©Colette Lewis 2009--
College Station, TX--
The top seeds in the NCAA individual tournament were eliminated Saturday morning at the George Mitchell Tennis Center on the campus of Texas A&M University.
First to fall was Northwestern's Maria Mosolova, who had lost the opening set in her previous two matches and had gone three sets in all three wins. No. 8 seed Chelsey Gullickson of Georgia, down 4-1 in the second set against Mosolova, won the last five games of the match, using her considerable power to regain the momentum.
"She stepped her game up a little more and I had some silly points here and there," Gullickson said of Mosolova's start in the second set. "But when I went down 4-1, I went back to my game plan in the first set, picking on her forehand a little bit more, staying consistent and keeping balls in the court, staying positive. I got a little agitated when I went down 4-1, but I tried to stay positive and talk to Jeff (Wallace, head coach) and have Jeff help me through it."
Gullickson, who has not lost a set in College Station and has a 16-match winning streak, also beat Mosolova at the Team Indoor in February. With the Bulldogs reaching the semifinals in the team event, Gullickson is happy she has not spent long hours on the court since.
"We're all tired out here from the team (event)," Gullickson said. "I try to keep that out of my mind. My main thing is just being focused, keep my matches as short as possible--this is like my tenth day playing a match. My focus has done really well the past couple days, and I feel like each day it's getting better and better and better. But I'm just taking one day at a time. I feel like I've been here for the past month."
Virginia's Sanam Singh has also been in College Station since the start of the team event, although with the Cavaliers' loss in the quarterfinals to eventual champion USC, he did have a bit more rest than Gullickson. The unseeded Singh, who has played No. 2 singles for Virginia most of the year, has, like Gullickson, been rolling in the individual tournament. He had not lost a set against Rice's Christopher Muller, Texas's Dimitar Kutrovsky, and Tennessee's JP Smith, the No. 6 seed. And that streak didn't end against No. 1 Arnau Brugues of Tulsa, with Singh taking a 6-2, 6-4 victory.
A key point in the match came at 3-4 in the second set, when Singh was down 0-40 on his serve. Keeping his composure, he won five straight points, broke Brugues in the next game, and just like that, he was serving for the match.
"I felt that was the match right there," Singh said. "The love-40 game was huge. I played really well today. I came into the match thinking, ‘I’m just going to play freely. I have nothing to lose.'"
Asked about filling the shoes of two-time NCAA champion Somdev Devvarman, his countryman, who played in three straight NCAA singles finals, the first as a sophomore in 2006, Singh deflected any comparison.
"Somdev actually texted me yesterday and said good match," Singh said. "He's at the French right now; we're good friends. I'm not thinking that I'm going to win two NCAA titles. I'm just taking it match by match, and hopefully I can play the same way tomorrow and keep it going."
Singh's opponent will be another senior, Ohio State's Steven Moneke, who has been on the court playing singles and/or doubles for seven consecutive days. The 9-16 seed, who has reached the semifinals for the first time after two straight years as a quarterfinalist, defeated Kentucky's Bruno Agostinelli, the No. 5 seed 6-3, 2-6, 6-2 Saturday, becoming the first Buckeye to reach that round in the NCAAs.
The other semifinal will feature two players on opposite ends of SEC collegiate careers: Ole Miss freshman Devin Britton and Arkansas senior Blake Strode. Britton came back to defeat Stanford's Alex Clayton, a semifinalist in 2008, 4-6, 7-6 (3), 6-4, while Strode sent the several hundred Aggie fans home disappointed by ousting Conor Pollock of Texas A&M 6-3, 4-6, 6-4.
Britton lost his serve in the match's opening game, but wasn't broken the rest of the way. In the tiebreaker that he had to win to keep the match going, Britton hit three return winners on second serves by Clayton, putting the Cardinal sophomore on notice that first serves were necessary in the third set.
Both held until 3-3, when a Clayton double fault on break point put Britton in the lead. With Britton serving at 15-15 in the next game, Clayton was overruled for the third time in the match on a Britton volley near the baseline and the unsportsmanlike conduct penalty point made it 40-15. Britton held for 5-3, and Clayton held to force the freshman to serve it out. Nerves did appear to lead to a double fault at 15-15, but Britton played fearlessly on the following 15-30 point, serving and volley on a second serve, hitting a short inside out volley winner off an excellent return to make it 30-all. An ace and a service winner later, and the match was over.
