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USTA Nationals
Big Year Continues for Ngounoue with 18s Hard Courts Title
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Alabama football coach Nick Saban has often said, “never waste a failure.” Embracing that mindset before she even played helped Clervie Ngounoue find success.

As she prepared to take the court at Barnes Tennis Center in San Diego for the singles final of the USTA Billie Jean King Girls 18 National Championships, Ngounoue wasn’t fixated on the end result.

Singles Champion Clervie Ngounoue
© Contributed Photo

“I think I was OK with either winning or losing and really learning from the experience regardless,” she said. “I think that truly enabled me to just fight every point as hard as I could no matter the outcome.”

Facing an early deficit, the top-seeded Ngounoue rallied to beat No. 17-seed and hometown favorite Katherine Hui of San Diego 1-6, 6-4, 6-2 to win the gold ball and earn a wild card into the main draw of the US Open women’s singles.

“To win the Billie Jean King National Championships is a great feeling, especially doing it with Billie Jean here,” Ngounoue said. “It’s a wonderful opportunity for me and a true blessing.”

The victory prolonged a milestone summer for the 17-year-old Washington, DC native. Ngounoue captured the Wimbledon girls singles title in July and beat world No. 37 Anna Blinkova 6-3, 6-2 in the first round of qualifying at the Citi Open in DC last month.

“Getting my ticket to the main draw of the US Open is an opportunity I am very excited for,” Ngounoue said. “I can’t wait to get there and finally play the main draw for the first time. It’s a good feeling.”

In doubles, Kate Fakih (Pasadena, California) and Olivia Center (South Pasadena, California) rallied to beat No. 4 Alanis Hamilton (Bentonville, Arkansas) and Kayla Chung (Philadelphia) 6-7(5), 6-1, 6-4 to capture the title and earn a wild card into the doubles main draw at the US Open.

Ngounoue, who won the 18s doubles hard court title last year with Reese Brantmeier, didn’t drop a set on her way to the singles final. She breezed through the quarterfinals and semifinals, defeating No. 5 Tatum Evans 6-2, 6-0 and No. 6 Valerie Glozman 6-0, 6-3, respectively.

But Hui had Ngounoue on the ropes early in the final. Hui, who will be a freshman at Stanford this year, jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the first set and stayed in control through the remainder.

Ngounoue began to find her rhythm in the second set. She got the deciding break over Hui at 4-4 and then served out the set at 5-4 to send the match to a winner-take-all third.

Ngounoue broke Hui to open the third set and broke again for a 4-1 lead. She served out the match at love, securing the title when Hui sprayed a return wide.

“The final was tough. I expected nothing less. Katherine is a really good player. She definitely brought out a fight,” Ngounoue said. “It was certainly a good match. Honestly, I didn’t start the way I wanted to, but I tried to stay as mentally stable as I could the entire time and just try to play every point as best I could.”

Singles Finalist Katherine Hui
© J. Fred Sidhu

Hui knew it would be challenging to keep Ngounoue from working her way back into the match even after her early success.

“Claire is such a great player and I have so much respect for her. I knew I had to start strong and I think I did that really well in the first set. I was taking control of a lot of the points,” Hui said. “But I think she made good adjustments in the second and third sets. I thought it was a really good match.”

Hui enjoyed playing in her hometown and having the support from the local fans.

“I have been coming to this tournament since I was 8 or 9 years old and watched so many finals in the last few years,” Hui said. “I always wanted to be in this position and I think that really helped me to be grateful and just enjoy the moment and have fun.”

Hui reached the 18s singles semifinals last year and was proud she took another step forward in this year’s event. Along with her silver ball, Hui received a wild card into the US Open women’s singles qualifying draw as well as a main draw wild card into the US Open Junior singles.

Hui eliminated the second-seeded Brantmeier 7-5, 7-6(7) in the quarterfinals. Brantmeier, a rising sophomore at the University of North Carolina, helped the Tar Heels win the NCAA title last spring for the first time in program history.

Hui followed that with a win over her future Stanford teammate and the defending singles champion Eleana Yu (Mason, Ohio) 6-2, 2-6, 6-2 in the semifinals.

Stanford may be in conference purgatory with the Pac-12 on the brink of extinction with only four schools remaining beyond the 2023-24 school year, but the Cardinal were well represented in San Diego. Three Stanford recruits reached the semifinals in Hui, Yu and Glozman.

Stanford head coach Lele Forood and assistant Frankie Brennan were on site to watch their matches early in the week.

“Lele and Frankie and the whole team are so supportive of each other. We all got so many messages from our teammates throughout the week,” Hui said. “I am just excited to go in the fall with them. Obviously, we are all competitive but we also push each other and support each other.”

Hui doesn’t know what conference she will be playing in if her college career extends beyond her freshman season.

“I have been more focused on this. But yeah it is kind of crazy,” Hui said. “I think we did get an email talking about that, so we will see how the result plays out.”

Doubles Champions Kate Fakih & Olivia Center
© Contributed Photo

Fakih and Center will be teammates together at UCLA when the Bruins enter the Big Ten in 2024-25. The blue chip rising seniors nearly didn’t play in the tournament because Center didn’t make the singles draw. But she decided at the last minute to enter doubles and the longtime partners earned a trip to the Open.

“It really hasn’t sunk in yet if I’m being honest,” Fakih said. “It is insane that we won it and are going to the Open. I can’t believe it.”

Fakih and Center have been playing doubles together since they were 9 years old. They both train with coach Zibu Ncube in Woodland Hills.

“We play really well together and have a really strong relationship even outside of the court,” Fakih said. “We had some really close matches in the tournament, but it was a blast. We had so much out there.”

Ngounoue was pleased with her play throughout the tournament. She had the chance to compete against players she’d never met before. Although happy for the titles she’s won this year, Ngounoue isn’t resting on her laurels.

“By the grace of God, I am just really trying to trust the process and not look ahead of myself. I mean, we all have dreams, but I don’t want to limit myself to anything,” she said. “This whole year has been a blessing. It hasn’t always felt good, but I am doing everything I can and working hard.”

Ngounoue’s celebration plans included taking the first flight home so she could finally sleep in her own bed before preparing to hit the road again to New York to make her Grand Slam professional debut at the US Open.

“It’s been a very long three weeks with a lot of things happening and a lot of things going on,” she said. “I will be happy to just wind down and celebrate my mom’s late birthday.”

Other Results

Singles Playoff 3-4: Glozman def. Yu Wo (inj.). Glozman received a wild card into the main draw of US Open Junior singles.

Singles Consolation: No. 4 Akasha Urhobo def. No. 33 Ahmani Guichard 6-4, 6-4.

Doubles Playoff 3-4: No. 9 Brooke Lynn Schafer (Cumming, Georgia) and Georgia Cranford (Scottsdale, Arizona) def. No. 9 Jessica Bernales (Las Vegas) and Shannon Lam (East Brunswick, New Jersey) 6-4, 6-4

That’s a Wrap

Four days - eight articles. Thanks to all of our contributors, as we have been proud to celebrate the best of the best in American junior tennis. Check out any article you might have missed - as TRN covered all things Championship Week.

 
 

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About Rhiannon Potkey

Rhiannon Potkey is a veteran sportswriter with more than two decades of experience in journalism. Potkey has covered many sports at many levels and has a passion for finding great stories. Potkey has covered the U.S. Open, junior sectional and national events, college conference championships and Davis Cup matches. Potkey is currently Content Strategist for Tennis Recruiting. You can reach Rhiannon by email at [email protected].
 
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