Floridians Sweep Titles at USTA 18s National Spring Championships
by Colette Lewis
, 23 March 2011
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Three weeks ago, Danielle Collins and Zack McCourt had suffered early losses at the National Open in their home state of Florida, so the thought of taking home gold balls at the USTA 18s National Spring Champions less than a month later seemed nothing more than a fantasy to the gregarious and talkative teenagers. But Collins' 6-1, 6-1 win over Catherine Harrison, and McCourt's 4-6, 6-3, 6-1 victory over Austin Smith in Saturday's championship matches proved just how quickly fortunes can change in the sport of tennis.
"We didn't have the best experience in Tampa two weeks ago," said Collins, a 17-year-old from St. Petersburg, who won the National Spring title in 2010
. "I think we cried together. We were sulking, it was bad."
McCourt was even less diplomatic in his assessment of his experience at the tournament.
"That National Open was disgusting," said McCourt, an 18-year-old from Weston. "I couldn't serve, couldn't get the ball in the court. I was actually thinking how in the world am I going to play a Supernational in Mobile? What am I doing?"
But once he arrived in Mobile, Alabama, the site of the Spring Nationals for all seven years of its existence, McCourt, a No. 17 seed, was ready to implement a new strategy.
"When my coach Bill Clark told me all these years to keep balls in and play steady on the big points, it really didn't sink in until about a week ago," said the five-star Princeton recruit. "I always believed I could win at this level, I just never knew how or when I would do it."
During a week of perfect tennis weather, with light winds, warm temperatures and no rain disruptions, McCourt played well from the outset. He didn't lose a set in his first five wins, taking out National Winter champion Eric Johnson, the 13th seed, in the quarterfinals, but was tested in the semifinals by another No. 17 seed, Nicholas Naumann, before posting a 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 win.
Awaiting McCourt in the final was unseeded Austin Smith, who had played giant-killer all week, beating four seeds including No. 1 Robert Stineman in the quarterfinals and No. 4 Hunter Reese in the semifinals.
It looked as if McCourt would become seeded victim number five when Smith took a 5-0 lead in the first set, but McCourt fought back to make it 5-4 before Smith broke him to take the set.
"After getting off to that miserable start, I thought if I could just win a few games here, get some confidence, break his confidence a little bit going into the second set, that'll give me something to work with," said McCourt, who, like Smith, was playing in his first National Championship singles final.
Smith acknowledged that McCourt's comeback in the opening set changed the tenor of the match.
"I feel like I got lucky actually to get away with that set," said Smith, a 17-year-old from Georgia. "It was so big for him, the momentum change. Even though I'd barely got the set, he'd won four games and I'd won one. He just started making more balls, stayed on top of the baseline, stayed on top of me, never giving me any time to set up for any shots. He played really well."