©Colette Lewis 2012--
Thursday was another hot and steamy day in Memphis, but seven of the eight players who advanced to the quarterfinals of the USTA Girls 18s Clay Court Championships did themselves a favor by keeping their matches to two sets.
The one round of 16 match that went the distance had the advantage of starting at 8 a.m., but by the time unseeded Louisa Chirico had defeated 15-year-old Katerina Stewart, a No. 17 seed, 7-6(6), 4-6, 6-3, it was nearly 11 a.m. and nearing 90 degrees.
The match started with six consecutive breaks of serve, with the 16-year-old Chirico getting the advantage with her first hold at 4-3. Stewart suffered her fourth straight break to make it 5-3, but Chirico couldn't hold. Stewart had her opportunity to serve for the set at 6-5, having finally held serve for 5-5 and broken Chirico again, but at 6-5, 30-40, Stewart lost a long rally when she sent a forehand long and a tiebreaker would decide the set.
Stewart earned a set point at 6-5 in the tiebreaker, but after a lengthy point, Chirico's forehand landed on the baseline out of Stewart's reach, a bit of good fortune that had Stewart shaking her head. After the change of ends, Chirico earned her first set point with a good backhand that forced an error. She seized her first set point with a forehand winner, the shot that had kept Stewart on the defensive in much of the first set.
The second set opened much differently than the first, with seven straight holds before Chirico was broken serving at 3-4. Stewart couldn't serve out the set, double faulting on break point, but she took advantage of several unforced errors by Chirico to earn a break point and when Chirico netted a backhand, the match was all even, after just under two hours of play.
After the 10-minute heat break between sets, the deciding set began with four holds, followed by three breaks, with Stewart losing her serve twice when Chirico hit forehand winners on break point to end the fifth and seventh games. Chirico held for 5-3, then pressured Stewart into a 15-40 hole before hitting yet another forehand winner to end the match.
Chirico, who won a $10,000 Pro Circuit event as a qualifier back in May, will play No. 16 seed and 2011 semifinalist Danielle Collins. Collins defeated 2011 finalist Denise Starr, the No. 7 seed, 6-1, 6-2 in the day's final singles match, and after a difficult opening win over Jessica Ho, Collins has met her goal of improving every match.
The other unseeded player to reach the quarterfinals is Sherry Li, who took out local favorite Catherine Harrison in the second round and has continued to post one straight-set win after another. In Thursday's action, Li defeated No. 6 seed Maegan Manasse 6-1, 6-4, and she believes not being seeded may actually have benefited her.
"I haven't been doing well in junior tournaments before, so I wasn't really surprised I wasn't seeded," said Li, a 17-year-old from Parkland, Florida. "And to be honest, it's sort of less pressure when I'm not seeded. Everybody was like, oh it was such a huge upset against Catherine, but I know we're at the same level. I just haven't been playing that well. But I brought my game here, more than other places."
Against Manasse, Li noticed that balls high to the Californian's forehand gave Li an advantage and she was pleased she had the presence of mind to exploit it.
"Usually I don't keep a clear enough head to see the little things I could do better," said Li. "But today I think my head was a lot clearer, even though it was super hot out. I was really tired, especially in the second set. I just played a little smarter than she did, and I was a little more consistent too."
Echoing others from the Sunshine State, Li said the heat here in Memphis this week is on a different order of magnitude.
"This is hotter than Florida," said Li. "I don't think the heat index has been to 110 like weather.com said it was here. But you just have to get through it, there's no complaining about it, it's the same for everybody."
Li's quarterfinal opponent will be No. 4 seed Jamie Loeb, who trailed 4-2 in the second set against unseeded Keisha Clousing before winning the final four games in her 6-2, 6-4 victory.
The other quarterfinal in the bottom half will feature No. 2 seed Brooke Austin against Caroline Doyle, a No. 17 seed. Austin pulled out a tough first set against unseeded Alexa Anton-Ohlmeyer and went on to a 7-5, 6-1 victory, while Doyle overcame a slow start against unseeded Cassandra Vazquez to post a 6-3, 6-1 win.
Top seed and defending champion Gabby Andrews saved four set points in the opening set against unseeded Manon Peri, then got a late break in the second set to record a 7-6(1), 6-4 win. She will play No. 14 seed Kourtney Keegan, who downed 2011 16s Clay Court champion Peggy Porter, a No. 17 seed, 6-0, 6-3.
The doubles round of 16 was played Thursday evening with top seeds Madeline Lipp and Jamie Loeb advancing to the quarterfinals along with No. 2 seeds Ashley Dai and Maegan Manasse and No. 3 seeds Brooke Austin and Kourtney Keegan. The fourth-seeded team of Taylor Davidson and Makenzie Craft lost to Louisa Chirico and Denise Starr, a No. 9 seed.
Fifth seeds Frances Altick and Katerina Stewart lost to No. 9 seeds Gabby Andrews and Lauren Marker in unusual circumstances. After Altick and Stewart won the first set 6-2 and Andrews and Marker took the second 6-1, the match tiebreaker was being playing under the lights as dusk advanced, with all the other matches already completed. With Andrews and Marker leading 8-4 and the players changing ends, the lights went out, and there was a nearly 30-minute delay while the staff got them reset. The girls all stayed on the court, as did the chair umpire, with the girls playing mini-tennis in the dark as they waited. After a five-minute warmup, play resumed, and although Altick and Stewart closed the gap to 8-6, and saved one match point, Andrews poached and finished the match in her team's favor at around 8:45 p.m.
For complete results, see the TennisLink site.