Jun 12 2013

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Ferguson Earns State Singles Crown; Smith Claims Finalist Honors

John Dalton Ferguson tennis match

Gate City’s John Dalton Ferguson lunges for a return. Ferguson claimed the VHSL Group A boys tennis singles title last week.

Although he had played tennis prior to his freshman year, John Dalton Ferguson acknowledges he really didn’t learn how to keep score until he began playing in earnest as a ninth grader on the Blue Devil squad.

But the lanky player became a quick study and used his speed and size to hone his tennis skills on the court with dedicated year-round attention. The effort paid off last Thursday when he captured the 2013 Group A Boys Tennis Singles Title.

Following a loss in last year’s state semifinals to George Mason’s Kan Tagami – the 2011 and 2012 state singles champion, he knew a championship would be a great way to cap off his senior career.

Ferguson earned the sweetest of victories with a 7-5, 6-0 win over George Mason’s Tommy Weber to claim the school’s second only boys singles title. After a crushing 6-0, 6-2 defeat of Nathan Salle of Appomattox Regional in the morning semifinals, he faced Weber for the title.

“In the first set I think Tommy was a little tired from his first match and I hit some pretty good shots,” Ferguson said. “He just kicked it into gear after the first two games that I went up in the first set. After he lost that first set, I could tell he was getting frustrated and the last thing you want is trying to put the ball away and keep coming back. That was the game plan in the second set just get the first serve in and be consistent.”

Due to heavy rains from Tropical Storm Andrea, tennis action on Thursday from the 2013 Spring Jubilee was relocated to indoor courts at the Burrows-Burleson Tennis Center on the campus of Virginia Tech.

It was a far cry from the outdoor peace and quiet of the Radford University courts. Inside the tennis center, fans were huddled around ground level glass doors and windows watching the action. Above in the gallery, additional fans, parents and teammates watched and cheered for their favorite player.

Ferguson had a 2-0 advantage in the first set but fell behind 5-2 in the first set. He calmed his nerves and played his own style of tennis to overcome the deficit to win the first set, 7-5.

“Tennis can last forever if you want it to,” he added. “That what I thought about and I just kept playing and kept pushing. I just kept trying to get the ball back. Obviously, he was trying to hit winners. I knew if I could get it back, maybe he could make some errors. I just tried to be consistent.”

The second set was all Ferguson as he easily broke Weber’s serve and held his own.

Weber advanced to the finals with a 6-4, 6-4 win over Igor Ponjavic of Glenvar in the other semifinal match Thursday morning.

German exchange student Henning Kuich won the 2004 boys singles title with a 6-0, 6-0 victory over Chad Hayes of Appomattox Regional Governor’s School.

Gate City's Rosa Smith claimed finalist honors at the 2013 Group A Girls Singles Tennis Championship.

Gate City’s Rosa Smith claimed finalist honors at the 2013 Group A Girls Singles Tennis Championship.

Gate City’s Rosa Smith claimed finalist honors at the 2013 Group A Girls Singles Tennis Championship.Gate City’s Rosa Smith claimed finalist honors at the 2013 Group A Girls Singles Tennis Championship.In girls action, Gate City sophomore ace Rosa Smith didn’t fare as well in her match against George Mason’s Mariam Salakaia, a new immigrant from Georgia, part of the former Russian Republic.

Salakaia completed her rookie season by winning the girls singles tennis title with a 6-3, 6-2 victory over Smith in Group A as part of the 2013 Spring Jubilee.

Salakaia, the Region B Champ, won in straight sets over Smith, who claimed the Region D crown on May 30.

“I thought I played okay against her,” said Smith. “She is just a great player and she was playing well. It didn’t matter what I did, she just used her power and she hit winners. What can I say – she hits a lot lines and hits a lot of winners.”

Salakaia, who plays in numerous United States Tennis Association sanctioned events, competed in those events for her native country in 2012 before enrolling at George Mason last fall. She also routinely practices with the Mason boys team and usually beats most of the team.

Smith, who teamed up with her younger sister, Emily, in doubles play will return for her junior year for the Lady Blue Devils.

Salakaia defeated Caitlin Williams of Graham, 6-0, 6-0 in the semifinals.

Smith moved into the finals with a 6-1, 6-1 win over Appomattox Regional’s Ginna Slattum from Region A in the other semifinal match.

“I just played my game and was able to get through the semifinals without too much trouble,” Smith explained about her semifinal challenger.


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