Ellie Halbauer came home to the Family Circle Tennis Center and won its Dunlop Junior Championship on clay Sunday afternoon with a 3-6, 6-2, 10-8 victory over USTA third-ranked Kaitlyn McCarthy of Cary, N.C.
And, is there any doubt whether Halbauer will return to the site in late March to take advantage of the wild card her weekend success earned her for the WTA Tour's Family Circle Cup qualifying tournament?
Don't even ask the 16-year-old Boca Raton, Fla., resident that question. "I've been coming here since I was 8 years old (until she moved to Florida three years ago) to see the Family Circle Cup . I'll be back," insisted Halbauer, who now trains at the same USTA training center in Boca Raton as former Family Circle junior champion Shelby Rogers.
Halbauer, the No. 5 seed who had knocked off world's No. 2 junior Varvara Flink of Russia in the quarterfinals, won this championship with her sizzling backhand down the line, patience and brilliant movement.
Down 6-4 after McCarthy had won four straight points in the decisive 10-point tiebreaker, Halbauer committed only one error on a long lob the rest of the way while collecting one backhand winner for 8-7 against one forehand winner for McCarthy that tied the score at 8.
The other five points all ended in unforced errors by McCarthy, whose backhand hit the top of the tape and fell back to give Halbauer match point. McCarthy, a 5-8 blonde who was ranked No. 1 in U.S. girls 18 in 2013 and was seeded second here, then netted a forehand to end the match.
"I was hitting it really hard at first, and she (McCarthy) liked it a lot," Halbauer said about the first set. She changed her strategy to defense and allowed McCarthy to make more errors, but Halbauer still went for her backhand when she saw an opening down the line.
Reach James Beck at email@example.com. See his columns on pro tennis at ubitennis.com/english.