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Saturday, September 9, 2017

Ohio State's Di Lorenzo, Stanford's Fawcett Claim American Collegiate Invitational Titles

©Colette Lewis 2017--
Flushing Meadow NY--

Saturday began with Ohio State's Francesca Di Lorenzo earning the women's American Collegiate Invitational title in front of a standing room only crowd on Court 5 and ended with Stanford's Tom Fawcett capturing the men's title under the bright lights of the Grandstand.

Down 3-0 in the third set against Florida’s Ingrid Neel, Di Lorenzo had reason to be discouraged. The two breaks the 20-year-old left-hander gave up to start the set were as many has she had surrendered in the previous two sets.

But as the crowd began to build around Court 5 after the completion of the mixed doubles final in Ashe Stadium, Di Lorenzo found her form, winning five straight games with a little help from both Neel and several fans Di Lorenzo did not know, leading her to a 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 victory.

“I stayed positive, as much as I could, just tried to go game by game, and get on the board in the third set,” said Di Lorenzo, who will be a junior at Ohio State if she returns to school, but is leaving that decision for later this fall. “Once I got that, I think I was able to use that momentum a little bit going forward. I knew she had two really tough wins before and those were both long, and in my case it helped that I didn’t have third sets. She may have gotten a little bit tight and I just kept going for my shots a little more than I was. I was very defensive I thought, but she gave me a few errors here and there and I capitalized on that, got a little bit more confident myself and began to hit the ball more like I’ve been wanting to.”

As for her small group of fans, who were there long before the crowds swelled, Di Lorenzo admitted they helped her through some tough spots.

“I don’t know them,” said Di Lorenzo, who is accustomed to the cheering that accompanies college dual matches, but wasn’t expecting it on the courts of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York. “They came at the beginning of the match and I started pumping it up with them, and I think they got excited. I got a few fans and I was pumped about that, because they were helping me a little bit, I’m not going to lie.”

Despite the support of her anonymous fans, Di Lorenzo struggled on serve in the opening set double faulting twice in the third game for the set’s only break.

“I was nervous and I had the mindset of winning so badly,” Di Lorenzo said. “I had lost two other finals this summer in Pro Circuit events, so I really wanted to redeem myself in a finals atmosphere, I guess you'd say. I was definitely very tight in the first set and just did not play well. Credit to Ingrid, because she played well, was timing the ball extremely well. Even in the second set, some of her returns were untouchable, but I stayed in there and fought as much as I could until the end.”

Neel came out strong, making eight consecutive first serves to start the match, and while that led to her winning it, her lack of nervousness had Neel considering the downside to that state of mind.

“Playing here in the juniors and in the women’s doubles, in those matches I was so nervous years ago,” said the 19-year-old from Minnesota, who will not be returning to Florida this fall, but will instead begin her pro career. “My first match here [this year], I was a little nervous but I felt really comfortable in my second round and in the finals today, which was good, but maybe you do want a little more nerves and the adrenaline. That might have been the thing that was lacking and maybe that jittery feeling would have been a little helpful.”

While Di Lorenzo thought she could detect the effects of Neel’s three-set matches the previous two days, Neel didn’t think that explained her fading in the third set.

“They were tough matches before, but I think I just had to be a little stronger in all aspects mentally probably,” said Neel. “My focus went a little bit, or something like that, but all credit to her. But I just need to keep plugging and improving all this, because the level I want to compete at is very high and this just shows you it can slip away if you’re not in it one hundred percent.”

Di Lorenzo was broken at love serving for the match at 5-3, but she converted her first match point with a big backhand that forced an error from Neel, breaking for the title.

Di Lorenzo said the US Open qualifying wild card she receives for winning the title is an important bonus for her.

“It secures the qualies wild card for next year, so it’s definitely a weight lifted off my shoulders about getting a wild card or qualifying by my ranking,” said Di Lorenzo, who is playing the $60,000 tournament in Las Vegas next week. “It’s a sense of security and it gives me some confidence going forward into these Pro Circuits I’m going to play. Having three matches under my belt that were by no means easy and I haven’t won three matches in a row in a while, it’s really nice to get that confidence.”

Fawcett and Michael Redlicki of Arkansas battled for over two hours before Fawcett finally emerged with a 7-6(4), 6-7(6), 6-4 victory after 9:30 p.m.

Fawcett served for the first set at 5-2 and 5-4, but the Cardinal senior wasn't able to earn a set point either time. In the tiebreaker, Fawcett took advantage of a Redlicki double fault at 4-4, hitting a good first serve to earn his first set point and hitting an ace to convert it.

"I think I might have tightened up a little bit when I served for it,"  said Fawcett, a 21-year-old from Illinois. "I got away from the game plan that got me there in the first place. But credit to him, he started playing a lot better, made me hit a lot of balls, so the combination of the two made the match a lot closer."

Redlicki took a 4-2 lead in the second set, but Fawcett evened it at 4 and in the second set tiebreaker, it was Redlicki who capitalized. Fawcett saved a set point at 5-6, but the second set point came on Redlicki's serve and he didn't let Fawcett into a rally, crushing a first serve winner to send the match to a third set.

"It came down to a big serve from him and he snuck it away," said Fawcett. "In between that second and third set, I kind of regrouped a bit, kind of got back to that game plan that was working for me in the beginning of the match."

Fawcett broke to open the third set and broke again at 1-3 to take control of the match. But given the way the first set played out, Fawcett was happy to have that second break.

"In a match like that, where we're breaking not often, but breaks are happening every now and then, it's nice to have that insurance," said Fawcett, who failed to serve out the match at 5-2, but finished it with authority, making three first serves and hitting three aggressive finishing shots to earn three match points. He converted the first, when Redlicki's forehand sailed long.

"I think I just loosened up, a little bit," said Fawcett. "I was upset when I didn't hold when I was serving at 5-2, but then I thought about it, and I was serving for the match still, so I was fortunate for that, so I just tried to stay positive."

Although Redlicki was disappointed in the loss, he said he enjoyed himself throughout the match.

"It was fun, I had a great time," said the 23-year-old left-hander, who is close to completing his MBA degree at Arkansas. "A couple of points here or there, it could have ended up differently. But I have no regrets. I left it all out there, and I had to. Once in a lifetime opportunity to play a match on Grandstand, as a part of the US Open. You feel it. Huge thanks to the USTA for setting this whole event up and for putting us on the Grandstand. I was glad I was able to make it close at the end. I didn't go away, which I'm really proud of. It was fun, I loved it."

Fawcett is excited to have secured the qualifying wild card into next year's US Open with his victory Saturday night.

"It's very cool," Fawcett said. "It's been a dream of mine to play in the US Open. I never really did ITFs as a junior, so it will be a dream come true playing here."