Second Set Tiebreakers Extend Men's Quarterfinal Matches; Women's Semifinalists Have Easier Route at NCAAs
©Colette Lewis 2008--
At one stage on another hot and humid afternoon at the Michael Case Tennis Center, three of the four men's quarterfinals were in second set tiebreakers. Defying the odds, the three players who had to win the tiebreakers did, but only one, Pepperdine's Andre Begemann, went on to the victory.
Begemann, a 9-16 seed, defeated unseeded Justin Kronauge 4-6, 7-6(3), 6-4, breaking the Ohio State sophomore when he was serving for the match at 5-4 in the second set. For inspiration, the Wave senior harkened back to when he clinched Pepperdine's national championship with a win over Georgia's Matic Omerzel at No. 4 singles.
"I remembered Georgia two years ago, when I clinched the national final...I was down 2-6, 2-4, and for some reason I couldn't put the ball in the court. (Today) I just had to make him play, come up with some shots; I made him really work for that last game (in the second set) and I was able to break."
While Begemann was winning his tiebreaker, Tennessee freshman JP Smith, another serve and volleyer, was losing his to Ohio State's Steven Moneke on the adjacent court. After winning the first set 6-2, Smith had an opportunity to close out the junior from Germany, but couldn't capitalize on 4-1 and 5-3 leads in the tiebreaker. The lanky left-hander refocused in the third set, however, got an early break and finished the victory.
"I thought I served very well throughout the whole match. I came to the net when I needed to, played agressively. Steven's a great player from the baseline, and I knew I had to take it to him," Smith said.
The Townsville, Australia native was instantly recognizable in the juniors, as he always played wearing sunglasses. But he forgot to pack them when he left Knoxville, and given his performance in Tulsa, Smith joked that he might not put them back on.
As for his semifinal encounter against the vastly more experienced Begemann, Smith is looking forward to playing an opponent with a similar style.
"It's going to be an interesting matchup tomorrow," he said. "I haven't played a serve and volleyer for quite a long time now."
The other men's semifinal will also feature a freshman and a senior, with defending champion Somdev Devvarman of Virginia taking on Alex Clayton of Stanford. Devvarman cruised through the first set of his match with 9-16 seed Denes Lukacs of Baylor 6-0, but there were no more easy games after that. With the Baylor sophomore serving at 5-5 in the second set, Devvarman earned a break, but immediately got down 0-40 on his serve, and despite three service winners to get it back to deuce, Lukacs won the next two points. Lukacs, dictating with his forehand and pushing Devvarman way behind the baseline, jumped out to a quick lead in the tiebreaker, and won it with a service winner seven points to two.
But Devvarman detected an advantage for himself as they entered the third set.
"Going into the third set, I knew he was going to be a little tired, a little bit more tired than I was," said Devvarman, who showed no signs of sweat or fatigue despite playing for two-and-a-half hours. "I could see that, took advantage of that, broke him once and served out the match."
With the 6-0, 6-7(2), 6-3 victory, Devvarman earned his 16th NCAA championship win and a spot against the eighth seeded Clayton, who defeated unseeded Bassam Beidas of Pepperdine 6-2, 6-4.
Clayton, who dropped the first set he played in Tulsa, but none since, credits his serve as a major factor in his success.
"I've been broken once or twice in the tournament," Clayton said. "Last two matches I haven't lost serve, and I feel really confident on my serve, even when I'm down. Today I was down 15-30, break points a few times, and I take my time and I'm able to come up with a big serve, or a big serve and then a big forehand...I think that's going to help me tomorrow."
Clayton fell 6-4, 6-4 to Devvarman in the National Indoors last November, also in the semifinals, and he knows what he is facing.
"Obviously, Somdev is No. 1 in the nation, defending champion, and the only match he's lost was basically nine months ago here...I feel I'm really going to have to be on my game, make a lot of first serves," Clayton said. "When he gives you an opportunity, you really have to take advantage of it, because you're not going to get very many."
