Monday, May 25, 2009

Freshmen Britton and Cecil Earn NCAA Singles Titles

©Colette Lewis 2009--
College Station, TX--

On a hot and humid Memorial Day, two American teenagers with less than five months of college tennis experience stayed cool under pressure, leaving the George Mitchell Tennis Center on the Texas A & M campus with three NCAA championship trophies between them.

Duke's Mallory Cecil defeated University of Miami junior Laura Vallverdu 7-5, 6-4 to add a women's singles title to the team title she helped Duke win last Tuesday, while Devin Britton of Ole Miss posted a 3-6, 6-2, 6-3 victory over Ohio State senior Steven Moneke, becoming the youngest men's NCAA champion since the current format was adopted in 1977.

Britton, who turned 18 in March, was ranked 30th in the country coming into the individual tournament, but his serve and volley game proved too strong for his six opponents, three of whom were seniors seeded 9-16, including finalist Moneke.

"I definitely surprised myself," Britton said, chuckling. "I definitely didn't see this coming, but I took one match at a time, didn't have any mental lapses really, so that helped out a lot."

After dropping the first set to Moneke, who was returning well and holding serve with little difficulty, Britton regrouped.

"I took a deep breath and said let's try to figure out a way to make him work to hold serve," said the Jackson, Miss. native. "Eventually I started hitting some better forehands, started mixing up the slice a little bit--I don't think he liked that much--and I just got better and better as the match went on."

Moneke had opportunities in the second and third sets, but Britton either came up with a big serve, a deft drop shot or a groundstroke winner to deny them all.

"At 2-all in the second set, I had a couple of break chances," said Moneke. "I had a forehand return and missed it into the net, and when I walked over to my side to sit down, the coach (Mississippi's Billy Chadwick) said, 'this is a momentum change' and I heard it, and thought about it a little bit. It's tough to play against him, because you don't get a lot of rhythm. He misses a lot, but he also goes for his shots. He has great volleys, great anticipation at the net. He's streaky, but he makes a lot of balls too."

Moneke saw evidence of that in the third set, when Britton seized his break point chance with the German serving at 2-3, 30-40. Britton then held easily to take a 5-2 lead, with one big first serve after another, and virtually conceded Moneke's next service game.

"It was hot out there, and I was more tired than nervous," Britton said of the match's final two games. "When he was serving at 5-2, I didn't really want to get into a long game; if I didn't win the first couple of points, I really wasn't going after it. Coach was saying 'make him work for this game,' but I couldn't breathe, so I'm thinking let's not work too hard."

Serving for the championship, Britton was down 15-30, but as it had done all tournament, his serve rescued him. A big second serve got him even and two first serves ended the match, with Moneke more a bystander than a participant in the final three points.

Britton, only the third freshman to win the men's NCAA title since 1977, joining Stanford's John McEnroe and USC's Cecil Mamiit, boards a plane on Tuesday for Europe, where he'll play the French Open and Wimbledon junior tournaments.

"I'm not that worried about the surface," Britton said of the abrupt change to red clay. "I'm more worried about getting some rest before then. I've never played the French Open--it's more like an experience thing," Britton said, then quickly amended that statement. "It's not just experience--I want to win--and I haven't played on clay for a while so I want to see how it goes."

While Britton takes his game to the terre battue of Roland Garros, Cecil will be hitting the silver sands of Siesta Key, Florida for a well-deserved rest.

Monday's match was her ninth singles match in nine days, the first three coming in the team event, with Duke taking out California-Berkeley 4-0 in Tuesday evening's final. With the Blue Devils' first NCAA title in hand, Cecil said all week that she was playing with no pressure, and the freshman from Spartanburg, SC, didn't lose a set in capturing the title, Duke's first since Vanessa Webb's championship in 1998.

In the final, the unseeded Vallverdu stayed with Cecil point for point, breaking the No. 5 seed when she was serving for the opening set at 5-4. But Cecil converted on her second opportunity, breaking Vallverdu to take a 6-5 lead and avoiding a tiebreaker by holding the next game.

Cecil ran out to a 5-1 lead in the second set, but she was unable to serve it out at 5-2. Cecil had multiple match points with Vallverdu serving at 3-5, but Vallverdu, a junior from Venezuela, showed why she has a well-established reputation for fighting back. She made virtually no unforced errors in that long game, served well, and although there were signs that both women were battling fatigue, neither gave into it.

