Rising Demon Deacon Reaches Men's Final

July 2, 2012 04:17 PM
Adam Lee won in straight sets to advance to the final.
Natalie Pluskota aims to play the pro circuit fulltime soon.
David Hopkins was a No. 1 player at Wake Forest.
Emily Zabor
By Alex Welch and Will Mehall, USTA Southern interns
It’s not often you get the chance to potentially qualify for the US Open. It’s even less likely that you’ll play a teammate along the way. Two Wake Forest Demon Deacons took the court on Monday for the men’s semifinals in the US Open National Playoff Southern Sectional Qualifying Tournament, only this time they were facing off against each other.
Adam Lee, a sophomore from Auckland, New Zealand, was able to take down his former teammate David Hopkins in straight sets, knocking off the 2012 All-ACC athlete on his way to the men’s singlesfinal.
Lee, who primarily played No. 4 singles this past season, was cruising in the second set, jumping out to a 3-0 lead after taking the opening frame 6-2. Hopkins, however, was not going down without a fight. Hopkins, the leader for the Demon Deacons, played No. 1 doubles and splitting time between No. 1 and 2 singles his senior season. He wasn’t going to make things easy for Lee.  
The two continued to grind it out from the baseline, as both heavy hitters delivered punishing blows left and right. Hopkins, who just ended his Wake Forest career, worked his way back to even the score at 5-5, but Lee dug deep and found a way to shift momentum back in his favor. He would break Hopkins and finish out the second set 7-5, earning a spot in the finals against Danie van den Heever.
It’s never easy beating someone you work with day in and day out. "Its really tough, but you just got to go into the match, play and just forget that he’s on your team," Lee said, talking about playing a teammate. "Play like you’re playing someone else and then after the match, back to friends again, so that’s how I treat it."
When asked about his thoughts on his semifinal performance, Lee said, "It went pretty well, actually. Prepared myself well. Same routine as what I’ve been doing. Worked on a few things that weren’t done so well yesterday. I think I did well doing that today."
After two years of college play, Lee has good experience to build off of at this point. "It’s helped a lot. It’s helped me fight and never give up." This lesson was apparent in his play, as he fought even harder with Hopkins surging late in the second.
The road to Flushing Meadows is a strenuous journey, but Lee likes his chances right now. "I feel good about it. ... I’m playing well now so I would like to see how I’ll be playing in a few weeks time." He will hit the courts Tuesday for a shot at reaching the next step of qualifying in New Haven, Conn. at Yale University. 
All-American Advances
Natalie Pluskota continues to fight through the field in her quest of ultimately reaching the biggest stage of all in New York this summer. Pluskota, who played four years for the University of Tennessee, found her way into the finals of the women’s draw on Monday as she defeated Emily Zabor 6-7 (3-7), 6-4, 6-4 after several grueling hours.
A sophomore at the University of Alabama, Zabor jumped out early on her SEC opponent with a 4-1 lead, but Pluskota fought right back, managing to send the opening frame into a tiebreak. Zabor took the first set after slicing a beautiful drop shot just out of Pluskota’s reach, leaving an uphill battle for the Volunteer.
The two held serve throughout the second set, but a late break from Pluskota at 5-4 put her over the top, tying things up at one set a piece.
Disaster nearly struck in the beginning of the third set, as Pluskota slipped on the baseline and fell to the ground. She took several minutes to work through it, but eventually walked it off and was ready to get back to action. When asked if this hindered her play at all, she said, "No, it’s a little more scary than anything. I messed up my hip a long time ago, and that was like almost what I did (here), so it was a little scary. But it just took a minute to regroup." 
Pluskota went right back to work, holding serve to take the lead 2-1. Both women continued to serve well, but this recurring trend would quickly change. They would break each other back-to-back towards the end of the third, leaving the score at 5-4. Zabor had a chance to even it up once again, but Pluskota broke her one last time to claim victory.
Zabor certainly posed a difficult challenge for Pluskota to overcome. She continuously battled and made several outstanding shots when she needed them most. In the end, though, Pluskota’s experience seemed to seal the deal. The 2012 All-American in singles and doubles advances to the championship final to take on Zabor’s teammate Mary Anne MacFarlane, an opponent she is no stranger to.
"MacFarlane and I have played several times in college, so it’s gonna be competitive and it’s gonna be a good match. Just come out and play to win," Pluskota said afterwards.
Winning round after round leaves little room to rest. When asked how she thought she played today, Pluskota said, "Just a little sloppy. I mean as the tournament goes on you get a little more tired, a little more on edge, but just do what it takes to win and move onto tomorrow."
The road to the US Open is a long one, but it’s a great chance for players to compete on the highest stage. "A lot of us are just starting to play the (pro) circuit, and so any opportunity you can get to get into the Open is exciting. It’s all just part of the process," Pluskota said.
For the second year in a row the Windward Lake Club in Alpharetta, Ga. will host the tournament, which will run from June 29 to July 3 and will again include both men’s and women’s singles and mixed doubles. The USTA created the US Open National Playoffs to expand the footprint of the US Open to cities nationwide by providing the opportunity for all players 14 years of age and older to earn a berth into the US Open. USTA Southern will be the last of 13 sections to hold qualifying.