Tightness and nerves spelled doom for George Mason senior Michelle Repper, who fell victim to a surging Bland County’s Grace Sarver in the finals of the group A singles tournament 6-1, 7-5.
Just an hour after dispatching her semifinal opponent, J.J. Kelly’s Andi Kilgore, in straight sets 6-0, 6-0, Repper ran into Sarver, a freshman with confidence and poise far beyond her age, who took advantage of Repper’s unforced errors to take the title.
“Honestly I wish I would have played better,” Repper said. “My nerves always get to me when it comes to the finals, but it’s okay. I was tight, so I couldn’t really swing out or hit hard, which is what my game is. My slices were a little off and my serves weren’t as on point as I wanted them to be.”
Sarver broke serve without ceding a point to Repper in the final game to clinch the match, one game after smashing two forehand winners and an ace to hold and go up 6-5. Repper mounted a surging comeback in the second set, but it fell just short of forcing a third.
“There was a crucial game where she was up and got broken, but even then she didn’t fall apart,” Mason coach Chris Madison said. “Grace really just stepped up her game, hit a couple key passing shots down the line. As Michelle raised her game, I thought that Grace did a good job of doing that as well. Being a senior, you obviously want to go out with a win, but there’s no shame in her loss because she lost to a great player.”
After both players held, Sarver broke to go up 3-1, but Repper immediately broke back Eventually, the Mason senior took control of the set, forcing unforced errors on perfectly placed forehand smashes to lead 4-3.
“I told myself that I wasn’t going to lose unless I was exhausted afterwards,” Repper said. “I wasn’t moving as well to hit the angles that I wanted to hit so I tried to do that and I eventually came back.”
Double faults got the best of Repper, who lost serve and promptly allowed Sarver to hold, falling behind 5-4. Repper eventually pushed it to 5-5, setting the stage for Sarver’s winners in the last game.
The first set, however, was not as close. Backhand unforced errors hurt Repper as Sarver broke serve in the opening game of the match, eventually going up 5-0 and breaking three times. Visibly frustrated with her play at the time, Repper found the energy to break back, taking advantage of problems Sarver had with her first serve.
“I was frustrated with myself, but I got back in it and was determined to win it,” Sarver said. “I was playing my best tennis ever today so I just wanted to play my game. I tried to get some easy first serves in at first and then hit them harder as the match went on.”
In the seventh game, Repper forced a deuce, but promptly double faulted on an advantage, slammed a backhand error, and then double faulted again to cede the first set to her opponent.
“Nerves would have to be part of it in the first set,” Madison said. “This was her first time in the singles final and she put a lot of work but finally had good opposition. She just wanted to make it happen all at once so she got a little impatient. She was able to slow it down at the end of the first set and got that game in, but Grace held serve [to win].”
It seemed to be almost destiny for Sarver, whose sister and coach won four state titles while playing at Bland County.
“I was very confident just work my butt off today,” Sarver said. “I was nervous at first, especially this morning in my first match, but I’ve played a lot of tournament tennis so that really helped a lot. It was a real honor to be a freshman and to be from a small school to win it.”
However, Repper figured out her shot in time to put up a serious effort in the second set, but ultimately the lead Sarver built was too much to overcome. Repper ended her singles tournament career having won two Region B individual titles and leading Mason to four-consecutive Region B championships.
“She brought her style to the court every single game,” Madison said. “You could never say that she didn’t leave everything she had on the court.”
In the semifinals match earlier in the day, Repper had little trouble dispatching Kilgore, winning in 40 minutes. With a barrage of forehand winners and aces, Repper earned her first appearance in the state finals.
Fortunately for Repper, she and doubles partner Kelsey Kane will get a second crack at Sarver in the semifinals of the doubles championships on Friday. Sarver and Kirby Mustard will take on the Mason duo at 3 p.m.
“Now that I know her game style, it’s not going to be a surprise when I play her in the first set [tomorrow]” Repper said. “I’m always looser when I have someone else on the court with me because it’s not all on me. Kelsey has a different game style but together we work really well.”
“I think now she’s gotten the nerves out of the way,” Madison added. “Kelsey’s really a calming force, so I’m looking forward to tomorrow and seeing how they’ll do.”