Top-seeded Madison Brengle overcame fourth seed Jamie Loeb 6-1, 6-4 to advance to the finals of the Boyd Tinsley Clay Court Classic at the Boar’s Head Sports Club on Saturday.
Brengle, a tour veteran, will face Caroline Dolehide, an 18-year-old who may find herself at UCLA next year, in Sunday’s final. Dolehide squeezed past Ajla Tomljanovic in a mild upset, 6-1, 7-6 (7) in the other semifinal.
With temperatures rising into the upper 80s on a slow clay court, all four semifinalists chose to play baseline tennis with rare forays to the net, which produced a day of long rallies. Brengle and Dolehide produced fewer errors than their opponents en route to victory.
Brengle and Dolehide play very different styles. Dolehide is a power player with a strong serve, while Brengle is a finesse player whose game plan is to make her opponent miss.
Brengle began her professional career 12 years ago and won her first professional tournament at the age of 15. Now 27, Brengle is a seasoned veteran. Her best ranking was No. 35, which was achieved in 2015. Brengle currently is ranked 57th.
“Tennis is an up-and-down sport,” Brengle said. “And I’ve had some unfortunate stuff happen off the court in the past year, so I’ve been fighting more than one battle. That makes it difficult to maintain your ranking, but I’m happy with where I am now at the start of the clay-court season. I’m hoping I can keep it going.”
Brengle jumped out to a 3-0 lead against Loeb, a former collegiate All-American at North Carolina. Brengle hit a bewildering mixture of shots, from looping, high topspin forehands to hard-hit backhand angles.
Loeb had chances in the first set, but Brengle ran down Loeb’s strong forehands, displayed remarkable court coverage, and forced Loeb into numerous backhand errors made on the run. Brengle closed out a tough first set, 6-3, and then cruised to a 6-2 second set victory to seal the win.
“Jamie can attack really well with the forehand,” Brengle said. “So, I was trying to move as well as I could because I know you have to hit so many balls back. She’s consistent and also plays aggressive tennis, so I was trying to open up the court with my backhand and tried to get a lot of first serves in, because she can attack second serves.”
Dolehide hit hard and consistently to overcome Tomljanovic, an eight-year tour veteran who reached a world ranking of 47 before an injury to her right shoulder, which required surgery, sidelined her for nearly a year. Tomljanovic, 23, returned to the professional circuit earlier this year with a February victory over Eugenie Bouchard, who achieved top five status three years ago.
Tomljanovic won three matches convincingly this week to reach Saturday’s semifinal. The world’s 15th-ranked men’s player, Nick Kyrgios, was in the stands for each of those three victories to cheer Tomljanovic on. Kyrgios was not on hand on Saturday, as Tomljanovic struggled against the power-hitting Dolehide.
The first set was all Dolehide, who relentlessly attacked Tomljanovic’s often vulnerable serve and displayed raw power in holding all of her own service games. Tomljanovic began the second set with three straight double faults.
At 0-40, Dolehide pasted a weak Tomljanovic serve down the line to capture the first game of the second set at love. Soon it was 6-1, 2-0, and Dolehide seemed poised to breeze through the remainder of the second set.
However, Tomljanovic began to find the range with her serve and Dolehide began to miss. At 6-6, Dolehide jumped out to a 6-3 lead in the tiebreaker. In all, Tomljanovic saved four match points, but finally succumbed 9-7.
On Sunday, Dolehide will face Brengle, who also will play in the doubles final. Brengle and former Virginia star Danielle Collins will take on Jovana Jaksic and Catalina Pella. The doubles final is expected to take place shortly after the conclusion of Sunday’s singles final, which begins at noon. Both finals are free and open to the public.