Like tens of thousands of New Yorkers, Gail Brodsky of Coney Island has played at the famed courts of the U.S. Tennis Association in Flushing Meadows before. New York players, amateurs and pros alike, use the facilities to take lessons, practice, play matches and tournaments at the giant complex.
But this time is different. This year, she’s a player in the 2008 U.S. Open, and on Tuesday, she walked off the court having won her first round match in the U.S. Open Junior Girls championship. And she has one very clear purpose – to win the Girls Juniors, the tourney for entrants up to 18 years of age, and take the trophy that shows she is the best Junior in the world. The compact 5’6”, 125 pound Brooklynite already won the U.S. Juniors National Championship last month in Berkeley, Calif.
Brodsky, who often has a focused and serious expression both on and off the court, has been playing tennis since age six under the tutelage of father, Eduard. Gail has steadily worked to establish herself as one of the country’s elite Junior tennis players. But most of her competition to date has been American players. The U.S. Open Juniors, on the other hand, attracts the top rated tennis playing kids from all over the world.
Her first round opponent was Linda Berlinecke. Berlinecke, a strong tall blond from Wittingen, Germany, is ranked no. 23 of girls Juniors in the world.
With father Eduard, who also serves as her coach, anxiously rooting for her from courtside, Brodsky played a very defensive game, playing mostly from near or behind the baseline.
Brodsky admitted that her initial plan was to move her opponent from side to side and come to the net. But she acknowledges that she didn’t feel comfortable doing that and wound up rarely coming to net. With Brodsky unable to dictate the kind of game she planned on, the German took the first set 6-4.
In the second set, Brodsky held her first serve and then broke Berlinecke in the next game. But neither player was able to show their dominance.
Berlinecke broke back to put the game back on serve but Brodsky broke her opponent again and held her own serve to bring the second set to 4-1. Both girls continued to play largely defensive baseline games with very few moves to the net. Neither girl played the traditional “serve and volley,” a tactic where the server immediately moves to the net after serving in order to cut down the returners angle of return and to immediately pressure the returner.
Brodsky struggled to hold serve but toughed it out to go up 5-2.
Brodsky occasionally showed her combination of speed and strength. In the 8th game Berlinecke hit a drop shot but Brodsky raced toward the net and crushed the ball with a cross court backhand. The two were on serve 5-4, with Berlinecke to serve. But Brodsky finally began to strike at Berlinecke’s Achilles heel – her serve. Brodsky started to receive her opponent’s serves from inside the baseline and began to smash returns that put Berlinecke on her heels. Brodsky broke Berlinecke’s serve and took the second set 6-4, evening the match at one set apiece.
In the deciding third set, Brodsky started confidently. She won the first point with authority, hitting a graceful and technically adroit backhand overhead smash. But she seemed to lose concentration and proceeded to lose own service and then the second game, quickly falling behind 2 -0.
Down 2-0, another Gail Brodsky seemed to appear on court – a more confident and dominant one. With her punishing two handed backhand and her ability to take the ball on the rise, she began to speed up the pace of the game and started to run her fading adversary around the court. At that point, Brodsky seemed to be able to hit winners down the line that Berlinecke could only watch speed by.
The little girl from Coney Island swept the next six games. An apparently nervous Berlinecke served out the last game and, clearly struggling against the surging Brodsky, lost match point by double faulting.
Because she won the U.S. Girls National Champions last month in California, Brodsky won a wild card entry into the U.S. Open women’s main draw. She lost last week in the first round to Agnes Szavay, the world’s number 16 ranked player, 7-5, 6-3. But Brodsky felt she played better against Szavay than against a fellow junior.
“The only reason Gail played the Juniors here at the U.S. Open is because it is in our backyard. Otherwise she’s going to play the professional women’s tours,” father Eduard said.
So, for the 17-year-old Brodsky, it’s farewell to the Juniors after the U.S. Open. But only after she finishes her pursuit the Open’s Juniors title in her own “backyard.”