Smith shows true grit to upset odds
Tyler Smith overcame a shoulder strain, the scorching midday heat and a tough battle from the No 1 seed to record an impressive victory in the quarter-finals of the Bank of Bermuda Foundation ITF Junior Circuit Tournament at the WER Joell Tennis Stadium yesterday.
Going up a set, Smith, the No 7 seed, had to overcome nerves and a sore shoulder before beating Elysse Graci of Florida 6-2, 4-6, 6-3 in an under-18 match that lasted two and a half hours and entertained the crowd, though it left both players physically and mentally drained.
Graci is the 289th ranked junior player in the world while Smith was ranked 816th coming into the weeklong tournament.
It was a major triumph for Smith who was cheered on by the crowd as the match hung in the balance in the third set after Graci led 2-0 before Smith pulled it back to 2-2, holding serve and then breaking Graci's serve.
Smith then took a 40-love lead on serve in the fifth game before Graci fought back to take the game to deuce and then winning to go 3-2 up.
Smith dug deep to stay in the match as she broke Graci's serve, before winning two more games to take a 5-3 lead. Serving for the victory, Smith led 40-15 but Graci battled back again and took it to deuce after a double fault by Smith.
After both players held advantage at deuce, Smith finally clinched the win to end the gruelling battle.
“In the beginning I felt a bit off, not focused and frustrated but I had to pull myself together to pull it out,” Smith said of the third set.
“She started out strong and I was too relaxed, so if I didn't change anything she definitely would have beaten me.
“She is a really good player. I started playing a little bit different when I was down 2-0 and I realised I could lose this one pretty fast.
“I tried to get a lot more balls back and it started to work in my favour.”
Smith, who won the Goombay Splash Bowl in the Bahamas last November when she beat Elena Muller of the US 6-4, 7-6 in the final, won yesterday's first set comfortably, despite losing the first serve game as Graci made her early intentions known. But Smith came back to lead 3-1, then 4-2 and 5-2 before taking the set with a backhand winner from the baseline.
She needed treatment from physio Anthony Raynor after the set as an ice pack was applied to her right shoulder.
“At the end of the first set my shoulder was starting to hurt, it was affecting my serve and I was letting it get to me,” Smith revealed. “I was getting very frustrated with it.”
Smith, 17, is in her last year as a junior and would love to end it with a victory on home court. “Yeah, it's my last tournament and at home so it would be nice,” said Smith, happy to get some relief from the heat.
“Oh, it was hot, I had packs of ice down there with me and it was very hot.”
Graci, who lost in last year's singles final to Venezuela's Laur Fabrizi, came into the tournament as the player to beat but felt the home support for Smith was crucial.
“I felt even going into this match I would be very luck if I was to win,” said the 17-year-old who resides in Boca Raton, Florida. “She had a lot of people behind her and being by yourself is really challenging.
“The heat conditions was just brutal, really hot, and both of us in the end really felt it. She fought really hard, I fought really hard and she got the match. She did a great job. I made a lot of unforced errors and she took advantage of it.”
Graci, who is visiting Bermuda for the third straight year, is still in the doubles. After this tournament she will travel to the Bahamas for another tournament on the ITF Junior Circuit before further stops in Jamaica and Dominican Republic later in July.
“Then back to the States for the US Open,” she pointed out. “I would like to get my education through tennis and then after college try to pursue a professional career. It's a dream of mine.”
Graci revealed that she grew up in Florida with Madison Keys, the young American presently playing at Wimbledon. “She's a great player, really disciplined, but I never played her, she's a little bit older than me. I always got to watch her though.”