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Rachel Nelson's reign as queen of the courts in Div. II tennis was ended on Saturday, as Columbus DeSales senior My Linh Li knocked off Nelson 6-4, 6-4 in the semifinal match of the 37th annual Girls State Tennis Tournament, moved indoors to the Elysium Tennis Center in Plain City.
Li, however, was unable to claim the crown for herself, as she fell 6-0, 6-2 to Bishop Hartley senior Rachel Morales in the championship match.
"I've known both of them since I was 11," Nelson said. "We all three hit together on Sundays. The three people who practice together took first, second and third."
Nelson bounced back later in the day to topple Allie Miller of Portsmouth 7-6 (7-5), 6-2 to take third, ending her brilliant career at West Holmes with a first-, a second-, a third- and a fourth-place finish.
"I got them all, but that wasn't my goal," Nelson said with a laugh.
Heading into the finals, Nelson was more focused than she was earlier in the day. And she played with purpose.
"It didn't really matter who I was playing, I didn't want to lose two today," Nelson said. "I pulled it out. That's good."
West Holmes coach Jason Otto was pleased with her ability to come back and take third.
"She came out of here winning," Otto said. "That's kind of nice. She beat one of her rivals in the final match of her (high school) career."
The move inside was beneficial to Nelson.
"I play better indoors because most of the year, I'm playing indoors." Nelson said. "And so are most of these girls here. Plus, the better my opponent, the better I play. She's a really good opponent. She hits it really hard, and that pushes me to play better."
Nelson was able to defeat the hard-hitting Miller despite a woeful day at the service line, where she had 10 double faults.
"Everyone has an off day or an off set, or an off game," she said. "It just depends; your level fluctuates and you have no control over it. It was a little rough with the serve today, but, other than that, I thought I really played well."
The first set against Miller was a back-and forth battle that wound up going Nelson's way in a tiebreaker. The West Holmes senior rode that momentum to the second-set victory and the third-place finish.
"She played just as well in the second set, if not better," Nelson said. "I just played a lot better.
"In tiebreakers, you just have to play. You can't be too passive," she added. "Everyone makes that mistake thinking they just need to be consistent. You have to play your game, the way you've been winning. You don't want to play just to keep it in."
Miller wasn't flawless, either, double-faulting on eight serves.
But Nelson's solid ground strokes broke Miller.
"She played much better in this match than she did in the first match (against Li)," Otto said. "She didn't play as well as she did last week against Miller, but she played well enough to win."
Nelson didn't have her best game in Saturday's semifinal match against her friend Li.
"What it comes down to it, it was just another match. I lost to a friend of mine, so that's all good," Nelson said.
Li is a defensive player who kept the balls in play and forced Nelson into an extra shot, and several unforced errors.
"She played really well. She forced me to try and switch it up, because she was playing so well," Nelson said.
There were some long rallies that seemed to wear Nelson down.
"There were a couple key points in the match. Down 2-3 in the first set, My Linh didn't let up or lose her focus," DeSales coach Anthony Tienprasid said. "In the second set, My Linh was also down 3-4, and down 15-40, but came back to win that game. That was a big momentum swing. Keeping her composure and being aggressive throughout the entire match was the key to the victory.
"We wanted to move her (Nelson) around and make her work for every single point," Tienprasid added. "Last year, My LInh was feeding Rachel and she just pounded her. This year, she made Rachel run around the court and it seemed like Rachel was tiring out. That came through in those long rallies."
Li admits it was strange playing against her friend on the big stage, but it wasn't the first time, and she knew what to do.
"I've known Rachel for a long time," Li said. "It's weird playing against friends, but once you get on the court, you have to see them as another player. After the match, we're friends again, but you've got to leave it all out there on the court."
The West Holmes coach was sad to see his star end her high school career.
"I always tell her, I feel like I lucked out, because not many people get to coach a quality player like her," Otto said. "Most of the top quality players are kind of snobs. She's one of the rare ones. I commend her for playing all four years and being a good teammate."
Nelson said that while some people saw this as her last match, she knows she has four more years of playing at the college level ahead of her.
Her opponents are the fondest memory of the state tournament for Nelson.
"The people I played here; last year was awesome and this year, whenever I play her (Allie Miller), it's always a battle," she said. "My freshman year was exciting because I was in doubles with my sister. My sophomore year when I played Courtney (Earnest) in the semis, I was really up for that.
"The competition and the feel, the atmosphere is different here," she continued. "It's different from any other tournament I've played."