©Colette Lewis 2010--
Two nineteen-year-old sophomores from storied tennis programs earned an opportunity to add to their school's legacies Sunday with semifinal victories in the NCAA individual championships.
Under a continously threatening sky, Bradley Klahn of Stanford defeated top seed Henrique Cunha of Duke 6-2, 6-2 to reach the men's championship match, while Chelsey Gullickson of Georgia downed No. 4 seed Hilary Barte of Stanford 7-6(6), 6-3 to take her place in title match.
Gullickson, a 9 seed, fell behind 4-1 in the opening set, with a 17 minute rain delay disrupting the match in the second game. She got the break back in the seventh game, continuing to hit her potent ground strokes against the ultra quick Stanford junior. After another very brief rain delay at 5-5, Barte held at love, and Gullickson faced a set point serving at 5-6. A good serve kept her in the game, and once Gullickson took the next two points, play was again suspended, thankfully for the last time, as the players approached a tiebreaker.
Again facing a set point down 5-6 in the tiebreaker, Gullickson was fortunate to see Barte make first a forehand error, then a backhand error, to give Gullickson her first set point. A good first serve was all the sophomore from Florida needed to finish the set, and the hundred or so Bulldog fans in attendance erupted in applause.
Gullickson took a 2-0 lead in the second set, but it didn't last, with Barte breaking back in the third game. Gullickson kept the pressure on however, blasting her forehand and backhand on cue and took a 4-2 lead in the final set. Barte couldn't find a way to win points when she needed them, and Gullickson served out the match with a minimum of drama, becoming the fourth Georgia woman to reach the NCAA singles final.
"I thought I did a good job, especially in the first set, of keeping her off balance," Barte said. "But in the second, she was just too good."
Gullickson, who had reached the NCAA semifinals last year in College Station as a freshman, gave the hometown support credit for her win.
"I wouldn't have been able to do it without the crowd," said Gullickson, who admitted that last year's semifinal loss to Miami's Laura Vallverdu was on her mind. "The crowd here is awesome, our fans are the best, so I'm so excited for tomorrow."
While Gullickson hopes to join Lisa Spain (1984) and Angela Lettiere (1994) as NCAA singles champions, her opponent, Jana Juricova of California-Berkeley has a more recent role model. After a 7-6(6), 6-2 win over Vallverdu Sunday, Juricova is hoping to join emulate Bear Suzi Babos, who won the title in 2006.
"When I got to Cal she had already graduated," said the sophomore from Slovakia, the No. 2 seed. "But she stayed on one semester, so I got to hit with her a few times in practice. When I came, she was my role model, a great player, so I would love to repeat it."
Juricova, the reigning ITA Indoor champion, struggled with her serve in the opening set, and failed to convert on two set points with the eighth-seeded Vallverdu serving at 5-6 in the first. In the subsequent tiebreaker, Vallverdu had a set point at 6-5, but Juricova got her out of position and put away a forehand. Two errors by the Miami senior ended the set, and Vallverdu was unable to counter the more relaxed Juricova, who easily held serve throughout the final set.
"In the first set she was serving really well and that made it like even harder for me," Juricova said. "But then I calmed down a lot in the second set and it helped my serve too."
Gullickson has won both matches she and Juricova have played. In last year's NCAA round of 16, Gullickson took a 6-3,7-6(5) decision, and in the fall's at ITA Riviera All-American, Gullickson won another close one, 7-6(3), 7-5, in the semifinals.
In Klahn's victory over Cunha, it was left-hander against left-hander, with the sophomore from San Diego rolling past the freshman from Brazil.
Klahn, who had gotten off to a slow start in two of his matches this past week, knew he had to be sharp from the start against Cunha, and he was. Serving well and making almost no unforced errors, Klahn broke Cunha in the fifth game of the first set and again in the seventh.
"I got off to a real good start, a lot better than the past few matches," Klahn said. "I knew I couldn't spot him an earlier set, he's a great player. I knew I had to get on him quickly, take it to him, play aggressively, dictate the points and get him out of his rhythm."
Cunha, who had not lost a set in his previous four victories, made many more unforced errors than he had in those matches and struggled to hit winners, a problem he didn't have against his previous opponents. There was a glimmer of hope for him when the rain came with Klahn serving at 4-1, 40-30, but even that ten minute break couldn't stall Klahn's momentum. He won that game and his next service game to secure his place in the final.
Klahn hopes to join the 13 other NCAA men's singles champions from Stanford, a group that includes his current coach John Whitlinger, who won the title in 1974.
"It's definitely crossed my mind," Klahn said of joining a list that includes John McEnroe and Bob Bryan. "But I can't look at like that. It's another tennis match and I have to go out and execute my game plan and not get to caught up in what's at stake."
Klahn will be facing unseeded Austin Childs of Louisville in the championship match, after Childs followed the pattern of the day by winning the first set in a tiebreaker and taking control in second in a 7-6(2), 6-0 victory over Tim Puetz of Auburn, a 9 seed.
