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Monday, May 26, 2008

Devvarman Repeats as Men's Champion; McDowell Earns Women's Title at NCAAs


©Colette Lewis 2008--
Tulsa, OK--

The NCAA singles finals may have been short on drama, but they were long on history, as Virginia's Somdev Devvarman and Georgia Tech's Amanda McDowell earned championships with straight set victories Monday at the Michael Case Tennis Center on the campus of the University of Tulsa.

With her 6-2, 6-3 win over 2005 NCAA champion Zuzana Zemenova of Baylor, McDowell became the first Georgia Tech player to capture an NCAA title, but the sophomore from Atlanta was oh-so-close to losing in the first round against Vanderbilt's Amanda Taylor.

"When I was down those (four) match points, I was thinking to myself, if I don't lose this point, I'm not out of the tournament," McDowell said. "I wasn't really thinking about anything else except surviving that match. She put a lot of pressure on me, and I had to step up my game, and in the end, I think that helped me a lot to win the championship."

By the time she had reached the final, McDowell's game had risen several levels, and Zemenova was at a loss for ways to counter McDowell's depth and consistency.

"She played really good today," said Zemenova, a senior from Slovakia. "I was thinking about it, and I can't find anything that I could do. The most important times, she just hit unbelievable shots. I have to give her credit, she just played amazing tennis today."

Zemenova didn't help her cause by serving poorly--she was broken the first seven times she served--and often McDowell stepped into a second serve and took control of the point from there.

"It was one of the best I've ever played," McDowell admitted. "Mainly I just stepped up at the right time."

"She plays an aggressive style, but high percentage," said her coach, Bryan Shelton, who sat on the court throughout the match. "I liken her to like an Andre Agassi, who can take your legs within one set. I think that's what she was able to do in the last three or four matches, she's taken and broken other girls' wills after that first set by working them so hard."

McDowell, the No. 7 seed, who coincidentally wears that number on her back, also displayed some mental strength in the second set. Serving at 4-2, she and Zemenova engaged in several lengthy rallies in the midafternoon heat and humidity. McDowell finally earned a game point, and had an easy put away at the net. She missed the swinging volley, badly, but there was no anguish, and no doubts crept into her game. Instead she painted lines with forehand winners on the next two points, securing a 5-2 lead.

"I thought from the beginning if I was playing good tennis and my footwork was where it needed to be that I could do it," McDowell said. "I definitely believed in myself from the beginning; I never really doubted myself."


McDowell lost eight matches this year, but Devvarman, who became the fourth back-to-back NCAA champion in the past fifty years, and the first since Georgia's Matias Boeker in '01-02, had lost only one. Since dropping a three-setter to Georgia's Travis Helgeson in the semifinals of the All-American tournament here in Tulsa, the 23-year-old from Chennai, India had not tasted defeat.

Throughout the week, and in spite of the disappointment of losing the team championship when Virginia fell to Georgia 4-3 in the semifinals, Devvarman kept his focus, and in Monday's late afternoon final defeated JP Smith of Tennessee 6-3, 6-2.

"This is the way pretty much anyone would like to end their college career," said Devvarman, who needed only an hour to dismiss Smith. "But before I take any credit, I have to give credit to the people behind the scenes who work with me all the time--my coaches, my parents, my professors, my best friends who always support me--it just goes on and on...I'm really grateful for what they've given me the last four years."

Virginia head coach Brian Boland was quick to return the compliments.

"He's a special guy. He has incredible perspective, and he's mature beyond his years...he has a certain calmness to him and a level of consistency that allows him to continue to move forward each match and play at a high level. Nobody prepares better than Somdev. He has great intelligence for how to play the game....a great ability to do the things he does best over and over....his ability to anticipate off the ground is incredible and that goes with some of the fastest wheels on the planet."

Against Smith, the freshman from Australia, Devvarman took control and never relinquished it. With Smith serving at 3-4 30-30 in the first set, Devvarman hit a tremendous return to reach break point, and when Smith double faulted, had the break he needed to finish it.

