MADISON — Morgan Nelson is pretty cool under pressure, but for a fleeting moment the walls were closing in around her.
Then the sophomore on Beaver Dam’s prep girls tennis team took a deep breath and all was right again.
“I was so nervous. I could just feel my body shaking,” she said of being overwhelmed out of the gates in her first match of the WIAA Division 1 state individual tennis tournament Thursday at Nielsen Tennis Stadium. “So after that first game, it kind of clicked for me, like, ‘OK, I need to focus up. This is happening now and I need to get in the zone.’”
The pep talk worked — boy, did it ever work.
After her nerves cost her in game one, Nelson rebounded in dominant fashion, breaking serve seven times in eight chances and cruising to a 6-2, 6-1 win over New Richmond’s Greta Bakke. The victory was her first at the state tournament after making a first-round exit last year as a freshman.
Nelson’s reward was a date with second-seeded Sabrina Tang of Stevens Point. Tang (29-0) won, 6-1, 6-1, ending Nelson’s (26-6) season, but that didn’t take any of the polish off of what was as impressive an opening-round victory as could have been expected.
The key for Nelson was that she stayed on the attack, dictating tempo virtually the whole match. She was aided in this pursuit by Bakke’s lack of an overpowering first serve, as her opponent always opened play conservatively.
“Both of her serves were the same — both of her serves were a second serve,” Nelson said. “So for both of her serves, I really just focused on shortening up my backswing and moving into the ball and placing it. So then I was able to get easier balls sooner (in the rally) rather than having to play long points.”
In other words, Nelson’s game plan was to attack the edges so that Bakke had to move laterally, thus limiting Bakke’s good scoring opportunities.
“And she did that,” BD head coach Ryan Radig said of Nelson. “And then when you do that, you get another easy ball, and another easy ball, and then you get a ball you can put away.
“(Bakke’s) serve wasn’t as strong, and Morgan didn’t let her off the hook — she made her pay for a weak serve”
The game plan also cut down on unforced errors, which allowed Nelson to win all but one of the games without making it to a deuce.
“Instead of focusing on hitting the ball hard, I focused on placing the ball,” Nelson said. “So then as I kept placing the ball, she would eventually get off balance and give me a short ball — and then I’d be able to take advantage of those short, easy balls, (that) you don’t miss a lot.”
Even when Nelson was rattled in the first game of the match, Radig wasn’t concerned.
It’s a marathon, not a sprint. And he liked the strides he was seeing.
“The way she was playing her points and setting up points, I knew she was going to be successful,” Radig said. “So even though she lost that first game, I had a good feeling about the match.”
The same wasn’t the case for BD sophomore Abby Kiesow and senior Ashley Saniter, who ran into a buzzsaw in their first-round doubles match and suffered a 6-0, 6-2 loss to 13th-seeded Middleton juniors Michelli Chi and Maddie Clark.
“They listened to everything that we (wanted to) try to do, whether it’s working or it’s not working,” Radig said of Kiesow and Saniter. “Sometimes you run into a great team, and that’s what they had happen today.”
As evident by the two games they won in the second set, Kiesow and Saniter didn’t roll over after getting shut out in set one. They pulled within 4-2 before dropping the final two games.
“I was just very happy that they didn’t fade away and they showed a little bit of perseverance, a little resolve, to battle back,” Radig said.