Master'U blog: 'Can’t express enough how proud'
Six of the top collegiate players in the country – UCLA sophomore Ena Shibahara, Pepperdine sophomore Ashley Lahey, UNC freshman Alle Sanford, Florida junior Alfredo Perez, USC sophomore Brandon Holt and UCLA senior Martin Redlicki – are currently in France to compete in the 2017 Master’U BNP Paribas International Collegiate Team Competition, the world's most prestigious international college team event.
For the ninth time in the last 10 years, Boise State men’s coach Greg Patton is leading the U.S. team at the Master’U event and is being joined at the helm by Ohio State women’s coach Melissa Schaub, who is returning for a second consecutive year with the squad. Team USA will compete against teams from Belgium, China, France, Germany, Great Britain, Ireland and Russia and will be going for its seventh straight title and eighth in the last nine years.
Coach Patton has been writing a blog for USTA.com throughout the competition and, in his final entry, looks back on the 2017 Master'U final between Team USA and Great Britain.
As painful as it is to write that Team USA lost in the championship of the Master’U in Lille, France, to Great Britain by a 4-2 score, it is also with great pride and gratitude that Melissa Schaub and I were able to coach and lead such amazing and determined American collegiate tennis stars. The American grit, resolve, talent and especially depth as resourceful young champions were on display in every match, on every point, with every ball struck. Our American team never recoiled against the toughest draw that I have experienced as captain of the U.S. team but only welcomed the adversity that was thrown in our direction.
It was a day of remarkable and, in many ways, magical and shocking comebacks. Like an episode of “Stranger Things,” whenever one of the players or doubles teams from either squad looked like the match had slipped out of our hands, they would ultimately find victory falling in their lap. If they ever make an episode on tennis in “Stranger Things,” then our story for the championship match must be the story line. Our main character for the American team is Ena Shibahara (UCLA), who has to be considered “Wonder Woman” for the week. She went undefeated in three women’s doubles matches, a critical singles match against Great Britain and the mixed doubles against France.
Ashley Lahey (Pepperdine) led the charge of the American women, as she played No. 1 singles and was Ena’s partner in the USA “Wonder Women” doubles tandem. She faced stiff competition in singles, but her enthusiasm and competiveness was an exhilarating thing to behold. Ashley was 0-3 in singles, but her 3-0 women’s doubles record was a lifeline for victory for the American team against France and Germany.
Freshman Alle Sanford (North Carolina) was indoctrinated to team play this week, and although she had adversity in dropping both her No. 2 singles matches, she will undoubtedly have great success in college and international play.
The men have to be called the “Comeback Boys.” Brandon “Lightning Bolt” Holt (USC), Martin “Ever Ready” Redlicki (UCLA) and Alfredo “Salsa” Perez (Florida) were tenacious in pulling back the American team from deficits in the matches against France and Germany. The U.S. men’s players’ mojo ultimately was derailed by the energized and passionate British men’s contingent that was nuclear-powered and swinging for the fences and connected on every crucial point.
Brandon was 1-1 at No. 1 singles and 2-1 with Martin in men’s doubles. Martin was 1-0 at No. 1 singles, and 1-1 at No. 2 singles (2-1 in men’s doubles with Brandon). Alfredo was 1-0 at No. 2 singles in a thriller against Germany that brought the score back to 2-2 with the Germans.
Here is a recap of the classic Master’U Championship final:
Ena Shibahara won her only singles match of the tournament with a match for the ages. She fought back in all three sets to take a 5-7, 7-5, 6-4 victory, giving us our first early lead in three team matches. Ena was the “Lion Heart” in this match. In the final set, the British player was up 3-0 and seemingly racing toward a victory. Ena’s resolve to fight for each and every point allowed her to claw herself back into the match. When she finally was able to serve for the match, the British lass stole some of Ena’s resolve and fought off seven match points before Ena decisively put an exclamation point on a courageous winning shot.
USA up 1-0.
