WTT in California

At the end of July, Shelby will go off again to her next tournament in San Diego, California. Only, this time, it won’t be for wheelchair tennis. Invited to play in the World Team Tennis (WTT) Junior Nationals, Shelby will be one of six players representing Hawaii at the event.

In 1974, WTT was co-founded by Billy Jean King, a pioneer in tennis who advocated social equality between genders. It is one of the most popular recreational tennis formats in the US, and a well-known professional tennis league.

Baron served in the 2012 World Team Cup finals in May © Jeremiah Yolkut

Last October, Shelby and her junior team made it to the Junior Team Tennis (JTT) Nationals, and was the first wheelchair player to compete in that event. Read about what was said about her that week here! Like the JTT Nationals, the WTT tournament will be similar in difficulty for the Hawaii team, but Shelby and her teammates are training every week to prepare for the prestigious event. On the side, Shelby has been visiting the weight-room three times a week at 7:30 in the morning and going to basketball once a week for cross training. She hopes her hard work will show in her game as she moves towards her next tournaments in San Diego, and possibly even Taipei in September.

This event will be a another great adventure as she’ll meet different people from around the US and hopefully inspire other junior wheelchair players to come out and play tennis. She’s come far, and her travels have brought her irreplaceable memories and experiences. Who knows, maybe she’ll even be able to meet Billy Jean King, herself…

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World Team Cup in Korea

Shelby arrives in Korea for the 2012 BNP Paribas World Team Cup

The last week of May was exciting as the US Juniors fought to reach the finals of the 2012 BNP Paribas World Team Cup held in Seoul, Korea. Shelby joined up with teammates Chris Herman from Florida and Kate Stuteville from Texas to beat the top seed Great Britain, and claim second place in the junior division.

The tournament started on Sunday, May 20th with the Opening Ceremony at the Seoul Olympic Park Tennis Center, which hosted the 1988 Summer Olympics in Korea. Shelby had arrived a couple days before to warm-up and adjust to the weather and altitude changes. Play began the next day and the US Juniors had a great start by defeating Russia 3-0 in the round robin format. The next day would be tougher as they faced the Netherlands, seeded second in the draw.

First up, Shelby played Jeroen Staman, and struggled to win a game in the first set. But, she never gave up, and won four games in a row in the second set to lead 4-3. Unfortunately, her opponent kept his composure and finished the match 6-0, 6-4. Chris Herman had a more exciting match by taking the deciding match to three sets. However, he, too, lost in the third set tie-breaker: 7-6 (9), 4-6, 6-7 (4). Chris and Shelby quickly recovered and played the final doubles match against Diede De Groot and Thomas Zomerdijk. Their final score was 6-4, 3-6, 10-8.

Shelby and Kate celebrate a point against Mexico in the doubles ©Jeremiah Yolkut

The third day decided whether or not the US Juniors would advance to the semi-finals. Shelby played Lizbeth Alondra Soto Rivera of Mexico, and dropped only one game in the second set to win 6-0, 6-1. Chris was up next, and also finished easily 6-1, 6-1. Shelby played the doubles with Kate and they won to guarantee a spot in the semis against Great Britain–the top seed in the tournament.

Shelby had beat her opponent five months before in the Junior Masters in France, but she didn’t let it unsettle her. Winning against Great Britain would give them another chance to play the Dutch in the finals; Shelby and her teammates were focused on winning the match. She took care of business and won against Lauren Jones 6-1, 6-0. Next, Chris played the top ranked Junior in the tournament, Alfie Hewett. Although Chris played well, he was unable to clinch the victory and lost 4-6, 2-6. It was up to the doubles match.

Going in as the underdogs, Shelby and Chris had nothing to lose. They fought hard to win the first set 6-4. But, as they started to relax, the match slipped away for a little while, and they quickly lost the second 3-6. As teammates from both the US and Great Britain started filling up the audience, Chris and Shelby started to get nervous.

