Quince Orchard's Alice Chen and Churchill's Maggie MacKeever are no strangers to each other on the tennis courts of Montgomery County. The two seniors, regular opponents in finals of county competitions, are quite familiar with the strengths and weaknesses of each other's game. As they wind up their high school playing careers, they ensured themselves of at least one more meeting with victories in yesterday's semifinals of the county tournament at Blake.
Chen, the No. 3 seed, needed three sets to dispatch pesky Blake sophomore Carmen Jackman, 6-2, 4-6, 6-1. The top-seeded MacKeever, three-time county champion, had an easier time with Laura Wolman of Walter Johnson, winning 6-0, 6-3.
The finals are Monday at Blake.
The second-seeded Jackman, who came in riding a 13-match winning streak that included a 6-4, 7-5 victory over Chen nearly two weeks ago, was a formidable obstacle for Chen. But ultimately, Chen's experience and aggressive groundstrokes were just too much.
"I wanted to get the win back," Chen said, referring to her loss earlier this month. "I felt really good today. I came out focused. She's a good player. I expected a match like this."
Chen lost to MacKeever in the final last year but went on to defeat her for the first time in her high school career in the Maryland Region II championship. MacKeever then exacted a measure of revenge by beating Chen in the state tournament final.
"It's the usual story," said MacKeever, the two-time state champion, of her meeting with Chen. "We get to play on Halloween. That should be interesting."
Chen appeared as if she were going to cruise to victory over Jackman in the first set, earning a break point in the first game. She executed sharply angled shots to move Jackman around the court and set up winners. "She was coming out for me," Jackman said. "She was hitting a lot higher to my backhand, which isn't my strongest shot, and stretched me a lot to win points."
But Jackman regrouped in the second set by attempting to control the points earlier, and took advantage of Chen's unforced errors. Leading 4-3 in the second set, Jackman broke Chen and then went on to take the set when Chen, down 4-5, hit two forehands long.
Chen regained momentum immediately in the third set, cruising behind beautifully executed short cross-court winners that yanked Jackman out of position. After capturing the win, Chen could begin to think about a familiar foe in MacKeever.
"We know each other's game so well after playing each other in school and outside so much," Chen said. "I'm definitely going to have to serve well and be aggressive without making mistakes. Maggie sets up points so well, and consistently with a strong serve. She doesn't give any free points."