HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — Four of the nations’ best amateur tennis players squared off in the semifinals of the 2022 USTA girls clay court national championships. This event is known to host some of the best up-and-coming talent, but fans were treated to two matchups with four, top-35 players in Tennis Recruiting Network’s rankings.
Natasha Rajaram, the tournament's #1 seed and the nation's #19 prospect clawed back from a 4-3 deficit to tie it at 5 and didn't look back; final score 3-6, 6-3, 7-5. Her opponent, Claire Hill of Cary, North Carolina had come in hot, winning 10/12 of her sets played this tournament. But Rajaram, who was playing on clay competitively for only the second time, said she adapted quickly and worked to force Hill out of position.
With the trip to the finals secured, Rajaram said her preparation will be mostly rehab and less technical in approach.
“I think since I have the rest of the day off, honestly, just resting and relaxing my body and preparing for the next day just making sure to start off strong because I think that was one thing that I definitely didn't do so much today in the first set,” she said. “My opponent came out very strong right off the bat and I think I need to make sure to have that same mentality tomorrow in the finals.”
Citing that first set loss, Rajaram said the match with Hill was difficult the whole time; coming from behind didn’t make it any easier.
“I think both of us were kind of unrelenting and just not giving up,” she said. “It was a battle for sure.”
In the finals, Rajaram, California’s #3 high school junior, will face Katie Spencer of Orlando, Florida. Two of the nation’s tennis powerhouse states will contend for the title of top 16-year-old.
Spencer, a five-star recruit, also had a competitive semifinal. She and eighth-seeded Emily Baek of Suwanee, Georgia went to a tie-breaker on the first set. Spencer prevailed 7(7)-6(1) before falling in the second set 7-5. Though her final set scored 6-2 in her favor, it was not as easy as the score indicates. Baek hit an occasional long shot that tried to pin Spencer back in her own side. Spencer, however, was nimble on drop shots close to the net.
The singles championship is set for Sunday at 10:30 at Athletic Club Alabama in Huntsville. Check out the full bracket here.