Saturday, May 29, 2010

Georgia's Gullickson Powers Past Women's Top Seed Falconi; Farah's Injury Puts Cunha in Semifinal

©Colette Lewis 2010--
Athens, GA--

Two matches that were expected to highlight Saturday's quarterfinal singles action at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex didn't play out as anticipated.

Top seed Henrique Cunha of Duke and Robert Farah of USC, a No. 9 seed, had played less than four games when the Trojan senior rolled an ankle, and two games later he retired at 4-1 in the first set.

Georgia's Chelsey Gullickson, spurred on by an enthusiastic holiday weekend crowd, powered past top seed Irina Falconi of Georgia Tech 6-2, 6-4 to reach the NCAA semifinals for the second consecutive year.

Against Cunha, Farah had recovered from a 15-40 deficit by hitting three straight aces serving at 1-2 in the first, but on the ad point, Farah was sent deep into the backhand corner by a Cunha shot and his ankle gave way. He let out a loud and frustrated groan, and after a few minutes of attention by the USC trainer, hopped back to the bench for a medical timeout. Farah returned to play, and actually hit one winner in that fourth game, but his movement was severely hampered, and after dropping the fourth game, and failing to win a point on Cunha's serve in the next game, he retired. It was an unfortunate ending to his illustrious career at USC, in which he won an NCAA doubles title in 2008 and team titles in 2009 and this year. Cunha was a bit shaken by the sudden end to the match.

"I'm very sorry for Farah," said Cunha, a freshman from Brazil. "He's a great player and I knew it was going to be a very, very hard match. I'm kind of sad now, because it's not the way I wanted to win, but it happens, and I'm thinking only about tomorrow now."

Gullickson, a 9 seed, was playing on the court next to Farah and Cunha, but she didn't let the sudden end of the men's quarterfinal affect her razor sharp game.

Hitting winners with abandon, Gullickson put Falconi on the defensive from the outset, keeping the Georgia Tech sophomore from using her usually effective net game. After the quick first set, Falconi began to adjust and took a 4-2 lead in the final set, getting a few unforced errors from Gullickson. But Falconi lost her serve at love and after Gullickson held, Falconi was broken again, giving Gullickson the chance to serve for the match. At 40-30, Falconi saved one match point with a confident forehand volley winner and got a break point when her return of Gullickson's next serve handcuffed the Georgia sophomore. But Gullickson blasted a backhand winner for deuce, hit a big overhead for match point No. 2, and another clean backhand winner emphatically ended the match.

Gullickson was 0-2 against Falconi this season, losing to her in the final of the ITA Riviera All-American last fall 6-2, 6-1, and in the dual match in March 7-5, 6-0, but she wasn't troubled by those defeats.

"In those matches, I didn't really play that well, I wasn't consistent," said Gullickson. "But the past two matches I've played in this tournament, I've felt super confident. The crowd helped me a ton today, and I just felt good. I kind of struggled a little bit this season, but without making the team (tournament), I've had a good two and a half weeks to train. I've been doing two-a-days, and I felt that really paid off. I feel really in shape on the court, really consistent and really confident. Each match is getting better and better."

Next up for Gullickson is Stanford's Hilary Barte, the No. 4 seed, whom she has never played. Barte managed to defeat unseeded Bianca Eichkorn of Miami 6-4, 6-4, but despite the rather routine score, it took over two hours for the Cardinal junior to post the victory.

On the other side of the draw, 2009 finalist Laura Vallverdu of Miami, the No. 8 seed, rolled past No. 3 seed Maria Sanchez of Southern California 6-3, 6-0. The feisty Vallverdu frustrated the much bigger Sanchez, using her speed and her court sense to take Sanchez out of her comfort level. Vallverdu will again face a bigger and stronger opponent in the semifinal, where she will meet No. 2 seed Jana Juricova of California-Berkeley, a six-footer. Juricova, the ITA Indoor Champion, came from behind to top unseeded Nina Secerbegovic of Baylor 2-6, 6-2, 6-2.

Cunha's opponent in the semifinals is Stanford sophomore Bradley Klahn, the lone U.S. player remaining in men's singles. Klahn, a 9 seed, lost the first set to unseeded Marcel Thiemann of Ole Miss, but battled back for a 1-6, 7-6(4), 6-4 victory.

Although Klahn had to win the second set tiebreaker to keep the match going, he didn't feel particularly nervous at that juncture of the match.

"I knew I could get myself going as the second set went on," Klahn said. "Just staying positive is the main thing, making him hit a few more balls, hopefully generating a few more errors, which he gave me a little bit in the second and third sets."

The other men's semifinal features Auburn's Tim Puetz, a 9 seed, against unseeded Austen Childs of Louisville. Puetz downed Michael Shabaz of Virginia, also a 9 seed, 6-4, 6-2, while Childs surprised Texas's Dimitar Kutrovsky, a 9 seed, 6-4, 5-7, 6-3. Childs, a junior from New Zealand, became the first player from Louisville to reach the NCAA quarterfinals with a win over Denes Lukacs of Baylor on Friday, so he is blazing a new trail for the team with every win.

"It just shows how good Rex Ecarama is," said Childs. "He's a really good coach. His game plans are unbelievable."

Childs said he was instructed to keep Kutrovsky off the baseline.

