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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Top Seed, Former Champion Advance to Quarterfinals at USTA Girls 18s Clay Courts

©Colette Lewis 2014--
Memphis, TN--

Drama was as absent as heat and humidity Wednesday in the fourth round of the USTA Girls 18s Clay Court Championships at the Racquet Club of Memphis.  A second consecutive day of low humidity and temperatures barely reaching 80 degrees was the backdrop for eight straight-set wins, with the last unseeded players exiting the main draw.

Top seed Francesca Di Lorenzo survived a tough test from Memphis resident Kenya Jones, a No. 17 seed, posting a 6-4, 6-4 victory.  Di Lorenzo served for each set at 5-3, but didn't close it either time.  In the first set, Jones led 40-0 serving at 4-5, but lost five straight points; in the final game of the match, the 16-year-old was serving at 4-5, 40-15 when the same rash of errors, this time four in a row, led to her demise.

Di Lorenzo will play No. 5 seed Katerina Stewart in Thursday's quarterfinals, after Stewart defeated No. 10 seed Brienne Minor 6-3, 6-2.  Stewart has now won 31 consecutive junior and pro circuit matches since her loss to Grace Min in March.  The other top half quarterfinal features No. 17 seed Gabriella Pollner against No. 8 seed Caroline Lampl.  Pollner defeated Melissa Lord, another No. 17 seed, 7-5, 7-6(5) in the day's tightest match, while Lampl downed unseeded Erica Oosterhout 6-2, 6-3. 

No. 4 seed Jessie Aney and No. 7 seed Kelly Chen will meet for the first time Thursday in one of the bottom half quarterfinals, with neither having come close to losing a set in their four wins this week.  Aney defeated Christina Rosca, a No. 17 seed, 6-3, 6-3, and Chen cruised past unseeded Rima Asatrian 6-0, 6-2.

Chen, 15,  is making her first appearance in Memphis, while Aney made her debut in Memphis last year as a 15-year-old, defeating top seed Spencer Liang in the second round. A year later Aney returns with additional experience but the same affinity for the surface.

"I don't play on it a whole lot, but I love it; it's my favorite surface," said the Rochester Minnesota resident, who is a star hockey player on her high school team. "I think I'm a good mover, so I can get to a lot more balls. And I'm pretty comfortable if I get to the net, I can finish the point off, even if they get a few extra balls back, I can finish the point. Also, my slice also sticks a little bit and my heavy ball kicks up more, so yeah, I like clay."

2011 champion Gabby Andrews will face fellow 17 seed Kennedy Shaffer in the fourth quarterfinal Thursday.  Andrews looked very much at home on show court 4 against unseeded Maddie Pothoff, taking a 6-2, 6-1 decision.  Shaffer, who defeated 15-year-old Dominique Schaefer 6-2, 6-3 on one of the lower three courts, will get her opportunity to be the center of attention on Thursday.

Although clay isn't her favorite surface, Shaffer has started to enjoy playing tennis again after a back injury kept her out of competition for several months earlier this year.

"I'm kind of coming out of a slump," said Shaffer, who recently made a verbal commitment to the University of Georgia for 2015. "It feels good just to be in matches. When I was off with my back injury, I came back very weakly--I was not winning, I was not doing well, I was not happy on the court.  So I took time before Clays to really work hard, make sure this was what I wanted, to put in the time and effort. It feels great to be out here playing good tennis again.  I don't care if I win, I don't care if I lose. Obviously you want to win, but it just feels so good to be playing well, competing my hardest. I've missed that so much."

Even though she trains at the Ivan Lendl Academy in Hilton Head, where Har-Tru is the prevalent surface, Shaffer is still learning to adapt her game to clay.

"I'm feeling really comfortable on clay for the first time in my life," said Shaffer, who is from Ohio. "I'm not really a clay court player. I'm a big hitter, I'm not really the best mover, so clay's a little bit of a struggle for me, but I'm starting to find my way around, work points, hit angles, move in. My slide is better--I can do it now. It's not great, but I can get around the court a little more efficiently."

Shaffer is looking forward to her first meeting with Andrews.

"I've never played her, but I know she's an amazing player," Shaffer said. "I'm excited to go out and play. I know how good she is, and she's a really nice person. You have to have respect for somebody who has won the title."

Due to rain in the forecast for Friday and Saturday, two rounds of doubles were played Wednesday evening, with the semifinals now set.

Mia Horvit and Stewart, a No. 9 seeded team, will play No. 3 seeds Di Lorenzo and Lauren Goodman. Andrews and Kenadi Hance, No. 9 seeds, face No. 8 seeds Lord and Jacqueline Urbinati, with both semifinals scheduled for 4 p.m. on Thursday.

For complete draws, see the TennisLink site.

At the Boys 18s Clay Courts, top seed and defending champion Danny Kerznerman lost to Tommy Paul in the round of 16.  For complete draws, see the TennisLink site.