"He didn't let me into the match very often," said Smith. "I really couldn't come forward as much as I would like to. I only made like thirty percent of first serves. I couldn't get my teeth into the match, that's the main thing and once he got on top of me it was hard to come back."

Serving the first game of the second set, Smith battled through five deuces, and saved three break points, but he lost it, and his next service game too, giving Devvarman a 4-0 lead.

"For JP to find a way to beat me, he had to serve unbelievable and play some really good return games," said Devvarman, who outlasted one of college tennis's best-ever servers, Georgia's John Isner, in last year's final. "I focused really hard on my serve, JP played a loose game in the first set, and I just rolled with the momentum in the second. Before I knew it, I was up two breaks, serving for the match."

Last year in Athens, it was a third set tiebreaker that decided the final, and Devvarman managed the win despite being surrounded by rabid Bulldog fans. This year, on a neutral court, he proved himself as the best college player again, but with his college career closing, there was a different perspective.

"As much fun as that was, this was just as much fun for me, because I knew this was going to be my last college tennis match ever. I got a few emotions on the court, I was pretty emotional last night before I went to bed. Both championships were special, but this one, maybe a little bit more, because I know it's my last match with my coaches."


As quick as the singles matches were, the doubles finals were the opposite. The No. 2 seeded team of Robert Farah and Kaes Van't Hof of Southern Cal won their fourth tiebreaker in the past two days, and defeated the No. 4 seeded team of Jonas Berg and Erling Tveit of Ole Miss 7-6(10), 7-6(5).

After surviving the unseeded Ole Miss team of Bram ten Berge and Matthias Wellermann 6-7(5), 7-6(5), 7-6(10) in Sunday's semifinals, Farah and Van't Hof were ready for another tense battle.

"I was a lot more calm in breakers today," said Van't Hof, a senior, whose father Robert won the NCAA singles title in 1980. "If those were our first breakers of the tournament today, then I would have been a little tighter than I was after playing three gut-wrenching, almost heart-breaking breakers yesterday."

There were no breaks in the opening set, which took an hour to complete, with Van't Hof and Farah fighting off two set points before finally converting on their sixth set point, when Farah kicked in a first serve and Van't Hof put away the return.

The Trojans found themselves down a break in a hurry in the second, with Farah dropping serve at love, but they pulled even in the fourth game, when Tveit served poorly for one of the only times in the match. In the second set tiebreaker, the Rebels had a set point at 6-5, but Van't Hof slammed an ace, then gave his team a match point with another excellent first serve. Tveit's second serve was adequate, but the return was better and the Ole Miss reply was wide, giving USC the national title.


The UCLA Bruins took home their second national championship of the fortnight, with No. 1 seeds Riza Zalameda and Tracy Lin defeating No. 2 seeds Melanie Gloria and Tinesta Rowe of Fresno State 6-2, 4-6, 6-3.

"They were a good team," said Lin. "Rowe is extremely aggressive at the net. In the third set, we were fortunate enough to get an early break and stayed on top of them."

After winning the team championship, Zalameda admitted that there weredifferent emotions at work in the individual event.

"It's a great feeling just to win a title like this, but I feel like last week was a little more intense. The team was incredible with winning not just for us, but also for other people."

For additional coverage of the NCAA championships, see collegeandjuniortennis.com.

13 comments:

USCSUPPORTER said...

Austin ,

You're right again about doubles prediction !

USC TROJANS NATIONAL CHAMPIONS !!!

FIGHT ON !!!

zoofan said...

Colette ,

Just want to thank you for your phenomenal and detailed coverage of the event ! You are such a great advocate of college tennis . More power to you !

Looking forward for more tennis news !

Spartan said...

Oh yeah, picking the second seeds to win the doubles was a real hot prediction. The only big surprises were McDowell winning the women and Smith getting to the final. If ya'll picked one of those two you're a genius but you dont need to know anything about tennis to be picking the favourites or co-favorites. That's not predicting, its just stating the obvious.

