The quest for a national title has plenty of battles along the way, and for two of the top young tennis players in the country, that quest has led them to one final match.
After a week of competition in the Georgia heat and humidity, the USTA Girls’ 14s National Championships comes to its conclusion with the finals Saturday at 10 a.m. at the Rome Tennis Center at Berry College.
Battling for the title are Thea Rabman, from Port Washington, New York, and Brooklyn Olson, from Bradenton, Florida. It will be the first meeting between the two rising athletes.
Both girls battled early in their semifinal matches Friday before making a turn and gaining back ground on the way to advancing in the main draw of the tournament, which started last Saturday with nearly 200 players.
Olson, who came in seeded outside of the top 12, continued her surge despite losing her first set of the tournament to fifth-seeded Lamija Avdic, who ultimately retired in the third set of the match due to illness down 5-3.
Rabman, meanwhile, was tied 2-2 with Piper Cherney early in their match before gaining momentum and going on to win in straight sets, 6-4, 6-2.
Olson, who lost the first set 6-4 and came back to take the second 6-4, said the tournament has provided her with some challenges.
“I’ve had to adjust my game some while I’ve been here,” Olson said. “I’ve come up against some pretty aggressive players and I’ve just worked to hit swinging volleys and I’m hitting on the rise more, and it’s working out.”
Avdic, from Kirkland, Washington, utilized her aggressive push on the ball to take a 2-0 lead in the first set. Olson pulled back even and then grabbed the lead after holding serve following deuce, but Avdic won four of the next five games, including the last three to end the set.
She won the first four games of the second set but collapsed as Olson won the next six games to fight her way back into the match.
Olson said she countered Avdic’s aggressiveness in the second set by trying to exceed her punch on the ball while still taking care of her placement.
“So it was nice to taker her power and hit it back to her,” Olson said.
In an eventful third set, the two traded break points in every game except one, when Olson held serve to go up 3-2 on her way to a 5-3 lead before Avdic stopped the match and retired.
After battling through moments in the first set, Rabman was efficient in the second set of the other semifinal. Cherney, from Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, got within a game of Rabman — 3-2 — but Rabman finished out the set, breaking serve to go up 5-2 and winning a flawless sixth game.
“I thought I did really well. I thought my serve was on and I did really well playing from the inside in,” Rabman said. “I’ve never made it this far here but I think I’m playing really well right now, which helps.”
Rabman is the tournament’s No. 3 seed and has been on a solid run recently, having not dropped a set in the last week.
“I’m just coming off of the clay season, so I told myself to just get past the round of 16 and then take it one match at a time from there,” Rabman said.
While she hasn’t faced Rabman on the tennis court before, Olson said she has run into her at tournaments and is familiar with how good she can play.
“She is super nice, and for a tiny girl she has a lot of power,” Olson said of the New York native. “I’m excited about the match. She’s a good player.”
All tournament matches are open to the public and spectators are welcome. There is no admission fee.