©Colette Lewis 2013--
Unseeded Terri Fleming knew just how small the margin was between her first USTA Level 1 final and a loss in the USTA Girls 18s Clay Court semifinal. Down 6-4, 4-5 30-40 to No. 6 seed Alexandra Letzt, Fleming saved a match point when Letzt's return went just beyond the baseline.
"I hit the serve and she got really tight and tried to push the return back," said Fleming, who went on to win the match 4-6, 7-5, 6-3. "I though, oh my god, I think this is going out, and he (the chair umpire) called it out. It was actually really close, and I was like, thank god that he's calling them and not me, because I probably wouldn't have made that call."
Fleming won the next two points to make it 5-5, and Letzt began to unravel a bit. She was broken in the next game, with three unforced errors proving costly, giving Fleming an opportunity to serve for the set. Given that there had been seven breaks in the previous 11 games, it was by no means a certainty that Fleming would serve out the set, but she played an aggressive game, then threw in a drop shot winner to earn two set points. She closed it out on the first with a good forehand forcing an error from Letzt.
In the third set, Fleming took a 3-2 lead with the first break of the set, but gave it right back. Letzt lost her serve in the next game to give Fleming a 4-3 lead, and Fleming managed to overcome an ill-time double fault to give Letzt a break point at 30-40. Fleming saved that break point with a great cross court forehand pass from off the court, and after two Letzt backhand errors, Fleming had a 5-3 lead.
Letzt struggled in the final game, double faulting for 15-30, and netting a forehand to give Fleming her first match point. After a long rally, Letzt eventually sent a forehand wide to give Fleming the victory after more than two and half hours of play on the Racquet Club of Memphis's stadium court.
"I'm always trying to stay positive, and it's never over," said Fleming, a Georgia resident who will turn 17 next week. "I've made some comebacks before so I'm pretty much always looking for when my opponents get tight, so I can take advantage of that. They either slow down their racquet head or their feet, and start pushing the ball back, it won't have as much spin. And they kind of start looking around some. You try to look for some of those things and that's when you know to really key your focus in, on each shot and each point."
Because Fleming is unseeded, she has already played seven matches, four of them going three sets in the stifling Memphis heat and humidity. She seemed fresh at the end, while Letzt, a 16-year-old from Arizona, experienced some severe cramping issues after the match and was on IV fluids to help her recover.
While Fleming and Letzt labored for three sets in the midday sun, No. 3 seed Chloe Ouellet-Pizer and No. 2 seed Peggy Porter had a two-set battle that lasted nearly as long, with Ouellet-Pizer posting a 6-4, 6-4 victory.
Porter's strengths revolve around her speed and defense, which she can turn to offense quickly, but with Ouellet-Pizer content to outlast Porter with moonballs, willing to make the match a war of attrition, Porter couldn't use her skills to maximum effect.
"I didn't think she played badly," said Ouellet-Pizer, who will be 16 in September. "We were having really long points and I run down a lot of balls, so I kind of force you to go for too much and maybe make errors on shots you wouldn't usually miss. It kind of shrinks the court and they have to go for lines rather than a safer target."
On the few occasions when Porter served well, she was able to take control of the points, but she wasn't able to get enough first serves in to sustain any advantage.
Serving to stay in the first set at 4-5, after Ouellet-Pizer had failed to serve out the set, Porter missed seven of eight first serves late in the game and eventually dropped the game and the set on a forehand just long. Porter did not agree with the call, but after the chair checked the mark and confirmed it, Ouellet-Pizer had the first set, which took 80 minutes to play.
In the second set, Porter was up a break three times, at 2-1, 3-2, and 4-3, but each time Ouellet-Pizer broke right back. Porter was becoming visibly and vocally frustrated by her own misses--her volleys were particularly off throughout the match--a sign that Ouellet-Pizer's game style was taking its toll.
"I don't think she liked my game very much," said Ouellet-Pizer, who had played Porter before only in doubles.
Ouellet-Pizer held for 5-4, hitting a forehand winner on game point, a shot that she believes is getting better with recent, injury-related work.
"I've really improved my forehand in the last month or two," said the left-handed Ouellet-Pizer, who is coached primarily by her father Todd Pizer. "With my right wrist being hurt, I've been hitting a ton of forehands, and we've changed the swing. I think I have a lot more topspin and people are having a lot more trouble with it, and I'm able to hit more winners."
Ouellet-Pizer had reached the semifinals of the 18s Spring Nationals in Mobile this year, and the semifinals of the 14s Easter Bowl in 2011, as well as in doubles at other tournaments, but this is her first trip to a USTA Level 1 final.
"I've lost in the semifinals so many times," said Ouellet-Pizer, who moved from Michigan to North Carolina when she was 10. "I just really wanted to go that extra step."
Ouellet-Pizer took that extra step last December, reaching the 16s Orange Bowl final, and she believes she's learned from that experience.
"I really learned a lot from that final," said Ouellet-Pizer, who lost to Canadian Gloria Liang 6-3, 7-5. "In the Orange Bowl final, I didn't really play to win. I didn't really compete very well in that match. So I'm really going to play to win. I think the occasion kind of overwhelmed me, and it was already such a great success, but in this one, I really want to win the final."
Fleming and Ouellet-Pizer last played at a Southern Bullfrog Designated in March, with Fleming posting a 6-1, 7-6(3) win in a third round match.
"It was a good match," said Fleming, who has two wins over Ouellet-Pizer in the 14s age division. "She's a good player. It's exciting, and I'm really looking forward to tomorrow."
The singles final is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Sunday.
The doubles semifinals and final will both be played on Sunday, with consolation matches preventing two rounds from being played on Saturday.
The semifinals, beginning at 8 a.m., will feature unseeded Caroline Dolehide and Brienne Minor against No. 7 seeds Gabrielle Smith and Olivia Sneed, and Jessie Aney and Carol Finke, a No. 9 seed, against No. 2 seeds Gabrielle Andrews and Zoe Katz.
Both the semifinals and finals are best of three sets, after playing a match tiebreaker in lieu of a third set through the quarterfinals. Depending on the length of the two semifinals, the final will be started as close to 11 a.m. as possible.
The consolation final, also scheduled at 8 a.m., will see top seed Spencer Liang, who has won seven matches since losing to Aney in the third round on Tuesday, take on Jessica Ho, a No. 17 seed, who has won four matches since losing to Porter in the round of 16 on Thursday.
For complete results, see the TennisLink site.
The 12s Clay Court champions were decided today in Florida and North Carolina. In Boca Raton Florida, No. 3 seed Carson Branstine of Orange, California took the girls 12s title, defeating No. 10 seed Caty McNally of Cincinnati, Ohio 7-6(4), 6-4.
In Winston-Salem, North Carolina, No. 4 seed Steven Sun of New York won the boys 12s, defeating top seed Brandon Nakashima of California 7-6(3), 6-2.