Shelby stretches out for a backhand against Great Britain ©Jeremiah Yolkut

But they remained calm and listened to their Coach, John Devorss, who told them to “Believe”. The third set 10 point tie-breaker had a quick start, and the Americans found themselves at a disadvantage of 2-4. They needed to believe they could win the match, and they did. Their final score was 6-4, 3-6, 10-7.

The day of the finals Shelby went in for a rematch against Jeroen, and played well during the first set. Unfortunately, her opponent also played better that day and she lost 3-6, 0-6. Chris felt a heavy burden on his shoulders as he had to face Carlos Anker again in the deciding match. Even though both sets were extremely close, he lost in two tie-break sets: 6-7(5), 6-7(3).

Shelby shows her silver medal after the closing ceremony for the Junior Division

The Americans lost in the finals, but they found reasons to celebrate their progress throughout the week. They had placed second overall, which was the US Juniors’ best finish since 2003. And, they had the best results out of all the Americans; the Quads finished third, the women finished sixth, and the men finished seventh.

The Saturday after Shelby returned from Korea, she graduated with Honors from Punahou School. She’ll start up at the University of Hawaii at Manoa in the fall. In the meantime, she’s hitting the courts and going to the weight room to train for her next tournament.

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Off Court Update

Shelby after a hard day of practice in Thailand

Shelby has been successful on and off court as she has been receiving various grants and scholarships that will help fund her education next year at the University of Hawaii. So far, she has received the Chancellor’s Scholarship at the University of Hawaii at Manoa along with the USTA Serves Eve Kraft College Scholarship, the Althea Gibson Leadership Award, and the AXA Achievement Scholarship. She has also received two scholarships from the Hawaii Community Foundation: the David L. Irons Memorial Scholarship Fund, and the Jean Fitzgerald Scholarship.

The USTA Hawaii Pacific Section wrote up a nice article on what’s been happening in Shelby’s world so far. Click here to see what they had to say!

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Cajun Classic and Pensacola Open 2012

During the last two weeks of March, I played a total of 16 matches in seven days. It was a lot, but I gained a lot of experience traveling to two top tournaments in the states.

My first stop was in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Even though I lost in the first round in the Women’s Open division, I got to play the number 12 in the world, and former number 1 junior, Jordanne Whiley from Great Britain. I pushed hard throughout the match, and it paid off. With a score of 2-6, 1-6, I was complimented by being described as “ridiculously fast”. For my first round of consolation, I played a fellow American junior, Kate Stuteville, and won 6-2, 6-1.The second round of consolation was against another British player, Louise Hunt, and also a top 25 player. I started off slow, and lost the first set 2-6, but made some adjustments to finish with a final score of 2-6, 4-6.

Jordanne Whiley (GBR)

I also played in the Women’s Open division for doubles with my partner KG Montjane from South Africa. She was steady and played well, but I was a little off that day and had a really slow start. We played two Koreans who never missed, and  soon lost the first set at love. I had to make some adjustments and just started hitting loopy balls over the net. We won a few games with some great rallies, but couldn’t penetrate our opponent’s tough game. Our final score was 0-6, 3-6.

As for the junior division, I had a strong start by dropping only one game in three matches against my opponents. But as the pressure kicked in, I lost momentum on the last day and lost to Chris Herman from Florida: 4-6, 0-6. I had to quickly bounce back to play doubles against him and his partner Alex Sapporito. Luckily my partner, Kate was supportive and helped me to calm down. As it was my fourth match of the day, we ended finishing at 8:30 at night. But we were victorious with a final score of 6-2, 6-1.

I had time to reflect what happened the previous week in a five hour drive to Pensacola, Florida. I took a day to recoup, but was immediately back on the courts, practicing, the night we arrived.

The second tournament I had to play a qualifying match to make it into the main draw. I played Willemien Smits from the Netherlands, and won 6-4, 6-4. I was nervous as I started the new tournament, but quickly adjusted to the new conditions as I entered the main draw against Jordanne Whiley again. I knew she was tough, but was able to make some adjustments. I played well, but she also made a few improvements. I lost 2-6, 2-6, one more game than the previous week.

