Saturday, July 21, 2012

Collins and Loeb in USTA Girls 18s Clay Court Final Sunday

©Colette Lewis 2012--
Memphis, TN--

Danielle Collins couldn't have played much better in ousting defending champion and top seed Gabby Andrews 6-3, 6-0 in Saturday's first semifinal at the USTA Girls 18s Clay Court Championships. Jamie Loeb dropped the first set to No. 2 seed Brooke Austin, but then she too came up with her best tennis to post a 2-6, 6-1, 6-1 victory and extend her winning streak to 31 straight matches.

Unlike Loeb, who came into the tournament with a $10,000 Pro Circuit title, as well as ITF junior circuit and Eastern sectional championships, Collins hadn't played a tournament since February. A minor case of knee tendinitis and a final semester's worth of senior activities left her without any match play, although she continued to train at Bollettieri's, near her home in St. Petersburg, Florida.

"I didn't really expect to do this well here because I didn't have any matches coming into this tournament," said Collins, who has played the Memphis clays for five straight years. "That first match against Jessica Ho really helped me out, being able to dig out the second set and somehow come back in the third. It gave me a lot of confidence, and I feel so much better than last year, when I was really not very healthy."

Last year against Andrews in the semifinals, Collins had to retire, and was taken to the hospital for severe cramping, but those memories were far away in Saturday morning's match.

Collins said she woke up feeling energetic and had a good warm-up, and she blasted the ball from the outset, targeting Andrews' forehand.

"I was able to stick to my game plan, attack her forehand and break her down early in the match," said Collins, who will be joining the NCAA champion Florida Gators next month. "I think she was kind of overwhelmed by some of the pace I was coming up with. That really threw her off and I think it was frustrating her a lot."

Collins barely made an error in the opening six games, but Andrews was able to stay within striking distance with some good play of her own. Collins' level dropped ever so slightly when serving for the set at 5-3, and she was required to save three break points in that game, but she hit a forehand winner to save one and two backhand winners to save the others, which had to be discouraging for Andrews.

Collins started out the second set with a break, and she was determined not to give Andrews any hope of a comeback.

"My main goal was not to let her into the match at all," said Collins. "I didn't want to give her any type of momentum, because she's the type of player that, you give her a couple free points, she gets back in the match. She's really good at coming back, so I wanted to make sure I didn't have any sloppy points or give any points away. I had to stay focused the whole match, stay on top of it."

In the semifinal between Austin and Loeb, the first set looked similar to that of Andrews and Collins.  Loeb didn't play poorly, but Austin was crushing the ball and hitting the lines, with many more winners than unforced errors.

Loeb began to make some changes in the second set, and Austin dropped her serve at 1-2, with two consecutive double faults helping Loeb take a 3-1 lead.

"I started recognizing her return patterns, and certain shots, how she'd react," said the 17-year-old New Yorker. "That took a while, and also in the beginning I came out a little tentative. As the match progressed, I got a little more comfortable and more confident with my shots."

Loeb began using her drop shot and changed the pace with an effective slice, although she also held her own in the baseline rallies, matching Austin's aggressive groundstrokes.

When errors began to surface in Austin's game, especially on the backhand side, Loeb continued to apply pressure and she won seven straight games to take the second set and earn a 2-0 lead in the third before Austin got her first--and last--game in that stretch to make it 2-1.

"In the second and third sets, I think I played very, very well, very consistent," said Loeb, who trains with Felix Alvarado at the John McEnroe Tennis Academy in New York, but consulted with Jason, her brother and traveling coach, about strategy before the match. "I wasn't playing passive, I was going for my sho

ts and making them. I feel with my variety of drop shots and slices, it really threw her off."

Some of that variety may be the result of training with McEnroe himself, which Loeb has done occasionally.

"I hit with him here and there," said Loeb, who has been at the academy since last September. "It is fun, and he gives great advice. He's obviously one of the best tennis players, so it's great to be at his academy."

When Austin netted a forehand on the first match point, Loeb, the reigning USTA Winter National 18s champion, had reached her second USTA National final this year, while extending her winning streak to 31 matches. She ended Austin's winning streak at 33, and avenged a loss to Austin at a National Open last year.

Loeb will also be out for revenge in Sunday morning's final, with Collins having beaten her last year at the $10,000 Pro Circuit event in Buffalo, the same tournament that Loeb won earlier this month.

Once the singles final, scheduled for 9:30 a.m., is complete, Loeb will go for another national championship in doubles.  On Saturday afternoon, Loeb and partner Madeline Lipp, the top seeds, defeated Louisa Chirico and Denise Starr, a No. 9 seeded team, 6-3, 2-6, 6-2. They will play second seeds Ashley Dai and Maegan Manasse, who played a roller coaster of a match with Tess Bernard-Feigenbaum and Spencer Liang. Dai and Manasse led 4-1 in the first set, lost seven straight games to go down 2-0 in the second set, then won six games in a row to send the match into a third set. The third set didn't contain any such streaks, with Dai and Manasse breaking Bernard-Feigenbaum in the last game to secure a 4-6, 6-2, 6-4 win.

The consolation final is also scheduled for Sunday morning, with Katerina Stewart, a No. 17 seed, facing Kourtney Keegan, the No. 14 seed, for fifth place in the tournament.

For complete results, see the TennisLink site.

At the Boys 18s Clay Courts in Delray Beach, George Goldhoff, seeded 16th, will face top seed Jared Hiltzik in the final. In the 16s, also at Delray Beach, Baker Newman, seeded 13th, will play No. 3 seed Mitch Stewart for the title.

In Virginia Beach, Va., the girls 16s Clay Court championship match will feature No. 10 seed Mia Horvit against unseeded Francesca Dilorenzo.

The 12s and 14s USTA Clay Court champions have been decided.  At the girls 14s in Plantation, Fla., top seed Emma Higuchi defeated Angela Kulikov, seeded 22, 1-6, 6-2, 6-1. At the boys 14s in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., No. 6 seed Evan Zhu defeated No. 3 seed Jonathan Small 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 in the final. 

At the girls 12s in Boca Raton, Fla., No. 2 seed Victoria Emma downed No. 9 seed Ellie Douglas 6-1, 6-7(2), 6-2 in the championship match.

At the boys 12s in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, second seed Trent Bryde defeated top seed Roscoe Bellamy 4-6, 6-4, 6-2.