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Thursday, July 17, 2014

Shaffer Defeats Former Champion Andrews in Third Set Tiebreaker, Stewart Celebrates Birthday with Win Over Top Seed Di Lorenzo in Girls 18s Clay Courts Quarterfinals

©Colette Lewis 2014--
Memphis, TN--

Out for most of the spring with a back injury, Kennedy Shaffer lost not only her physical edge but her mental game as well. After defeating 2011 champion Gabby Andrews 7-6(4), 5-7, 7-6(4) in the USTA Girls 18s Clay Court Nationals quarterfinals Thursday, the 17-year-old from Ohio can pronounce herself fully fit in both categories.

"Tennis is so mental," said Shaffer, who stayed calm throughout the three and a half hour match, which was played in unseasonably cool and cloudy conditions. "And if you're out of practice, physically, that will come. But your mind, that's a whole different story. That takes a lot of extra work. But the better I see myself play, the more my head feels like it's where it needs to be."

Shaffer, like Andrews a No. 17 seed, had ample opportunity to crumble after a shaky end to the second set. She served for the match at 5-3, but Andrews hit three return winners in that game, which was not all that remarkable given the countless return winners by both players throughout the match.  Shaffer then failed to capitalize on a match point with Andrews serving at 4-5, 30-40. Andrews hit a big forehand near the line and Shaffer, a bit late reacting to it, sent her defensive forehand reply wide.  She not only lost that game, but the next two, with Andrews getting a rare love hold at 6-5 to even the match.

"You can't afford to be negative against such a good player," Shaffer said of her lack of emotion during that four game stretch. "You don't have time to dwell on what you are doing wrong. You have to keep yourself moving constantly if you want to have a fighting chance."

During the 10 minute mandatory rest break between the second and third sets Shaffer received encouragement from her mother Lorri, with her coach Ana Ceretto unable to leave the Ivan Lendl Academy in Hilton Head this week to be with her.

"My mom gets really nervous and she just tells me, 'it's okay, it's okay, you're going to be okay. Just do what you're doing, you're doing well,'" Shaffer said. "Reassurance helps."

Shaffer led 4-2 in the final set, but she made almost no first serves in the seventh game, which is asking for trouble against Andrews' returns, and was broken. Andrews saved a break point with a drop shot winner in the eighth game to make it 4-all, and both held their next two service games to reach the tiebreaker.

After so many entertaining rallies and outright winners hit in the previous games, the deciding tiebreaker proved anticlimactic.  Shaffer hit the only two winners of the first six points to take a 5-1 lead at the change of ends, and although Andrews saved two match points, one on a Shaffer double fault and another on a netted backhand by Shaffer after a long rally, she couldn't save the fourth.  She missed her first serve, and with Shaffer moving inside the baseline to return the second, Andrews hit her second, which clipped the net and bounced out of the box, putting Shaffer in her first National Level 1 semifinal.

"I was so scared," said Shaffer. "But a tiebreaker was better because instead of having to go through a whole game of her serving, it was 2, 2, 2. I was holding my serve most of the time, so if I could put together two good serving points and then two solid returns, I'd have a four point lead, with is massive against someone as good as she is."

Shaffer admits that the grinding mentality of clay does not come naturally to her.

"I'm not really a patient player," said Shaffer, who recently committed to the University of Georgia for 2015. "You can see it here and there. But I've been working with Ana on heavy topspin and moving my margins in, because if I can hit a heavier ball and more to the corner, less toward the line, I can really open up the court and people can't even get a racquet on that sometimes. So it's less taxing on my body, not hitting out every single time...it's so much more than trying to outhit people. That does nothing for me anymore. I used to think that was the only way I could win, but that's when I lost."

Shaffer will play No. 4 seed Jessie Aney in the semifinals.  Aney spent several fewer hours on the court than Shaffer, cruising past No. 7 seed Kelly Chen 6-3, 6-0.

"It's by far the best match I've played all tournament," said Aney, who has yet to lose more than three games in any set this week. "I think I stepped up a few more times today, hit some big shots, not necessarily coming to the net, but getting on the attack and pushing her around a little bit. I think I did that well, and also, I didn't make any errors and my passing shots were on point, so it was good all around."

Aney doesn't think the extra time Shaffer spent on court will have much of an impact on the semifinal, which will be their first meeting.

"I think she's in good enough shape that a day's recovery is going to be enough," said Aney, who was last in the singles semifinals of a National Level 1 back in the 12s division. "The adrenaline of the moment pretty much powers people through I think. I think she'll come out strong tomorrow, so I'm ready."

