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Monday, January 24, 2011

Clark, Townsend Claim Plaza Cup 18s Titles; Opelka Wins Boys 14s

©Colette Lewis 2011--
Coral Gables, FL--

Fourteen-year-old Taylor Townsend has a game style that seems perfect for grass, but the left-handed serve-and-volleyer is right at home on the clay courts, as she proved today with a 6-2, 2-6, 10-5 victory over Allie Kiick in the girls 18s final at the Plaza Cup.

Townsend dealt Kiick her first loss of a set in the tournament, with breaks in the fourth and eighth games of the opening set. Kiick struggled with her serve in nearly every game, while Townsend was holding quickly and taking chances on Kiick's serve. Often Townsend's approach shot alone was enough to win the point; she didn't need to use her excellent net play to finish, with Kiick unable to get any rhythm off the ground.

In the second set, Townsend donated many more unforced errors, and Kiick got more balls in play, but even then Kiick, 15, was not pleased with her level of play. "What is wrong with my forehand?" Kiick said after she found the net with that usually reliable weapon. And if that wasn't enough, the reigning girls 16s Orange Bowl champion also was fighting a balky serve. But for all the displeasure with her play, Kiick won the final four games of the second set to force a match tiebreaker that would decide the champion.

During the three-minute break that has been instituted between the second set and the match tiebreaker, coaching is allowed, although the players are not allowed to leave the court. Both Townsend and Kiick received advice from their coaches, both former Top 10 WTA and ATP professionals. USTA National Coach Kathy Rinaldi leaned over the fence to speak with Townsend, who trains at the USTA's National Center in Boca Raton, while Harold Solomon, the former French Open finalist, imparted his wisdom to his student Kiick, who now trains at Solomon's Fort Lauderdale Academy.

Townsend had the advantage of having played a match tiebreaker earlier in the tournament, when she took out No. 2 seed Amber Li in the second round. She took a quick 3-0 lead, built it to 7-1 on the strength of a couple of service winners and Kiick errors and hung on as the lead shrunk to 8-5. Kiick had the next two serves, but she was passed at the net to give Townsend her first match point, and double faulted on the next point to end the match.

The match tiebreaker isn't popular with every player, but Townsend sees the advantages.

"I think I like it more than playing a full third," Townsend said. "You have to channel your energy and you don't have enough time to give away games or give away points. I like it better because I know I have to focus point by point."

Even after she had won the second set, Kiick didn't feel she had taken control of the match.

"It didn't feel right," said Kiick. "I still believed I could win, but nothing felt right today. Everyone has days like that, so I can't be upset. But I don't want to take anything away from her, because she did play very well."

Kiick admitted that Townsend presented a special challenge.

"I knew her game style was different, and that she sliced it," Kiick said. "No girls like slicing."

Townsend credits Donald Young Sr., whom she worked with in Atlanta before moving to Boca Raton, with developing her aggressive all-court game.

"He established my game to come to the net, be an aggressive chip-and-charger, serve-and-volleyer and all that stuff," Townsend said. "I've been doing it a long time and it takes years to master it, but it becomes natural. It's always good to bring some different spunk and different style into the game, and I think my opponents have a hard time with that."

Rinaldi echoed those thoughts.

"She's unique to today's tennis, I think," Rinaldi said. "You see so many aggressive baseliners. She's a serve-and-volleyer, and while she likes to play from the baseline too, she has terrific hands and is very comfortable, very at home, around the net. I've had a lot of people stop and say, wow, she's a throw-back, and that is her game style."

Given that skill set, it is probably not surprising to hear that Townsend also won the doubles on Monday afternoon, teaming with Mia King to defeat No. 3 seeds Alexandra Morozova and Leighann Sahagun 8-2.

The boys 18s final didn't produce the same tension or the same contrast in styles as did the girls. No. 6 seed Brett Clark, the only seeded player to reach the semifinals, continued his outstanding play with a 6-4, 6-1 victory over unseeded Ognjen Samardzic. Clark broke Samaradzic in the opening game of the match, and that was the only break he needed as Clark protected his own serve throughout the set. In the third game of the second set, Clark again got the only break he would need, using both excellent offense, in the form of a forehand winner, and excellent defense-turned-offense in digging out a presumed winner from Samardzic and using a squash-shot reflex to send the ball whizzing past Samardzic and deep into the corner for an actual winner.

