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Saturday, November 4, 2006

Underdogs Meet Favorites for ITA Indoor Championships Sunday

©Colette Lewis 2006--
Columbus OH--

Top seed Ben Kohlloeffel of UCLA survived a scare in Saturday afternoon's semifinal, saving two match points in the third set tiebreak to defeat unseeded Ivan Puchkarov of Oklahoma State, 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (7). The defending ITA Indoor champion will face surprise finalist Steven Moneke, the unseeded Ohio State sophomore who has stormed through his draw without dropping a set. On Saturday it was Notre Dame's Stephen Bass that was on the short end of a 7-5, 6-3 score.

In women's action, sixth seed Jelena Pandzic of Fresno Pacific earned the first finals berth for a Small College Champion wild card when she rolled over eighth seed Megan Moulton-Levy 6-2, 6-1. Across the net on Sunday she will find 2006 ITA College Player of the Year Audra Cohen, a 6-2, 6-2 winner over Fresno State's Melanie Gloria.

Kohlloeffel had no difficulty in his first three victories, but Puchkarov had the 2006 NCAA champion doubting himself.

"Indoor tennis, the match turns so quickly," said Kohlloeffel. "You play a couple of bad games and you start wondering. You don't hit as hard, don't make your shots,"

Puchkarov, a 21-year-old from the Ukraine often pinned Kohlloeffel behind the baseline in the late stages of the match, negating the German's devastating volleys.

"He played the first ball well," said Kohlloeffel. "So deep, it was hard to get in."

In the tiebreak, Kohlloeffel double faulted at 5-5, giving Puchkarov his first match point, but an unforced error by Puchkarov got the UCLA senior off the hook. Puchkarov earned his second match point when Kohlloeffel caught the tape on his return; that one was brushed aside when Kohlloeffel served an ace. At 7-7, Kohloeffel missed his first serve, but rather than kick one in, he blasted an ace, a decision that had spectators gasping at its audacity.

"There's not much thinking involved," said Kohlloeffel, when asked about that decision after the match. "If it works out, you look smart, but if it doesn't you look stupid. I was lucky it worked out today."

On his first match point, Kohlloeffel got the serve back and Puchkarov netted a backhand, leaving Kohlloeffel with another berth in the finals, and a sense of deja vu.

Last year, on the same court, he saved three match points in defeating Georgia's John Isner 7-6 in the third.

"I can't explain it, same court, same everything," said Kohlloeffel. "It is just luck really to win that point when you need to."

Kohlloeffel and Moneke, both from Germany, were teammates in club tennis but, because of the four year age difference, have never played. Kohlloeffel has kept his eye on his compatriot this week, however.

"I'm really impressed with the way he's playing. It should be an interesting match."

Moneke had beaten Bass in the Midwest regional quarterfinals two weeks ago, and that contest was a marathon--6-4 in the third. But the toll of two grueling matches on Friday was evident when Bass failed to convert two sets points serving at 5-4.

"He's very consistent," said Moneke. "If he wins the first set, he's going to be tough to beat."

But Moneke fits that same description, and with the support of his teammates and the fans crowding the court at the Racquet Club of Columbus, he has displayed a lethal combination of defense and offense.

"I have to be aggressive, and yet patient," said Moneke. "And I've served very well this week. When I'm serving well, I'm tough to beat."

Moneke will attempt to become the fourth straight champion for the Buckeyes at the ITA Indoor. Jeremy Wurtzman captured the singles title in 2003, and Scott Green and Ross Wilson won back-to-back championships in doubles the next two years.

The women's semifinals produced some excellent tennis, but there wasn't much drama. In Cohen's victory over Gloria, it was sweet revenge for the Miami junior, who lost to the sophomore from Fresno State 6-3, 6-2 at last month's ITA All-American.

"I wasn't in that match mentally," Cohen said. "Today, I didn't have a meltdown. I focused, I stayed composed, and the results took care of themselves."

Pandzic, an NCAA finalist in 2004 while at Fresno State, rolled over Megan Moulton-Levy of William and Mary.

"She has an uncomfortable slice," said the junior from Croatia, who has now won 49 straight matches--all in straight sets. "I had to make sure she didn't run me all around with it." Pandzic credited her heavy topspin for negating the Moulton-Levy speed, and admitted that she was playing her best.

"From the first game to the last, I stayed focused and relaxed," she said. "I think I played very well."

In doubles semifinal action, top seeds John Isner and Luis Flores of Georgia defeated the unseeded team of James Cluskey and Ken Skupski of LSU 8-4. The Georgia tandem will face third seeds and 2005 ITA Indoor finalists Marco Born and Andreas Siljestrom of Middle Tennessee State. Born and Siljestrom overpowered the second seeded team of Brian Hung and Matko Maravic of Michigan 8-5.

The women's doubles championship features the unseeded team from TCU--Ana Cetnik and Anna Sydorska and William and Mary's Moulton-Levy and Katarina Zoricic, the fourth seeds. Cetnik and Sykorska downed Kentucky's Kim Coventry and Joelle Schwenk 8-3, while Moulton-Levy and Zorcic defeated Notre Dame's unseeded team of Brook Buck and Kelcy Tefft 8-6.

For complete draws, including consolation finals, please seeitatennis.com. For additional coverage, see Marcia Frost's accounts at collegeandjuniortennis.com.