©Colette Lewis 2009--
College Station, TX--
The wind picked up Friday at the George Mitchell Tennis Center at Texas A & M University giving the 32 competitors left in the NCAA Singles National Championships another challenge to address.
Blake Strode of Arkansas, a 9-16 seed, served for the first set against No. 2 seed Oleksandr Nedovyesov of Oklahoma State, but couldn't finish it, losing a tiebreaker 7-6(4). But the 21-year-old senior found the key in the second set and picked up steam in the third winning those two sets 6-4, 6-2.
"I had opportunities in the first set, so I told myself I couldn't check out, I had to stay tough, keep playing," said Strode, the ITA Arthur Ashe Sportsmanship Award winner. "It's easy after that disappointment to go away, and I didn't want to do that."
After getting down a second break in the third set, Nedovyesov, a junior who was ranked No. 1 in the Campbell/ITA preseason rankings, didn't look as if he believed he could come back. Strode's forehand was finding the corners and Nedovyesov was doing a lot of running from side to side.
"He made a lot of errors at the end," Strode said. "I don't know if it was out of frustration or fatigue, I don't know what it was, but he certainly did make a lot of errors there at the end. It never comes easy, so I'll take them how I can get them."
The second Top 8 seed to exit in Friday's round of 16 was 2008 NCAA finalist JP Smith of Tennessee, seeded sixth. Last year, it was Cavalier senior Somdev Devvarman who put an end to his NCAA title hopes; this year it was Virginia's Sanam Singh, who defeated his fellow sophomore 6-4, 7-5.
Singh's opponent in Saturday's quarterfinal is top seed Arnau Brugues of Tulsa, who had had a 80-minute first set tussle with unseeded Omar Altmann of Pepperdine before wearing him down 7-6(3), 6-3.
The other quarterfinal in that half features Ohio State's Steven Moneke, a 9-16 seed, who came back to defeat Jay Weinacker of North Carolina State. Moneke, a quarterfinalist in last year's NCAA individual tournament, will face No. 5 seed Bruno Agostinelli of Kentucky, a 6-4, 6-1 winner over USC's Steve Johnson.
While the upper half features an all-international quartet, the bottom half has four Americans contending for the semifinals.
The last freshman remaining, Devin Britton of Mississippi, continued his excellent play in College Station, defeating unseeded Bruno Rosa of Rice 6-3, 6-4. Britton trailed Rosa 3-0 in the second set, but got that break back and another at 4-4, and although he needed three match points, Britton did finish off the sophomore from Brazil, who had saved five match points in a comeback win on Thursday.
"He came out just firing, and I didn't make many first serves in my first service game," said Britton of Rosa's hot start. "He played a very good couple of games, then at 3-0 I played a good service game, and from then on, it was the best I'd played in a while. I was hitting my ground strokes well, was returning well and serving very well too."
Britton will face unseeded Alex Clayton of Stanford, who defeated 9-16 seed Nate Schnugg of Georgia 6-4, 7-6(4). Despite their time together as juniors at Bollettieri's, where they occasionally trained together, the two have never played. Clayton reached the NCAA semifinals last year, losing to eventual champion Devvarman.
And the Aggie fans will have the place rocking Saturday, with Texas A & M's Conor Pollock reaching the quarterfinals, where he'll play Strode. Pollock, a 9-16 seed, ended the run of Dean Jackson of San Diego 4-6, 6-3, 6-4. His contest with Strode will also be the first time those two Americans have encountered each other in a competitive match.
The women's draw was more according to form on Friday, although No. 7 seed Hilary Barte of Stanford was a casualty, losing to Marrit Boonstra of Florida, a 9-16 seed, 7-5, 6-1. Boonstra will face unseeded Laura Vallverdu of Miami, who came back from a set and at least one break down to roll past Megan Falcon of LSU, a 9-16 seed, 3-6, 7-5, 6-0.
The top half of the draw saw No. 1 seed Maria Mosolova of Northwestern survive yet another grueling three-setter, this time against Team tournament MVP Reka Zsilinszka of Duke. Zsilinszka was up a break in the final set, but Mosolova remained patient, and eked out a 4-6, 6-2, 6-4 win. The sophomore from Moscow will face Georgia freshman Chelsey Gullickson, who got by 9-16 seed Jana Juricova of Cal 6-3, 7-6(5).
Another freshman, Duke's Mallory Cecil, the fifth seed, also reached the quarterfinals, taking out unseeded Bianca Eichkorn of Miami 6-2, 7-5. Her opponent will be third-seeded Arkansas senior Aurelija Miseviciute, the two-time ITA Indoor champion, who beat Josipa Bek of Clemson 6-4, 6-4. Unseeded Sanaz Marand from North Carolina, who grew up in Katy, Texas, has been rolling through opponents this week, and today she overwhelmed unseeded Laura Gioia of Furman 6-1, 6-1. She will play No. 2 seed Julia Cohen, who eliminated Duke's Ellah Nze 6-4, 6-4.
The doubles second round was completed Friday evening, and women's No. 2 seeds Kristy Frilling and Kelcy Tefft of Notre Dame were beaten by Natalie Pluskota and Caitlin Whoriskey of Tennessee 7-6(4), 6-3. Top women's seeds and ITA Indoor champions Renata Kucerkova and Anastasia Pethukhova of Fresno State survived in three sets against Nadine Fahoum and Charleen Haarhoff of Old Dominion.
The defending NCAA doubles champion Robert Farah of USC will not win a second, as he and partner Johnson, seeded 5-8, lost to the Auburn team of Tim Puetz and Zlexey Tsyrenov 6-3, 6-4. Texas A&M's Pollock is the only player to make the quarterfinals in singles and doubles, and the Aggie faithful are hoping that he and partner Austin Krajicek can improve on last year's NCAA performance, when the pair reached the semifinals in Tulsa.
Due to forecasts of inclement weather, i.e. thunderstorms, the quarterfinal matches, originally scheduled for noon, have been moved up to 10:00 a.m.
For complete scores, see the aggieathletics website.
Friday, May 22, 2009