2018 Master'U Blog: U.S. wins 8th title in last 10 years
As Team USA looks to reclaim the Master’U BNP Paribas title and win the event for the eighth time in the last 10 years, Greg Patton – one of three Team USA coaches and the former Boise State men’s tennis head coach – will be writing a blog for USTA.com during the team’s stay in France. Stay tuned for daily updates, as competition is slated for Nov. 30-Dec. 2.
Sunday was a day that seemed like a lifetime, as we completed our 11-hour quest to win back the Master’U BNP Paribas World Collegiate Championships in Grenoble, France. When we woke up this morning, our entire team realized that our “longest day” was a reality, and not only a beautiful dream.
Team USA is flying high in airliners back to school in the States in absolute ecstasy, following one of those emotional, spine-tingling, team-tennis matches for the ages. The Americans have reached the finals for the past 10 straight years, and we were looking to regain the title after being denied by a phenomenal team from Great Britain at the championships last year in Lille, France.
This year, in Grenoble, our squad of America’s finest in collegiate tennis came prepared physically, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually to bring the title back to American shores. Their enthusiastic fire and talent captured the championship by a 4-1 score in a match that showcased the excellence and mastery of international collegiate tennis. The final score doesn’t capture or describe how close the match was, and what gallant warriors both the Americans and British brought to the battlefield of the French hard courts.
Wonder-woman Ashley Lahey (Pepperdine) started off the festivities with a 6-4, 6-4 victory, highlighted by her aggressive shot-making and athleticism. Ashley had a perfect tournament, winning all three of her matches. A veteran from last year’s event, she came back to redeem her losses from 2017. A dynamic change has occurred in her confidence. In one year, her game has dramatically flourished and is now thriving. Her win gave the USA a 1-0 lead. One match down, and we still needed three more points to bring the crown home.
Another returner, Brandon Holt (USC) was next up, with a chance to help us pull away from the tough Brits. He faced a hard-hitting player in Isaac Stoute, who would swing for the fences and connect on his nuclear blasts. Our “lightning bolt” is in reality a smooth operator who floats around the courts with the elegance of a ballroom dancer. His British opponent came out of the blocks blazing and grabbed the first set (6-4) characterized by blasting winners and some errors.
One of Brandon’s greatest weapons is his composure. He quietly and subtly became more consistent, nonchalantly moved to the net when the opportunity arose and persistently attacked Stoute's humungous forehand and neutralized it. Brandon went on a run and easily won the second set, 6-1, and was up, 5-2, in the third set when his opponent was able to put two games together to strike a moment of terror into our hearts.
Brandon wasn’t going to have anything to do with “a demon arising in this masterpiece,” and was able to calmly close up shop with ball-machine precision to capture the deciding game and lock up a 4-6, 6-1, 6-4 victory. Brandon was 2-0 in singles matches at Master’U, and his last victory put us up 2-0 in the finals; only two more victories to go.
The third match came at No. 1 women’s singles. Freshman sensation Maria Mateas (Duke) ignited the fireworks in a slugfest of razor-sharp ground stokes. The match was neck-and-neck, but her opponent, Maia Lumsden (ranked No. 315 on the WTA Tour), was able to pull the victory out with a 7-5, 6-3 result. Maria finished the weekend at 2-1 overall in her first appearance on this Team USA squad. After that result, we were clinging on to a narrow 2-1 lead.
The No. 1 men's singles match had all the excitement of a UFC match. Oliver Crawford (Florida) came up against one of the purest serve-and-volley players this side of Wimbledon, in Jack Findel-Hawkins. The shot-making was fast and furious with Findel-Hawkins serving-and-volleying on every point. When staying back, he used a cannon to blast returns. Points were short and intense, and Oliver’s athleticism was stunning. He would find an answer to every sonic-boom serve that his opponent launched, and then would scramble, dive and fly to try to hit a passing shot. When Oliver served, he would outhit his opponent and unload precise, laser-like passing shots. It was a shooting gallery.