Martin Redlicki was up next at No. 2 singles. Before he could get any rhythm or feel for the match, he was reeling from some “upper-cut” blows from a serve-and-volley destruction machine. His opponent, Jack Findel-Hawkins (who was a singles NCAA quarterfinalist for North Florida), is a “first-strike” Navy Seal, who at the first opportunity is attacking the net. On this day, he was as close to tennis heaven as humanly possible, as his first-serve percentage was near perfection, and his volleys were laser precise. Great Britain wins, 6-4, 6-3.
USA 1, Great Britain 1.
Women’s No. 1 Singles. Ashley Lahey fell in a beautiful and hard-hitting ballet against two radiant ball machines. Each point was accentuated by two aggressive baseliners blasting deep shots to corners until one shot fell woefully short, and the other warrior ended with a winner. Of all the points played, the outcome of the match was ultimately decided by the difference of one or two points, as Ashley fell, 7-6, 7-6.
USA 1, Great Britain 2.
Men’s No. 1 Singles. Brandon Holt fell in a thriller that made both the British and American fans suffer some hair loss. His British opponent has great experience on the ATP circuit and plays with a passionate, go-for-the-fences energy. The script was an attacking British player and Brandon executing a composed counter-punching defense until he could find an opening and attack his opponent’s backhand.
But Brandon’s shoulder was aching, and he had to resort to spinning in his serve. He was serving for the match at 6-5 and serving at 40-love.
The British player blasted two forehand bullets for winners and fought back to several break points. On one unfortunate play, it looked like Brandon’s opponent missed a passing shot (linesman called it out) in which Brandon would have a fifth match-point opportunity, but the head umpire broke our hearts by overruling the call and gave the point to the Brit. Eventually, the Brit got the break and went on to capitalize on the momentum swing to take the match. Britain wins, 4-6, 6-4, 7-6.
The USA’s back is up against the wall. USA 1, Great Britain 3.
Women’s Doubles. Our “Wonder Women’s” team of Ena Shibahara and Ashley Lahey went 3-0 in the tournament, and no wonder. They have the passion, resolve, weapons, smarts and heart to fight off the hordes of any attackers. Although they lost the first set, the sparkle in their eyes and strength in their body language oozed confidence. They rumbled to win a remarkable second set. The third-set tiebreak was astonishing, for both teams knew that it was a championship for the Brits, and our American gladiators would keep our chances for a seventh straight world championship alive. The Brits were on the verge of victory when they went up 8-6 in the 10-point breaker. That is when our American “Wonder Women” saved the day. They reeled off four straight dynamic, aggressive and basically courageous shots to steal the win out of the hands of the Brits, 4-6, 6-3, 10-8.
USA 2, Great Britain 3.
Men’s Doubles. We were feeling so confident going into this match, with Holt and Redlicki going on court. Nonetheless, the British duo consisted of two experienced players whose game styles were made for an aggressive doubles match – gigantic serve-and-volley machines. One of our opponents has had great success on the pro circuit and had wins in doubles at the Wimbledon Championships. Their first-serve percentage was off-the-charts great, and with the confidence of easily holding serve, they confidently went for their returns. We fought our butts off trying to take them out of their games, but we could never get a sniff. Our dreams of taking a seventh straight Master’U was to be denied by Great Britain taking a 6-4, 6-3 win.
Great Britain wins Master’U, 4-2, over the USA.
I can’t express enough how proud Coaches Melissa Schaub, Garrett Patton and I are of our team. The experience of playing internationally is a win-win for everyone. We had, by far, the toughest draw in playing France, Germany and, ultimately, the Brits. They represented the USA with class and passion and made countless new friends and fans in France. The greatest classroom is the heat of battle. Nothing can beat the intensity and pressure of playing for your team and especially your country. They responded with an aura that was radiant. There is no doubt that our six players will take the lessons from these intense four days in France to spur them to great results this collegiate season and on the professional circuit.