16-year-old Ellie Halbauer wins first career title in upset at Van Der Meer Shipyard Women's $10,000 tournament

ccox@islandpacket.comOctober 7, 2013 

It had been just a week since Ellie Halbauer and Alexandra Mueller last saw each other.

The latter got the better of her younger counterpart that day, as the 25-year-old Mueller bested her opponent 6-3, 6-3 to advance at Amelia Island.

But the 16-year-old Halbauer turned the tables Sunday in the finals of the Van Der Meer Shipyard Women's $10,000 tournament on Hilton Head Island. Halbauer picked up her first career win in her first career finals appearance, as she upset the No. 4-seeded Mueller 7-6 (5), 7-5.

"I think I could have won (last week), but she was just playing really, really well," Halbauer said. "Today, I was playing a little better and I was just happy with my performance."

Mueller liked her odds heading into the match but knew it would be a struggle.

"I kind of knew what to expect," she said, "but I knew she was playing really well and it was a really tough match last week."

Time and again it seemed as though the elder Mueller, who won pro circuit events on Hilton Head Island in 2009 and 2011, would pull away. She led 4-2 in the first set, 4-1 in the tiebreak and 2-0 in the second set.

And yet, she surrendered her advantage all three times.

"She fought really hard, and even if I had a lead I wasn't ever really safe," Mueller said. "I always felt pressure to win it on that serve. So she was a really tough competitor."

"When I get down, I just want it a lot more," Halbauer added. "You want to keep coming back and back. You want to win so bad when you're down, because you know you can do it."

Halbauer, a Charleston native who trains in Boca Raton, Fla., never seemed to let up even as things got tight. She fought back from early deficits throughout the afternoon, grinding her way through the match as mistakes mounted on the other end.

"I just tried to keep the ball in play a lot longer than last week," she said. "I was trying to move her more, so she made a couple more errors than last time."

Mueller still feels confident about her game despite Sunday's setback. The Pennsylvania native won the June $10K USTA Pro Circuit Event in Buffalo, N.Y., and also qualified for the main singles draw of the July WTA event in Washington, D.C. She won her fourth doubles title of the year Saturday on Hilton Head Island alongside Jillian O'Neill.

"I had four finals in two weeks, so anyone would say it's been a good two weeks," she said.

But the attention this day was on Halbauer, a 10th-grader who has yet to make a decision on her tennis future. Schools such as Syracuse are already showing early interest, she said.

"This is my sixth tournament, I think," she said, smiling. "So it's very exciting."

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