Eastern Mixed League Team Wins National Championship

Scott Sode | November 04, 2021

Another week, another champion. USTA Eastern’s 18 & Over 10.0 Mixed team—based out of New York City—claimed victory in their division at the 2021 USTA League National Championships, held October 29-31 in Surprise, Arizona. It’s the second title in as many weeks for an Eastern group at the event, coming just seven days after the section’s 40 & Over 3.0 Men’s team brought the trophy home to New York.


“This was my first time at Nationals ever,” Captain Samantha Lieb said. “In our wildest dreams we never thought we’d be National champions...we are a team that trains mostly indoors, while many [of our competitors] had access to outdoor tennis courts all year round. It was hot, the air was dry, and two matches a day was brutal. [But] it didn’t matter for us. We had so much fight and believed in ourselves.”


If the conditions were tough for the Eastern crew, you wouldn’t know it looking at the results. Through the early rounds, the team triumphed over groups from USTA Texas, USTA Intermountain and USTA Southern California to attain a 3-1 record and reach the semifinals on the final day of competition. They then decisively defeated the top-ranked USTA New England contingent—winning all three of their courts—to advance to the finals, where they faced the only team that had beaten them over the course of the weekend: USTA Northern California. 


“[Going into the rematch], our mindset was simple,” Lieb said. “Play the best tennis we can and don’t overthink anything.”


The strategy worked, and history did not repeat itself. Lieb and partner Andrew Herring defeated their opponents in a ten-point deciding tiebreak—an inverse of their previous scoreline against NorCal—to help earn their team the championship. 


Impressively, it was Lieb and Herring’s fifth court that featured a deciding tiebreak. They’d ultimately finish four for five.


“The key was our will to never give up on a point,” Lieb said. “I have a strong baseline game, and Andrew has the best hands at the net. He can cover any part of the court and he moves like a cat [up there]! Together, we fought hard, and losing was never an option.”

Lieb also credited the pairing of Amelie Ekdahl Bozkir and Ilia Shatashvili for the team’s overall success. As a duo, Bozkir and Shatashvili went undefeated in all six of their matches, never losing a set, and perhaps even more astoundingly, never ceding more than four games in a set until the final.


“They had MVP moments,” Lieb said. “Their strategy was always to get out on the court and get ahead quickly, and that allowed them to win every match.”


Above all, though, Lieb said the team’s closeness and chemistry carried them over the line. She’s known Shatashvili since she was ten years old and has been playing with the other members for multiple years. She noted that teammate Matt Hansen was her “right-hand man” the entire season, helping her strategize, plan practices all over the city—from Fort Greene Park in Brooklyn to the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center to the West Side Tennis Club in Queens—and generally supporting her “every move”  as she embarked on captaining a team for the first time ever. 


“What made our team special is that we are all really good friends outside of the tennis court,” she said. “We all care about each other and have each other’s backs no matter what...the most fun part of the weekend was getting to spend time together and play the sport we’re all so passionate about.”


Check out full USTA League National Championship results here.

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