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Thursday, October 13, 2016

Brown Wins 24-point Third Set Tiebreaker to Reach ITF Grade B1 Pan American Closed Semifinals; Hewitt Tops Second Seed Subhash in Girls Quarterfinals

©Colette Lewis 2016--
Tulsa, OK--

With conditions cold and damp for the quarterfinal round of the ITF Grade B1 Pan American Closed Thursday, players were bundled up against the chill, and free flowing, stylish tennis were also under wraps to start the day.

An inauspicious beginning led to a satisfying ending however, as the final match, completed nearly three hours after its 10 a.m. start, came to a thrilling conclusion when unseeded Alex Brown defeated No. 11 seed Danny Thomas 4-6, 6-2, 7-6(11), saving a match point in that marathon tiebreaker.

Thomas, who had won a third set tiebreaker in the third round last night against Tristan McCormick, was the beneficiary of a net cord winner at 4-4 in the tiebreaker, putting the match on his racquet, but he double faulted on the next point. The double fault was a rare error from either of the left-handers in the final game, which was played with great composure and skill by both.

After the double fault, Thomas lost his next service point when Brown came up with a stunning running forehand winner on a point Thomas had controlled from the start, giving Brown his first match point. It was the only one of the six Brown held that he regretted not converting, with his double fault leading to another change of ends.

A Brown backhand winner gave him a second match point, which Thomas saved with a forehand winner. After a long and diverse point ended with a backhand wide from Thomas, Brown had match point No. 3. Thomas made him pay for not getting a first serve in, crushing a forehand return winner to make it 8-8. Brown earned a fourth match point with an overhead winner, but Thomas saved that too, using a surprise serve and volley tactic on a second serve to put Brown on the defensive in the point.  After the third change of ends, Thomas then earned his first and only match point with a forehand winner, but it too was saved when Brown got a first serve in and forced an error with a forehand for 10-10.

A rare forehand error by Thomas gave Brown a fifth match point, which Thomas saved this time with a forehand drop shot winner, making it 11-11. A good return by Brown on the next point caused Thomas to net a backhand to give Brown match point No. 6, which he converted, finally. A good Brown first serve and a netted Thomas forehand return ended it, with an emphatic but not overjoyed 'yes' Brown's only reaction to the tense conclusion.

Brown did not allow himself to think about all the match points that came and went in the tiebreaker.

"The only one that was sort of frustrating was when I double faulted," said the 17-year-old from Iowa, who has verbally committed to the University of Illinois for 2017. "Other than that, he just came up with some nice shots. I was like, oh well, if he can do that the whole entire time, then he deserves to win."

On the match point he saved, Brown was determined not to be passive.

"In the past, I've played those kind of tentatively and lost those points," said Brown, who could recall only one other match in his career decided by a third-set tiebreaker, which he lost. "So I thought I might as well swing out and go after it and it worked out well for me."

Brown wasn't happy with his level in the opening set, but had no complaints with his play deep in the third.

"The first set was not the best by either of us, then I played better in the second," said Brown. "In the third we went back and forth and we were both playing a lot better than we had been, and then it peaked the tiebreaker. We both played our best tennis, I felt like, at the end there."

Brown, who had gotten revenge for a loss to No. 2 seed Trent Bryde earlier this week, had also lost to Thomas in their previous meeting, in the back draw at the 16s Nationals.

"I played him 2015 in Kalamazoo and he beat me in a third-set (match) tiebreaker," said Brown. "It was a pretty similar match. He won the first, I won the second, and he just played a little bit better of a tiebreaker."

Brown, who has played in the main draw of only five ITF events, will face No. 3 seed Alan Rubio Fierros of Mexico in the semifinals. Rubio Fierros had little difficulty with No. 6 seed Nicolas Mejia of Colombia, taking the match by a 6-3, 6-0 score.