On the No. 1 court on the Stadium side, Strode was down an early break in the third set to Pollock, but he immediately got it back to make it 2-2.
"He had a lot of momentum coming into the third set, and when he got that early break it was definitely an important point in the match for me to get that break back," said Strode, who like Pollock, is a 9-16 seed.
Neither player surrendered a break the rest of the way until Pollock was serving at 4-5. At 30-all, Pollock hit a wild forehand to give Strode his first match point. Pollock took his time, going to his towel as the crowd yelled encouragement. But a good return on an excellent first serve handcuffed Pollock, and his response didn't make it over the net, ending the two-and-a-half hour contest. Moments later, the dark clouds moved over the stadium, and the rain began.
The two-hour delay disrupted only one singles quarterfinal, with No. 2 seed Julia Cohen of Miami needing to come back out nearly two hours later to complete her 7-5, 5-7, 6-1 win over unseeded Sanaz Marand of North Carolina. Cohen was up 4-0 and two break points on Marand's serve when the brief shower started.
Cohen's teammate, unseeded Laura Vallverdu, had already reached the semifinals, with a 6-1, 6-7(9), 6-3 win over Marrit Boonstra of Florida. At 6-1, 5-3, Vallverdu had a match point, but she admitted that she got ahead of herself.
“I don’t know why, but when I was up 5-3 in the second I just got so nervous," said the junior. "I don’t think I’ve ever felt that feeling in my life. My arms started feeling heavy, my legs, everything. I guess I just got a little overwhelmed with the fact that I was going to get to the semis."
Vallverdu will face Gullickson in Sunday's semifinal, while Cohen will hope to avenge her team championship loss to Duke freshman Mallory Cecil, who defeated No. 3 seed Aurelija Miseviciute of Arkansas 6-3, 6-3. The fifth-seeded Cecil, who has also played matches in seven consecutive days, has beaten Cohen the last two times they have played, with Cohen winning their first encounter back in March.
The seeded doubles teams have mostly departed, with only one Top 4 seeded team still in the running for either the men's or women's titles.
Tennessee's Davey Sandgren and JP Smith, the No. 2 seeds, are that one team, after they defeated the 5-8 seeds from Wake Forest, Steve Forman and Cory Parr, 6-3, 6-7(4), 6-3. Sandgren and Smith will face unseeded Tim Puetz and Alexey Tsyrenov of Auburn in one semifinal. Puetz and Tsyrenov came back to defeat No. 4 seeds Jamie Hunt and Nate Schnugg of Georgia 3-6, 6-2, 6-3. The other men's doubles semifinal features two unseeded teams. Virginia's Dominic Inglot and Michael Shabaz, who defeated 5-8 seeds Omar Altmann and Basam Beidas of Pepperdine 6-4, 6-2, and North Carolina's Clay Donato and Taylor Fogleman, who beat 5-8 seeds Austin Krajicek and Pollock 6-4, 6-4 Saturday afternoon, much to the dismay of the Aggie fans who returned after the rain delay to cheer them on.
The top-seeded women's team from Fresno State, Renata Kucerkova and Anastasia Petukhova, lost to 5-8 seeds Mari Andersson and Jana Juricova of Cal 7-6(1), 6-3 in a match interrupted by the rain. The Bear team will face another Bear team, but not from Cal, rather the unseeded Baylor team of Csilla Borsanyi and Lenka Broosova. Borsanyi and Broosova downed Arizona State's Micaela Hein and Kelcy McKenna 6-3, 6-0. Tennessee has a women's team joining their men in making a semifinal appearance, with Natalie Pluskota and Caitlin Whoriskey earning their spot with a 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 victory over Josipa Bek and Ina Hadziselimovic of Clemson. Pluskota and Whoriskey will meet Stanford's Hilary Barte and Lindsay Burdette, a 5-8 seeded team, who defeated Northwestern's Lauren Lui and Georgia Rose 6-2, 3-6, 6-4.
For complete results, see the aggieathletics website. For additional coverage, see College Tennis Examiner and the Bryan-College Station daily paper, The Eagle
Saturday, May 23, 2009