By McCarton Ackerman
NEW HAVEN, Conn. - The finals of the US Open National Playoffs will pit the defending champion Blake Strode against crafty veteran Nathan Healey, while an all-UCLA final between rising freshman Robin Anderson and recent graduate Yasmin Schnack was locked in on Saturday afternoon.
Schnack was the first player to advance through to the championship match on Sunday. Competing in front of a standing room only crowd on Court 1 at the Connecticut Tennis Center at Yale University in New Haven, CT, Schnack and Washington put on an entertaining display of all court tennis, with Schnack ultimately prevailing in just over two hours with a 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 win.
“I love playing in front of a crowd, even in the times when they’re all against me,” said Schnack. “Playing at UCLA and having a huge tennis stadium, I’ve just learned to use their energy to my advantage.”
After going down a set and 2-1, Schnack began to change her style of play by going for more on her returns and looking for any opportunity to attack the net. The plan worked as the California native reeled off five consecutive games to take the second set.
“I knew that I had to pick up my level of play and try to give her a taste of her own medicine because she was attacking the ball so well in the beginning,” said Schnack.
Schnack will play against unseeded Robin Anderson, who continued her dream run with a 6-1, 6-2 dismantling of No. 3 seed Macall Harkins. Anderson will be attending UCLA as a freshman this fall, which is Schnack’s alma mater.
“When we saw each other today, I told her that we had to make it an all Bruins final,” said Schnack. “She’s a great player and I think we’ll have a very good match out there.”
In the second semifinal of the day, Anderson stormed out to a 5-0 lead in the opening set against Harkins and had the lead for the duration of the match, not losing her serve once throughout the contest.
“I thought I served really well out there,” said Anderson. “I started to revert back in the second set and play a little bit too defensively, but was able to hang on in the end.”
Earlier in the day, Anderson competed in her second round qualifying match at the New Haven Open, where she lost 6-0, 7-5 to Anastasia Rodionova of Australia. However, Anderson she was quickly able to put the loss out of her mind.
“I knew I had another match to get prepared for,” said Anderson. “I just put the loss right out of my mind and came out ready to play.”
In the first men’s semifinal of the day, defending champion and No. 1 seed Blake Strode had little trouble in dispatching No. 4 seed Damon Gooch 6-1 6-1. Despite facing break points in three of his final four service games, Strode did not lose serve once all match as he easily advanced into the championship match.
“It was a lot closer than the score says,” said Strode. “He played well and there were a lot of long rallies out there, especially towards the end.”
Strode has dropped only six games in his three matches at the US Open National Playoffs, but he said that he has made sure to not get ahead of himself.
“I don’t ever think I’m the favorite when I go out there,” said Strode. “I just look at the person who’s in front of me as an obstacle and do my best to try and come through.”
In the other men’s semifinal, unseeded Nathan Healey prevailed in a seesaw encounter against No. 2 seed David Martin, breaking serve midway through the third set to prevail 6-3, 4-6, 6-3.
“I just hung tough out there,” said Healey. “David has a really unorthodox style of play that took me a bit to get used to, and he was getting most of his first serves in, which always make things difficult.”
Serving for the match at 5-3, Healey saved his best tennis for the end of the match, hitting a drop volley winner and then a running forehand passing shot to set up match point.
“I knew that we were near the end of the match, so I just had to put in another five minutes of hardcore effort and that it would probably get me over the line,” said Healey.
Both championships matches are scheduled for Sunday afternoon. The winner of the men’s and women’s singles events this week will receive a wild card into the US Open qualifying tournament, held from August 23-26 at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing, NY.
2011 US Open National Playoffs Men's and Women's Championships
Saturday, August 20 - Women’s Singles Semifinals
(2) Yasmin Schnack (Elk Grove, CA) d. Mashona Washington (Houston, TX)
Robin Anderson (Matawan, NJ) d. (3) Macall Harkins (Palos Verdes Estates, CA) 6-1, 6-2
Saturday August 20 - Men’s Singles Semifinals
(1) Blake Strode (St. Louis, MO) d. (4) Damon Gooch (Bethesda, MD) 6-1, 6-1
Nathan Healey (Wyomissing, PA) d. (2) David Martin (Key Biscayne, FL) 6-3, 4-6, 6-3