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Thursday, July 18, 2013

Six of Eight Quarterfinalists Determined Before Rain Washes Out Play at USTA Girls 18s Clay Courts; What College Coaches Want to See

©Colette Lewis 2013--
Memphis, TN

When Thursday's first quarterfinal match at the USTA Girls 18s Clay Courts began at 8 a.m., the temperature was 83 degrees and the air was so thick with humidity it already felt like 89.  But for No. 3 seed Chloe Ouellet-Pizer, the hotter the better, so the early start was a disappointment to her.

"I actually love the heat, I would have liked it to be later," said Ouellet-Pizer, who beat unseeded Katharine Fahey 6-3, 6-2. "I've been working out in the heat so I'd be used to it, so I actually like it."

The first few games of the match were full of 20-, 30-, even 40-ball rallies, with Ouellet-Pizer winning the majority of them to take a 5-1 lead.  Fahey may have proven she was capable of handling Ouellet-Pizer's deep moonballs, but she had more success once she began taking some balls out of the air, hitting overheads and swinging volley winners. Fahey broke Ouellet-Pizer serving for the set and held for 5-3, but all the hard work she had to do to win a point, work which Ouellet-Pizer does against any opponent on any point, began to take its toll.

Fahey, a rising junior from New Jersey, made another mini-run after going down 2-0 in the second set, but after breaking Ouellet-Pizer to make it 2-2, she didn't win another game. She began to miss some of those swinging volleys and overheads, while Ouellet-Pizer resisted the temptation to try to end points quickly.

"I think she plays kind of similar to me, except she might be a bit more aggressive," said Ouellet-Pizer, a 15-year-old left-hander. "So I had to really stay in the points for a long time and wait to go for my shots or wait until she went for too much. On some points it was tempting to go for too much, but I couldn't, because she plays really good defense."

Ouellet-Pizer hasn't always been comfortable on clay, but after reaching the girls 16s Orange Bowl final on the same surface, she has seen how it helps her game.

"It's funny, because I used to not like clay, but I used to live in Michigan and play on the indoor courts, and I like hard better," said Ouellet-Pizer, who now lives in Raleigh, North Carolina. "But I think my ball is better on clay, because it pops up more, and after I learned to move on clay, I think I'm better on clay."

Ouellet-Pizer's opponent in the quarterfinals has yet to be determined, with No. 14 seed Madison Westby and Shannon Hudson, a No. 17 seed, still on the court when rain washed out play for the day, with Westby up a set.

Two of the quarterfinals are set however, with Amy Zhu and Alexandra Letzt earning their places in contrasting fashion.  The 16-year-old Letzt had no trouble with Anna Sanford, a No. 17 seed, posting a 6-1, 6-2 victory, while Zhu found herself at 4-4 in the third against unseeded Sarah Baron.  The University of Michigan rising sophomore broke for a 5-4 lead, but couldn't close out Baron, only to break Baron again and hold for a 3-6, 6-3, 7-5 victory.

Top seed Peggy Porter continued her strong play, defeating Jessica Ho, a No. 17 seed, 6-1, 6-4.  Ho won the first game of both sets, but that was the only time she led, with Porter able to handle Ho's pace, play defense when necessary and use her down-the-line backhand effectively on important points.  Porter did hit a slight bump in the second set when she was unable to serve it out at 5-3, but she converted her second match point on Ho's serve with a backhand winner to keep the drama to a minimum.

Porter will play unseeded Stephanie Smith, who advanced to the quarterfinals of a Level 1 USTA tournament for the first time in her career when No. 16 seed Erin Larner retired trailing 6-3, 3-1.

Another unseeded player in the quarterfinals is Terri Fleming, who defeated Brienne Minor, also unseeded, 6-1, 6-4, just as the thunder began to rumble and the sky darkened.

Fleming had been cruising along, up 6-1, 4-1, with two breaks, but Minor came back to make it 4-4.  Once Minor was back in the set, she couldn't sustain the play that had gotten her even, and a loose game gave Fleming a chance to serve out the match, which she did, at love.

"She definitely stepped up her game," said Fleming, who will be 17 next week. "I'm not sure if she just said I'm going to go for it, but she just started slapping winners. I was just okay, stay calm. There's not really much you can do when your opponent is slapping it here, slapping it there. Just try to keep it deep and stay positive."

Fleming had played three three-set matches in a row prior to today's match with Minor, and she credits coconut water with giving her the energy she's needed in the stifling heat.

"My first two three-setters were three hours," said Fleming, who trains with Courtney Rutherford at Hamilton Mill in Gwinnett County, Georgia. "My last one was a quick three-setter, but it was still long, like two hours. I was struggling with my energy level in those matches, but I've been drinking a lot of coconut water, and that's helped me a lot. And icing, definitely."

Fleming doesn't know who she will be playing in the quarterfinals, although it looked likely to be another unseeded player in Caroline Dolehide, who was up 6-1, 5-2 on Cassandra Vazquez, a No. 17 seed, before Vazquez won the last five games of the second set to force a third. After the ten-minute break between the second and third sets, Dolehide and Vazquez traded four breaks before Vazquez finally held to take a 3-2 lead.  Rain then halted play, with Dolehide serving. After nearly an hour's delay, play resumed, but only briefly, when the rain began again. This time play did not resume, with the two remaining quarterfinals as well as the consolation matches in progress postponed until Friday at 8 a.m.

The round of 16 in doubles was also postponed due to the rain, and those are now scheduled not before 1 p.m. Friday, with matches dependent on players still in singles pushed back beyond that.

For the results and schedule, see the TennisLink site.

On Monday and Tuesday, I spoke with several college coaches attending the tournament in Memphis about what they're looking for when watching matches at the USTA national level.  I transcribed their responses for this article at the Tennis Recruiting Network.