©Colette Lewis 2010--
Flushing Meadows, NY--
Steve Johnson of USC and Jana Juricova of Cal won their initial ITA Intercollegiate Indoor singles titles last year at Yale, and despite the tournament's move to the USTA Billie Jean King Tennis Center this year, the juniors from the Pac-10 have continued to rack up wins. On Sunday Johnson will meet Tennessee sophomore Rhyne Williams and Juricova will take on USC senior Maria Sanchez in search of their second major collegiate championships.
In Saturday's semifinals, Johnson, the No. 7 seed, defeated unseeded freshman Blaz Rola of Ohio State 6-1, 6-4, while Williams avenged his defeat last month at the All-American by downing Alexandre Lacroix of France 6-4, 6-4.
Against Rola, Johnson got off to a quick start, breaking in the second game and again in the sixth, primarily by keeping the ball out of Rola's strike zone.
"He's real solid, real talented," Johnson said of Rola, a tall left-hander from Slovenia whom he had never played before. "I can't believe he's a freshman. I really tried to hit lower, or hit up and high to his backhand, trying to get the short ball and get into the net."
Johnson, who joked that he probably should have gone to school that plays mostly indoors, served well and swung freely at any forehand he got. In the second set, he got the only break he needed at 3-3, but serving for the match at 5-4, Johnson needed to save three break points to secure the victory.
"I played really well today, and played the big points well, which helps," Johnson said.
Awaiting him in the final is Williams, who defeated Johnson in the first round of the NCAA tournament in May, a result both players discount, given that it was the day after the team final, in which Johnson's Trojans won their second straight title 4-2 over Williams' Volunteers.
"Absolutely not," was Williams' answer when asked if he was putting any stock in that victory going into Sunday's final. "But I do know his game quite well. We've been playing junior tennis together forever. I know that he has a great serve and a humongous forehand, and obviously he loves indoor courts, since he won it last year. It should be a good match. We both play pretty similar."
In his 6-4, 6-4 semifinal win over Lacroix, Williams was able to reverse the result of their previous encounter in Tulsa, while shaving about two hours off the match time.
"Tennessee and Florida people don't usually get along," Williams said, although Saturday's match had much less emotion than the three and a half hour contest last month at the All-American. "It's a big rivalry, and I'm just really happy that I played great. The indoor helped me a lot I think. I don't think he's as comfortable on indoor, but I did play quite well and I'm glad to get the win."
Williams is hoping to become the first Tennessee player since Paul Annacone in 1984 to capture the Indoor singles championship.
The women's semifinals Saturday were much less straightforward, with No. 2 seed Juricova facing her first serious test of the tournament before overcoming Aeriel Ellis of Texas 2-6, 7-5, 6-4. Sanchez, the No. 7 seed, started well and finished strong against No. 6 seed Allie Will of Florida, posting a 7-5, 4-6, 6-0 win.
Sanchez took a 4-0 lead in the opening set, but that margin melted away, as Will fought back, making Sanchez work for every game. After a late break and hold in the second set, Will evened the match at a set apiece, but Sanchez kept hitting out when she got the chance, and she gave Will little opportunity to use her excellent defense, rolling through the final set.
"I went back to the way I was playing in the first set," said Sanchez, who said she thought she had gotten a little overexcited in the second set. "Patient, but still being aggressive. Being smarter about it and not going for so much."
Juricova had cruised through her first three matches, but Ellis, who is nearly a foot shorter than the the 6-footer from Slovakia, had Juricova on her heels in the first set. Juricova is accustomed to dictating points with her size and pace, but Ellis was giving Juricova no time to prepare. Juricova regained some control in the second set, getting an early break, but Ellis got it back before blinking again at 5-5. With Juricova serving to level the match, she needed four set points to finally secure it. Juricova again got an early break in the third set, then another to make it 4-1, but Ellis didn't go away, getting one break back and forcing Juricova to serve out the match at 5-4.
Ellis saved a match point at 40-30, but a good first serve from Juricova gave her a second match point, and when Ellis's forehand found the tape after nearly three hours of competition, Juricova had earned the opportunity for a second straight National Indoor title.
"I knew the momentum might change, and that I had to be ready for that, to take advantage of it," Juricova said. "I'm really excited about tomorrow, and hopefully it will end up well, like last year."
Sanchez and Juricova split their two meetings last season, each winning a three-setter at home in team dual matches. And despite the indoor conditions, which neither player has much experience with in California, they've obviously adapted.
"I never considered myself to be an indoor player, and in my freshman and sophomore years I didn't like playing indoors," Sanchez admitted. "Last year, I got a little more comfortable with and now I like it."
"We hit (indoors) a few times in San Francisco, but we usually play outdoors," Juricova said. "But I think by now, I'm pretty fine with it."
In the doubles semifinals on Saturday, all four matches ended in a tiebreaker. The most dramatic was Texas A&M's 6-4, 6-7(8), 7-6(6) victory over Georgia Tech's Kevin King and Juan Spir. Georgia Tech served for the match at 6-5 in the final set, but Spir was broken to send it to a tiebreaker. Tech went up 6-2, and suddenly the wheels came off, as returns were missed and volleys found the net on the Georgia Tech side of the court, and six points later, A & M had earned a place in the final against Ole Miss.
Twin brothers Chris and Marcel Thiemann, the No. 4 seeds, defeated the Texas team of Jean Andersen and Ed Corrie 6-3, 7-6(2).
In the women's doubles, No. 3 seeds Josipa Bek and Keri Wong of Clemson downed No. 2 seeds Juricova and Mari Andersson of Cal 6-3, 7-6(6). They will face Sofie Oyen and Allie Will on Florida, who beat No. 4 seeds Alexa Guarachi and Courtney McLane of Alabama 6-4, 7-6(6).
The consolation singles finals will be played on Sunday, with Kentucky's Eric Quigley facing Illinois' Dennis Nevolo on the men's side, and Marta Lesniak of SMU meeting Mary Anne Macfarlane of Alabama.
The consolation doubles finals were played outdoors on Saturday due to travel and court availability issues. Barbora Krtickova and Alida Muller-Wehlau of Armstrong Atlantic State beat Hilary Barte and Mallory Burdette of Stanford 8-6. The men's consolation doubles draw was won by Stanford's Bradley Klahn and Ryan Thacher, who beat UCLA's Amit Inbar and Nick Meister 8-6.
The sportsmanship trophies were awarded on Saturday to Texas A & M's Austin Krajicek and Alabama's Alexa Guarachi.
For completes draws, see the ITA tournament site.
For more on the tournament, see usta.com.
Saturday, November 6, 2010