The top four seeds all faced unseeded opponents, but Dai had the most dangerous one, with Chirico having won a $10,000 Pro Circuit event as a qualifier back in May.
Playing on one of the three courts down by the street, away from the seven main courts, Dai and Chirico didn't have much of an audience for Chirico's 7-6(5), 6-3 win. But Dai was put on notice immediately that this would be much different from her previous two wins this week, with Chirico taking a 4-0 lead in the first set.
"I came out swinging pretty loose," said Chirico, 16. "She picked up her game a little bit, and I got a little bit too comfortable."
Chirico saw that two-break lead melt away like an ice cube in the Memphis sun. She served for the set at 5-4, but never got closer than deuce. The momentum should have been with Dai as they entered a tiebreaker two games later, but Chirico showed no nerves, taking a 3-0 and 6-2 lead in the tiebreaker. That lead almost vaporized too, with Dai saving three set points, last of which was saved when Chirico double faulted. Back on serve, Dai hit a good first serve, but Chirico slammed the return back deep and hard and Dai's forehand response went wide.
In the second set, Dai was up a break at 2-1, but she gave it back immediately, with Chirico hitting a blistering forehand winner at 30-40 to make it 2-2. The girls held serve the next three games, but Dai got in trouble serving at 3-4. She double faulted for 0-15, and on the next point she made Chirico hit three overheads before putting one away, but Chirico didn't crack, and it was 0-30. Chirico's forehand return winner gave her two break points at 15-40, with Dai saving one, but netting a backhand on the second, leaving Chirico to serve for the match.
Although closing out a win against a solid and competitive player like Dai is never easy, Chirico made it seem so. At 40-0, she hit yet another forehand winner, ending the match before the conditions could become a factor.
Chirico, who is from New York and trains at the USTA's National Center-East in Flushing Meadows, likes clay and likes the heat, which is not always true of players from the Northeast.
"I practice pretty much all the time on clay," said Chirico, who was preparing at Boca Raton the week prior to the tournament. "At Flushing, there's a bubble with clay. And I actually like the heat, I don't know why. We do a lot of fitness, and I've never had issues with cramping or anything like that."
Next up for Chirico is Katerina Stewart, a No. 17 seed, who beat her doubles partner Frances Altick, the No. 11 seed, 6-1, 6-2. Stewart celebrated her 15th birthday yesterday.
Top seed and defending champion Gabby Andrews and No. 2 seed Brooke Austin advanced in straight sets. Andrews beat Kimmy Guerin 6-1, 6-4 and Austin defeated Laura Patterson 6-2, 6-1 in two morning matches.
No. 5 seed Madeline Lipp fell to Peggy Porter, a No. 17 seed, 7-5, 2-6, 6-2. Like Andrews, Porter is seeking a second straight USTA Clay Court title. She won the 16s in Virginia Beach last year.
Spencer Liang, the No. 8 seed, lost to unseeded Cassandra Vazquez 7-5, 7-6(1). Vazquez is one of six unseeded players in the round of 16. The others are Chirico, Manon Peri, Sherry Li, Keisha Clousing and Alex Anton-Ohlmeyer.
Caroline Doyle, a No. 17 seed, defeated No. 15 seed Taylor Davidson 6-4, 6-1, and the 16-year-old left-hander is happy to be back after a broken wrist kept her out of the major tournaments last summer.
"I fractured my wrist hitting a backhand," said Doyle. "It was kind of a weird shank and it fractured my growth plate, so I was out for about three months. Originally I thought it would be better for Clays, because I thought is was a sprain, but they told me it was a fracture. Then I thought I would be ready for Hards, and I was getting excited, but I wasn't okay for that or the (US) Open. It was hard not knowing when I would be back, but I think I've recovered well."
Doyle says that the fracture to her right wrist may have actually had a benefit.
"It definitely improved my forehand, but I think my backhand got better," Doyle said. "I think I can hit it more now. It took a little while to get it back, but now it's feeling good again."
Doyle also trained in Boca Raton prior to the Clays, but even Florida's summer heat couldn't match what she experienced today against Davidson.
"It's definitely a bit hotter than Florida and today's match was really hot," Doyle said. "The first set was really hot and humid, I definitely needed to towel off so I didn't lose my racquet."
Doyle's goal was to outlast Davidson, but also play aggressively.
"She is very consistent and she can step in," Doyle said. "I just tried to stay solid, keep my shots deep and look to attack when the opportunity came. I felt I was executing well. We definitely had a lot of long rallies, we were both just grinding out there."
The third round of doubles was played this evening, with the top four seeded teams all advancing to the round of 16.
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