The other semifinal will feature No. 8 seed Caroline Lampl against No. 5 seed Katerina Stewart.

Stewart, who turned 17 today, defeated top seed Francesca Di Lorenzo 6-2, 6-3 in a well-played quarterfinal.  Stewart was much happier with her play against Di Lorenzo than in Wednesday's round of 16.

"I had a little hiccup yesterday," said Stewart, who has now won 32 consecutive matches since March. "So today I was just trying to focus on playing well.  She's a great player and we both have the same style, so it was whoever took the opportunity first, and whoever could stay in the point longer."

Stewart has never even seen Lampl play before, so she will focus on her own game at the beginning of the match.

"Usually, every match, I try to do every point tough," said Stewart, who is seeking the US Open junior championships main draw wild card that goes to the winner. "I focus and try my best on every single point, then see what happens and adjust my game plan as I go along."

Lampl defeated Gabby Pollner, a No. 17 seed, 6-4, 1-6, 6-2, overcoming the change in game plan Pollner introduced down 4-1 in the opening set.

"She hit a lot of spinny balls, hitting it high to my backhand," Lampl said. "Her ball has a lot of kick to it, so it was hard to return. That was how she got back in the first set, but eventually I pulled it out. In the second set, she was playing really well and I had a lot of trouble returning her balls."

Lampl said her conversation with her coach Vince Pulupa during the 10 minute break helped her calm down and refocus.

"He told me I couldn't really do anything about that second set, she was just playing really well," said Lampl, who recently made a verbal commitment to Vanderbilt. "He told me I only had one set to do this, and I wanted to go to the semis, so I just really focused."

Lampl, who turns 17 later this month, reached the semifinals of the 16s Clay Courts two years ago, but she isn't certain it's her best surface.

"I'm a hard-hitter, so I really like hard courts as well, but once I get the hang of the clay court style, I really enjoy it," the Virginia resident said.  "I'll pull balls out wide sometimes, because my forehand has a lot of spin, so that does help. I do enjoy clay, I just prefer hard courts honestly."

Both semifinals are scheduled for 8 a.m. on Friday, with the weather forecast calling for rain most of the day.

The doubles semifinals were played Thursday evening, with the finalists taking two distinct paths to the final.

Mia Horvit and Stewart, seeded No. 9, defeated No. 3 seeds Lauren Goodman and Di Lorenzo 6-1, 6-2.  Meanwhile, on show court 4, a long and tense semifinal ended with Andrews and Kenadi Hance, also a No. 9 seeded team, defeating No. 8 seeds Melissa Lord and Jacqueline Urbinati 3-6, 7-5, 7-5.

Andrews, who had her shoulder wrapped with Kinesio tape in her singles match with Shaffer, was unable to hit an overhand serve from the first game of the doubles match, using an underhand motion throughout the two and a half hour contest.  Although she struggled on serve early, she began to hit some very tricky low slicing serves as the match wore on.

Down a match point at 6-3, 5-2 with Andrews serving, the comeback began, with Hance and Andrews winning five straight games to take the match into a third set.

Hance served for the match at 5-4 in the third set, but was unable to hold. Urbinati was broken to give Andrews an opportunity to serve it out and she succeeded, ending her sixth set of tennis on the day with a victory.

The time for the doubles final has not been established, but will depend on the completion of Stewart's semifinal in singles.

For complete draws, see the TennisLink site.

The other Clay Court Nationals are also at the semifinal or final stage. Friday's matches:

Ryan Peus(1) v Makenna Jones(4)
Claire Liu(5) v Kayla Day(2)

Tommy Paul(17) v Tom Fawcett(17)
Reilly Opelka v Alfredo Perez(17)

John McNally(1) v Connor Hance(17)
Jake Van Emburgh v Jacob Brumm(5)

Sophia Edwards(8) v Abigail Forbes
Victoria Emma v Marlee Zein(17)

Keenan Mayo(1) v Bradley Frye
Katie Volynets(1) v Cori Gauff(17)
Victoria Hu(7) v Nin Gulbransen(6)

Zane Khan(5) v Faris Khan(11)

Complete draws are available at the TennisLink sites:

Boys 12s in Winston-Salem, NC

Girls 12s in Palm Beach Gardens, FL

Boys 14s in Ft. Lauderdale, FL

Girls 14s in Plantation, FL

Girls 16s in Virginia Beach, VA

Boys 16s & 18s in Delray Beach, FL