It was a match for the ages, one that tennis fans — even casual fans — will not soon forget.
With a display of power tennis exceeded only by sheer willpower, Edina junior Caitlyn Merzbacher outlasted defending champion Summer Brills of Mounds View, winning in three sets in the Class 2A girls’ tennis singles championship Friday at the Baseline Tennis Center in Minneapolis.
Merzbacher, the daughter of Gophers womens’ tennis coach Chuck Merzbacher, battled back from a 6-1 first-set drubbing to win the final two sets 6-2, 7-5. The mesmerizing final set, with Merzbacher and Brills trading rifle-shot forehands and cross-court winners at near-impossible angles, had spectators rivited and tennis coaches raving.
“I think, in terms of quality of play, you won’t find a better match than that one,” said Edina coach Steve Paulsen, who has coached more than a few state champions. “It was what they call ‘epic’. They both raised their level of play. It was won more than it was lost.”
That Merzbacher was able to stay close to the No. 1-ranked Brills at all was a feat in itself. She had played a tough three-set match in the semifinals, beating Minnetonka’s Bella Lambert 6-3, 2-6, 6-4. Brills, in contrast, had a much less taxing straight-set victory over Eastview’s Jordan Kopfer in her semifinal.
“I was exhausted just coming into the match,” Merzbacher said. “I played the first set like I was just happy to be there. Whatever happens, happens. Then, in the second set, as I started to play smarter and things started to go my way, I said ‘Okay, this is a possbility. I might have a chance to pull this thing out’.”
In the deciding third set, Merzbacher jumped out to a 4-1 lead, only to see Brills, whose on-court demeanor and manner of play is remindful of Chris Evert, rally to take a 5-4 lead.
“I was trying so hard to stay steady and keep attacking,” said Brills, who lost for just the second time this season. “But she made a lot of great shots. She outrallied me. She played great.”
Merzbacher closed out the final point with a volley that Brills could not reach, then crouched near the net in a pose of relief and fatigue. “I just couldn’t believe it,” she said. I had a hard time breathing in the third set, but I told myself I just had a couple of more games to go. No words can describe this.”
Mayo juniors win again
In Class 2A doubles, Rochester Mayo junior Kylie Boyer made amends for a decision she made one year ago, teaming with fellow junior Kate Rosenow to win their second doubles state championship. They defeated St. Paul Central’s Helen and Zoe Klass-Warch 6-2, 6-2 in the finals.
The Mayo duo won the championship as freshmen, then split up last year when Boyer played singles.
“I remember going out on the court last year and thinking, ‘What am I doing here?’ ” Boyer said. “I belong in doubles. Kate used to tease me that I broke up with her, but I think this makes up for it.”
Class 1A: Das repeats
Sonya Das had been there before and that made a world of difference.
Playing in her fourth state tournament and third Class 1A singles championship match, the St. Paul Academy senior treated center stage at the Reed-Sweatt Tennis Center as if it were a practice court, dominating Holy Family junior Danielle Gannon 6-0, 6-1 to win her second singles title in a row.
Das admitted that before her first shot at a state title — a straight-set loss to Mounds Park Academy’s Amber Washington in 2011 — she battled a case of butterflies the size of fruit bats.