©Colette Lewis 2008--
The SEC has a reputation for outstanding football teams, but on a breezy Sunday morning in Tulsa, it was tennis adding to the conference glory, with Louisiana State's Michael Venus taking the singles crown and Ole Miss's Jonas Berg and Bram ten Berge capturing the doubles title at the ITA D'Novo All-American tournament at the Michael D. Case Tennis Center.
The unseeded Venus fought through a sore right knee to oust top seed Oleksandr Nedovyesov of Oklahoma State 7-6(5), 2-6, 6-4 in a seesaw affair that was remarkably well played given the gusty conditions.
After failing to hold on to a 3-0 lead in the first set, Venus managed to earn the one-set advantage when Nedovyesov missed a routine backhand at 4-5 in the tiebreaker, giving Venus to set points. Nedovyesov saved one with a volley winner, but Venus kicked a service winner past the junior from Ukraine, and celebrated with a quiet but intense fist pump.
"With the wind behind me on my serve I was able to kick some up so they would get up high," said Venus, who became LSU's first All-American champion with the victory. "I tried to use it as more of an advantage, rather than looking at it as a hazard. I wanted to play my game, just bring it, not go so close to the lines."
Down 2-0 in the second set, Venus began limping a bit and favoring his right knee, which was encased in an elastic brace. Although Venus is not a counterpuncher who relies on speed, he does need the mobility to run around to hit his lethal forehand, and when he was unable to do that Nedovyesov took full advantage, breaking Venus three times, the last of which gave him the set 6-2.
Venus called for a trainer at that stage and there was some doubt among the several hundred spectators as to whether he would continue, but Venus credited medication and assistant coach Danny Bryan with helping him fight through the final set.
"My knee was really hurting me, I really couldn't feel the lower part of my right leg," Venus said. "I took some Celebrex and Danny was talking to me about how hard I've worked and to give it everything I had for three games, and I could have some time off afterwards."
Venus gave it everything he had for ten games, but Nedovyesov helped the Tiger's state of mind immensely by dropping his serve in the first game of the final set.
"He had just won the second set and he could see that I was hurt, so maybe he had a little mental lapse there that helped out a lot," Venus said.
Both players held serve until Venus squandered a 30-0 lead serving at 4-3 in the third set, as Nedovyesov reeled off four consecutive points to pull even. But he was immediately broken at love, sealing his fate.
"I kind of lost my concentration there," said Nedovyesov. "And then I play the bad side (against the wind) with him on his forehand and my backhand was not good enough."
Venus's first match point, at 40-30, was a neat synopsis of his game, as he kicked a second serve high to the backhand and punished the short return with a clean forehand winner. But the real improvement in his game could be seen when he lost the service break in the third set but did not erupt or indulge in the anger he often exhibited as a junior.
"I've been working really hard at staying calm, treating every point the same," said Venus, who was born in New Zealand but lived and trained in both Florida and Texas as a teenager. "If you do that, it will take care of itself. Danny was talking to me about that at the change of ends--don't worry about the score, if you get there, you get there, but if you don't, you know you played every point hard, and that's all that you can ask."
That tranquility has resulted in what Venus acknowledges is his biggest win.
"It's pretty cool to win the tournament and you beat the No. 1 player in the nation in the finals....I don't really know what to say about it right now, because it's pretty awesome."
For Nedovyesov, who tasted defeat for the first time this season, there was both disappointment and determination.
"Yes, I'm disappointed, especially since yesterday, I play the best tennis of my life. But I'll try to come back at the National Indoors, try my best there to win it. I'm still No. 1 so far, but I'll need to prove it again."
In the doubles final, the Ole Miss pair of Jonas Berg and Bram ten Berge were not the crowd's choice, as it was the Tulsa team of Arnau Brugues and Phil Stevens opposite them, but the experience of the Mississippi seniors made the difference in the 6-4, 6-4 win.
Berg, who was a finalist at both the 2007 All-American and the 2008 NCAAs with Erling Tveit, finally took home a winners trophy in Tulsa.
"I'm very happy to have won, finally," said Berg, who is playing in only his second tournament with ten Berge, a 2008 NCAA semifinalist.
"We're fundamentally good doubles players," said ten Berge. "And we've been here a while, so we know what to do. We have the same idea about the game, so it makes it a lot easier, obviously."
Berg and ten Berge were not broken in the championship match, while it was a break of Stevens in each set that proved the undoing of the Tulsa pair. They had one break opportunity to pull even with ten Berge serving at 2-1 in the second set and another with ten Berge serving at 5-3, but the Mississippi team brushed those chances aside to take the third All-American title in their school's history.
In the consolation finals, for those who lost in the first round, Guillermo Gomez of Georgia Tech defeated Raony Carvalho of Texas Tech 6-1, 6-4 in singles; the doubles consolation finals went to the Auburn team of Tim Puetz and Alexey Tsyrenov, who beat Rice's Christoph Muller and Bruno Rosa 9-7.
For complete results, see the ITA tournament website.
Sunday, October 12, 2008