Lee-Waters saves the best for last
Special to The Daily Progress/Bennett Sorbo
Lindsay Lee-Waters returns a shot from No. 4 seed Ekaterina Bychkova at the Boyd Tinsley Championships on Sunday. Lee-Waters won 6-3, 7-5.
By Whitey Reid
Published: May 4, 2009
Lindsay Lee-Waters may not have always been the most talented player on the court at the Boyd Tinsley USTA Women’s $50,000 Pro Tennis Championships this week. But one thing became crystal clear as the tournament wore on: the 31-year-old mother of two wanted to win the event more than anybody — no matter what obstacles got in her way.
When rain forced Sunday’s championship match against Ekaterina Bychkova to be moved indoors to the hard courts, Lee-Waters responded in the same way she had met every other challenge thrown her way during the week — with an aggressive style and steely focus that suffocated her opponent.
The end result was a 6-3, 7-5 victory over the fourth-seeded Bychkova in front of a packed house at the Boar’s Head Sports Club.
Lee-Waters, whose ranking jumped from No. 286 to about 220 with the victory, did a little bit of everything. She pounded groundstrokes from the baseline, served well when she had to and charged the net judiciously.
“Today I felt like was one of my best matches all week,” said Lee-Waters, an Atlanta resident. “For sure.”
That’s saying something when you consider Lee-Waters’ wins over top-seeded Alexa Glatch on Friday and No. 3 seed Carly Gullickson on Saturday.
Lee-Waters, who had never played Bychkova prior to Sunday, did a great job, just like she had throughout the tournament, of adjusting her strategy on the fly.
“Her serve is so tough, even her second, so I always felt a lot of pressure throughout the match that I had to hold my serve,” Lee-Waters said. “Toward the end of the second [set], I started chipping [returns] back. I felt like as long as I could get in the point, I could take it to her.”
Both players’ surface of choice is hard courts, but after playing on the rain-dampened clay outdoors all week, there was clearly an adjustment period. Lee-Waters seemed to acclimate better and take better advantage of the change.
“Hard courts are my favorite and I have an aggressive style, so taking it to someone — it gets to them faster on the hard,” Lee-Waters said. “I was just able to strike first and finish points off at the net. I put a lot more pressure on her, while on clay maybe she could have gotten a few balls back and gotten out of trouble a little bit more.”
Bychkova, who entered the tournament ranked No. 172, said she had trouble matching Lee-Waters’ power.
“She was really aggressive and I wasn’t ready at the beginning,” said Bychkova, a Russian. “Clay courts and hard courts are different speeds and I wasn’t ready to run.
“On clay courts, I could catch almost everything. On here, it was tough…it was totally different.”
One of the key games of the match occurred with Lee-Waters leading 5-3 in the first set. Trying to serve out, Lee-Waters fended off two break points and finished with an ace to take the set. Had Bychkova gotten the break, the match could have taken a much different turn.
After trading service breaks midway through the second set, the match seemed headed for a tiebreaker and, with Bychkova’s improved play, possibly a third set.
However, with the score tied at 5, Lee-Waters broke Bychkova at love. Then, with the help of a Bychkova miscue at the net — one that should have been an easy put-away volley — Lee-Waters held serve to win her first tournament since the birth of her son over three years ago.
“I felt like I stayed positive throughout the whole match,” Lee-Waters said. “Even when she played well and maybe I didn’t feel so good, I tried to keep the same attitude and just tried to keep executing my game.
“When it counted, I felt like this week I let it go and just really tried to be aggressive and tried to finish [points] off at the net.”
Lee-Waters, whose most immediate career goal is to be able to play in the qualifying rounds of this year’s Wimbledon, is optimistic that her victory can help catapult her back into the upper echelon on the USTA Pro Circuit.
“I’m just going to enjoy this one for the rest of the day and just keep the same approach going,” said Lee-Waters, who was once ranked as high as No. 33. “All I can do is keep giving it everything I’ve got every match and let the cards fall wherever they may.”
On Sunday, they fell in a pretty good place.