Although the women's semifinals don't feature any freshmen, Amanda McDowell, the seventh seed from Georgia Tech, is a rookie at the NCAAs. After her 6-3, 6-2 win over Lenka Broosova, who set a Baylor record of 52 wins this season, McDowell was delighted to find herself in the semifinals.
"I'm just so excited. I actually wasn't in the tournament last year," said McDowell, who played No. 4 as a freshman on Georgia Tech's NCAA championship team. "This is my first NCAA tournament, and I'm just estactic. It's been such a cool journey, because I was down four match points in my first match (against Vanderbilt's Amanda Taylor), down and out in that match, so it's just incredible I'm in the semis."
McDowell and Broosova have similar, hard-hitting styles, although McDowell favors her forehand, while Broosova relies on the backhand.
"I was targeting more of her forehand today," McDowell said. "I like that match-up for me a lot. Her backhand is so big that I really had to focus and stay down on my shots, because it is such a weapon for her."
McDowell faces Auburn's Fani Chifchieva, a 9-16 seed, who downed No. 6 seed Amanda Fink of Southern California 7-6 (2), 3-6, 6-0. Fink had two set points in the first set, but didn't capitalize on them, and the sophomore from Bulgaria played a solid tiebreaker. Although she dropped the second set, Chifchieva came out strong and focused in the third to earn another shot at McDowell, who beat her 6-4, 6-1 in a dual match in January.
Zuzana Zemenova, the 2005 champion from Baylor, is also seeking revenge, although it was two years ago when she last faced Aurelija Miseviciute of Arkansas, losing 6-0, 6-3. In her 6-4, 6-4 quarterfinal win over No. 4 seed Maria Mosolova of Northwestern, Zemenova took control midway through the first set, winning three straight games to close the set, and then racing out to a 4-1 lead in the second.
But Mosolova continued to fight, and was within a few points of evening the second set at 5, when the unseeded Zemenova collected herself to reach her third NCAA semifinal.
Miseviciute, the No. 1 seed, downed No. 8 seed Riza Zalameda of UCLA 6-2, 6-3, but she stressed that the score was misleading.
"The match was harder than the score actually reflects," said Miseviciute, who defeated Zalameda 7-5 in the third at the Team Indoor in February. "Riza is a really good player...she has a really good slice, which was a problem for me the previous matches. But today I figured out a way to deal with the slice backhand...I felt like I had maybe a little better discipline, playing every point, placement and being patient."
The doubles semifinalists were also determined on Saturday, and Fresno State women and Mississippi men make up half of the participants.
Unseeded Renata Kucerkova and Anastasia Petukhova of Fresno State upset No. 4 seeds Ani Mijacika and Carol Salge 2-6, 7-6(3), 6-4 and will meet top seeds Tracy Lin and Zalameda of UCLA. Second seeds Melanie Gloria and Tinesta Rowe, the other Fresno State entry, will take on local favorites Brook Buck and Kelcy Tefft of Notre Dame, who live in Oklahoma. For the third match in a row, Buck and Tefft, the No. 3 seeds, dropped the first set but came back, this time defeating Fink and Gabriela Niculescu of Southern Cal, 4-6, 6-3, 6-0.
The Tulsa team of Ross Cunningham and Andy Connelly weren't so fortunate, dropping a 6-3, 6-3 decision to No. 2 seeds Robert Farah and Kaes Van't Hof of Southern Cal. Farah and Van't Hof take on unseeded Bram ten Berge and Matthias Wellermann of Ole Miss, who saved two match points serving at 5-6 in the third set to ease past No. 5-8 seeds Cory Parr and Steve Forman of Wake Forest 3-6, 6-4, 7-6(3).
Unseeded Austin Krajicek and Conor Pollock of Texas A&M continued their run. After upsetting top seeds Devvarman and Huey of Virginia on Friday, Krajicek and Pollock defeated unseeded Drew Eberly and Kronauge of Ohio State 4-6, 6-1, 6-3. They will meet No. 4 seeds Jonas Berg and Erling Tveit of Ole Miss, who won their third consecutive three-setter, 3-6, 7-5, 6-3 over Taylor Fogleman and Chris Kearney, the 5-8 seeds from North Carolina.
For complete results, see the Tulsa website.