Local stars shine at Battle of the River

Published 1:01 am Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Battle of the River Tennis Tournament, the first United States Tennis Association event in Vicksburg since 1983, offered local players a chance to add some hardware to the trophy case.

Christine Figueroa, Charlene Figueroa and Austin Mathis did just that Saturday afternoon at the Halls Ferry Tennis Courts.

Christine Figueroa, who has won two Mississippi High School Activities Association titles in doubles in the past two seasons, won the 18-under girls singles and added a girls doubles title to the mix. Austin Mathis did the same in the 16-and-under division while Charlene Figueroa won the 16-and-under girls crown.

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Halls Ferry tennis director Rick Shields said the first-year tournament, which drew participants from as far away as Bossier City, La., was a success.

“We had a real positive reaction from everyone we heard,” Shields said. “The players that came from Bossier City were happy with how it was run and said they will get more to come next year. This was the first time we’ve had a tournament like this since Betty Wilkerson organized one that I played in 1983.”

Shields, who is also St. Aloysius’ head tennis coach, played at Warren Central and later at Alcorn State.

Christine Figueroa has been a regular on the USTA circuit for the past eight years, advancing to a No. 3 statewide ranking last year in the 18-and-unders. In the day’s final single’s match, she faced Northwest Rankin’s Kelsey Schultz.

Schultz won the match’s first game and two of the first four as Figueroa shook off some fatigue.

“I guess I was a little tired,” Figueroa said of the first set’s early games. “It was my third match of the day. Plus, she can hit it well. We played a practice set when we played Northwest last month and I won 8-4.”

Figueroa broke Schultz’s next service game and then held her serve for a 4-2 lead. The seventh game was at deuce when Figueroa hit a hard back-hand winner to gain the advantage. She won the game by going to the net to put away a Schultz offering. Figueroa continued to go to the net from that point on and Schultz could not respond.

“I like hitting shots at the net,” Figueroa said.

Figueroa won 10 straight games to end the match 6-2, 6-0. Earlier in the day, Figueroa teamed up with Jackson Prep’s Britt Buchanan to win the girls doubles title 6-1, 6-0 over Mary Mitchell and Sarah Mouk of West Monroe, La.

Austin Mathis sailed through an eight-player field to take the 16-and-under boys title. In the finals, he beat Warren Central’s Baxter Richardson 6-4, 6-2. Mathis had earlier beaten St. Al teammate Michael Foley 6-3, 6-2 and on Friday beat Joel Baldwin 6-1, 6-1. Richardson needed a third set tie-breaker to win his opening match on Friday, but took care of Ruston’s Jonathan Abernathy on Saturday morning 6-1, 6-3.

Mathis said it was good to play a USTA event at home.

“It’s the first one we’ve had here in a long time,” Mathis said. “I felt like I played consistently. This was my first USTA Tournament this year.”

Mathis later teamed up with his brother, Aaron, to win the 16-and-under boys doubles over Richardson and George Stuart 6-4, 6-4.

Aaron Mathis finished third in the 14-under boys division. Adam Massery of Bossier City went 3-0 in the round robin to win the division. Mark Iles of Natchez was second.

Charlene Figueroa won both of her matches in the six-player, 16-and-under division in straight sets. She beat WC’s Lauren Pratt in the final 6-1, 6-0.

Alexandra Falls won the 12-and-under girls division by beating Bossier City’s Addison Blackmon 6-4, 7-5.