MADISON — Being able to capitalize on a service break in tennis is crucial, especially in a must-win situation.
An inability to do so turned out to be the Achilles’ heel for Lodi’s Alex and Anya Armbrust as the senior twin sisters fell in straight sets 7-5, 6-4 to Onalaska Luther’s Phoebe Christenson and Jenna Wahl in a Division 2 doubles opening round match at the WIAA state individual girls tennis tournament at Nielsen Tennis Stadium.
It was the third time the Blue Devils seniors squared off against the Knights sophomore duo. The Blue Devils lost all three, but Lodi coach Joe Birholz knows Thursday night’s contest was much more competitive.
“I think they played better today than they did in their previous two matches against them,” he said. “We didn’t get the result we wanted, but I think they did the best they could and they just came up a little short.”
“I think we played our best that we’ve ever played against them and this is the closest we’ve come to beating them,” Alex Armbrust added.
The two teams went back and forth throughout the first set, breaking each other in the first two games before Lodi won back-to-back to take a 3-1 lead. Christenson and Wahl rebounded, winning the next two games after both went to deuce to knot the opening set at 3.
The teams then tied at 4 before the Knights pair went on top 5-4 after breaking the Blue Devils twosome. The Armbrusts answered back, breaking Christenson and Wahl to tie the match at 5 but were broken right back before the Knights put things away.
The difference in the first set was the Knights’ play at the net. Christenson and Wahl rushed a majority of the first set and made it difficult for the Blue Devils duo to get anything over the top into the back of the court.
“It’s hard to aim around them because you can either lob or hit it down really hard, but they’re really good players and good at hitting both of those shots,” Alex Armbrust said.
“They’re both tall, athletic girls with good reach and they’re able to do overheads and do low shots,” Birholz added.
The second set started similarly to the first as the teams traded breaks over the first four games to ultimately tie at 2. Luther then broke the Blue Devils and capitalized on its chance, taking a 4-2 lead on an ace by Wahl.
The Armbrust’s didn’t go away, winning on the ensuing serve before breaking Christenson on shot down the line by Anya to tie the match at 4. The Blue Devils were unable to make the most of their opportunity the Knights broke Anya Armbrust for a 5-4 lead, putting the ball in Wahl’s hands with a chance to win it.
The sophomore took advantage as she didn’t drop a point, including three aces to put the match away. Wahl’s jump serve was strong all night but made a big difference in the second set.
According to Alex, the serve “has a huge angle no matter where she goes so it’s difficult,” while Birkholz noted it was so lethal due to its power and placement.
“A lot of girls can hit hard and a lot of girls can aim, but if you can do both that’s how you win matches,” he said.
While it’s a difficult end for the senior twins, it’s been a phenomenal four-year journey. The sisters never picked up a racket before the summer of their freshman year and have come a long way to ultimately reach their end goal.
“While they didn’t win, getting here was a really big deal to them and I think that journey, how hard it was and how long it was, makes it all the sweeter,” Birholz said.
“It’s really reward to play that short of time and make it here,” Anya added. “I’ll definitely remember it forever and will be my favorite part of high school.”