Natalie Grinham comes from two-down to defeat Natalie Grainger
THE BIG WIN
Natalie Grinham was beaming ear-to-ear. A happy moment, making the long trip from Australia to the WISPA stops in USA worthwhile to say the least. Flanked by a few tour friends, she couldn't find any words, just smiled. "I think I need to phone my mom..." Natalie had fallen 2 games down and 1-4 in the third game, then 4-8 match ball in the fourth. It looked like the match was over. Coach Geoff Hunt tried to smile in the stands. Then, Natalie found the formula, turning to the patient play that Geoff had been trying to get her to employ since the beginning of the match. Patience paid off immediately as the errors from the tiring Natalie Grainger started to come. Now, an hour later, Grinham found herself in the San Francisco International Challenge Semi-finals, with a date against Tania Bailey. Grinham and Bailey will meet for the first time.
A CASE OF NERVES AND IMPATIENCE
Even in the warmup it was clear that both Natalies were up for the match. Natalie Grainger and Natalie Grinham were both focused and ready. The match started with a long first point punctuated by dueling drop shots. The first duel was won by Grainger. More crisp play ensued, with Grinham pursuing a game plan of moving Grainger around the court as much as possible. Grainger's volleys were crisp and she was fast up front to cover Grinham's frequent drops.
Unfortunately, Grinham's errors came quickly. "I was really nervous," said Grinham. "I knew it was a big match and I wasn't comfortable." Grainger went out to a 5-0 lead. Then Grinham put Grainger out of position and earned a stroke to move to 1-5, a quick error by Grainger and a perfect lob off of the drop by Grinham brought her within range at 3-6. But a series of nicks by Grainger, one off of a perfect volley, another on the serve, moved the score to 7-3 and continued pressure by Grainger gave her the first game at 9-3.
Grinham's coach, Geoff Hunt, hoped to get Grinham to increase her patience, moving Grainger but not at the cost of risky shots. Grainger, though, came out keeping pressure on Grinham, and forcing Grinham into a series of low percentage volley drop attempts and drops-to-tin. Grainger had the second game 9-1.
At 3-1 in the third, Grainger looked like she was tiring, as she moved more slowly to clear. Grinham made a superb recovery off of yet another Grainger drop to regain the serve. But yet another low percentage volley gave Grainger back the serve. Grinham made another superb get of a Grainger drop, but left herself in position to forfeit the stroke: Score 4-1 for Grainger.
But Grinham now sensed Grainger slowing and became more patient. Grainger failed to clear and it was 2-4. An unforced error by Grainger brought Grinham to 3-5, a failed volley drop brought Grinham to 4-5. At 5-5 Grainger suddenly failed to pursue a gettable Grinham drive, and Grinham finally had a lead, 6-5, two more times Grainger failed to pursue Grinham drives, and the games stood 1-2.
GRINHAM'S TACTICAL ERRORS
"It was just going to take some patience" Geoff Hunt later said. But Grinham's patience that she had suddenly found in game three eluded her again. She just had to try an off balance backhand volley drop to nick at 1-1 giving Grainger the lead.
Grainger made her second backhand volley drop error of the game giving the serve right back, but Grinham showed her inexperience in big match situations -- suddenly making a string of tactical blunders, bringing Grainger up front when she wasn't out of position time after time, giving Grainger the easy drive and tempting Grinham to cut it finer and finer. An ensuing string of errors gave Grainger the lead at 4-1.
Grinham found her patience again and forced Grainger into errors, evening the game at 4-4. Again her patience eluded her, and Grainger powered her way to an 8-4 lead. Now Grainger was just driving the ball, hoping to overpower her opponent. Match ball.
But now Grinham showed her character. She dug deep and came up with a long rally and a perfect drop to gain the serve, 4-8. Grainger gave Grinham the ball in the center, 5-8, a perfect cross volley drop by Grinham, 6-8, pinpoint cross court length, 7-8, and a backhand cross volley drop tied the game at 8-8.
At 8-8 Grinham was denied a stroke, but two rallies later her shot hit Grainger on the T giving her a stroke and 9-8 score. Then a missed point blank volley by Grainger tied the match at 2 games apiece.
TIME TO HOLD YOUR BREATH
Grinham now had the confidence to run off punishing shots and rallies, taking a 8-0 lead. "In a way, I'd rather it be 8-8 than 8-0. I was a bit afraid of what might happen" admitted Grinham. "My heart was really beating fast at 8-0" said Geoff Hunt (who has experienced and seen it all). Several bad shots by Grinham gave Grainger the opening to come back to 2-8. But after Grinham regained the lead, the match ended on a beautiful backhand drop nick by Grinham. She had the match and the applause, in a really big win.
TRANFIELD COULDN"T PLAY
Jenny Tranfield couldn't get out of bed with some kind of stomach ailment, and had to default her match, giving Tania Bailey a rest day.
Vanessa Atkinson was really focused. She was all over the court, with length, short game, and terrific retrieving. Latasha Khan was playing well as well, but despite point after well played point, most of them ended up in Vanessa's favor. Latasha lamented later, "I just was too impatient out their. Not disciplined enough."
It was still a good match, an interesting contrast in styles, with Latasha's characteristic Khan-style compact racket work and super racket control, moving Atkinson around the court. Vanessa's well oiled footwork and body movement, getting low over every shot and covering the court. In the end, Vanessa's retrieving enticed Latasha to cut her short shots finer and finer, finally resulting in too many errors. The match, though, was closer than the score indicated.
Vanessa took the first game easily at 9-2. Latasha was undeterred and took the second game to 5-5. But then a long rally punctuated by several great gets got Vanessa the lead at 6-5. Another long rally ended in Vanessa's favor, 7-5 and then Latasha conceded the game at 9-5 after a very difficult no-let call that went against Latasha at 5-8.
Game three also stood even at 5-5. But again several errors doomed Latasha and Vanessa had a berth in the semis.
Stephanie Brind looked to be a tough challenge for qualifier Melissa Vacca. The match presented an odd tactical battle, with much of the match taking place in the front court, with Brind constantly challenging Vacca to get it past her, but both players resorted to low drives, drops, and boasts, that constantly presented a counter punch style of play.
Vacca, though, was the one making all the errors. "I was just way too loose out there," said Vacca. And the score showed it -- with a 9-3, 9-7, 9-0 win that earned Brind a Saturday afternoon date with Holland's Vanessa Atkinson.