"He likes to take it early and come in a bit," Childs said of the Longhorn senior. "I needed to serve big, make a lot of balls and make it tough for him. And I did it near the end. He started coming up with some good points, but I did it in the third."

The doubles quarterfinals were full of drama, with several of the singles Final Four also reaching that stage in the doubles.

Gullickson and her partner Nadja Gilchrist put an emphatic end to the 27-match winning streak of Notre Dame's Kristy Frilling and Kali Krisik, the No. 3 seeds, taking a 6-2, 6-1 win that was interrupted by an hour rain delay as a thundershower moved over the Dan Magill Tennis Complex. The No. 5 seeded Georgia pair will meet top seeds Natalie Pluskota and Caitlyn Whoriskey of Tennessee, who survived Florida's Marrit Boonstra and Allie Will, a No. 5 seeded team, 2-6, 7-5, 7-6(6). Leading 4-1 in the final set tiebreaker with Whoriskey serving, the next six points went to the receiving team. Boonstra and Will saved three match points to make it 6-6, but two errors by the Gators put the Tennessee pair back in the semifinals, as they were in 2009.

The other half of the women's doubles draw will be a Pac-10 rematch, with UCLA's No. 4 seeded team of Yasmin Schnack and Andrea Remynse facing Stanford's Barte and Lindsay Burdette, the No. 2 seeds. Schnack and Remynse defeated Miami's Vallverdu and Gabriela Mejia, who came from two breaks down in the first set to force a tiebreaker, but came up just short, eventually falling 7-6(9), 6-2. Barte and Burdette downed Baylor's Lenka Broosova and Csilla Borsanyi 6-4, 6-4.

In the men's doubles, top seeds Cunha and Reid Carleton of Duke were defeated by Virginia's Drew Courtney and Shabaz, who are unseeded, 6-4, 6-7(6), 6-3. Shabaz is the defending NCAA doubles champion, winning the 2009 title with the now graduated Dom Inglot. The Virginia pair had a 6-4 lead in the second set tiebreaker, but Duke won the set's last four points. Virginia didn't panic however, and built a 5-1 lead in the third set before Shabaz served it out. They will meet Stanford's Klahn and Ryan Thacher, the No. 4 seeds, who fought back from two breaks down in the second set to take a straight set decision from Oklahoma's Andrei Daescu and Costin Paval, 6-2, 7-6(9).

The other semifinal will feature No. 2 seeds and 2009 finalists Davey Sandgren and JP Smith of Tennessee against the unseeded North Carolina team of Clay Donato and Stefan Hardy. Sandgren and Smith outlasted Wake Forest's Steve Forman and Iain Atkinson 7-6(4), 5-7, 6-3, while Donato and Hardy dismissed Kentucky's Brad Cox and Eric Quigley 6-3, 6-1.

Semifinal action starts at noon on Sunday.


#2 Henrique Cunha (1), DUKE def. #9 Robert Farah (9-16), USC, 4-1, ret. inj.
#13 Bradley Klahn (9-16), STANFORD def. #33 Marcel Thiemann, OLE MISS, 1-6, 7-6(4), 6-4
#19 Austen Childs, LOUISVILLE def. #10 Dimitar Kutrovsky (9-16), TEXAS, 6-4, 5-7, 6-3
#16 Tim Puetz (9-16), AUBURN def. #11 Michael Shabaz (9-16), VIRGINIA, 6-4, 6-2

#12 Chelsey Gullickson (9-16), GEORGIA def. #1 Irina Falconi (1), GEORGIA TECH, 6-2, 6-4
#4 Hilary Barte (4), STANFORD def. #40 Bianca Eichkorn, MIAMI, 6-4, 6-4
#7 Laura Vallverdu (8), MIAMI def. #3 Maria Sanchez (3), USC, 6-3, 6-0
#2 Jana Juricova (2), CALIFORNIA def. #20 Nina Secerbegovic, BAYLOR, 2-6, 6-2, 6-2

#14 Drew Courtney-Michael Shabaz, Virginia def. #1 Reid Carleton-Henrique Cunha (1), DUKE, 6-4, 6-7(6), 6-3
#4 Bradley Klahn-Ryan Thacher (4), Stanford def. #18 Andrei Daescu-Costin Paval, Oklahoma, 6-2, 7-6(9)
#19 Clay Donato-Stefan Hardy, North Carolina def. #22 Brad Cox-Eric Quigley, Kentucky, 6-3, 6-1
#3 Davey Sandgren-John-Patrick Smith (2), Tennessee def. #21 Iain Atkinson-Steven Forman, Wake Forest, 7-6(4), 5-7, 6-3

#1 Natalie Pluskota-Caitlin Whoriskey (1), Tennessee def. #5 Marrit Boonstra-Allie Will (5-8), Florida, 2-6, 7-5, 7-6(6)
#8 Nadja Gilchrist-Chelsey Gullickson (5-8), Georgia def. #3 Kristy Frilling-Kali Krisik (3), Notre Dame, 6-2, 6-1
#4 Andrea Remynse-Yasmin Schnack (4), UCLA def. #6 Gabriela Mejia-Laura Vallverdu (5-8), Miami, 7-6(9), 6-2


thoughts123 said...

Anyone else think Gullickson will back a great wta player after she graduates? She's got the power and the game to do it. Future top 50 lock in my opinion.