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TENNIS: Florida duo earns Girls' 14 National Hard Court doubles title

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Lara Smejkal (left) and Natalie Block celebrate after defeating Vivian Miller and Sanjana Tallamraju in the doubles finals of the Girls' 14 National Hard Court Championships at the Rome Tennis Center at Berry College on Friday, Aug. 10, 2018. / Jeremy Stewart

A shot at taking the National Clay Court Doubles Championship in Florida was cut short when Smejkal was injured just before the quarterfinals, forcing the duo to withdraw.

Block made a prophetic statement, both to lift the spirits of her partner and boost their confidence in the moment.

“I said, ‘That’s fine. We’ll just win the hard court championship.”

And on Friday, at the Rome Tennis Center at Berry College, that’s exactly what they did.

Smejkal, a resident of Boca Raton, Florida, and Block, from nearby Plantation, Florida, won the finals of the doubles draw, 6-3, 6-3, over  Vivian Miller and Sanjana Tallamraju, to claim the USTA Girls’ 14 national title.

“To come into a tournament like this that lasts all week, it can really test your patience,” Smejkal said. “But it felt like the more we played together throughout the week our level (of play) got better and better.”

After an opening match that was decided in a tiebreaker after two sets, Block and Smejkal worked their way through the rest of the championship draw without dropping a set.

The two have been doubles partners for a while and finished runners-up at the USTA Girls’ 12 National Clay Court Championship last year.

“I think we both are really good doubles players. We set each other up well,” Block said.

“It’s teamwork. It’s fifty-fifty,” Smejkal added. “It’s not ‘I lost’ or ‘I made a mistake.’ It’s shared responsibility. We understand that, and practice makes perfect.”

The two were each presented with a trophy and a small gold ball, the traditional award for winning a United States Tennis Association national championship.

“It’s really cool. I’ve always wanted a gold ball,” Block said. “My coach has like 50 of them and always brings them out, and now I can show him that I have one. It shows that all the work that we’ve put in all week has been worth it.”

Another gold ball will be up for grabs this morning as the tournament’s singles championship match gets underway at 8:30 a.m. as No. 1 seed Eleana Yu meets eighth-seeded Clervie Ngounoue for the title.

Yu, a 13-year-old from Mason, Ohio, is ranked No. 1 in the class of 2023 by Tennis Recruiting Network while Ngounoue, 12, is from Washington, D.C., and ranked first in the class of 2024.

As one tournament wraps up, another will already be well underway by the time a champion is crowned this morning as the USTA Southern Junior Team Championships started Friday afternoon and are expected to last through Sunday.