©Colette Lewis 2009--
West Haven, CT--
Two Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets took different paths to the ITA Indoor finals, but Irina Falconi and Guillermo Gomez are hoping to become only the second pair from the same school to capture both singles titles when they take the court Sunday afternoon at the Cullman-Heyman Tennis Center.
Falconi, the top seed, cruised past unseeded Lenka Broosova of Baylor 6-1, 6-0 in less than an hour Saturday afternoon, to set up a meeting with No. 4 seed Jana Juricova of California-Berkeley, who defeated No. 7 seed Denise Dy of Washington 6-4, 6-1.
The unseeded Gomez came from a break down in the third set to derail Michael Shabaz of Virginia 5-7, 6-3, 6-4 and in the final will face No. 5 seed Steve Johnson of Southern Cal, who was also down a break in the final set before upsetting top seed JP Smith of Tennessee 4-6, 6-1, 6-4.
Falconi gave Broosova absolutely no chance to get her rhythm, and while there were several entertaining rallies, most of them ended with an error by the Baylor senior. Falconi has now won 36 games to her opponents' 5 in the past three matches, although the sophomore from Florida was modest when asked about that domination.
"I believe it's hard to determine how the match was played due to the score," Falconi said. "All these girls are spectacular players, and it's just matchups. The score really doesn't say much."
Falconi described herself as a variety player, who doesn't like to "bang-bang."
"I like the slice, I can serve and volley. I like to do things not everyone is used to, and that's what I think gets me in the zone. Other players really don't like that, so changing it up is out of the norm."
Juricova, who is at least eight inches taller than Falconi, is a more conventional power baseliner. Against the athletic Dy, who had beaten her in the Northwest Regional final, Juricova took control of the match at 3-4 in the first set, winning eight straight games with her consistent pace and depth before Dy finally held serve down 5-1 in the second set.
"I was more motivated," Juricova said. "She beat me pretty badly (6-3, 6-3) so this was kind of revenge. It feels good."
The sophomore from the Slovak Republic does own a victory over Falconi in their only previous meeting. At the NCAAs team round of 16 in College Station, Cal defeated Georgia Tech, with Juricova beating Falconi 6-0, 6-4, but Juricova is not putting a lot of stock in that win.
"Team matches are totally different, and it was the end of the year," said Juricova, who led her team to the final playing No. 1 as a freshman. "I hope it's going to be a good match tomorrow, and the better player will win."
Falconi could become the first woman since Beverly Bowes of Texas in 1985 to win the All-American and Indoor titles in the same year.
"It would be amazing," said the Floridian. "Another national title would be a cherry on top, and it would be a nice way to end the (fall) season."
Georgia Tech's Gomez lost in the first round of the All-American last month in Tulsa, but this weekend he has demonstrated great composure, battling from a set down to upset No. 3 seed Robert Farah of Southern Cal in the second round and in Saturday's semifinal against Shabaz, duplicating that feat.
After making an early break stand up to claim the second set, Gomez found himself behind 4-2 in the third against the Virginia junior. But he didn't panic.
"He played great. I didn't make any mistakes tactically. He came out with unbelievable returns," said the junior from Spain. "My first thought wasn't getting angry, it was thinking it was done. After that I just went to the next game and said I'm just going to make every single ball, make him beat me."
Shabaz gave the break back immediately, and although there were plenty of long and punishing rallies in the next three games, Gomez won most of them, using his lethal one-handed backhand to keep Shabaz back on the baseline.
"He was kind of up and down, while I was a little more consistent," Gomez said. "That was the difference. Because when he plays good, it's very difficult to beat him."
In the other men's semifinal, played at exactly the same time on an adjacent court, Steve Johnson was also down 4-2 in the final set against Smith, and also won the last four games to claim the win.
Johnson was arguably in an even deeper hole, as he was facing the All-American champion and serving 1-4 down, fell behind 15-40.
"On those two points I hit a service winner and a forehand winner, which got me back to deuce, and I won the game," said Johnson, a sophomore from Calfornia. "Toward the end of the match I felt he was very erratic on the forehand, so I just tried to keep as many balls in play and pressure that side as much as possible."
Serving at 4-4, Smith had two game points that he was unable to convert and after two deuces Johnson earned a break point. Smith worked his way into position for an overhead winner, but hit it long, although the left-hander from Australia did not agree with Johnson's call, and appealed to the chair umpire, who sided with Johnson.
"I saw the ball out and saw a clear mark out," said Johnson. "The umpire saw it out, and there was no doubt in my mind. As soon as I saw it, I thought it was out, I looked, there was a mark out."
Smith seemed rattled by the incident, making uncharacteristic unforced errors as Johnson tried to serve out the match.
"He made two early mistakes, which really helps serving for the match," said Johnson. "Early in the tournament, I've had a couple of chances to serve out sets and I haven't been able to do it, so that was really helpful. Easy game for me, four errors. I'm not complaining, I'll take it."
Johnson and Gomez met in the second round of the NCAA Individual tournament in College Station, with Johnson claiming a 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 victory.
"At that time I had some trouble physically," said Gomez. "But I know he's a fighter, as he demonstrated yesterday and today, so it's going to be a tough match."
Johnson, who is also appearing in his first major singles final, is hoping to get a little revenge for his teammate Farah.
"I got my revenge on JP for beating Rob at All-American and now I will do the same for Guillermo. I'm on a mission; nobody beats two Trojans."
The doubles final could also produce some history, as no school has ever earned both men's and women's doubles titles, and the Stanford Cardinal can do that this year.
Number three seeds Bradley Klahn and Ryan Thacher of Stanford reached the final with a 7-5, 6-1 decision over unseeded Boris Conkic and Rhyne Williams of Tennessee, and they will face another unseeded team in the final: Duke's Reid Carleton and Henrique Cunha. Carleton and Cunha posted a dramatic 3-6, 7-5, 7-6(4) over Texas A & M's Jeff Dadamo and Austin Krajicek. At 5-5 in the third set, Carleton and Cunha saved eight break points on Carleton's serve, only to drop the ninth, giving Krajicek the opportunity to serve out the match. But despite losing that disappointing service game, Carleton and Cunha fought back, breaking Krajicek to send the match to a tiebreaker, where they won the first three points and the last three points to earn their spot in the final.
Stanford's women's team of Hilary Barte and Lindsay Burdette had an even more impressive comeback. Trailing 5-1 in the third set to UCLA's Andrea Remynse and Yasmin Schnack, the second seeded Cardinal won the final six games of the match to claim a 5-7, 7-6(2), 7-5 victory. They will play top seeds Natalie Pluskota and Caitlin Whoriskey of Tennessee, who also had to battle back in their semifinal against Miami's Gabriella Meija and Laura Vallverdu before earning a 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory.
Three of the consolation finals will be played on Sunday, with Duke's Reka Zsilinszka facing Vallverdu of Miami in the women's singles consolation, and Ed Corrie of Texas taking on Alex Lacroix of Florida in the men's singles consolation.
In the women's doubles consolation final, Juricova and Mari Andersson of Cal will play Kristi Boxx and Karen Njissen of Ole Miss.
The men's doubles consolation final was played Saturday afternoon, with Illinois's Marek Czerwinski and Dennis Nevolo defeating Mortiz Baumann and Marek Michalicka of Wisconsin 8-3.
For complete draws, see the ITA tournament page.
Saturday, November 7, 2009
©Colette Lewis 2009--