Min Defeats Sanchez To Claim Tennis Crown
By Jeff Navin // May 7, 2012
BREVARD COUNTY • INDIAN HARBOUR BEACH, FLORIDA – The crowd at the Kiwi Tennis Club didn’t forget Grace Min’s 18th birthday – even if she would have been content to treat Sunday as just another day on the clay.
Min defeated Maria Sanchez 6-4, 7-6 (4) to win the seventh annual Audi Melbourne USTA Pro Tennis Classic.
“I didn’t expect that (a happy birthday serenade from the crowd after the match),” The fact that they showed up to watch us play was enough. … They brought such an energy to the court.”
Sanchez took a 4-2 lead in the second-set tiebreaker when she hit a solid backhand return off Min’s serve that the 5-foot-4 native of Duluth, Ga. couldn’t reach. That proved to be the final point the alumna of the University of Southern California would win in the match.
With Min serving, Sanchez hit a forehand into the net to whittle her lead to 4-3. Sanchez took over for the next two serves, but she hit a backhand wide and followed that with a wide forehand as Min regained a 5-4 advantage on the two unforced errors.
The 5-foot-10 Sanchez flubbed a service return and followed that with a backhand into the net as she lunged to the left to end the match.
A Year Can Make A Big Difference
“Down 4-2, I was able to keep my composure,” said Min, who won seven consecutive matches in January’s $25,000 USTA event in Innisbrook to earn her first professional title. “If she was going to win the set, I was going to make her earn it. I was able to find my way back.”
Last year, instead of closing out the match, Min might have had to play a third set. She was eliminated in the qualifying rounds of this $50,000 clay-court event in 2011.
“A year can make a big difference” said Min, who won the U.S. Open girls singles title in 2011 and teamed up with Eugenie Bouchard to prevail in the Wimbledon girls doubles final that same year. “I think playing a lot more matches helps me deal with the different situations and how to win one. I’ve built confidence over the repetitions.”
Sunday’s final was the first time the two officially had met on the court.
“We haven’t played in a tournament before (Sunday),” Min said. “But, sometimes she trains at the Evert Academy (in Boca Raton). We have practiced together before.”
Neither player broke serve in the second set after Min broke Sanchez’s serve three times in the first set. Sanchez broke Min’s serve twice in the first set.
“I tried to keep her off balance,” Min said. “She’s aggressive and I didn’t want to let her set up and dictate play. I tried to keep up a variety of shots.”
Min hit a forehand crosscourt shot wide and long at 30-30 and Sanchez converted an overhand volley to forge a 6-5 advantage on her service in the second set. Min held serve to force a tiebreaker as Sanchez’s forehand service return was long at 40-15.
Min took a 1-0 lead in the tiebreaker on a great backhand after Sanchez failed to put the point away on an overhand volley. Min hit a forehand wide to to make it 1-1, but she hit a fine serve on the following point where Sanchez’s backhand hit the net.
Sanchez tied it at 2 when she chased down a drop shot and ripped a backhand passing shot down the sideline. Her drop shot on a volley gave her a 3-2 advantage as Min barely reached the ball as she hit it softly into the net. A solid backhand return on Min’s serve gave Sanchez a 4-2 lead in the tiebreaker.
“I expected good shots at the net,” Min said. “I was not surprised when she came up with them.”
Sanchez, who is ranked No. 371 in the world, defeated Lauren Davis 6-4, 6-0 in Saturday’s semifinals. Min, who is ranked No. 251 in the world, reached the final by rallying past Krista Hardebeck 2-6, 7-5, 6-1 in the semifinals.
“She (Min) played a great match,” said Sanchez, who will turn 23 in November. “I think I missed more shots than usual. It was a high-pressure situation, and it went her way today. “I’m happy to have gotten this far.”
Sanchez, who graduated from USC last year, was a three-time All-America selection with the Trojans. The Modesto, Calif. native earned the honor in singles in 2010 and in both singles and doubles in 2011.
“Everything went her way,” Sanchez said. “She has no big weaknesses. That’s what makes her tough to play.”
Min broke Sanchez in the first game of the first set on a backhand passing shot. Sanchez got the break back as she hit a forehand winner at 30-30 and Min followed that with a moon-ball backhand that went long.
Backhand Winner Down the Sideline
Min recorded another break as Sanchez missed a volley that trickled off the net. She then battled back from a 15-40 hole to hold serve as Sanchez hit Min’s second serve long on a backhand. Min ripped a backhand winner down the sideline for deuce. Three points later, Sanchez’s wide backhand gave Min a 3-1 advantage.
Sanchez whittled the margin to 3-2 with an overhand winner near the net and a hard serve that Min could barely place her racquet on to hold. Sanchez hit a backhand drop shot for 15-30 and went up 15-40 on a great approach shot. One point later, Min hit a wide backhand as Sanchez tied the set at 3-3.
Min’s backhand drop shot at 30-30 caught Sanchez out of position and Min obtained her third break of the first set as Sanchez hit a crosscourt forehand wide.
Min converted a backhand drop shot and had Sanchez running as her forehand went long on the final point of the next game to make it 5-3.
Three hard serves by Sanchez enabled her to close it to 5-4 as Min hit two backhand returns wide and a long forehand return on consecutive points.
Min won four consecutive points to hold for the set as Sanchez hit a backhand wide, Min ripped a forehand winner off a return of serve and Sanchez’ lob was long as Min hustled to successfully dig out a drop shot. Sanchez’s long backhand ended the first set.
“My birthday’s not different,” said Min, who was the runner-up in the USTA’s $25,000 event in Clearwater to Garbine Muguruza Blanco. “I don’t think about it like it’s any other day. Obviously, winning makes it sweeter.”
Besides the victory against Hardebeck in the semifinals, Min ousted top-seeded Irina Falconi 6-0, 6-4; Shelby Rogers 6-4, 6-0; and Alexandra Kiick, the daughter of former Miami Dolphins standout Jim Kiick, 6-2, 6-4 in the week-long event.
Sanchez reached the final by downing Sharon Fichman 6-4, 6-3; Coco Vandeweghe 6-2, 6-2; and Heidi El Tabakh 6-3, 3-6, 6-4. She then ousted Davis in the semifinals.
Edina Gallovits-Hall won the inaugural event in 2006 and again in 2010. Bethanie Mattek-Sands prevailed in 2007 against Olga Govortsova and was the runner-up in 2008 to Yanina Wickmayer. Melanie Oudin won the 2009 event, and Melinda Czink defeated Alison Riske 4-6, 6-1, 6-4 in last year’s final.
In this year’s doubles championship, Maria-Fernanda Alves of Brazil and Jessica Moore of Australia defeated Marie-Eve Pelletier and Alyona Sotnikova 6-7, 6-3, 10-8. The third set was a tiebreaker. Alves and Moore trailed 7-2 in the tiebreaker before rallying.