Stephanie Yakoff of Fort Lee, which is top seeded, won the state singles tournament for the 2021 NJSIAA championship on Sunday morning at Mercer County Park in West Windsor.
Yakoff defeated second-seeded Erin Ha of Holy Angels 6-2, 6-3.
Yakoff won a non-important match in early September, and you could have assumed that just by looking at her. Yakoff served the ball and watched Ha hit a return forehand into the net. She then walked to the back fence to grab her towel. No reaction other than a smug smile. Yakoff, a junior, won her second state singles title with that last point. Yakoff also won as a freshman in 2019 in blitz between rookies.
Yakoff was calm, cool, and collected. She was focused. No celebration was needed. Shes been there before. Yakoff is the sixth girl in New Jersey to win two state singles titles.
Yakoff, a tennis recruiting executive for the Tennis Recruiting Network, said, "This was definitely harder than if we had done this before." The level of play was significantly higher. It was a tough match against Erin, and the match before, all of them, honestly. The tournament was a big success and it feels great.
Throughout every tournament shes been on a mission, Fort Lee coach Phil Zappel said. Shes had some bumps along the road since the season began. She hasnt had the opportunity to serve again for a couple weeks now. But she was still able to succeed.
It took Yakoff almost three hours to reach the semifinals on Saturday, when she faced Naomi Karki of East Brunswick. Yakoff didn't appear or play like she was fatigued at all with less than 24 hours of rest between matches.
I feel like I had a concrete plan. Yakoff felt confident coming into the match, and she was able to sleep in the car during her long journey to the venue. I felt like I wanted to win, she said. I train with her. I did have a little meeting with her albeit last week. That kind of helped.
Yakoff won the first set 1-6 in the Bergen County Tournament first singles final last month, before Yakovoff took the next two to win in three sets. Yakoff came out firing this time around. Yakoff led the first set 4-0 before Ha won a game.
I tried to get a lead early and that worked. I tried to be smart. Yakoff said he hit his groundstrokes well. I tried to keep the ball deep and I was trying to move her corner to corner. It worked out.
Yakoff, who is named after former grand slam champion Steffi Graf, was up 3-0 in the second set. Ha took the next three games, but Yakoff ended it.
I think she was able to slow things down and control the pace and play the game that she wanted to play in order to be a girl as good Erin, Zappel said.
Yakoff had a hard time tossing and serving due to the wind and sweltering conditions in the semis, but it was much better and more effective against Ha.
It was a lot better than yesterday, Yakoff said. I learned how to adjust. It can be difficult to play with a lot of wind, especially in Jersey, where you live. It wasnt as if it was a wind. Ive been serving everything perfectly in the house. When there was no wind, I started making everything.
Zappel said hes never seen a player of Yakoff slant as rector.
Its like a once in ... era experience, he added. Im very grateful to have had this experience. To have a player who isnt serving well, I would imagine that would be incredibly detrimental heading into dreadlocks like this. Its incredible that shell be able to get through the situation as well with no weapon like your serve.
Yakoff, if she chooses, will have the chance to be the second girl to win three state singles titles next year as a senior. In 1983, 1984, and 1986, Danielle Klurman of J.P. Stevens won the championship. Kieko Tokuda of Clifton has won four times and is the only other person to do so. She achieved the feat in the 1970s.
Yakoff said, I mean, I really like the team atmosphere and all the tournaments and everything, he added. Im still not sure what Ill be doing next year, but I would like to play, he added.
Theres nothing that makes me feel like she couldnt do it. Ive known her for three years, and I havent seen her lose a match yet, Zappel said. As a senior, theres no reason to believe she wont win another one. Unfortunately, there wasn't a tournament last year because the ultimate goal would have been to have four. two. Well take three. That would be fine.
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