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Saturday, January 22, 2011

Plaza Cup Begins and Ends with Upsets on Opening Day

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

The Plaza Cup, in its fifth year as a USTA National Regional event, started with a bang the early this drizzly, gloomy morning, when 14-year-old Rianna Valdes defeated the girls 18s top seed Sherry Li 6-4, 6-2. Li, who will be 16 next month, did not play badly. Perhaps she could have extended some rallies for a few more balls on occasion, but Valdes played an extremely clean, yet aggressive match. Looking like she was born on the Har-Tru--which was receiving regular misting and even a couple of dousings of precipitation that required brief suspensions in play--Valdes hit deep, slid precisely, played defense, and most importantly, made no errors that weren't forced by Li. Several hours later Valdes reached Sunday's quarterfinals with another composed performance: a 6-1, 6-1 victory over Katie Pollan.

Li was hardly the only top seed to falter in the opening two rounds. Amber Li, the No. 2 seed in the girls 18s, went out to another 14-year-old, Taylor Townsend, and on the same court, Court 1, that was the scene of the other Li's loss. Townsend's win was a bit more dramatic however, as she needed to win two consecutive tiebreakers before she could claim the 4-6, 7-6(3), 10-7 win. Townsend, who is an excellent volleyer, didn't use that weapon too often on the clay, but her soft hands were in evidence when she did venture near the net. Li led the match tiebreaker 7-5 at the second change of ends, but Townsend seized control of the match with three straight winners: a drop shot, a down-the-line forehand and a service winner. Li hit a backhand long on the next point to give Townsend two match points, but the left-hander only needed one. Li, determined not to play timidly, went for a swinging volley, and it sailed well long.

Of the eight seeds in the girls 18s, only two reached the quarterfinals: No. 3 seed Lindsay Graff and No. 6 seed Laura Wiley. Orange Bowl 16s champion Allie Kiick, who was surprisingly not seeded, beat No. 5 seed Leighann Sahagun 6-3, 6-3 in the second round, while Courtney Colton took out No. 4 seed Chalena Scholl by the same score in round two. Caroline Doyle defeated No. 7 seed Samantha Crawford 6-3, 6-4 in a second round battle of USTA National Junior Team members.

The boys 18s draw also saw its share of upsets, but No. 1 seed Justin Crenshaw was not among them. Crenshaw posted two straight-set wins to reach the quarterfinals. No. 2 seed Zach McCourt was up a set and 3-0 over Ognjen Samardzic in their first round contest, but Samardzic came back to record a 2-6, 7-6(3), 10-6 victory. Samardzic also won his second round match over Jackson Murphy to advance to Sunday's quarterfinals.

That was an impressive comeback, but it couldn't equal Ryan Smith's in his second round match with No. 3 seed Gordon Watson. With chilly winds and plunging temperatures providing even more challenges, Smith fought back from a 4-6, 2-5 deficit to record an improbable 4-6, 7-6(6), 11-9 victory. Smith saved eight match points, six or seven of which came with Watson serving for the match at 5-3 in the second. (Sorry for the imprecise nature of this account, but the match was three courts away and the score was not always obvious). It was Smith's serve that ultimately made the difference; the left-handed high school sophomore, clad in a University of Miami shirt, came up with aces and winners at the most crucial stages of the two tiebreakers to claim a spot in the quarterfinals. No. 4 seed Zachary Krumholtz withdrew before the start of play, while Dylan Gunning defeated No. 7 seed Ken Sabacinski 6-2, 7-5 in the opening round.

There will also be two rounds of singles on Sunday, with the finals scheduled for Monday. The tournament is sponsored by Tennis Plaza, a retail and online tennis equipment retailer.

For complete draws in all four age divisions, see the TennisLink site.