"I knew she just wasn't going to roll over," said Cecil, who defeated Miami's No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 players in the individual tournament. "I wasn't swinging really, I wasn't moving my feet. I definitely tightened up. The fact that I was actually so close, it just hit me. But in that last game, the sun was really in my eyes, so I was just trying to get that serve in, keep going for my shots, and not even think about the score in games, because we still could have had a lot more tennis to go."

Cecil, who turns 19 in July, did finish it, although it took her more than two hours to overcome Vallverdu, who wasn't happy with her own level of play.

"I didn't play my best. I know I didn't play to my potential," Vallverdu said. "I'm happy with the tournament, but I'm certainly not happy that I didn't get the win today. I was struggling a lot with playing the important points...with having my teeth in the match and just finishing the games that I had to finish."

Neither Britton nor Cecil are ruling out a return to college in the fall, and both are hoping for a wild card into the U.S. Open main draw in three months' time.

"Hopefully I can play some Futures this summer and get some results there, and I know in the fall, we're planning to play a bunch of pro stuff," Britton said. "I'd like to build up some points for when I come out of school next year. If it goes well next year, who knows after that? I still have a lot to work on, I still need to get bigger and stronger."

"We'll see how the summer goes," Cecil said. "I've set everything up as if I'm coming back next year. I've got all my classes, my roommate. I'm going to play, set a goal that I'd like to have by the end of this summer, and we'll go from there. I'm really enjoying college and college tennis, so why not look at another year?"

The University of Virginia earned its first NCAA doubles title to go with the two singles titles won by Cavalier Somdev Devvarman in 2007 and 2008 when unseeded Dominic Inglot and Michael Shabaz came back to defeat the No. 2 seeds Davey Sandgren and JP Smith of Tennessee 3-6, 7-6(4), 6-4.

"We’ve been here (in College Station) for 16 days now," said Shabaz, a sophomore from Virginia. "We discussed that if we were going to stay here, we might as well go for it. It heals things a little easier, because we were the top seed in the team tournament and that didn’t go through. It means a lot, it's kind of its own meaning, but we're really happy with it.”

Inglot, a senior from England, was pleased to close his college career with a win.

"I've had a great career, we've won two National Indoors, three ACC titles, and just to top it off with a national championship, finish without a loss, that really means a lot to me."

The women's doubles champions were new to college tennis, but California-Berkeley's Mari Andersson of Sweden and Jana Jurikova of Slovakia, both first-year players, now have a national title on their resume, although they are still one short of coach Amanda Augustus who won back-to-back championships with Amy Jensen in 1998 and 1999.

Although their 6-3, 6-4 win over Stanford's Hilary Barte and Lindsay Burdette may sound routine, it was a lengthy struggle between 5-8 seeded Pac-10 rivals that lasted nearly as long as the men's three-setter on the adjacent court.

"They didn't want to go home with two silver trophies," said Augustus, referring to the Bears loss to Duke in the team championships. "We've been working really hard all season with these guys on their doubles and to see it culminate in this is really great for our school, and I know everyone back at Cal is going to be so proud."


jimmy connors ucla said...

I won the ncaas as a freshman also

Colette Lewis said...

@jimmy connors ucla

The NCAA records for individual championships begin with the 1977 season.

say what said...

So no one before 77 is an ncaa champ? The official ncaa record book on its website lists singles and doubles champs back to the 1880s. The ncaa also credits harvard and yale for most singles and doubles champs even though most came in 1800s and early 1900s.

Colette Lewis said...

@say what

There was a distinction made in the year 1977, when the current team format was adopted. That is probably why the NCAA print media guide uses that date.

I will be more than happy to run a list of all freshmen who won the NCAA singles title, if you can provide me with that information.

Brent said...

Has a NCAA champ ever played in a Grand Slam junior tourney before? Just a strange dynamic. Glad he is following through with it though, even though he won.

goolemiss said...

I think Britton is the best freshman this year without a doubt .

Eric said...


This poster shares in my frustration with the record books and what year we start counting them.

McLovin said...

Just goes to show that success in tennis is not contingent on obtaining a high national ranking in the 12s and 14s. It's more important how you do in the 18s than the 12s and 14s.

iluvtennis said...

