Austin Faces McCarthy For Second Straight 18s Spring National Title; Down 5-1 in Third, Lederman Comes Back to Earn Finals Berth Against Orkin
©Colette Lewis 2013--
Top seed Brooke Austin will be seeking her 14th consecutive victory in the USTA 18s Spring Nationals Saturday when she takes on No. 15 seed Kaitlyn McCarthy in the girls final. The boys championships will feature No. 3 seed Elliott Orkin, playing in his first USTA Level 1 final, against No. 6 seed Roy Lederman, after both posted impressive comebacks in Friday's semifinal action.
Lederman trailed fellow Floridian wild card Sasha Gozun 5-1 in the final set before he reeled off six straight games to claim a 1-6, 6-4, 7-5 victory. Lederman, who is playing his first tournament since December's Orange Bowl, was experiencing pain in the wrist that had kept him out of action this winter, but he gave Gozun nothing in the later stages of the match. Gozun served for the match twice, at 5-2 and 5-4, but he failed to get to match point either time, as Lederman began to anticipate Gozun's serve patterns and counter his huge forehand effectively.
Gozun's best opportunity to close out the match came at 5-2, when two big first serves gave him a 30-0 lead. But an unforced error on the backhand side and a double fault put Lederman back in the game, and two netted shots later it was 5-3. Lederman held at love in less than two minutes, and Gozun barely got a point in his next service game, and that one point came when he was already down 0-40.
"I don't know if he was tight, but he was playing like a lunatic," said Lederman. "He just missed every shot. I guess he was nervous, maybe a little bit of me coming back and him getting nervous because he was so close to the finish, but it was like a miracle."
Gozun gave no outward indication that he was frustrated or angry, but the errors kept coming. The 17-year-old from Sarasota had hope of stopping his downward spiral with Lederman serving at 5-5 in the third, down 15-30. But Lederman hit a good first serve that Gozun couldn't get back in play and then made two more errors to give Lederman his first lead in the third set at 6-5. Serving to force a tiebreaker, Gozun got to 30-30 when Lederman made a rare unforced error, slicing a backhand into the net. But Gozun shanked a forehand that landed yards out to give Lederman a match point, and when Gozun's short forehand caught the tape, Lederman had completed the improbable comeback.
"I'm usually the one letting it go at the end," said Lederman, who turns 18 later this month. "I've been on the other side of the equation a bunch of times."
Lederman credited his serve with turning around the third set.
"I served well from 1-5, through the rest of the match," said Lederman, who said he was playing through the pain in his wrist, which had really begun to bother him for the first time this week. "I was going for my serve finally, that was a positive."
In the other semifinal, played simultaneously two courts away, Orkin also lost the first set of his match with top seed David Hsu, but he didn't need a miraculous comeback in the third, instead posting a 2-6, 6-3, 6-2 victory.
Orkin and Hsu are both aggressive baseliners who make a lot of balls, but in the first set both committed their share of unforced errors. Orkin finally began to find his rhythm midway through the second set, ending a streak of five consecutive breaks by holding serve for a 5-3 lead. Orkin broke Hsu for the fourth consecutive time to take the set, and after the 10-minute rest period, returned to take a 2-0 lead. Hsu, a 17-year-old from San Jose, California, broke back and held for 2-2, but Orkin began to step up his game as he saw Hsu tiring.
"I knew going into the match it was going to be very tough," said Orkin, an 18-year-old from Marietta, Ga. "He just played a better first set than me. But I knew I have the game to come back and beat him. As the match was going on, I saw that he was getting a little fatigued, so the longer the point, the better for me."
Orkin had never played in a Level 1 semifinal before, and because he turns 19 this fall and will be joining the Florida Gators then, he was determined to make the most of his opportunity this week.
"I knew going into this tournament that I didn't have many more chances to get a ball, because I'm going to college in the fall," Orkin said. "So I'm just going to relish the moment and play my best tennis. Of course there's always pressure in this situation, but I feel like I play well in pressure, so I'm going to try to treat it like it's another match."
Orkin, who is 5-foot-7, gives up six inches to Lederman, but Lederman, who defeated Orkin twice in National Opens last year, sees Orkin as a dangerous opponent.
"He's playing really well, hitting the ball really well," said Lederman. "The last couple of times I played him I was dictating play, I was hitting big, unlike I did today, and I was controlling points against him--he was playing mostly defense. But what I see now, is that he's hitting the ball much harder and he's controlling points."
Orkin is comfortable that the pace he gets on the ball compares favorably with that generated by his larger opponents.
"For my size I feel I can get pretty good pop on the ball," said Orkin. "I've been playing players taller than me my whole life. This is nothing new to me. I'm used to playing people with those big serves and big forehands and I know how to play them."
The drama was less pronounced in the girls semifinals, with Austin defeating No. 13 seed Chloe Ouellet-Pizer 6-3, 6-3 and McCarthy ousting No. 2 seed Rachel Pierson 6-2, 6-4.
