Oziera Ahmad, of Hampton, New Hampshire, is New Hampshire's best junior girl tennis player, and she recently won her second consecutive major New England junior competition. On April 10-11 Oziera had won the New England Level Three Girl's 16 Championships with the loss of only one set. This past weekend, May 15-16, Oziera continued her run through the highly competitive New England circuit by racking up her second consecutive New England tournament victory at her home club at the Longfellow New Hampshire Tennis and Swim Club in Nashua, NH.
In the quarterfinals Oziera, overwhelmed Maya Muhunthan of Acton, MA by the score of 6-2, 6-0. In the semi-finals she easily defeated a young and improving Nancy Lee by a score of 6-0, 6-3. Nancy is an impressive player and is ranked number nine in the national USTA Girls 12 division. Oziera's experience coupled with her ability to hit high balls, low balls, and power balls never gave Nancy anything she could get a groove on. Nancy is definitely a rising star in New England and she has a bright future. She trains at the New England Tennis Academy at Longfellow in Natick as does Oziera when she's not in North Carolina.
In the finals, Oziera faced her toughest test from the second seed and one of the most improved girls in New England, Sofia Mavor of Windham, Maine. The first set was extremely close and featured some extraordinary ball-striking with both girls showing their ability to hit with power, finesse, and variety. Oziera's court coverage and speed won her many points and enabled her to neutralize Sofia's power, to construct points, and wait for the right time to play offense.
The critical juncture in the match was when Oziera was playing some of her best offense at 5-5 only to lose her serve when she broke a string at ad-out. Unfortunately, Oziera had forgotten to bring her third racket when she traveled from North Carolina and this string-break was the second racket that suffered a broken string in the match. Now, with Sofia's very big lefty serve this talented opponent was poised to close out the first set.
However, Oziera had other thoughts! At the changeover, she ran off of court #1 and picked up a random `demo racket' from the pro shop that she had never played with. Things were looking bleak for Oziera for sure. Then something happened that her coach, Laury Hammel had never witnessed in his 50 years of coaching. Playing with a racket she had never used before, with unknown string tension, and with no warm-up with this racket, Oziera found a way to break Sofia's serve with a racket she did not feel confident with, by playing more a conservative strategy of high topspin groundstrokes coupled with many low slices and chasing down every would-be winner hit by Sofia.
Breaking serve leveled the match at 6-6 and put the set into a tiebreak. Oziera began the tiebreak with a double fault--the first time she had served with this adopted racket. This was not a good start, but Oziera would not be denied. Oziera raised her game and
curised through the tiebreak 7-3 through her determination and guile.
The first game of the second set was very close but Oziera continued her strategy of mixing things up, committing no unforced errors, and covering the court like a blanket. At this point, Sofia became frustrated because winning a point was so difficult and the second set was over very quickly with Oziera coming out on top 6-0. And she did this with a never before used `demo racket'. Wow!
An amusing sidebar was that Longfellow New Hampshire tournament director, Jamey Finchum, began a high-speed restring of Oziera's racket immediately after the second string-break. As things progressed in the second set with Oziera playing flawless tennis it was clear to her coach and her father decided we wouldn't give Oziera the newly strung racket because players should never change a winning combination!
Lesson learned for Oziera. She needs to make sure she has four rackets in her bag all with fresh string jobs. She is hitting with so much power and spin that breaking strings will happen much sooner than when she was more of a defensive player.
Oziera won this important tournament without losing a set and winning a 6-0 set in every match. In her recent Level Three she only lost one set and in four matches she won every match with at least one 6-0 or 6-1 set. Her ability to close out sets has set her apart from her opponents and demonstrates her improved mental toughness.
Congratulations to Oziera who is currently ranked #88 in the nation and this week she most certainly will improve her ranking with this major accomplishment. She is returning to the Greensboro Tennis Academy in North Carolina and we look forward to Oziera's June return to New England for most of the summer when she will train for the two most important tournaments of the year--the national clay courts and the national hard courts.
Submitted by Laury Hammel
CEO and Founder of the Longfellow Health Clubs and the Salt Lake Tennis and Health Club