AndrewD said...

Colette,

Any idea how many times a parent and child have both won NCAA titles in tennis? Also, do you expect (or know) McDowell, Van't Hof/Farah and Zalameda/Lin to be given wildcards into the US Open singles (McDowell) and doubles?

Austin said...

I can tell you right now Farah/Van't Hof wont get it because of Farah not being American. The best chance Kaes has of getting one is if he comes up with an American partner. I think they would give him one if he and Rowe pair together since Ryan is also a former champion with a forgein partner. Possbily even Ouellette if he finishes #2 in singles. All of the women should get the wildcard unless the USTA sets a new precident.

Well I got close with my predictions. Got the womens team right and had UGA in the finals, but missed on OSU. Got Devvarman right, almost got Zemenova right. Also had the correct dubs finalists, but I missed the boat on Zalameda/Lin, got to admit I underestimated them.

Collette, thanks for all your work over the past week and a half, once again you did a great job. If you are heading to Paris, better pack a raincoat.

I also have to commend Tulsa on a great job. When it counted their scoreboard was superb. I know the quality of the video wasnt that great, but hey, think how far college tennis coverage has come in just a few years. They even had video of all 12 courts for the first time ever. They did a great job and the facility looks beautiful. One note to the NCAA, make the team semis and finals on the weekend to maximize attendance.

Stacy said...

With georgia tech losing seniors Miller and McCray, losing Flower to Ohio State (why is she transfering?) and only one incoming freshman (assuming Marino takes a year off), what is Brian Shelton going to do to fill the line-up? I count only 6 people on their roster for the next season.

Flower's move really surprises me - anyone know the story?

Austin said...

Has that been confirmed? I dont know the real story, but maybe she is homesick. She is from Columbus.

AndrewD said...

austin,

I forgot that Farah is Canadian (possibly because a lot of the bios list his home town, rather obliquely, as being 'Cali'). Personally, I think the USTA should relax their stance in the case of Devvarman. I appreciate their point of view but really do believe that he is the exception to the rule. Players like that don't come along too often and it would be nice to reward him for the sterling service he has given to college tennis in general.

If it were up to me I'd also reward Kristi Miller. Apart from Zalameda she's the highest ranked graduating senior (American), a former #1, lynchpin of the 07 NCAA winning team, graduated with a perfect 4.0 GPA and, along with a truckload of other awards, is the current National ITA/Arthur Ashe Award for Leadership and Sportsmanship. She, above all other players, is the epitome of the ideal collegiate athlete. The USTA should reward her for those accomplishments (a doubles spot perhaps) and use her as the poster-child for college tennis.

anon said...

As a fellow player who played the ncaa singles i think theyve got to give somdev the wildcard. . the guy is pure class on and off the court . . his tennis speaks for itself and his attitude on and off the court is top class.

Austin said...

I agree, I have been opposed to that rule change from the get-go.

Colette Lewis said...

I hear that Flower is a Buckeye at heart, and wants to play higher in the lineup.

deuce deuce said...

Cali is in Colombia. Not Canada.

AndrewD said...

Kirsten Flower's father played tennis at Ohio State, it was one of the only schools she considered during the recruiting process (along with GT, Northwestern and UCLA) and she has said that she still follows their football team. Add all of that to a higher position in the roster, the graduation of all bar one of the players (and friends) who were there when she was recruited and the move makes perfect sense. Also, she does want to play professional tennis so two tough years at #1 will be of greater benefit than beneficial.

Just looking at Ohio State's results, Flower could make quite a bit of difference next season. Won't be enough to get them past Northwestern but could push them up to second spot in the Big 10. Of their 8 losses 3 were by a score of 3-4 and 2 were 2-5. Not out of the question to think that adding just one player of Flower's capabilities could be enough to reverse all of those scores.