Naperville Central’s Tiffany Chen comes back to place third in state

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It wasn’t the top finish Tiffany Chen sought.

But it was still a weekend the Naperville Central junior won’t soon forget.

Two days’ worth of comebacks culminated with Chen’s 7-5, 6-2 win over Lyons freshman Meg Kowalski in the third-place match of the state tennis meet Saturday in Buffalo Grove.

Chen trailed 4-1 in the first set, a position she was more than familiar with this weekend.

On Friday, the defending singles champion rallied from down 4-1 in the third set of her fourth match, and again 5-1 in the first set of her quarterfinal.

“It was a roller coaster weekend,” Chen said. “I really had to tough it out.”

Chen saw her bid for a repeat singles championship end in a 6-3, 6-3 semifinal loss to Hinsdale Central sophomore Bella Lorenzini.

Chen beat Lorenzini in a three-set final last year, but this was a different opponent. Blending her explosive power game with deft touch and more consistency, Lorenzini had Chen running down balls throughout.

Lorenzini went on to lose a 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 final to Carmel’s Brienne Minor, the ninth-ranked senior in the country and No. 1 in Illinois according to tennisrecruiting.net.

“It would have taken a perfect match to beat Bella,” Naperville Central coach Don Bonet said. “Last year she was all power. She’s added weapons.”

Chen, unbeaten entering Saturday, led the first set 2-1 after breaking Lorenzini’s serve.

She had two game points on serve, but an unforced error and double fault led to Lorenzini breaking back.

Lorenzini never trailed in the match again, winning the last two games of the first set and first three of the third.

“I learned a lot from last year,” Lorenzini said. “I dictated the pace more, set up my shots more and my attitude was better.”

Lorenzini, the emotional opposite to Chen’s silent and steady presence, also seemed to throw Chen off with a series of looping shots from the baseline.

“The tables have turned,” Chen said. “Bella played an amazing match. I had to hold on for every point. She hit winners left and right.”

Chen had not lost a set this weekend until Friday — but showed her mettle under the unusual circumstances to post her third top-four finish in three years. She took fourth as a freshman.

And she did it as she works to incorporate more power into an uncanny ability to keep rallies alive.

“I’m making changes that are going to help me in the long run,” Chen said. “I’m pretty happy with how I played. I haven’t been able to come back from deficits like I did this weekend in a long time.”

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