Childs fought off countless break points in the first set, then raised his game in the tiebreaker. His one-handed backhand began to heat up, and Puetz began to chip in with errors.
Serving to open the second set, Childs again had to fight off three break points, and when he couldn't convert those, Puetz seemed disheartened. Broken for the first time in the next game, Puetz, a junior from Germany, began going for more and more and the inevitable errors began to pile up.
Childs, a junior from New Zealand, had several dozen vocal Cardinals fans, members of the soccer, tennis and swim teams, to help him get through the frequent tight spots he found himself in.
"They drove last night for about eight hours, got here like three in the morning," Childs said. "They said they were going to be as loud as they can."
Childs is the only Louisville player to ever reach an NCAA final, and his coach Rex Ecarma admitted that he wasn't expecting this run.
"He lost in the first round in straight sets the last two years," Ecarma said. "So I think he'll forgive me for not having too many sets of clothes right now. I'm just trying to figure out what I'm going to wear tomorrow."
Klahn and Childs will be meeting for the first time in Monday's final.
While all four singles finalists are in an NCAA singles final for the first time, the doubles finals will feature no less than five repeat competitors.
Stanford's Barte and Lindsay Burdette, who lost in the 2007 doubles final to Juricova and Mari Andersson of Cal, are hoping to capture the winners' trophy this time. Barte and Burdette, the No. 2 seeds, blazed past No. 4 seeds Andrea Remynse and Yasmin Schnack of UCLA 6-0, 6-1. Their opponents in the final are top seeds Natalie Pluskota and Caitlin Whoriskey of Tennessee, who had a much more difficult semifinal against Gullickson and Nadja Gilchrist of Georgia, a 5 seeded team. After a 6-1 first set for Tennessee that took much longer to play than that score would indicate, the teams battled to a second set tiebreaker, which ended with Tennessee winning it 13-11. Georgia had six set points and served for the set twice; Tennessee needed six match points to finish the match.
Stanford and Tennessee played for the Indoor title in November, and the Cardinal saved a match point in their 4-6, 6-3, 7-6(4) victory.
Three of the four participants in this year's men's doubles final were on the court in College Station for the championship match last year.
Tennessee's Davey Sandgren and JP Smith lost to Virginia's Michael Shabaz and Dom Inglot 3-6, 7-6(4), 6-4 in last year's title match. This year the Volunteer pair will meet Shabaz and Drew Courtney for the championship.
Seeded No. 2, Sandgren and Smith struggled in their first round match, but found their form along the way. In Sunday's 6-3, 6-2 victory over the unseeded team from North Carolina, Stefan Hardy and Clay Donato, the pair looked very sharp.
Shabaz and Courtney, unseeded this year as Shabaz and Inglot were last year, took out No. 4 seeds Klahn and Ryan Thacher of Stanford 7-6(3), 7-6(7). Klahn was broken in the opening game of the match and Shabaz in the sixth game, but there were no breaks after that. Stanford fought off a match point at 5-6 in the second set and had two set points at 6-4 in the second set tiebreaker, but Thacher missed a volley on the first and Shabaz saved the second with a big serve that produced an easy putaway for Courtney.
Virginia's second match point at 7-6 was brushed aside by a Thacher overhead, but they got a third on the next point when Shabaz ended a long exchange of shots with a forehand winner in the alley. Klahn couldn't handle Courtney's serve on the next point, and Virginia was on to the final, the fifth consecutive year the Cavaliers have had a finalist in the NCAA individual championships, a modern championship (post-1976) record.
The doubles finals are scheduled for noon on Monday, with the singles finals slated for 2 p.m.
Men's Singles Semifinals - May 30
#13 Bradley Klahn (9-16), STANFORD def. #2 Henrique Cunha (1), DUKE, 6-2, 6-2
#19 Austen Childs, LOUISVILLE def. #16 Tim Puetz (9-16), AUBURN, 7-6(2), 6-0
Women's Singles Semifinals - May 30
#12 Chelsey Gullickson (9-16), GEORGIA def. #4 Hilary Barte (4), STANFORD, 7-6(6), 6-3
#2 Jana Juricova (2), CALIFORNIA def. #7 Laura Vallverdu (8), MIAMI, 7-6(6), 6-2
Men's Doubles Semifinals - May 30
#14 Drew Courtney-Michael Shabaz, Virginia def. #4 Bradley Klahn-Ryan Thacher (4), Stanford, 7-6(3), 7-6(7)
#3 Davey Sandgren-John-Patrick Smith (2), Tennessee def. #19 Clay Donato-Stefan Hardy, North Carolina, 6-3, 6-2
Women's Doubles Semifinals - May 30
#1 Natalie Pluskota-Caitlin Whoriskey (1), Tennessee def. #8 Nadja Gilchrist-Chelsey Gullickson (5-8), Georgia, 6-1, 7-6(11)
#2 Hilary Barte-Lindsay Burdette (2), Stanford def. #4 Andrea Remynse-Yasmin Schnack (4), UCLA, 6-0, 6-1
Sunday, May 30, 2010
©Colette Lewis 2010--