Alexa Graham seemed to have all the momentum in her favor Sunday as she prepared to serve for the Shipyard Cup title.
The Long Island teen had just taken four consecutive games off Ulrikke Eikeri, the last of which saw her roar back from a 40-15 deficit with four straight points. At 5-3, all Graham had left was to deliver the final blow.
Twenty minutes later, it was Graham's back against the wall after losing three straight games at the Van Der Meer Tennis Academy. On three occasions, the match was one point from being extended to a third set.
"It wasn't looking good for me there," she said.
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Graham somehow found her third wind, though, surviving four deuces to break Eikeri's serve and force a tiebreaker. There, the momentum took two more dramatic shifts before Graham eventually prevailed 6-4, 7-6 (7-5).
"I do crazy things like that. A lot," Graham said after collecting her first title on the ITF $10,000 Pro Series circuit.
"After losing the game where you're serving for the match, it's a little tough to recover from. But I figured it out. I was able to break her back and thankfully take the tiebreaker."
Even without a third set, the slugfest lasted 2 hours and 22 minutes as the tournament's top two seeds engaged in a series of long rallies on Van Der Meer's damp clay courts. Overnight rain on Hilton Head Island prompted officials to not only delay the start by a half-hour, but move it away from its show court to a drier adjacent court.
On multiple occasions, both players were left gasping after going back and forth for some two dozen shots.
"They were longer points than anything I've ever played," Graham said. "After some of them I felt so tired, I was ready to go sit in the chair. I figured it out and I stuck with it."
Said Eikeri: "You had to fight for every point; every rally was long. She was just a little bit better at making her chances than me. I think that made the difference."
Sunday's final was Graham's third of the year, having come up short at previous stops in Martinique and Delaware. The 17-year-old pro didn't drop a set all week, although she also was extended to a tiebreaker in her quarterfinal win Friday over Raveena Kingsley.
Nothing came easily Sunday, though. Graham lost the day's first two games, though she eventually broke Eikeri's serve three times to take control of the opening set. She also fell behind early in the second set, although things seemed well in control when she grabbed a 5-3 lead with those four consecutive games.
Then Graham began having trouble placing her powerful serve. She won just five points over the next three games, which included a double fault that put Eikeri ahead 6-5.
"It's crazy," Graham said. "It's annoying for my dad to watch on live scoring at home (via the Internet). It gets so stressful for him."
A medical timeout to replace a bandage on Graham's right ring finger may have helped turn the tide, too, although Graham still had to stave off three set points with Eikeri serving. Graham finally gained the upper hand after the fourth deuce, staying patient during long rallies that ended with Eikeri netting and sending another shot long.
The tiebreaker, too, stood at 5-5 before Graham ended another long rally with a winner down the line, then quickly ended it with a service winner.
"She runs down everything, especially on a slow clay court," Graham said. "It's tough to play that kind of player. But I stayed patient, stayed with it and eventually closed it out."