Although Samardzic had managed to overcome such deficits in earlier matches, he couldn't find his way through on Sunday, with Clark simply unwilling to give him any breathing room.

"I played really well the whole tournament," said Clark, who will be 17 in April. "Two weeks ago I wasn't playing that great, but I got some things straightened out in practice. When I saw the draw, I thought maybe I had a chance to make it all the way, but I knew I had to play really well, because I had the one seed in the third round. Everyone's good in this tournament, so you can't expect anything. Everything went my way in this tournament, so I won."

Aside from playing in Florida sectional and USTA National tournaments, Clark is also looking forward to playing for Barron Collier High School in Naples, Florida.

"We won states last year in 3A, and we have a really good team this year," Clark said. "I'll play one this year for our team, so hopefully we can repeat."

Clark and his partner Gordon Watson were not able to add a second winner's trophy to Clark's collection however, as the second seeds lost to the top seeded doubles team of Justin Crenshaw and Blaine Willenborg 8-5.

In the boys 14s, also played on the Har-Tru courts of Salvadore Park, No. 2 seed Reilly Opelka took the championship with a 6-0, 6-3 victory over No. 4 seed Alfredo Perez.

Perez and Opelka had had quite a match the last time they met, with Opelka taking a close three-set decision in the first round of the Florida Closed, so Opelka was ready for another tough contest.

"I've played him twice before, and I've won both times, but last time it was 7-6 in the third, so it could have gone either way, so I knew I was in for a battle today."

Opelka knew he couldn't afford to drop the first set as he had in his quarterfinal and semifinal matches, so the 13-year-old, who trains at the USTA's National Center in Boca Raton, was focused from the start.

"It was a good start and I came out pretty solid," said Opelka. "When I got up 2-0, 3-0 in the first I wanted to stay on him, didn't want to let it slip away."

In the second set, Perez found his game and was able to stay with Opelka until he dropped a long game serving at 2-3. Opelka was too steady to relinquish that lead, holding his final two service games to claim the title.

"I thought I improved throughout the tournament," Opelka said. "Better shot selection and better decisions, not going for too much at the wrong time."

Perez didn't go home without a winner's trophy however, as he and partner Mirko Radosevic won the doubles championship over Alex Knight and David Omsky 8-3. Neither team was seeded in the tournament.

In the new USTA format for regional tournaments, the consolation final is not played. Samantha Crawford and Courtney Colton were the last two remaining in the girls 18s, Willenborg and Dylan Gunning in the boys 18s, and Knight and Daniel Grunberger in the boys 14s. Third place in the girls 18s went to Caroline Doyle, who beat Lindsay Graff 6-3, 7-5. Third place in the boys 18s went to Joshua Dancu, who won when Ryan Smith retired with an injury, trailing 5-3 in the first set. Radosevic took third in the boys 14s when Tate Allwardt withdrew with an injury.

The winners at the other sites are as follows:
Boys 16s-Daniel Kerznerman(3) def. Oliver Landert 6-4, 6-3
Girls 16s-Alanna Wolff(1) def. Rasheeda McAdoo(5) 6-3, 6-0
Girls 14s-Katerina Stewart(1) def. Rebecca Weissmann(2) 6-3, 6-1
Boys 12s-Alexander Del Corral(1) def. Nicolas Barone(6) 6-3, 6-3
Girls 12s-Nicole Conard def. Maria Ross(2) 6-2, 6-4

For complete results, see the TennisLink site.


Tyler said...

Congratulations to the winners, especially the USTA. I find it really hard to understand how in Florida the designated tournaments are now down to a 32 draw which is designed by the USTA to have players in their age group to gain endorsement for the Nationals yet the USTA is rolling out 14 and 15 year olds and having them play up one or two divisions. Nice transparency, do as I say not do as I do. I'm not shocked at all that the US is without a player in the 3rd and 4th rounds respectively at the Australian Open