©Colette Lewis 2013--
Back in 2009, Alexandra Letzt won the Winter National 12s Championships on the familiar hard courts of her home state of Arizona.
On Friday, the 16-year-old from Scottsdale picked up what she termed an even bigger win, defeating Amy Zhu, a No. 17 seed, 2-6, 6-4, 6-1 to reach the semifinals of the USTA Girls 18s Clay Courts.
"This means so much more," said Letzt, the No. 6 seed. "That was the 12s. You can get easy matches and it's a different mentality. Now I have to work for every point; every match is so grueling and so important in the 18s."
Letzt started slowly in slightly cooler and less oppressive conditions Friday morning, failing to read Zhu's serve and unable to find any rhythm on her own, double faulting three straight times at one stage. After not holding her serve in the first set, Letzt picked up her return game, and protected her own serve well enough to earn a third set.
"She has a big serve and I wasn't moving into the court after it, so I was playing way too much defense way behind the baseline," said Letzt, a six-foot right-hander. "I made a couple of adjustments, got more comfortable on my returns, moving in and being more aggressive, and I noticed she was more fatigued."
In the third set, Letzt started by breaking Zhu at love, and held for a 2-0 lead. The next game probably decided the match, with Zhu desperately needing to hold. She had five game points that she failed to convert, two of them squandered with double faults, and after eight deuces, the University of Michigan sophomore finally double faulted on break point, her fourth of the game, and Letzt had the cushion she needed.
Letzt gets little training on clay in Arizona, where she works with Jeremy Coll and Vera Leontieva at the Eurotennis Academy in Scottsdale, Arizona.
"There isn't any clay in Arizona, just people who have it at their house or private clubs, so it's pretty hard to get on it," said Letzt. "I played Intersectionals in Shreveport to warm up for this, and that helped me a lot. I didn't like the way I was playing there at all. So I'm definitely playing a lot better here."
Letzt will play unseeded Terri Fleming, who got past 14-year-old Caroline Dolehide 6-4, 6-3. Dolehide reached the quarterfinals earlier in the morning when she finished her rain-delayed match with Cassandra Vazquez, a No. 17 seed, by getting a late break and hold for a 6-1, 5-7, 6-4 win. Fleming, a quarterfinalist at the Easter Bowl 16s last year, is now into her first USTA level 1 semifinal.
The other semifinal will feature No. 2 seed Peggy Porter against No. 3 seed Chloe Ouellet-Pizer, after both sailed through their quarterfinal matches.
Ouellet-Pizer beat No. 14 seed Madison Westby 6-1, 6-1, while Porter blanked unseeded Stephanie Smith 6-0, 6-0. Like Dolehide, Westby was required to finish her round of 16 match at 8 a.m. before playing the quarterfinal, and she defeated Shannon Hudson, a No. 17 seed, 6-2, 6-1 to advance.
Porter was too consistent and too steady for Smith, with the score more a testament to Porter's concentration.
"She could hit the ball pretty big some time, so she made me stay focused," said Porter, 17. "The points were good, it's not like I just blew her off the court. I had to stay focused."
Porter considers her speed the most important component of her game, and although she believes she can use it aggressively to her advantage, she also knows its importance when playing someone like Ouellet-Pizer, who doesn't miss and gets everything back in play.
"I can play aggressively, but my speed has always been my biggest weapon," Porter said. "I use it offensively now, compared to how I used to, but I feel if all else fails, I can always win a match just grinding. It's really comforting being on the clay knowing that. For someone to blow me off the court on clay, that's going to be tough for them."
Porter has never played Ouellet-Pizer in singles, but she knows what to expect from the 15-year-old left-hander.
"I played a girl that played similar to her, a left-hander, Francesca (Dilorenzo), so my game worked pretty well against her," said Porter. "I'll adjust if I need to, but hopefully, I won't have to."
The rain on Thursday afternoon put the doubles tournament a round behind, and while the singles are into the semifinals, the doubles are just in the quarterfinal stage after the Friday evening matches.
For complete results of Friday's singles consolation matches, as well as the doubles round of 16, see the TennisLink site.