©Colette Lewis 2012--
Led by 12-year-old Claire Liu, the USTA junior girls went undefeated at the USTA Collegiate Invitational, winning eight matches against college players as round robin play began at the Tualatin Hills Tennis Center.
Liu, the 2011 Junior Orange Bowl 12s champion, looked to be out of her depth in the first set against University of Washington freshman Grace Ysidora, but she worked through her nerves to record a 1-6, 6-4, 7-6(4) victory.
"I was a little nervous I guess, because I didn't want to play really badly, and have this trip be for nothing," said Liu, of Thousand Oaks, Calif. "They're technically better than me, because they're like in college, so I kind of relaxed a little bit, I had nothing to lose. In a usual tournament, I'm expected to beat at least a couple of players. So in this one, it was a lot easier, mentally."
Liu detected adjustments she could make after losing the first set.
"I kind of got used to her pattern," said Liu. "She'd rally a little bit and then start moonballing. When I usually play, nobody really moonballs anymore."
At 5-5 in the third set, Liu saved several break points in a four-deuce game, determined to stay aggressive.
"I was kind of tight, and I was not playing my best," Liu said. "She would give me easy balls and I would just miss those. So I tried to just keep the points going and then when I had a really easy shot, which I could miss, then I would just go for it."
Ysidora, from Indonesia, held to force a tiebreaker, but made several unforced errors and threw in a double fault to go down 4-2. Liu cracked a forehand winner to take a 5-2 lead and two points later went all in on a swinging volley, executing it perfectly for a 6-3, lead. Ysidora saved one match point when Liu netted a forehand, but Liu stayed aggressive on match point number two, hitting an aggressive down the line backhand that Ysidora couldn't retrieve to close out the match.
Kimberly Yee, Jessica Ho, Jennifer Brady, Gabby Andrews, Dasha Ivanova, Caroline Doyle and Brooke Austin also claimed victories over their college opponents Friday.
Yee defeated Michigan's Amy Zhu 6-4, 6-3; Ho downed Julija Lukac of Washington 4-6, 6-2, 6-1; Brady beat Nastya Polyakova of Portland 6-1, 6-0 and Andrews defeated Elianne Douglas-Miron 7-6(1), 6-2. Ivanova, who lived just a few minutes away from the Tualatin Hills Tennis Center before she moved to Florida to train, fought back to take a 3-6, 6-4, 6-4 decision from Michigan's Brooke Bolender.
Austin defeated UCLA's Skylar Morton 7-5, 6-2, and enjoyed having on-court coaching, not allowed in junior tennis but standard in college competition.
"I think it's a lot of fun," said the 16-year-old from Indianapolis. "It's really different having people coaching you, and it's fun having your friends cheering for you."
Austin also felt comfortable on the indoor courts, eight of which are being used for the tournament, two of them under a bubble and the other six in a year-round structure.
"I play on them four or five months of the year, probably six, really, when I'm home," said Austin, who has been playing outdoors this fall on the Pro Circuit. "It suits my game really well, because it's so fast."
Doyle was the last USTA player on the court, and as the rain pelted down outside the bubble, producing a subtle but noticeable drumming overhead, she kept the perfect record intact with a 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 victory over Sarah Lee of Michigan.
Marc Lucero, who, along with Freddy Rodriguez, is coaching the USTA Junior team, believes there are two reasons the USTA girls had so much success on the first day of competition.
"One, we had a lot of great competitors," said Lucero. "Two, I think a lot of these kids had played a lot of big matches before. ITFs, maybe here or in Europe, Pro Circuit events. I think having accessibility for Pro Circuit events in the US, as well as ITF events, I think it enables our kids to be a little more battle hardened. We didn't really know what to expect, but we asked them to come out and compete really hard. We were confident if they did the right things, they would put themselves in position to win matches."
Among the college programs competing, Georgia went 3-1 in singles, UCLA 2-2, Texas A&M 2-1, Duke 1-1, Portland 0-2, Portland State 0-1, Washington 0-4 and Michigan 0-4.
The second matches of round robin play are Saturday, as are the doubles semifinals and finals. All four teams remaining in the main draw of doubles are college teams, with three of them seeded.
Top seeds Kate Fuller and Lauren Herring of Georgia will play unseeded Kyle McPhillips and Skylar Morton of UCLA in one semifinal, while No. 3 seeds Maho Kowase and Makenzie Craft of Georgia will face No. 2 seeds Emina Bektas and Brooke Bolender of Michigan.
In addition to the doubles final at 3 p.m., there will be a coaches question and answer session and a kids clinic, where young players will have an opportunity to interact with both the junior and college players.
Complete results and the Saturday schedule can be found at the tournament website.
The USTA and Florida State University are hosting a similar event for men in Orlando, and for more on that tournament and on the Portland event, see this USTA release.