Unseeded wild card Lukas Greif, who had downed top seed Liam Caruana of Italy in two tiebreakers on Wednesday, continued his excellent play, defeating unseeded Paul Barretto in one of the longest 6-2, 6-0 matches imaginable.  Greif will play No. 7 seed Juan Hernandez Serrano of Mexico, who defeated No. 4 seed Brian Cernoch 6-4, 6-1.

One of the girls semifinals will feature top seed and defending champion Kayla Day against unseeded Ann Li, after Day downed No. 10 seed Abigail Desiatnikov 6-3, 6-2, with much less drama than the two match points Day saved in their semifinal match last year in Tulsa.  Li defeated unseeded Lea Ma 6-4, 6-2, and will be looking for another chance at Day after losing to her 4-6, 6-4, 6-1 in the third round of the Grade 1 in Carson this past spring.

No. 5 seed Ellie Douglas, whose elbow injury kept her out of competition for the bulk of the summer, advanced to the semifinals with a 6-4, 6-3 win over No. 13 seed Elysia Bolton.  Douglas will play No. 11 seed Dalayna Hewitt, who defeated No. 2 seed Natasha Subhash 6-7(3), 6-2, 6-3.

Hewitt, who had won only four ITF Grade 1 matches prior to this week, two of them at this tournament last year, said staying positive and changing tactics helped her recover after dropping a tough first set.

"I couldn't get down on myself too much," said the 15-year-old from Ohio. "There was a lot of stuff going on out there--it's really cold and kind of windy--so you just have to stay in it."

Subhash was taking advantage of Hewitt's return game in the first set, so Hewitt made some adjustments.

"She was playing really good in the beginning," Hewitt said. "She was getting most of her free points on my returns. I had to improve my movement too, because she was hitting deep. I was standing too far back, and then she started hitting winners on angles, so I had to fix that. She kept coming to the net and finishing points, so I had to keep the ball deeper."

Hewitt was able to implement what she learned and got the key break in the third set, with Subhash serving at 3-4.  In order to keep from getting nervous serving out a match, Hewitt said she tells herself she's down in the game, to keep her focus. That strategy also worked, as she took a 30-0 lead in the final game and hit two consecutive aces to close it out.

"That felt really good actually," Hewitt said of the emphatic conclusion to the match. "My serve is a strength, one hundred percent, and it was off in the beginning, so I just had to figure out something else."

Day is not the only player looking to defend a title here in Tulsa, with No. 5 seeds Subhash and Li, the 2015 doubles champions, into the semifinals after a 6-4, 6-4 win over unseeded Victoria Flores and Madeline Meredith in a match moved indoors for the last game due to a light rain shower. They will play No. 7 seeds Malkia Menguene and Alana Smith, who defeated unseeded Mimi Levine and Whitney Osuigwe 6-3, 6-4.

Day and Sofia Sewing, the top seeds, defeated unseeded Hind Abdelouahid and Katie Volynets  6-4, 6-2 to set up a semifinal encounter with unseeded Salma Ewing and Peyton Stearns.  Ewing and Stearns beat unseeded Hailey Baptiste and Safiya Carrington 5-7, 7-5, 10-3.

Top seeds Trent Bryde and Brian Cernoch will play unseeded Lukas Greif and Danny Thomas in one of the boys semifinals after Bryde and Cernoch got by No. 8 seeds Andrew Fenty and William Woodall 7-6(5), 6-2 and Greif and Thomas beat unseeded Paul Barretto and Alan Rubio Fierros 6-3, 6-4.

No. 2 seeds Nicolas Mejia and Sebastian Korda advanced with a 6-4, 6-0 win over unseeded Trey Hilderbrand and Austen Huang and will face unseeded Chih Chi Huang and Nicaise Muamba of Canada in the semifinals.  Huang and Muamba downed unseeded Alex Brown and Sean Sculley 4-6, 6-3, 10-4.  Both Greif and Thomas and Huang and Muamba had to complete their wins indoors due to the mid-afternoon rain.

Play begins Friday with three singles matches at 10 a.m. CDT, with the fourth singles match and doubles to follow.