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Monday, May 29, 2006

Babos and Kohlloeffel Win NCAA Singles Titles; Big Ten Sweeps Doubles Championships

©Colette Lewis 2006
Palo Alto CA--

The PAC-10 conference earned collegiate tennis bragging rights on a brilliant Memorial Day afternoon, with Suzie Babos of California-Berkley and Ben Kohlloeffel of California-Los Angeles winning NCAA Individual Championships at the Taube Tennis Center on the campus of Stanford University.

Babos overpowered Lindsey Nelson of the University of Southern California 6-4, 6-1 to become the first women's champion in Cal's history, while Kohlloeffel gave the Bruins their first individual champion since UCLA head coach Billy Martin took the title in 1975.

Babos, a unseeded sophomore, had all kinds of trouble with her serve and the crowd in her semifinal win over Stanford's Theresa Logar on Sunday, but Monday's final saw a complete turnaround on both fronts.

With all Stanford players eliminated, there were fewer Cardinal fans in attendance, but the Cal supporters gathered behind court 3 and let loose with several "Go Bears" cheers throughout the brief (one hour and ten minute) match. And Nelson, also an unseeded sophomore, was unable to dent Babos' serve, failing to earn a single break in the match.

"She served amazing," said Nelson, who suffered an foot injury in the fall and was out with pneumonia this spring. "She's a strong lefty and she hardly missed. I hadn't played a lefty all week and I wasn't as prepared as I would have liked. She pulled out really great shots at the right time."

Nelson hits with two-hands on both sides, and her flat deep groundstrokes gave all her previous opponents difficulty, including top seed Audra Cohen, whom Nelson beat in the round of 16. Babos seemed oblivious to Nelson's unorthodox forehand, and she stayed with Nelson in every baseline rally. Babos also gave credit to an improved mental outlook while working with a sports psychologist hired by the Cal athletic department.

"Coming into Cal as a freshman, I was a mess mentally," said Babos. "I couldn't handle my nerves. I was really negative and sarcastic, really critical of my game. But now I stay positive, take one point at a time, not even thinking about the next one until the point is over."

But when she came out strong, breaking Nelson and holding at the outset of the second set, she did admit to feeling in control of the match.

"She started hitting bigger, which was out of her range, and she started missing more," said 21-year-old from Hungary. "By the time it was 2-0 down, I think she never believed she could come back."

Nelson was proud of her run in the tournament, both with USC reaching the semifinals in the team competition, and her appearance in the final. As for the disappointment, she philosophically called it a "learning experience."

"I was so nervous and so excited," the spindly California native said. "She played a really great match, she hit a great ball, and I couldn't get back in there. I froze up I didn't play as well as I'd like to. I wish I could play it over again right now."

The men's final, which was played at the same time as the women's, produced a similarly lopsided 6-1, 6-4 result, due to Kohlloeffel's extra dimension--his ability to finish at the net.

"I knew he was going to come in a lot," said Somdev Devvarman, a sophomore at the University of Virginia, who was a nine seed. "Usually I pass a lot better, but I didn't pass that terribly today. He volleys really well, and his approaches were better, which makes passing a little bit harder."

Kohlloeffel, a junior from Germany, had a some net-cord luck to break Devvarman for the first time in the opening set, but the second break assured him of taking the set.

"I was really nervous," Kohlloeffel admitted. "I don't know if Somdev was as nervous, but it's good to know you're a break up. It makes you feel better out there."

Devvarman's backhand was put to the test by the lefthanded top seed, and he acknowledged that it produced some "uncharacteristic" errors. With consistency and depth his major strengths, his hopes were riding on a very clean, error-free performance, but Kohlloeffel pressed the issue, taking every short ball and coming in. He also felt his game came up a notch because Devvarman's style favors long points.

"He's more of a guy that gives you a rhythm. Yesterday (against Erling Tveit) the points were much shorter, but today I could stand there and find my rhythm."

Kohlloeffel managed a 4-1 two-break lead in the second, but confessed that he started thinking about what he was about to do and lost a bit of focus. Devvarman got his only break in the match to make it 4-2, but Kohlloffel closed that only slightly ajar door. Fittingly, Kohlloffel finished the match by making a textbook volley from Devvarman's return of serve, and the Pac-10 could claim its second champion of the day.

The 24-year-old was asked about his future plans in tennis, now that he had capped last year's team title with this year's individual ones; last fall he won the ITA Indoor singles championship, becoming the first Bruin to do so.

"At the moment, I'm not planning on playing the pro tour," said Kohlloeffel, who is majoring in economics and considering graduate school when he earns his degree next year. "Time is not really working for me, I'm kind of old. At some point you have to start living your life and start doing what you want to do for the rest of your life. I'll go home and relax...I'm glad to get a break now."