The entire match had this scenario as its plotline. There was only one break of serve during the entire match, when Oliver broke serve to win the first set. Both the second and third sets were determined by tiebreakers. Oliver’s nerves never wavered as he competed like a ninja warrior with searing fire in his belly. He lost the second set and found himself in a third-set breaker for all the tamales. His focus was one of a meditating Tibetan monk, and his body was perpetual motion like a Kung Fu movie star, with his incessant scrambling and lunging for every gigantic groundstroke or sharp volley. Believe me, the Brit was a human backboard at the net. Eventually, Oliver persevered with his radiant intensity and dogged persistence to chase every ball down, even if it was sailing toward the English Channel. The only way he won a point when returning serve was on a passing shot, as his opponent never missed a volley. He won the match 6-4, 6-7, 7-6, to finish the weekend at 3-0 in his Master’U debut and give us a 3-1 lead..
Now the storyline gets interesting. The British doubles teams are AWESOME. In their first match against the French, they were down, 1-3, and swept all three doubles matches to advance. Against the Germans, in the semifinals, they were tied at 2-2, when their doubles teams dominated to win and secure their spot in the finals. On this occasion, Team USA had three chances to win one doubles point, but we needed to get it done fast against the Brits, for they were raring to roar.
The start of our women’s doubles was like watching “The Walking Dead.” Our American gals of Jada Hart (UCLA) and Mateas were like lambs in the sights of a hunting rifle when they lost the first set, 6-0. I think they were so emotionally drained by rooting on their teammates in singles (especially Oliver’s match) that their emotional tank was empty when they had to immediately step onto the court for their match. But their transformation was dramatic, as they went toe-to-toe, eyeball-to-eyeball in the second set and were able to take it to a tiebreaker. At first, they fell behind in the breaker, but with the hearts of lionesses protecting their cubs, they found a way to fight off match points to win it, 9-7, with sensational groundstrokes from Maria and the vicious volleying of Jada.
The third sets in doubles are all determined by a 10-point breaker in the event, and the U.S. women maintained their ferocious momentum from the second set to gain an 8-4 lead in the decider. We needed only two more precious points to win the world championship. But the British women had other plans, as evidenced by their sizzling, whiplash groundstrokes. Our girls fought off the onslaught, and at the end of a 12-ball really on match point, Maria put away the backhand volley of her life to win us the title and put an exclamation point on both the doubles and overall match.
Enough said. The women clinched the championship in doubles, and the American party began.
A fantastic note from this team match was that four of the last five sets played went down to tiebreakers, with the USA winning each of the last three. Talk about our players handling pressure!
All I can say is that it was such an honor to have a team of such great wonderful coaches in Amanda Augustus (California) and Garrett Patton (Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo). Needless to say, we were blessed with championship players on our squad. They possess courageous hearts, pure souls, strong bodies, sharp minds, radiant positivity, an iron-plated drive and a forest-fire passion. American tennis needs solar-powered sun glasses, for the future is so bright with players like this on the verge of the professional level.
Jada Hart went 4-1 over her five doubles matches in the event. You can understand why she is a US Open girls’ doubles champion. Emil Reinberg (Georgia) was the backbone of the team; he was 1-0 in singles and 2-1 in doubles over the course of the three team matches. Congratulations to our women, Jada Hart, Ashley Lahey and Maria Mateas, and our men, Emil Reinberg, Brandon "Lightning" Holt and “The Big ‘O,’” Oliver Crawford.
USA 4, Great Britain 1
#2 Ashley Lahey (USA) def. Laura Sainsbury (GBR), 6-4, 6-4
#2 Brandon Holt (USA) def. Isaac Stoute (GBR), 4-6, 6-1, 6-4
#1 Maia Lumsden (GBR) def. Maria Mateas (USA), 7-5, 6-3
#1 Oliver Crawford (USA) def. Jack Findel-Hawkins (GBR), 6-3, 6-7(3), 7-6(4)
Women: Jada Hart / Maria Mateas (USA) def. Maia Lumsden / Laura Sainsbury (GBR), 0-6, 7-6(7), 1-0(10-8)
Men: Did not play
Mixed: Did not play
Matches are listed in the order in which they were played; men's and mixed doubles we not played as the match was clinched after women's doubles.
Team USA has now won the Master’U title in 2009, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2018. Since its debut in the tournament in 2008, USA has finished in the top three every year (third in 2008, second in 2010 and 2017). Visit the official Master'U website for more.
Previous blog posts:
Photo credit: Etienne Jeanneret