25-1 Becker reaches tennis semis

Published 9:29 am Thursday, November 2, 2017

Laura Becker lost in the state quarterfinals as a freshman and sophomore. When the Davie junior tennis star dropped the first set in the state quarterfinals on Friday, she was at a crossroads. Was history going to repeat? Was Becker going to bow out on Friday again?

At prove-it time, Becker added a missing piece to her rich resume, winning the second and third sets to advance to Saturday’s semifinals.

Becker fell in the semifinals to the eventual state champion, but she finished her sensational season with a 25-1 record.

The state tournament was held at Millbrook Exchange Park on Oct. 27-28.

Sixteen 4-A players gathered in Raleigh. Becker barely broke a sweat in the first round, winning 6-0, 6-0 over Avanthi Puvvala of Ardrey Kell.

Waiting for Becker in the quarterfinals was Green Hope’s Anna Rico, who rolled 6-2, 6-2 in her first-round match. Becker was not firing on all cylinders in the first set, losing 6-4.

“(Rico) is a tournament player,” Davie coach Collin Ferebee said. “She plays at Green Hope, which is a Raleigh school. So to have a good record in that conference means you’re a good player.

“Laura definitely didn’t play what her normal standard is (in the first set). But take nothing away from (Rico). She got a racquet on everything. She’s one of the best I’ve ever seen at being able to get to the ball and do something with it. Laura would hit a good, good shot and the girl would get there and get it back. Sometimes even the best players need a set to settle in, figure it out and then go from there.”

Becker said: “She was playing really consistently and not making any errors.”

Down a set, Becker found her rhythm and steamrolled Rico. She won the second set 6-2. She won the third set 6-0.

“I think Laura maybe hit 10 winners the whole match. That’s how good this girl was at getting to them,” Ferebee said. “But what happened was Laura was able to put more pace on it. So while (Rico) was able to get to the ball, Laura could put down a more offensive shot and ended the points quicker.”

Becker had punched her ticket to Saturday’s semifinals, quite possibly the first Davie singles player to reach the NCHSAA semis. (Davie joined the association in 1977.)

“I focussed on playing my game, keeping it one point at a time and moving her,” Becker said in her typically modest fashion. “I think I stepped up my game in the second set, stopped making as many unforced errors and played more aggressively than I was in the first set.”

The next morning in the semifinals, Becker faced an otherworldly opponent, Jenna Thompson of South Mecklenburg. Thompson, who can make anybody look bad, won the 2016 state championship as a freshman. She repeated by beating Becker 6-0, 6-2 and beating Katie Andreini of Green Hope 6-2, 6-4.

“I hadn’t played her since I was 12 years old,” Becker said. “She is 30th in the country for a reason.”

Becker’s best national ranking this year was 166th. Her best ranking ever was 148th. “But your ranking changes from week to week,” she said. In the Class of 2019, Becker’s state ranking is eighth.

Despite getting shut out in the first set, Becker didn’t roll over. She dug in and trailed 3-2 in the second set before Thompson pulled away.

There are many reasons to love Becker. She doesn’t seek attention; she avoids it. She’s a gracious loser, although that’s only happened seven times in her Davie singles career. She has 68 career wins in singles. Throw in doubles and her career record is 86-12. But Becker’s character is just as stellar as her records.

“Laura has gotten comments from many opposing coaches saying that she’s incredibly easy to root for,” Ferebee said. “She has tremendous sportsmanship and respect for the game and her opponents. She could have gone to an Icyhot (USTA Southerns Tournament last weekend), but instead chose to represent her school. Davie has an excellent representative in Laura, and everyone is incredibly proud of her.”