Walker Duncan turned away from the net, muttering to no one in particular that his opponent just kept "getting smarter and smarter."
The Atlanta, Ga., native had seemed well on his way to a championship victory in the Boys 18's at the Van Der Meer Southern Winter Closed on Tuesday at Shipyard. He led 3-0 and 5-2 over the 17th-seeded Jess Jones in the third set and was feeling good about his game.
But Jones had different plans on the other side of the net. The former Smith Stearns student used drop shots and slices to get back in it, all while mixing up the pace against a player who grew more tentative as the match progressed.
It helped him land a 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (6) comeback victory in the final, his second over Duncan in a Southern Closed tournament. He also beat him 7-5, 6-4 in the Boys 16's championship earlier in their careers.
"I knew I had to change my game, because he got up pretty big," Jones said. "I wasn't serving that great, so I just started kicking my serve in and just trying not to miss any shots during the rally and hopefully he would break down. I worked until the end."
It was a frustrating ending to an otherwise promising tournament for Duncan, who took a personal approach to the court for the final. The fifth-seeded Georgia commitment had never beaten Jones in "four or five" matches, and was hoping to land one now before the two move on to college.
Things looked encouraging with him up by three games, but each comeback began with him on the right side of the court and the sun in his eyes, leading to his tentative performance, he said.
"Jess played super well and he didn't miss a ball," he said. "He made me play for every point and he earned the victory."
A similar comeback nearly took place on the main court, where the second-seeded Andie Daniell fought off a vicious rally from No. 5 Amy Yang. The latter, who took down top-seeded Kenya Jones in Monday's semifinal, battled back from a 5-2, second-set deficit before falling short in a 6-3, 7-5 decision.
"It's never over until the last shot is hit," Yang said. "That's what my coach always tells me. I've come back from 5-0 before, and knew I could come back if I tried hard and focused."
Daniell's change in strategy kept Yang from capping her rally. The 17-year-old had been backing off her shots as the match grew tighter, but managed to get back to her aggressive approach over the final two matches to secure a victory.
It was her third straight victory over Yang in the last seven months.
"I just noticed that my balls were going too short," she said. "So I told myself that I was just going to swing out on everything as hard as I could. That helped."
Both championship matches were all-Georgia finals featuring the top two players in the state, based on Tennis Recruiting rankings. The bouts lived up to their billing, with Jones' completed comeback and Yang's near stunner.
"We know each other well," Daniell said of Yang. "We play so much that we're just kind of used to it. We've gotten each other a lot recently because we're always making it far into the tournament, so we're always beating each other."
In the Boys 18 doubles final, third-seeded Mcclain Kessler and Daniel Yun defeated fifth-seeded Walker Duncan and Emil Reinberg, 8-6, in the final, while second-seeded Katelyn Jackson and Sofia Kurtz won the Girls 18 doubles final, beating fourth-seeded Megan Cochran and Allison Miller, 9-7.
USTA Van Der Meer Southern Winter Closed
Tuesday at Shipyard, Hilton Head Island
Boys 18 -- Final
(17) Jess Jones def. (5) Walker Duncan 4-6, 6-3, 7-6(6)
Girls 18 -- Final
(2) Andie Daniell def. (5) Amy Yang 6-3, 7-5
Boys 18 -- Final
(3) Kessler/Yun def. (5) Duncan/Reinberg 8-6
Boys 18 -- Semifinals
(3) Kessler/Yun def. (2) Elliget/Kelly 8-6
(5) Duncan/Reinberg d. (1) Kay/Yates 9-8(5)
Girls 18 -- Final
(2) Jackson/Kurtz def. (4) Cochran/Miller 9-7
Girls 18 -- Semifinals
(2) Jackson/Kurtz def. (3) Riley/Smith 8-3
(4) Cochran/Miller def. (9) Jones/Yates 8-6