Shi relies on her inner strength

Top-seeded Sophia Shi of East Lyme reaches to make a return during her 6-1, 0-6, 6-3 win over Waterford's Nisha Rajamohan, the No. 2 seed, in Friday's ECC girls' tennis singles final.
Top-seeded Sophia Shi of East Lyme reaches to make a return during her 6-1, 0-6, 6-3 win over Waterford's Nisha Rajamohan, the No. 2 seed, in Friday's ECC girls' tennis singles final. Tim Cook/ The Day Buy Photo

Mystic - East Lyme's Sophia Shi may never have been happier to see rain in her young life.

The top-seeded Shi dominated second-seeded Nisha Rajamohan of Waterford in the first set of the Eastern Connecticut Conference girls' tennis singles final Friday, only to have her good friend beat her 6-0 in the second set. Shi was visibly flustered in-between sets and quickly fell behind 2-1 in the third.

"And then it rains," Shi said. "Thank you, God, and I got to regroup again and just really calm myself down."

The rain forced everyone to move from Stonington High School to the Mystic Indoor Tennis, giving Shi the time she needed to refocus. She rallied to beat Rajamohan 6-1, 0-6, 6-3 to win her first ECC title.

Top-seeded Maggie Tarbox and Michelle Valliere of Lyman Memorial beat No. 2 Katie Lewis and Jessica Hudson of Waterford 6-2, 3-6, 6-2 to win the doubles title.

Shi beat Rajamohan during the regular season in straight sets and seemed to be well on her way to winning again on Friday after a hot first set.

Momentum was not a theme of either ECC final, though. Rajamohan changed her tactics for the second game and it threw Shi for a loop.

"She started doing slices and drop shots, and my running forward is not very good," Shi said. "That was hard. It was surprising. I didn't deal with that as well as I should of, then I started losing, and then I got down on myself."

East Lyme coach Laurie Zrenda and Shi took all of the allotted between sets to get Shi in a better frame of mind.

The talk didn't take as Rajamohan charged to a 2-1 lead and was up 30-15 in the fourth game when the rain came.

"I don't know what would happen if it didn't rain," Shi said. "On the way over here (Mystic), I was trying to figure out how to deal with those drop shots because I knew she was still going to hit those. I tried to anticipate and move forward, so I was going to try to run those shots down. Instead of hitting in the middle like I usually do, I tried to go for it more and make sure that if I do get it over, she won't hit a passing shot."

Rajamohan was worried that Shi would benefit from the unscheduled break.

"I think I was a lot better when I was outside," Rajamohan said. "I knew that when we took a little break that her mind could go at ease, and that kind of got me nervous. When I came inside, I guess I was more tight. I didn't do as well as I did outside."

Shi was very subdued in victory as she and Rajamohan are close friends. The two juniors attended a One Direction concert together and sat courtside for a Roger Federer match last year at the U.S. Open.

"It still hasn't settled (in yet)," Shi said. "It's never fun beating your friend, and she put up a really good fight. I think I'm still stuck on the second set (given) my mentality. I feel like (today) I'm going to be throwing a party."

Rajamohan said, "I know I played well, maybe not so much in the last set. I know that I played well and that I could've won, but she had a really, really good mental game. Her strokes were really good. She deserved what she got."

Lewis and Hudson fought back after a flat first set to tie the doubles final, but Tarbox and Valliere lived up to their seeding.

"It was a great experience," Hudson said. "They're a great team. We fought hard in the second set and fought hard in the third set, but there's only so much you can do playing against a team like that.

"I wish this would've been different. This was the second year (losing in the final), but that's totally fine. There's always next year. We're juniors."

n.griffen@theday.com

Waterford's Katherine Lewis, left, returns a ball as her doubles partner Jessica Hudson looks on during Friday's ECC girls' tennis tournament doubles final at Stonington. Lewis and Hudson, seeded second, lost to the No. 1 team of Lyman Memorial's Maggie Tarbox and Michelle Valliere in three sets 6-2, 3-6, 6-2.
Waterford's Katherine Lewis, left, returns a ball as her doubles partner Jessica Hudson looks on during Friday's ECC girls' tennis tournament doubles final at Stonington. Lewis and Hudson, seeded second, lost to the No. 1 team of Lyman Memorial's Maggie Tarbox and Michelle Valliere in three sets 6-2, 3-6, 6-2. Tim Cook/The Day Buy Photo
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