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Clay Court Championship Week
Noel Wins Second Straight Clay Court Title

VIRGINIA BEACH - Overcoming a significant deficit when the heat index is in triple digits isn't part of anybody's original game plan.

Singles champion Alexa Noel
courtesy, Sonny Dearth
But scrappy, feisty 13-year-old Alexa Noel did so anyway July 24 to capture the USTA Girls 16 National Clay Court Championships' singles title.

In a clash of two players who now call New Jersey home, Noel outlasted Amber O'Dell 1-6, 6-4, 6-3 in 2 hours and 20 minutes to close the 29th consecutive year that Virginia Beach Tennis and Country Club has hosted the tournament.

Noel, a rising freshman who trains out of the Junior Tennis Champions Center at College Park in Maryland and is coached by Frank Salazar, lost six consecutive games to fall behind 6-1, 1-0 in steamy conditions - the day's hottest temperature soared into the high 90s - and was projecting the body language of a player who didn't seem likely to force a third set. She bounced her racket into the clay a few times and occasionally loudly berated her play.

But with huge helpings of variety, speed and savvy, she captured a USTA Clay title for the second year in a row - the Summit, N.J., resident won the 2015 14s crown in Plantation, Fla.

Noel, who hasn't played that many 16s tournaments and therefore was underseeded among a group of co-No. 17s, won a trio of three-setters in Virginia Beach at a tournament Cici Bellis, Lindsay Davenport, Chanda Rubin and Sloane Stephens once played on their way up the U.S. ranks.

"In the first set, I was really nervous because I knew she was really good," Noel said of O'Dell, the No. 5 seed, who had won two of their previous three meetings. "I knew I was going to lose if I kept playing tentative tennis.

"So I just had to play to her weakness. ... She's really good in her strike zone, but if you can use the whole court, high and low, you have a better opportunity. Just the change-up of the pace and having confidence."

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Page updated on Monday, March 09, 2020
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