Opponent walks off court in New Hampshire tennis final, forfeits championship
MANCHESTER (N.H.) — Sunday Swett didn’t know it, but she had just reached her goal.
Swett, a Bow High senior and the No. 2 seed, won the first set in Tuesday’s girls singles tournament final, 6-4, and was waiting for the second set to begin when her opponent, top-ranked Brianna Leonard of Bishop Guertin, walked off the court.
“I thought it was a bathroom break and when everyone started cheering I thought it was more like, ‘First Set! Keep it going!’ And I was kind of like, thank you, but I’ve got to stay focused here,” Swett said. “But she just picked up her stuff and left.”
Leonard’s family felt the environment at The Derryfield School was too hostile, so they encouraged Brianna to leave. When she did, she was disqualified, and Swett had the state title she’s been aiming at for four years. Swett wished she could have played a second set, but she wouldn’t let the bizarre end ruin her mood or the moment.
“Absolutely not, it’s still the same work,” Swett said. “It was her choice. I’m not going to let it dampen my happiness.”
The tension in the Leonard camp began when she was penalized a point for arriving late to her semifinal match, which she still won easily, 6-1, 6-4, against her BG teammate, Jennifer Dai. The uneasiness built when Leonard slipped during the final and asked for the tournament directors to clean up some kind of mess. And while the majority of the crowd was pulling for Swett, there didn’t seem to be any unreasonable or unsportsmanlike cheering during the final, although that was not how the Leonards felt.
“They thought the crowd was over the top, cheering for their daughter’s faults and things like that,” first-year BG Coach Barry Ndinya said.
But when asked if he thought the crowd was over the top, Ndinya said, “That’s sports, right? You can have the crowd cheering for you or against you, you have to deal with it.”
“I’ve never experienced some of the things that we’ve had here today,” said NHIAA Executive Director R. Patrick Corbin, who happened to be at the site for all the proceedings. “It’s just unfortunate, and I’ve never seen it in tennis. I played tennis in college and I’ve been doing these matches for years. (Tournament director) Steve (Laro) does them at the collegiate level and this is the first time he’s ever seen something like this. It’s just unfortunate for everyone involved.”
While Swett was also surprised with the ending, she wasn’t shocked that Leonard brought drama to the match.
“I’ve played her before (including a 6-0, 6-1 loss to Leonard in last year’s quarterfinals), and, not to be mean, but I know she has an attitude, and I was ready to put up with it,” Swett said, “but this brought it to a whole new level.”
Swett also brought her game to a new level this year, adding more patience and savvy to her hyper-aggressive tactics. That paid off in her first match of the day, a commanding 6-1, 6-4 win against Londonderry’s Cassie Burbine. Swett charged the net at every chance, knocking off volley winners or forcing Burbine into errors. Even when she stayed on the baseline, Swett was able to overpower Burbine with booming forehands.
Swett kept attacking in the final, but Leonard handled the pressure, broke Swett in the fourth game and took a 3-1 lead. But Swett countered with more depth on her ground strokes and more patience during points to break back.
Leonard slipped during the next game and the tense interchange between player and tournament officials seemed to rattle the BG senior, who hadn’t lost a match this season before yesterday. Swett held that game and broke Leonard in the next to take a 4-3 lead. The two then exchanged breaks to give Swett a 5-4 lead and a chance to serve out the first set.
Swett fell behind 0-40, but then pulled herself out of the hole with some huge serves, including an ace to fight off one game point and an unreturned first serve to claim the game, set and, ultimately, the match.
“It’s hard for me to stay in the moment, that’s probably one of my biggest things mentally,” Swett said. “But right there and then it was kind of like, just take each point as it comes, don’t think about the future, just be right here, and it ended up working.”
“It’s an unfortunate way for it to end because they’re both such good tennis players,” Bow Coach Jonsey Rainville said. “I wish it could have gone the extra set, but the result would have been the same. Sunday was the better player today.”