Top 10 freshman in my opinion:
1. Devin Britton
2. Steve Johnson (I know Klahn had a better head to head record, I think Steve has more potential)
3. Brad Klahn
4. Ryan Thatcher
5. Carlos Cueto
6. Dennis Nevolo
7. Raony Carvalho
8. Eric Quigley
9. Drew Courtney
10. Mateuisz Kecki

tennis observer said...


Great list. However, your thoughts on Roy Kalmonovich? He has improved alot and took the #1 seed in the ncaa tourny to 3 sets in the 2nd round.

Personally I would put him at #6 and slide everyone else down.

Isn't Kecki a sophomore?

Brent said...

I guess you would have to put Buchanan on that list off of potential, but based on what happened on the court this year - no way. What happened to him? He got lit up by Nguyen in the team finals.

Marvin said...

Cecil and Britton both say they may come back to college. It may make some sense for Britton to take one more year to get stronger and all. The women peak earlier and probably Cecil should strike while the iron is hot. It seems she enjoys school, which is great, but time is ticking and she has a good chance to really make it. She also won the team event so nothing to do but go backwards. IMO she should def.go for it. Britton. maybe, maybe not.

love-tennis said...

Does anyone know?

Let's say that Cecil gets the wildcard into the US Open. Does she have to declare that she turned pro BEFORE the US Open starts? Or can she wait and see how she does before she has to declare?

Dave in Penacola said...

Grand Slam as follow-up to NCAA Championship? Michael Pernfors played in French main draw and reached semis or quarters. Collete,great job a usual!

ncaafan said...

On your top freshman list I think Raony should be a little higher, perhaps number four and there are definitley some players that you could argue to be above Drew Courtney and Kecki, like Patrick Pohlman who played 3 for Wisconsin, James Meredith of Boise State, and Ishay Hadash (even though he only had one semester of eligibilty) of Minnesota. And Roy Kalmonovich is a sophmore not a freshman.

Leroy Jethro said...

Is it really good for the sport for someone to enter school in January with the idea they are there for 1 semester only? Maybe an ideal situation for the player but not the sport. One and done players are killing college basketball.

Austin said...


You have to declare before a tournament whether you are competing as a professional or amateur.

Abc said...

I believe you can declare that you're a pro after the event, it doesn't have to be before.
I'm very happy for Cecil. It's unfortunate that she didn't get a wc into the qualies after a strong showing at hard courts. Congrats with the domination of college tennis!

bullfrog said...

Cecil is indeed a great college player but she already tried the pro's before making the decision to enter college and concluded she wasn't ready for that level. She should stay in school. If she gets US Open WC, she just needs to sign in as either a pro or amateur. Pro, she keeps the money...no more college tennis. Amateur, she plays and has a tremendous experience but gets no money and keeps her scholarship.

justthefacts said...


Congrads to Devin. Have a question to anyone who knows. Ironic that the USTA ‘s focus for the past few years has been on Buchanan and Williams. Was told that Devin has been off the USTA ‘s radar for the past several years. That the USTA would not give him a WC even into the qualies of the Open Jrs. last year and he got in as an alternate. Was also told that when the US put together its press kit on juniors for the U.S. Open Devin was not in it even though he was top 100 ITF at the time. When he got to the finals at the Open all the media were asking who is this kid. If this is all true, just goes to show that the USTA still is focusing on too few of its “chosen” top players. But for Devin results speak for themselves.

in the know said...


I believe the USTA focus is more on Jenkins than either Buchanan or Rhyne Williams. Possibly something to do with diversity...

but you are correct in a sense. it has more to do with politics and other factors than that Chase and Rhyne grew up being the "chosen" ones

to "in the know" said...

Could also be because Jeknins is the best player of the 3...

Austin said...

Mallory Cecil was very well spoken on tv last week. She would be a refreshing personality for the next wave of womens tennis.

iluvtennis said...

ncaafan, you are right, both Pohlman and Meredith are very good, I actually think Meredith will play one for Boise next year. I was kind of guessing at the bottom of that list but those 2 could certainly fit in there.
Hadash is also very good but I didn't include him for a couple of reasons. First, he turns 25 next month and it's hard for me to consider a 25 year old as a freshman. Second, if you check his ITF profile he states the he turned "pro" at age 17, it's hard for me to include him with the other freshman for these reasons.

ncaafan said...

yeah you could call Hadash either a freshman or a senior because it was his first and last semester of eligibility.