In the doubles championships, two Big Ten schools will hang banners from their indoor courts' rafters, as the University of Illinois team of Kevin Anderson and Ryan Rowe captured the men's title, and Cristelle Grier and Alexis Prousis of Northwestern took the women's.

Anderson and Rowe have lost only one match all year, and with their No. 3 seed, were hardly surprising finalists. But down two match points in their first contest of the tournament, Anderson and Rowe survived by the skin of their teeth.

"We scraped through a few matches in the beginning of the tournament," Anderson said, "but today we came out firing and really played a good match."

With their big serves and crisp volleys, Anderson and Rowe gave the second seeded team of Scott Doerner and Andres Begemann of Pepperdine no time to breathe. Rowe, from Moline Illinois, and Anderson, of South Africa, were never broken in their 6-2, 6-4 victory, giving Illinois its third doubles championship of this decade. Brian Wilson and Rajeev Ram won the title in 2003 while Cary Franklin and Graydon Oliver were the champions in 2000.

"It's a great feeling," said Rowe, who, like Anderson is a sophomore. "I'm not sure how to react, but I'm happy to share this experience with Kevin, who's one of my best friends. The more matches we play, the better we get."

That was the theme of the unseeded Grier and Prousis of Northwestern, who defeated Lucia Sainz and Katharina Winterhalter from Fresno State, five seeds, 6-4, 6-1.

"In our first match, we could have lost it," Prousis, a Lake Forest Illinois junior said of their three-set comeback win over Arizona State. "But after that we've really had our heads on straight. We've gotten better from the first match on."

"This last three months, Prous and I have played unbelievably well together," said Grier of Epsom England. "This tournament we got some revenge on some people we've lost to and that's really satisfying."

Grier was no doubt referring to their shocking domination of the number one seeded Stanford team of Alice Barnes and Anne Yelsey in Sunday's semifinals by a 6-3, 6-2 score. Barnes and Yelsey had beaten Grier and Prousis in the first round of the ITA Indoor Championships last fall.

In Monday's final Grier and Prousis used their lobs and angles very effectively, and as they got better throughout the tournament, so too did they improve throughout the final, becoming the second doubles champions from Northwestern. Katrina Adams and Diane Donnelly won the title as Wildcats in 1987.

Grier is lone senior among the participants in Monday's finals and she knows how fortunate she is to complete her college tennis experience with a win.

"I'm lucky," she said. "I was hoping to do it in the singles, until I played a pretty awful match (a 6-1, 6-1 loss to second seed Kristi Miller), so I didn't want to end it on that. It's fantastic to end my career this way."


Sparty23 said...

Does anyone have access to data showing the # of foreign players on scholarship at NCAA Div 1 schools vs the # of USA players on scholarship supported by the tax paying citizens of America. Is it really that important for the coaches and institutions to subsidize older foreign born players at the expense of the juniors in the USA who have fought and clawed with one another for 10 plus years travelling the USTA junior circuit?

Anonymous said...

Dear Collette, I didn't know where else to post this question, but as I survey the UCLA Roster as well as the USC Roster, I just realized that Gary Sacks is nowhere to be found. He appeared to be perhaps the most promising junior in the U.S. after he won the Kalamazoo Boys 16's with a serve and volley attacking game just two years ago. It seemed that he started college early by going to USC, but now I see that he is nowhere to be found. Do you have any insight into this mystery?

Speaking of starting college early, I don't get this Nate Schnugg decision to start college early at Georgia. He is the national champion at Kalamazoo in 16s and one of the top doubles players in the ITF, and he has often been quoted about wanting to become a professional player. So, why would going to college early help his goal of becoming a pro? If anything, the usualy course is to delay college one year if anything. I don't get it?

Anonymous said...

That's a good question Sparty. I'm sure you noticed that once again the two NCAA Champions were foreigners on both the men's and women's brackets. This Koelhoefel (sp?) is 24 and already balding, not unlike Kogan from Tulane who was the runner-up last year and at least 24, if not 26 and going bald. In his interview after winning it this year just two days ago Koelhoefel states that he has no plans of playing professionally because he's "toodold."

I don't think the idea of older foreigners taking hundreds of U.S. scholarships is what the NCAA had in mind when they started out.

Stephen said...

I don't think the NCAA is going to do anything about the older foreign players, because I don't think they care.

College tennis is at a very high level right now and very deep (there were probably 6-10 teams who had a chance to win it all this year, imo) and I think the NCAA likes it this way and to heck with all of the less-talented US juniors who aren't good enough to go pro right away.