Of course, as luck would have it, Jordanne was not the first player I would play twice in the two tournaments. My first round of consolation was against Willemien Smits. I was no longer nervous, and knew exactly how to play my opponent. My final score was 6-0, 6-2. For the doubles, I was partnered with an American, Kaitlyn Verfuerth, against the same Korean pair

I played the week before. I was prepared to do better the second time, and played an extremely steady game. We were really close in the first set and won the tie breaker 7-2. But as night fell, and my partner and I got tired, the Koreans hardly altered and we lost a two and a half hour match 7-6 (2), 3-6, 2-6.

Willemein Smits (NED)

My second round of consolation was against Henriett Koosz from Hungary, number 26 in the world. I was playing OK that day, but she also hit a lot of winners off of me. I learned a lot from playing her, and was reminded of my previous week’s match against Chris, the number 1 junior.

When I played my junior matches the second match, my focus was to not crumble the way I did in Louisiana. When I played him the last day, again, I had a really close first set and lost in tie-breaker, 5-7. I knew I was not far off, and started playing my game; I hit away at the ball, not thinking about the previous set score. My hard work paid off, and I quickly took the second set 6-3. The third set tie-breaker was going to decide the winner of the match. I was a little frazzled and lost my concentration for a bit and was immediately down 3-6in the twelve-point tie-breaker. However, I played like how I did the second set and saved 5 match points by not being a score-chaser. My final score was 6-7 (5), 6-3, 10-8. I was proud of myself, and how I was able to continually improve my performance even though I had played many of the same players.

Even though I lost the majority of my matches, I learned new things from playing some top players, and my scores reflect that I can at least keep up at the moment. In the next few months, I plan to train hard and incorporate some techniques I saw into my own game. Right now, I’m happy to be back in Hawaii, and I’ll continue training until May where I’ll be off to South Korea to compete in the 2012 BNP Paribas World Team Cup. Until then!

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Les Petits As Blog

During the last week of January, I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the 2012 Cruyff Foundation Junior Masters in Tarbes, France. The wheelchair tournament hosted eight boys and four girls.  The delegation from the US included Ryan Nelson from Utah, my coach Mimi Kennell and myself.

The event commenced with a three-day high performance training camp prior to the tournament. I arrived in Tarbes on Sunday afternoon and began training on Monday.  That day I met my competitors Angelica Bernal (Columbia), Lauren Jones (Great Britain), and Busra Un (Turkey). I was excited to have the opportunity to hit with the other junior players at the camp. The boys included Carlos Anker (Netherlands), Shepherd Banda (Zimbabwe), Rody de Bie (Netherlands), Alfie Hewett (Great Britain), Augustin Ledesma (Argentina), Marco Sousa (Brazil), and Jeroen Staman (Netherlands).

For the next two days we trained while adjusting to the cool weather and the change in altitude. On Tuesday night, we attended the opening ceremony and the players were greeted by the mayor of Tarbes. On Wednesday, the draws were unveiled and the round robin matches officially began Thursday morning.

My opening match was challenging as I took the defending champion, Angelica Bernal from Columbia, to three sets but lost with a score of 6-4, 0-6, 1-6.

I did not let my first match loss discourage me. I refocused and won my next two matches. My second match was against the number 1 seed: Busra Un from Turkey. My score was 6-0, 6-0.  I then went on to play Lauren Jones from Great Britain. My score was 6-0, 6-1.

Saturday afternoon I teamed up with Busra Un to play doubles against Bernal and Jones. Our match was exciting and our final score was 3-6, 6-1, 14-12, after saving 5 match points in the third set tiebreaker.

At the conclusion of the round robin matches, I qualified for the finals and a re-match against Angelica Bernal. I was a little nervous because I had never played in front of so many people before—there must have been about 100 spectators that morning. We went to at least ten deuces, but I didn’t win the points that mattered.  My final score was 1-6, 2-6.

I played well during the tournament and placed second in singles and first in doubles. I benefited greatly by attending the tournament by watching superior tennis that was played by both wheelchair and able-bodied players.  It was not all about the tennis, though, and there are unforgettable memories and endearing relationships that were created off the court with the other players and their coaches that will stay with me for a long time.

 

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