BY J. PATRICK EAKEN | MIRROR SPORTS — Anthony Wayne sophomore Lilly Black finished third at the Division I state tennis tournament on Saturday.
On Sunday, she was in Cleveland taking tennis lessons.
Black is always looking to improve her game, no matter how much success she has.
It was Black’s second trip to the state tournament at the Lindner Family Tennis Center in Mason, Ohio.
Black, who qualified to state for Notre Dame Academy her freshman year but only reached the second round, this year won her two opening matches until falling in the state semifinals.
“I think she accomplished her primary goal of advancing further than she did last year,” AW coach Jim Sutto said.
“I think she was a little disappointed that she wasn’t the champion, but it is that kind of fighting spirit that I think will set her up for years to come.
“She’s the kind of kid that plays (in the state tournament on Saturday) and then she is in Cleveland (Sunday) for tennis lessons,” Sutto said.
On Friday, Black opened with a hard-fought 6-2, 4-6, 7-6 win over Cleveland St. Joseph freshman Amara Brahmbhatt and then smoked Powell Olentangy Liberty senior Danielle Schoenly 6-3, 6-1 in the quarterfinals.
In the state semifinals on Saturday, Black won the first set 6-3 over eventual state runner-up Shyla Aggarwal, a Mason sophomore, but Aggarwal took the next two sets, 6-3, 6-1, to advance to the state final.
“I was thinking that things were looking pretty good (after the first set),” said Sutto. “She played a pretty flawless first set and her opponent was making some errors.
“Then, as the match went on, her opponent quit missing and then I think if they played 10 times, I think Lilly wins five and Shyla wins five. They are that even.”
Black returned to the state consolation, facing North Canton Hoover freshman Tess Bucher. Black prevailed easily, 6-2, 6-0.
It was a big win for Black, whose third-place finish far outpaced her state performance as a freshman, which was her goal.
“I tried to stay positive during my matches and I tried to make plays the second day, and I thought it was cool that I did because the previous year I did not. I tried to go farther than I did last year,” Black said.
Meanwhile in the state championship, Aggarwal lost to Cincinnati St. Ursula senior Elizabeth Pendergast, 6-4, 2-6, 7-5.
Sutto said the draw in the state final four did not play to Black’s advantage, especially with participants playing two matches a day.
That can end up being more sets than a professional tennis player would play in a single day. The AW coach said Black made Bucher pay for her semifinal loss and for not reaching the state final.
“She took some frustrations out on her,” Sutto said.
“If Pendergast and Aggarwal had to play each other and played a long three-setter in the semis and if she cruised through the semis like Pendergast did (6-3, 6-3), I think there is a different outcome, but I think that is just the luck of the draw,” Sutto continued.
Black said the two three-set matches she played at the state tournament gave her another perspective on the competition.
“It is definitely nerve-wracking, but when you are in the moment, you have to deal with that pressure and block everything out,” Black said.
“I think I’m learning to play with nerves and giving everything on every play and playing with no fear,” the AW sophomore continued.
Black was untouchable by local competition this year, winning Northern Lakes League, sectional and district championships.
She breezed through the Northern Lakes League and sectional tournaments, winning every match 6-0, 6-0.
Clay senior Kenzie Arquette was the first player to even win a game on her, at the district tournament, and Black still won that match 6-1, 6-0. Black lost only five of 65 games during the district tournament.
Sutto said Black, who is from Whitehouse, has a strong future with a chance to do even better at the state tournament her junior and senior years.
“It was a good experience for her,” Sutto said. “She’s a first-team All-Ohioan and I think she learned a couple things that she can make some adjustments on for a state-run next year.
“It was exciting. The community is proud of her, the school is proud of her and you know I am proud of her. It is hard not to root for her,” Sutto continued.
The Lindner Family Tennis Center is home to the annual Western & Southern Open – the biggest summer professional tennis tournament in the United States, and a top tier of both the ATP World Tour and the WTA Tour.
The facility features four tennis stadiums and 16 total courts as well as other amenities, such as locker rooms and training facilities. The center court has a capacity of 11,400, although this year’s attendance at the state tournament was limited because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Sutto called the facility “incredible” and Black called it “awesome and so nice.”
Now, Black is looking forward to playing in non-scholastic tournaments across the region and country, looking to get better, in part because most of her competitors at the state meet were also underclassmen.
“I want to do better, and I am just trying to get better every day,” Black said. “I’m working on being more aggressive and want to learn to do that.
“I’m going to be playing in national tournaments, Midwest tournaments, and focus on working on my serve. I’ll just go out and hit a ton of serves,” Black added.