At least that's the way it appears to me.

Stephen said...

To emphasize your point about Kohloeffel, if you look up his activity on ATPTennis.com, you can see that he was playing in pro tournaments as far back as 2001 and has wins over such players as Karol Beck ('01), Hugo Armando ('01), Philipp Kohlschreiber ('02), and Mark Nielsen ('03). He also had many close losses to top players like Alexander Waske, Gilles Muller, Joachim Johansson, Janko Tisparevic, Dick Norman, and Stanislas Wawrinka.

How much chance does the average 18-20 year-old jr. have against someone with that kind of experience?

Colette Lewis said...

I'm not going to start this debate all over again--I'll just say that I don't care what country a player is from as long as he or she is held to the same standards of amateurism as U.S. juniors are.

As for Gary Sacks, he hasn't had much success on the Futures tour and I understand he is trying to get back into college at USC, but I haven't seen him to confirm that. It was 2003 when he won the the 16s here in Kalamazoo.

As for Schnugg, any bright teenager who wants to attend college and have that experience has my full support. Like James Blake, I just don't see any down side, and Manny Diaz will see to it that he continues to improve while he pursues his goals.

Anonymous said...

Collette, your comment about Nate Schnugg going to college seems to have missed my point. I also support someone who goes to college, but what I don't understand is why he is going EARLY as opposed to late. Furthermore, I wouldn't have even mentioned it if he wasn't quoted in the press about a year ago stating that he hoped to become a professional by getting high enough on the ATP Computer before he entered college.

I hope he doesn't end up doing what Sacks seems to have done because I think that Sacks also started college early as did Travis Rittenmeier at UCLA and I don't think it helped either of them.

James Blake did go to college, but he certainly didn't start early.

Moreover, no offense to Nate Schnugg as he may be very smart, but what evidence is there that he's so bright? All we know publicly is that he got into the University of Georgia.

sparty23 said...

Collette, I want to further hear your reasoning behind, "holding foreign players to the same amateurism requirements". Do you seriously feel that the playing field, even if levelled by amateurism requirements, should not benefit , first and foremost, aspiring USA born student-athletes, especially in our tax payer supported public colleges. Where in the world do you see foreign institutions tripping over themselves to grant opportunity to USA kids? The NCAA needs the heat of the institutional tennis establisment in thye USA, which includes you and your media brethren to continue to force this issue. Was Craig Tiley the only person on board, with this point of view?

Colette Lewis said...

Again, I've made my position clear in my rebuttal to Jon Wertheim's Tennis Magazine column. (see my May 12th post). I do not have any statistics on the scholarship issue. I simply believe that placing restrictions on the number of foreign players in U.S. institutions is unwise. Philosophically, I don't believe in protecting U.S. juniors from competition.
If you feel strongly about this issue, I suggest that you contact the individual college coaches who recruit foreign players and ask them to explain their reasons for doing so. Their email addresses are readily available on their team's websites.

5.0 Player said...

Collette, your suggestion that Sparty contact the individual college coaches on the issue of foreign players is really another red herring that you're now starting to become famous for. Nobody blames the college coaches for trying to compete under the rules. They have to be competitive and win. If they don't recruit the foreign players when their competitors are doing so, then they will lose. That is why it must be the NCAA or some other U.S. organization which must change the rules. It is not the fault of the coach's, it is the fault of the organizations and the rules.

Also, your comment that you don't believe in protecting U.S. juniors from foreign competition is yet another red herring. No one has ever advocated such a thing. The only objections we have are when U.S. organizations spend money and finance non-U.S. players at the expense of their own.

Furthermore, no one is advocating the "placing of restrictions on the number of foreign players in U.S. institutions." They only have a problem with the financing of foreign players by U.S. institutions by giving them unlimited scholarship money. It's the SCOHARSHIP MONEY that advocates wish to restrict to 2 foreign players per team, not the number of players.

You have this annoying habit of repeatedly rephrasing the issue in a false light so that it makes your position seem more palatable.

I have already mentioned this several times in my rebuttal to your rebuttal to Wertheim and I've noticed that you've never tried to refute my points nor have you refrained from this practice.

Sparty, take a look at my rebuttal to Colette's reubuttal to Wertheim's article and let me know if I covered everything.

Austin said...

When was Gary Sacks ever enrolled at USC? And your wrong about him not having much success in futures, he has had NO SUCCESS. He's just like a lot of the kids who were good in the 14's and 16's but dont do anything after that. Sukhwa Young is probably the biggest bust in the past decade, dominated the 14's, then started getting worse, then got injured for awhile, now I think he just quit GTech's team and tennis, but dont quote me on that, but hes certainly nowhere to be found. Josh Cohen is probably a close second for bust honors.

