Townsend and Clark Capture Plaza Cup 18s Championships
by Colette Lewis
, 28 January 2011
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The route was different, but the destination was the same for 14-year-old Taylor Townsend and 16-year-old Brett Clark: the 18s singles championship at the USTA Regional Plaza Cup in Coral Gables, Fla. The unseeded Townsend outlasted Allie Kiick 6-2, 2-6, 10-5 in the girls final, while the sixth-seeded Clark cruised to a 6-4 6-1 victory over Ognjen Samardzic in the boys championship match.
Previously held on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend, the 32-draw, three-day tournament was moved a week later in 2011, as the eight USTA regional segments in each age division were synchronized throughout the country beginning this year. Rain had caused scheduling headaches in previous years at the Plaza Cup, which has 12s, 14s, 16s and 18s divisions at four sites, but in 2011 delays were short and confined to Saturday morning.
The Har-Tru courts at Salvadore Park, host to the boys and girls 18s and the boys 14s, would not normally be considered the ideal surface for the serve-and-volley game favored by Townsend. But the lefthander from Georgia, who now trains at the USTA's National Center in Boca Raton, made her way through a challenging draw by alternating her net charges with steady play from the backcourt.
Townsend won the final five points of the third set match tiebreaker against No. 2 seed Amber Li in the second round, then followed up that victory with close straight set wins over No. 6 seed Laura Wiley and No. 3 seed Lindsay Graff.
In Monday's final against the unseeded Kiick, Townsend took control early, holding her serve quickly while forcing Kiick to deuce in nearly all her service games. 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, while Kiick made fewer, but even then the 15-year-old Kiick 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 was also 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, while Harold Solomon, the former French Open finalist, discussed strategy with Kiick, who trains at his Fort Lauderdale Academy.
Townsend took a quick 3-0 lead, built it to 7-1 on the strength of a couple of service winners and Kiick errors, then 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 its 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."