©Colette Lewis 2007--
It took qualifier Robert Farah of USC nearly five hours and six sets, but with two wins on Saturday, the second one a 7-5, 6-7 (5), 6-2 decision over Greg Ouellette of Florida, the sophomore earned his place in the Polo All-American final. Farah will face Georgia's Travis Helgeson, who upset top seed Somdev Devvarman of Virginia 6-4, 1-6, 6-2 on a warm and humid afternoon at the Michael Case Tennis Center on the University of Tulsa campus.
Farah is no stranger to long, grueling matches. Although he breezed through qualifying, he won two three-setters in first and second round main draw action Thursday, and like today, it was the middle set that slipped away (he won his third round match Friday in two tiebreak sets). Against Ouellette, a No. 9 seed, Farah was serving for the match at 5-4 in the second set, but he didn't get a first serve in during that game until he was down 30-40, and by then it was too late. Ouellette cracked a winner to make it 5-5 and then held in the seven-deuce game that followed. Farah forced the tiebreaker, but fell behind in it 5-1 before putting a scare into Ouellette by saving two set points at 6-3. At 6-5, Ouellette serving, the left-hander hit a devilish second serve winner to square the match, but Farah wasn't discouraged.
"I've been playing a lot of tennis in my life since I was five," said Farah, who is from Cali, Columbia. "It's not the first time that's happened to me. I've been in a lot of matches 5-3 up, lost the set, got broken. But that experienced helped me today; I kept my composure and was willing to win."
Both players were drained of energy by the third set, but the deep ground strokes kept on coming. Farah, who had closed points at the net in his quarterfinal win over Treat Huey, was too tired to take that initiative, but his backhand never wavered despite his fatigue. He broke Ouellette in the fourth game of the third set, saved a break point in the next game, and kept the pressure on. When Farah broke Ouellette after a long game at 2-5, there was no ecstatic celebration however. It was just a weary raise of the arms, quite an unexpected reaction from the vocal and emotional Trojan, conveying relief that it was over.
"The guy was really tired," said Farah, the first USC player to reach the All-American final since Scott Melville in 1987. "So it wasn't a pretty end. It was more like a I-have-to-win-here end. That's it. No more. But I am really excited to be in the final. Coming from qualifying, I never expected this."
Farah certainly demonstrated an amazing appetite for competition on Saturday; immediately after his semifinal win, he and partner Kaes Van't Hof took the court for the doubles consolation semifinals, and won.
Helgeson couldn't match the sheer drama of Farah's run, but the No. 4 seed played outstanding tennis against Stanford's Alex Clayton in the quarterfinals and continued it in the first set against NCAA champion Devvarman. But in the second set, Devvarman found his groove, kept Helgeson from teeing off on his forehand and evened the match in no time.
At 1-1 in the third set, Helgeson faced three break points, but saved them all, and suddenly the tenor of the match changed. Devvarman got down 30-40 in the next game, hit a forehand three feet out to surrender the game, and it was Helgeson who seized control.
"I was serving against the wind that game," said Helgeson, who had lost in straight sets to Devvarman in the round of 16 at the 2007 NCAAs. "It kept me in the match, that game, to stay on serve early on was key for me. Then I was going return with the wind, so that was a huge game for me. It was definitely a momentum turn there, because I felt like he had the momentum going into the third set."
Helgeson's game plan was to get a high percentage of first serves in, keep errors to a minimum, yet play aggressively, a sound strategy against any player, but an absolute necessity against the consistent and quick Devvarman.
"He's one of the fittest, fastest guys out there," said the lefthanded senior. "He gets a lot of balls back and makes you play a ton, so I had to take my chances. I felt like I was pretty lucky to stay with him in the third set. It was tough, but I felt like I played pretty well."
Although Devvarman and Huey both suffered losses in singles on Saturday, they salvaged the day by advancing to the doubles final. The top seeds overcame the unseeded Tulsa team of Andy Connelly and Ross Cunningham 6-2, 4-6, 6-3, disappointing the 70 or 80 vocal Golden Hurricane supporters in attendance Saturday evening.
Devvarman and Huey will face the unseeded team of Jonas Berg and Erling Tveit of Ole Miss, who defeated Texas Tech's Bojan Szumanski and Christian Rojmar 6-2, 7-6 (2).
The consolation singles finals will pit Pepperdine's Bassam Beidas against Ohio State's Justin Kronauge, while the consolation doubles will feature Farah and Van't Hof versus Adam Holmstrom and Niklas Persson of the University of Denver.
The women's Riveria All-American finals will have a familiar face, as Cal's Suzi Babos, the defending champion, takes on Ani Mijacika of Clemson. Babos defeated Georgia Tech's Amanda McDowell 6-2, 6-4; Mijacika ended the nine match winning streak of Maya Johansson of Georgia Tech with a 6-2, 6-1 win. The finals will be broadcast live at 2 p.m. EDT at radiotennis.com.
For complete draws, see itatennis.com.
Saturday, October 6, 2007