Yes, James Blake did go to Harvard a year early, but I dont know if he went early or if he was just always really young for his age because he didnt turn 18 until xmas break of his freshman year.

Anonymous said...

I think Sacks is set to play at USC this next season, so I've heard ... It's all a moot point regarding scholarship limits - the NCAA will never do it. Its primary concern is to try to tighten up the amateurism issues that contiue to surface. I think there's actually a better chance the NCAA will someday loosen its amateur rules/deregulate than to impose scholarship limits. But what do I know?

Anonymous said...

Hey, Sparty and 5.0 - I am in complete agreement with your comments. I very much appreciated 5.0's reasoned and correct responses in other posts. There is NO reason to not limit teams to funding ONLY 2 foreign players. Limiting all teams to 2 foreigners would still "up" the level of play, yet force coaches to seek out good American juniors.
NCAA will not "do" anything about this. Any action on their part would affect other sports with foreign participation (swimming, Women's volleyball, etc.) The ITA is charged with regulating collegiate tennis - that organization is the one to contact. Not the individual college coaches, a suggestion which guarantees dispersing the energy and constituency behind the movement to limit foreigners to 2.
I want to correct something 5.0 said - when responding to Colette's statement that she was against protecting U.S. juniors from foreign competition, 5.0 said that this never happens. It does. All USTA national events on the Junior circuit, from National Opens, to national championships like National Clays and Kalamazoo have very strictly enforced rules about who can play. Foreign players are NOT allowed, either in the national events or in the sectional events that create endorsed players to the national events. Green card holders, yes. Diplomat's kids in some cases, yes. But foreign players with no documentation, no. My son once had to wait for hours for a match, while the tournament director established the residency of his opponent, and then ended up not allowing the opponent (a Russian) to play. That was in a National Open. I've seen Sectional tournament directors forced to reject the entries of kids without correct documentation too. So, yes, U.S. Juniors are protected from having to play foreigners. Until they go to college.
I appreciate your posts on this subject, and though Colette doesn't like the arguments, I think the question is a vital one in junior tennis. The percentage of foreigners in college tennis is hurting U.S. player development. Period.

Anonymous said...

Take it easy on Collette and Schnugg. Collette has a great website. That's what she does. Not make the rules for college tennis. If some of you have a problem contact the NCAA. I believe they make the rules. And lay off Nate Schnugg. Everyone changes their mind. Why can't he?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous posted "The percentage of foreigners in college tennis is hurting U.S. player development"


Usually if you are competing against strong competition be it foreign or American it is a healthy enviorment to improve one's development.

Anonymous said...

Totally agree with the last post re: player development. Having foreign players in college is great for the top college players who have any type of shot of making the pro tour. They do take scholarship opportunities away, but not from the elite players who have any type of chance to make it on the tour.

Anonymous said...

It's hurting them because there are just that many fewer spots in college tennis. Playing "up" or playing "better" players will help one's tennis only if one is playing. For every foreign player at the college level, there is one American who is not playing. It hurts juniors in that there is a huge percentage of good junior players, ranked somewhere from #60 or so through #150, who might well develop into better players in college, who will likely not play in college due to the high percentage of foreign players. Look at the rosters. If the number of good foreign players were to be limited to 2 per team, across the board, there would be 4 U.S. players per team benefitting from hitting with them. Give me a reason why there shouldn't be a limit of 2 per team?

Anonymous said...

A limit is probably a good thing ... But keep in mind, this is a county with 12 MILLION ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS. Given that our government has been unwilling to fully address this issue for many decades, I don't think it (or the NCAA or most colleges/universities) has any desire to address the number of foreign players receiving tennis scholarships.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said "It hurts juniors in that there is a huge percentage of good junior players, ranked somewhere from #60 or so through #150, who might well develop into better players in college, who will likely not play in college due to the high percentage of foreign players."

Please there are tons of opportunities to play college tennis. Just because these kids cannot attend the big universities doesn't mean that they cannot find smaller schools with scholarships. The only opportunities these kids are losing out on are playing for name universities. They still can get scholarships.

Anonymous said...

Re: "Please there are tons of opportunities to play college tennis." Can't agree more. The statement that players ranked 60-on aren't going to play college tennis is completely false. They can play somewhere - might not get as much scholarship money or go to their top choices for schools, but they can play somewhere. In saying they aren't going to play implies that about 95 percent of college tennis is foreign, which is off by about about 65-70 percent. I assume we're talking men's college tennis. I counted about 14 schools in the final top 25 alone that are mainly American or traditionally mainly American.