Crawley ousts top seed to reach Girls' 16s final

Pat Mitsch | December 09, 2017

It’s your conventional tennis success story: a native Texan streaks to the singles final of her first international clay-court event, thanks in part to a three-year stint in Japan and a bit of guidance from the one-time coach of Kimiko Date-Krumm.

Fifteen-year-old Fiona Crawley is into the Orange Bowl Girls’ 16s singles final after cutting down top-seeded Romanian Andreea Velcea, 6-2, 6-3, on the green clay courts at the Frank Veltri Tennis Center in Plantation, Fla., Friday.

Crawley (pictured above) will now take on 13th-seeded Estonian Katriin Saar on Saturday, bidding to win the biggest title of her career and cap a week she described as “stressful” by calling on her experience training on the synthetic surfaces of Okinawa.

That’s where Crawley lived from ages 6 to 9, while her father, Peter, was stationed there with the U.S. Air Force. It’s where she started her formative years of tennis training, on the synthetic courts known as Omnicourt, which Crawley described as “turf-grass with sand” that mimics the slippery properties of clay.

And so here is Crawley, having moved back to San Antonio six years ago, one win away from a crowning achievement on a court surface that isn’t exactly abundant in her home state.

“I love clay,” Crawley said. “I don’t really play on clay, but I lived in Japan for a couple of years, and they only have Omnicourt, so it’s pretty similar. It’s like turf-grass, with sand, so you can slide on it. So that’s kind of where I grew up. It’s different. They don’t have them in America.”

It was in that three-year span that Crawley also spent time around Hiro Kojima, who coached Date-Krumm, the longtime Japanese pro and former world No. 4. Kojima was primarily involved with Crawley’s older brother, Liam, who would go on to play collegiate tennis at Trinity University in Texas.

But he did work with the youngest of the three Crawley siblings (Fiona’s older sister, Solene, also now plays tennis at Colorado State), and Fiona returned to Texas – where she now trains at the John Newcomb Tennis Ranch, in nearby New Braunfels – to build on that foundation.

“I’ve been in a national final but never an international final,” said Crawley, who won the Girls’ 16s singles title at the USTA National Clay Court Championships this summer. “I’m playing girls from all over the (world), so it’s a different experience. I’ve never played any of them.

“I try to get to the net a lot because I’m not big and strong like a lot of the girls here,” Crawley said. “I can’t just power through people, so I just have to use slices and other shots to try and win.”

Two all-American doubles teams flexed their clay-court prowess to win the 16s doubles championships on Friday. In the girls’ title match, the first-time doubles team of 15-year-old Kacie Harvey of Braintree, Mass., and 14-year-old Kylie Collins of Savannah, Ga., defeated Puerto Rican Maria Aguiar and Briana Crowley of Battle Ground, Ind., 6-3, 6-1.

“I think we played pretty well, especially for our first time together,” Collins said. “Towards the beginning of the week, we were still figuring some things out. We went to a lot of tiebreakers, but Kacie is really confident in her tiebreakers, and we were good, so that was really nice. And I think we just played pretty well, communicated well and moved well on the court together.”

“It feels really good to win, especially with Kylie,” Harvey said. “She’s a great partner, and for the first time playing together, we played really well. I felt pretty confident. I love playing doubles, and I know she’s a great doubles player. Going into the tournament, I thought we had a pretty good chance at getting the title.”

The Boys’ 16s doubles champions played with similar confidence. In an all-American match, 16-year-old Spencer Whitaker of Richmond, Va., and 15-year-old Eliot Spizzirri of Greenwich, Conn., beat Georgi Mavrodiev of Norcross, Ga., and Scott Sculley of Hilton Head, S.C., 5-7, 6-3 [10-5].

“I think we just had to stay focused and play our game aggressively – not be timid and just play the right way,” Spizzirri said. “And if we play the right way, I think we execute well enough to win. It feels pretty good. It was a tough couple of matches, but it’s a good feeling.”

“When we’re both focused and pumped and eager to win, we can produce some really high-level doubles,” Whitaker said. “I think this week we were able to get ourselves to that level most of the time, which was a key factor in this match. It’s a big tournament, so winning it is kind of special. It’s a great feeling holding the trophy.”

In the Girls’ 18s singles quarterfinals, top-seeded and No. 1-ranked Whitney Osuigwe outlasted American challenger Vanessa Ong in Friday’s quarterfinals, 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, and joins wild card Chloe Beck, who beat sixth-seeded Slovenian Niko Ridisic, 6-4, 7-5, in Saturday’s semis.



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