Hannah Berner was one more loose game from being pushed to a third set. She wasn’t playing particularly well, double faulting and sitting back on the baseline too cautiously.
In other words, the top seed had Leighann Sahagun exactly where she wanted her. When push came to shove, Berner regained her form.
Shaking off her uncharacteristically lackluster play, she reeled off the final five games of the match for a hard−fought, 6−2, 7−5 victory and her first Mayor’s Cup singles crown at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.
“At 2−5, I knew I had to play well to take the set or, if I lost, I needed to play to be ready for the third set,” Beacon’s Wisconsin−bound senior said. “I started hitting my forehand more solidly and my serve more consistently. I got more momentum and I could tell she was getting worried.”
Berner kept pressing the issue, forcing Sahagun into unforced errors. She blasted winners and rushed the net. She used Sahagun’s power against her, blocking back ferocious groundstrokes, and out−steadying her younger opponent.
Berner got even at five−all with a forehand volley winner she set up with a textbook crosscourt backhand approach. She held serve at 15 and broke Sahagun for the third straight time to claim the title.
“She never gets frustrated,” the Cardozo standout said. “She’s a fighter.”
Berner couldn’t have asked for a better senior season. She went undefeated in league play for Beacon, helped the Blue Demons win a third consecutive PSAL Class A team city championship, a Mayor’s Cup crown and now an individual title. Last year, she lost in straights sets in the final to former St. Francis Prep star Shinann Featherston, who is finishing up her freshman year at North Carolina.
“I realized it would make my year to win this, to go out on top,” she said.
Berner was engulfed in controversy during the PSAL team finals. After beating Cardozo’s Roland John in third singles, the match that clinched Beacon’s 3−2 victory, Judges coach Howie Arons complained that Berner’s inclusion was unfair, Title IX or not.
“Hannah’s great, but she’s a girl playing on a boys’ team,” Arons then fumed. “I can’t help myself. She’s a top gun, a national player. This is the boys’ championship.”
If he could use his school’s best female players – most notably Sahagun – the result would’ve been different, Arons said. As a result, Berner received plenty of media attention, a girl thriving in a boys’ world. There was a story in the New York Times and enough press clippings to fill out her room.
“The more attention and pressure,” she said, “the better it feels to win. … It definitely feels that much better to beat Cardozo girls and boys. In the end, it was Beacon dominating.”
Berner handled the attention well. She continued to play her game, never complaining about the outspoken Arons. It was that character trait Beacon coach Bayard Faithfull will miss the most – her ability to block out distractions and focus.
“She’s so mentally tough,” he said. “She just doesn’t crack.”
Faithfull joked that he wanted to keep her a few more years. It won’t be easy to replace her, not just her talent but also her character, the toughness she exudes.
“She’ll be a great Badger,” Faithfull said.