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Friday, February 8, 2008

North Carolina Outlasts USC at ITA Women's Team Indoor

©Colette Lewis 2008--
Madison, WI--

Nearly eight hours after the match between North Carolina and Southern Cal started, it ended, fittingly, with a third set tiebreaker deciding which team would advance to Saturday's semifinal against Northwestern at the ITA Women's Team Indoor.

The Tar Heels, who had upset No. 2 UCLA in Thursday's opening round by winning the final match at the No. 6 singles spot, had a new heroine Friday night, as junior Laura Reichert defeated Maria Sanchez 7-5, 6-7(2), 7-6 (5) to give her team its second straight upset over a traditional Pac-10 power.

At 3:40 p.m. the three doubles matches commenced, and they too went the distance with No. 7 seed USC prevailing in a tiebreaker at No. 3 doubles to take a 1-0 lead. In the opposite order from Thursday, when the No. 1, 3 and 5 positions played first, on Friday it was the 2, 4 and 6 taking the first three courts. UNC's Katrina Tsang evened the match with a 6-3, 6-4 win over Amanda Fink at No. 2, with USC's Gabriela Niculescu giving the Trojans the lead again with a 6-7(1), 6-2, 6-4 decision against Jelena Durisic. Sanaz Marand of UNC made quick work of Lindsey Nelson at No. 1, 6-3, 6-3 to tie it up again, and the seesaw teetered toward USC again after Leyla Entekhabi downed Megan Fanjoy, the Tarheels' clincher over UCLA, 4-6, 7-6(1), 6-4. By this time it was 9 p.m. and USC, now up 3-2, needed only one of the remaining two matches, which were nearing the end of their first sets.

Sanchez was serving for the first set at 5-4, but failed to take that opportunity, and Reichert reeled off the last three games of the first set and the first two games of the second. At No. 3, Austin Smith and Sarah Fansler were in the midst of a tiebreaker to decide their first set, with Smith, on her fifth set point, finally taking it eight points to six. Fittingly, it was on a second serve return winner, as Smith had been punishing Fansler's second serve throughout the opening set. Smith, the daughter of tennis great Stan Smith, opened the second set with two breaks, and when she nailed it down by a 6-1 score, all attention turned to Sanchez and Reichert.

The pressure was all on Sanchez, as she needed the second set to prolong the match, but she couldn't stand the prosperity of a break, twice serving for the second set--at 5-4 and 6-5--and being broken both times. The Trojan freshman played a solid tiebreaker, however, taking it 7-3, and at the match's two-hour mark, it was all even at a set apiece.

At 10:15 p.m, there were few spectators remaining, with only coaches and teammates exhorting Sanchez and Reichert. Both held their opening service games in the final set, but then began a string of five straight breaks that was finally stopped when Reichert held after a lengthy game to take a 5-3 lead. Sanchez held to make it 5-4, but with Reichert serving for it, she never got to match point. Sanchez cranked a forehand winner at 15-30 and a backhand return winner for the break, then held at love to take a 6-5 lead. With Reichert serving at 30-15, Sanchez called a serve out, but was overruled, and because it was the third time in the match, a code violation was given, costing her another point, and giving Reichert, who was herself playing with two overrules, the game.

In the tiebreaker, Sanchez took a 3-1 lead, but her backhand found the net several times, and she lost three points in a row. At 4-4 an amazing point found Sanchez doing the splits to somehow retrieve a sure winner, and Reichert lunging in desperation to respond to Sanchez's miraculous reply. Sanchez won the point, and got up without assistance, but a wincing Reichert asked her coach and the chair umpire if she could have a trainer, and was given a three-minute medical timeout during which she was treated for cramping.

Reichert held her next two serves for a 6-5 lead, and when Sanchez's passing shot landed just wide on the near sideline, Reichert's teammates, screaming with delight, rushed the court to congratulate the survivor of the three-hour-and-seven-minute ordeal.

Next up for North Carolina is No. 3 seed Northwestern, who quickly disposed of No. 6 Cal 4-0 (teams were given the option of playing all 7 matches to completion).

In the other semifinal, Stanford, the top seed, will look to avenge last year's semifinal loss to Georgia Tech, who snapped the Cardinal's NCAA record 89-match winning streak on their way to the National Indoor title. Stanford defeated a stubborn Miami team 4-3 Friday evening, while Georgia Tech dominated rival Georgia 7-0.

For complete results and draws, including consolation draws, visit the ITA website.