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Tournament Feature
Niu victorious in surprise final at the Girls 16 Clays
by Sonny Dearth, 23 July 2008
Special from the Newport News (Va.) Daily Press

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. -- Belinda Niu said she had low expectations entering the USTA Girls 16 National Clay Court Championships. After the tournament's end on July 20, she said, "I'm happy to be back on hard courts, to be honest with you."

But did she ever grin while saying it.

Clay Court Champion Belinda Niu
© Doug Wrege, TennisRecruiting.net
Playing a long way from her home in Portland, Ore., ninth-seeded Niu shocked herself by sliding to seven victories in seven days to gain the crown at steamy Virginia Beach Tennis and Country Club. She capped her stay with a 6-2, 6-4 victory over an even more surprising finalist, co-17th seed Nicole Melichar of Stuart, Fla., in a matchup of 14-year-olds.

Perhaps the most memorable match of the tournament came in the round of 32, when Niu edged co-No. 17 seed Blair Shankle of Comfort, Texas, 6-7 (1-7), 6-4, 7-6 (11-9). Niu said she "really respects" Shankle and had lost their previous two meetings, and that the victory gave her confidence.

"I was down five or six match points," Niu said. "That was huge. I was out there for 4 1/2 hours. It really got me adjusted to the clay. I played her a long time ago on 12s. It shows I've improved since then."

That's an understatement.

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