Austin started out blazing against the left-handed Ouellet-Pizer, taking a 3-0 lead to open the match, but the two breaks disappeared in a hurry as the 15-year-old Ouellet-Pizer won the next three games. Austin then went on a four-game run, and although Ouellet-Pizer again fought back to make it 3-3 in the second set, Austin was able to hold, break and hold to claim her 13th consecutive match in Mobile.
"I think I tried to play too aggressive," said the 17-year-old Austin, who was playing Ouellet-Pizer for the first time. "I think with her you have to play patient, be aggressive and be patient, if that makes sense.
Every time she'd lob, I tried to take it out of the air, so I basically made her not play her game. I tried to make her hit the ball--that was my goal--because I knew she didn't want to hit the ball."
McCarthy was up 4-0 in the first set against Pierson, who wasn't showing the form she'd displayed all week. Although the temperatures were warmer and the wind was less of a frustration than earlier in the week, Pierson couldn't sustain many rallies.
Down 3-0 in the second set, and reacting to another of her errors, Pierson said, "Holy smokes, could you be playing any worse right now?"
Although that probably wasn't the reason, after that comment Pierson began to play much better, winning four of the next five games to make it 4-4.
McCarthy held for 5-4, and Pierson had a couple of game points, but she didn't convert either, although she saved two match points with forehand winners in the game. After the fourth deuce, Pierson double faulted, and she couldn't save the ensuing match point, hitting a forehand long to end the match, which was nearly two hours long.
"I'd never played her before, and I don't know exactly how she normally plays, but I can probably assume, since she made it this far in the tournament, that that wasn't her top level," said McCarthy. "But toward the end of the match she started playing better for sure."
The 15-year-old from North Carolina is looking forward to playing Austin for the first time.
"I do kind of know how she plays," said McCarthy. "I think it's going to be really fun to play someone as good as her. I'm going to enjoy myself and see what happens."
McCarthy said she would be especially motivated to end Austin's streak at the Spring Nationals.
"That gives me some extra incentive, I can say. Thirteen in a row, dang."
McCarthy will leave Mobile a champion regardless of the result of Saturday morning's final, as she and Taylor Davidson, the No. 3 seeds, won the girls doubles title Friday afternoon, defeating Caroline Lampl and Sophie Chang, seeded No. 9, 6-1, 6-4.
Despite more than two years difference in their ages, Davidson and McCarthy have teamed up often and successfully, although this was their first gold ball together.
"All of my weaknesses are her strengths," said Davidson, who hadn't won a gold ball before today. "And her weaknesses are my strengths. I like my backhand and my speed helps the team. Her serve, her first serve percentage, helps so much and so does her consistency."
"We just mesh well together," said McCarthy, who collected her first gold ball in the 18s, and her first since playing in the 12s division. "I don't know what it is, it's just the X factor."
"I don't think we could do much wrong today, to be honest," said Davidson, who is also from North Carolina. "We came out really aggressive and really positive and a lot of things went our way. We stayed really positive and that helped us play really well."
Lederman had to settle for a silver ball in the boys doubles, with unseeded Collin Altamirano and Mitch Stewart taking the championship over Lederman and Ryan Smith, the No. 7 seeds, 6-1, 6-4.
Altamirano and Stewart have also established themselves as formidable team, but weren't seeded due to Altamirano's decision to play more regularly on the Pro Circuit than on the USTA junior circuit.
Against Lederman and Smith, Altamirano and Stewart returned well and used their contrasting styles to earn the victory and the USTA gold balls that go with it.
"He can hit big and I kind of grind it out," said Stewart, whose other previous gold ball came in singles at last year's 16s Clay Courts. "We match well together and have great chemistry."
"He never misses," said Altamirano, a 17-year-old from Yuba City, Calif., who claimed his first gold ball with the win. "I've got a pretty big game, so I can put the ball away, and he just gets every ball in. It's tough to beat us."
Stewart pointed to their return game as a key to their win over Lederman and Smith.
"We made them earn every point, especially on the return," said Stewart, a 17-year-old from Federal Way, Washington. "We got returns in low and deep and at their feet."
In the match for the bronze ball, unseeded Will Adkisson and Ian Dempster defeated unseeded Walker Duncan and Will Showers 6-7(6), 6-2, 6-2.
Third place in girls doubles went to Brooke Broda and Spencer Liang, the No. 6 seeds, who beat Allison Miller and Lindsey Hodge, a No. 9 seed, 7-6(5), 6-4.
In Saturday's consolation finals, Altamirano will play Aron Hiltzik, a No. 17 seed, for fifth place, and Liang, the No. 6 seed, will face Miller, a 17 seed, to decide fifth place in the girls draw.
Before the tournament started, I had an opportunity to sit down with Liang to talk about her commitment to Harvard and her Talbert Sportsmanship award for this Tennis Recruiting Network profile.
For complete results, see the TennisLink site.