By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Turning up her power and concentration in the tennis season’s second half, Fu Long capped the North Bay League campaign with the girls’ singles title Thursday.
The Maria Carrillo sophomore played strong and steady to defeat Jennie Tong of Montgomery, 6-2 and 6-3. Now the powerful serve-and-volley right-hander wants to be competitive at the North Coast Section tournament — always difficult for Empire players.
“I’m playing confident. I’ve trained more and concentrated on all my shots,” Long said.
Regarded as the league’s top player coming into the season, Long still needed to sharpen her game. After losing to Emily Greco of Cardinal Newman in straight sets in team play — her only loss — Long worked harder and rarely lost a game.
Winning the NBL singles title was Long’s goal. Overcoming the disappointment of an upset defeat in last season’s tournament semifinal, Long lost only two games and had a semifinal win over Haley Lyons of Santa Rosa to reach Wednesday’s final.
Tong handled Greco in the other semifinal and carried that momentum into an early first-set lead over Long. Her slice and topspin offsetting Long's power, Tong displayed shots that make the senior the reigning All-Empire badminton player of the year.
“I was OK today,” Tong said. “She was playing good.”
In the pivotal stretch, Long won nine consecutive games to take the first set and a commanding second-set lead.
“I was trying to do too much, trying to put balls away rather than out-rally her,” Long said of her early deficit. “My serve was on. I tried to get to the net more, to force her to make mistakes.”
The longest game of the first set featured a baseline battle and then a steady exchange of lobs before Long pounded a forehand that Tong returned wide. Long held serve to take a 3-2 lead and never looked back.
A shaky first serve and unforced errors helped put Tong on her heels. When she served well and kept balls deep with patient play, Tong won three second-set games, making Long work for the win.
Tong came back from three points down to tie the final game. Then Long rallied on match point, hitting a low, hard shot Tong pushed long.
“It was a good season,” said Tong, a former All-Empire tennis player who didn’t play as a junior. “I didn’t really expect anything, just to be relaxed.”
Moving well to match Tong’s strokes and endurance, Long is ready for the typically tough section tournament. Playing challenging Northern California juniors competition this past summer should help.
“My goal is to win an NCS match,” Long said.
You can reach Staff Writer Michael Coit at 521-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.