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Sunday, October 9, 2011

Frank Defeats Spencer to Earn ITA Men's All-American Title

©Colette Lewis 2011--
Tulsa, OK--

Before last year, the University of Virginia had never had an ITA All-American singles champion. After today, the Cavaliers have two, with freshman wild card Mitchell Frank duplicating teammate Alex Domijan's 2010 title with a 6-1, 7-5 win over Wil Spencer of Georgia Sunday at the Michael D. Case Tennis Center at the University of Tulsa.

Domijan was not able defend his title in Tulsa due to an injury, but Frank picked up right where the towering Cavalier left off. Defeating five seniors, including three seeds, Frank lost only one set in the six matches he played the past four days.

In the final against No. 5 seed Spencer, Frank got off to a great start, breaking Spencer to open the match and again in the third game to build a 4-0 lead. Many of the points were dozens of shots long, with Spencer not uncomfortable playing the waiting game against Frank. Frank played a bit more aggressively than usual in the opening set, and hit a few outright winners before the wind, which has been a problem throughout the tournament, kicked up again.

"At the start of the first set, I came out really well, being aggressive," said Frank, who will turn 19 next week. "But with conditions how they are, it's really tough to be consistently aggressive off the ground, so that played into my strategy of playing back a little more."

In the second set, Frank suffered his first break of the match in the opening game, but Spencer was unable to capitalize, giving the break back in the next game. Again, there were long points, most of which ended on an error, usually forced by one player getting a slight edge in court positioning.

Spencer took his first lead of the match when he broke Frank at love to go up 3-2, and he started to look more sure of himself during the long rallies, while Frank made a few more unforced errors, although still not many by normal tennis standards.

"He gets a ton of balls back, it's like playing a backboard," said Spencer. "He played smart in the wind. He'd play it high, which makes it tough to attack. I started to go to his backhand more, up higher, use my forehand to his backhand more, and I had some opportunities."

Frank attributed his second set lapses both to his opponent and to the occasion.

"I think I got a little nervous," said Frank, only the fourth freshman to win the All-American title. "It's a final, which is always exciting to be in. And after dominating the first set, I knew Wil is too good a player to just turn over, so I was expecting him to come out strong. My feet kind of stopped moving, I stopped being aggressive with my feet, but sometimes the nerves start to kick in, and I left too many balls short and in the middle."

Spencer served for the second set at 5-4, but two over-eager forehands, a net cord in Frank's favor, and a forehand that just missed in the corner made for a break at love. It was at 5-5 30-30 that Frank came up with two of his best serves of the match--an ace and big first serve out wide. He snuck in to put a floating return away to take a 6-5 lead and maintain the momentum he'd grabbed for the previous game.

"I've always served well on the bigger points," said Frank. "I've worked on my serve a lot in the last week or so...and when it's windy like that, it's obviously good to have a good first serve percentage and locate the serves well, and I felt like I did that, especially on the big points."

Spencer couldn't rely on his own serve for any free points, and when he started the 12th game with a double fault, it turned into a liability. Two errors later, Frank had his first match point, which he failed to convert, missing a service return. He didn't make that mistake on the second match point, and outlasted Spencer, who eventually hit a backhand wide to give Frank the title.

Frank had played only one match in college prior to this tournament, at the Virginia Ranked Plus One tournament in Charlottesville, where he won in the first round before withdrawing with an illness. So he is now a perfect 7-0 in college, with four of the wins over players in the Top 16 of the preseason rankings.

He knows he'll now have a target on his back as he heads to New York next month for the USTA/ITA Indoor Intercollegiate Championships.

"I'm sure I'm going to be seeing most of these guys throughout the year," Frank said. "I'll be expecting guys like Dennis (Nevolo) and Daniel (Nguyen) and Wil to come out again and be even stronger next time, so I'm just going to keep working."

But while there isn't a shred of arrogance about Frank, he is very confident that he will be ready for those attempts to end his winning streak.

"I think someone has to play a very high level of tennis to put a lot of pressure on me," said Frank, who was in the final of Kalamazoo this year, and won a round of qualifying at the US Open. "I can frustrate a lot of guys, and if I'm playing well, I can move well, step up into the court and move back, throw a lot of different options at them, which makes it tough for them. Obviously, it'll take a pretty decent tennis player to take me out. But I'm sure there will be plenty of guys coming after me this fall and in the spring."

Spencer agreed Frank will be tough to beat during the remainder of the season.

"He's solid player. As a freshman, he's going to win a lot of matches in college, that's for sure."

In Sunday's doubles final, 2010 finalists Chase Buchanan and Blaz Rola of Ohio State earned the title that eluded them last year, beating top seeds Kevin King and Juan Spir of Georgia Tech 6-3, 6-7(5), 6-4.

Buchanan and Rola had an opportunity to finish it in straight sets, when Rola served for the match at 5-4, but the Buckeyes suffered their only break of the match in that game, when Rola's forehand went wide at 30-40. Georgia Tech took the tiebreaker to send it into the third, but Spir was broken to open the third set, and Georgia Tech couldn't get that precious break back.

At 5-4 in the third set, it was Buchanan serving for the match this time, and the fact that it was against the wind ensured it would be an exciting final game. At 30-30, Rola made a forehand volley winner to give Ohio State a match point, but King saved it with a volley winner of his own. Buchanan followed with a deft backhand volley winner for match point No. 2, but that was denied when Spir's ground stroke clipped the tape and fell in for a winner. When Rola missed a volley on the next point, Georgia Tech had a chance to make it 5-5, but King couldn't control a high floater from Buchanan and it was back to deuce. Buchanan again came up with a textbook volley, this time on the forehand side, which caused Rola to exclaim, "that's sick Chase." But on match point No. 3 Buchanan missed a backhand volley wide for another deuce.

Then Buchanan got a first serve in, a rare occurrence in the wind, and King netted the return, for a fourth match point. Another first serve, which Spir couldn't return, and Ohio State had its first All-American championship since Ross Wilson and Scott Green won the doubles title in 2004.

"I think it's great for Ohio State," said Buchanan, a senior. "It's the first of the national titles we could have won. So we're just going to try to keep it up."

"We didn't have much good in the singles tournament here," said sophomore Rola, who was the top seed and went out to Jarmere Jenkins in the second round. "We got the best from doubles, and we're happy for it."

Buchanan and Rola, who played the bulk of their dual matches with other partners, felt no pressure to outdo their runnerup showing last year.

"We're just excited to be playing with each other, because we didn't get to play with each other most of last season," said Buchanan. "And then we had a disappointing NCAAs, so I think we're just excited to be here."

In the consolation singles final, Kentucky's Eric Quigley, the tournament's No. 2 seed, beat Sebastian Fanselow of Pepperdine 6-3, 6-3. The consolation tournament is confined to players who lost in the first round.

Cal's Nick Andrews and Christoffer Konigsfeldt, the tournament's No. 5 seeds, won the consolation doubles, beating Ohio State's Devin McCarthy and Ille Van Engelen 8-5.

Videos and a slideshow will be posted later tonight, along with results from the ITA Riviera Women's All-American.

For complete ITA Men's All-American results, see the ITA tournament page.