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Saturday, October 10, 2009

Oklahoma's Daescu and Tennessee's Smith Reach D'Novo ITA All-American Final

©Colette Lewis 2009--
Tulsa OK--

For second seed JP Smith, a big match on the Michael D. Case Tennis Center court is nothing new. As an unheralded freshman in May of 2008, the Tennessee left-hander reached the NCAA final, losing to defending champion Somdev Devvarman of Virginia. For unseeded Andrei Daescu of Oklahoma, Sunday morning's final is unchartered territory, with the senior from Romania reaching his first major collegiate championship final.

After coming back from a break down in the third set against Tulsa wild card Ashley Watling in his 6-2, 4-6, 6-3 quarterfinal victory, Smith also faced a tough spot in his semifinal encounter with USC's Robert Farah. The first seven games went to the server, but with Smith serving at 3-4 30-30, he was overruled by the chair umpire on a Farah passing shot that Smith thought had missed the sideline. Although he didn't do more than shrug off the overrule, he double faulted on the next point, and Farah served out the set 6-3.

Opening the second set, Smith was broken at love, and Farah seemed in control of the match, but Smith held steady, breaking Farah in the next game when Farah double faulted at 30-40.

"He played a good game to break," said the junior from Australia. "I started to get the rhythm on my returns after that, which really helped toward the end of the second and the third set. After that I started to play really solid. He played a really good first set, and I was just happy to get the win."

With Farah continuing to struggle on serve--Smith broke him six times in the final two sets--one of the Columbian right-hander's biggest weapons was ineffective, and Smith eased to a 3-6, 6-2, 6-2 win.

Daescu had ended the run of Kentucky qualifier Eric Quigley in the quarterfinal 7-6(7), 6-3 and in his semifinal with unseeded Steve Johnson of Southern California he took advantage of some sloppy play by the Trojan sophomore to take a 5-2 lead in the opening set. Johnson cleaned up his game and got the one break back when Daescu had serving trouble, including two double faults, at 5-4. But Daescu didn't panic, and dominated in the opening tiebereaker, taking it 7-6(3).

In the second set, after four service breaks, Johnson had a 5-4 lead, but with Daescu serving, Johnson was unable to convert on any of the four set points he was presented with in that game. Johnson made errors on the first two, but on the second two, Daescue came up with winners, and then converted on his first game point to make it 5-5.

"It was a lot of pressure on those set points," Daescu said, although he recalled only three set points, not the four he actually saved. "But I like playing under pressure. I feel I'm playing better when I'm under pressure. I served really well in those moments, which helped me a lot. I'm glad I didn't lose it, because I didn't want to play a third set."

The second set also ended in a tiebreaker, and again the senior from Romania, got off to a great start, and Johnson couldn't find the form that had helped him win the final five games of his quarterfinal victory over Alex Lacroix of Florida. Daescu won every point with controlled aggression, while the errors that had cropped up at inopportune times for Johnson reached a crescendo, leaving the final score 7-6(2), 7-6(0).

Smith and Daescu have not played before, so Sunday's final will bring new challenges for them.

"I've seen him in pretty much all the tournaments we've played together, and I have an idea on the way he's playing," said Daescu, who, after beating No. 6 seed Dimitar Kutrovsky of Texas in the first round, has not faced a seed. "I think it's going to be a great final tomorrow."

Smith is also looking forward to Sunday's match, although he is assured of at least two, with he and partner Boris Conkic advancing to the doubles semifinals against No. 3 seeds Mortiz Baumann and Marek Michalicka of Wisconsin.

"The only time I've seen him play is playing next to him twice today," said Smith. "I'd see a glance here and there a bit. It'll be a tough match. He's got a lot of confidence making the final also, so it should be a good match."

The other doubles semifinal will see No. 5 seeds Bradley Klahn and Ryan Thacher of Stanford playing unseeded Aleksey Bessonov and Oleksandr Nedovyesov of Oklahoma State. Due to the weather problems the first two days, the doubles semis and finals have been shortened to 8 game sets rather than best of three sets.

In the singles consolation final, Kutrovsky of Texas will play Robin Fahgen of SMU. In the doubles consolation final, played Saturday evening, Duke's Reid Carleton and Henrique Cunha defeated Austin Childs and Simon Childs of Louisville.

For complete results, see the ITA tournament page.

At the women's Riviera All-American, No. 2 seed Chelsey Gullickson of Georgia will play No. 8 seed Irina Falconi of Georgia Tech for the singles title Sunday.
The doubles final will feature qualifiers Allie Will and Lauren Embree from Florida against Tennessee's Natalie Pluskota and Caitlyn Whoriskey.

For complete results, see the ITA tournament home page.