©Colette Lewis 2011--
For the second year in a row, the All-American men's championship final is indeed all-American, with freshman wild card Mitchell Frank of Virginia meeting senior Wil Spencer of Georgia, the No. 5 seed, for the first major championship of the 2011-2012 college season. Spencer, of Ponce de Leon, Fla., will try to do what the previous two seeded seniors Frank faced could not--outlast the 18-year-old from Annandale, Virginia.
It was another sunny and breezy day at the Michael D. Case Tennis Center on the University of Tulsa campus, and the gusty winds continued to frustrate the competitors, even after two days of similar conditions.
In the quarterfinal match between Frank and No. 6 seed Dennis Nevolo, both the wind and the maddening consistency and defense of Frank gave the senior from Illinois fits, and Nevolo dropped the first set 6-4, and was down 2-0 in the second set. In a similar situation in the round of 16 against No. 4 seed Chase Buchanan of Ohio State, Frank had pulled away, taking a 6-4, 6-1 victory, but Nevolo fought back, using some judicious trips to the net to finish points. He also coaxed a few errors from Frank, broke to take a 5-3 lead, then served out the set with a beautiful game, using a drop shot, an overhead and some very confident ground strokes to take the set 6-3.
Nevolo told the chair umpire he needed to use the bathroom, but in Division I men's tennis, no special consideration is allowed, and just the two-minute set break time is given. The tournament referee, at his discretion, can determine some extra time on a tournament-by-tournament basis, and here in Tulsa, it was decided to allow an extra minute.
The chair umpire, who had also used the restroom during the set break, returned to his chair, and when Nevolo wasn't back after three minutes, gave him a time violation warning. After Illinois head coach Brad Dancer went frantically searching for his player, the countdown began, and every 20 seconds Frank received a point. In total, nine points were awarded to Frank, so when Nevolo finally returned to the court, Frank led 2-0, 15-0. Nevolo immediately requested a trainer, and received a medical timeout, but that appeared to be more of a strategy to regain his equilibrium than to receive treatment for a particular injury. Obviously rattled by what had happened, Nevolo only won four points in the next four games, and Frank had a very strange 6-4, 3-6, 6-0 win.
"Usually they are very lenient with those things in the Futures and US Open," said Frank. "I played Legg Mason and the guy took a 10-minute, 15-minute bathroom break between the second and third. So I was shocked to hear them start counting out point penalty, point penalty, point penalty. I got the first hold on point penalties, so I thought hmmm, maybe I can get a break with point penalties. It was good to get that lead and it helped a lot, because he was playing well and putting a lot of pressure on me. It was unfortunate, because it would have been a fun battle in the third."
In his semifinal with USC's Daniel Nguyen, Frank also got by a veteran collegian who put a lot of pressure on him in the first 30 minutes of their contest. Nguyen hit angles, attacked second serves, brought Frank in and passed him, and in general tried to keep the rallies short. It worked for a 4-2 lead, but Frank adjusted, won the next six games and dismissed the senior 6-4, 6-2.
"I knew I would have my hands full with Daniel," said Frank, who is now 6-0 in his brief collegiate career. "He started strong, and I just tried to hang in there and luckily he cooled down a little bit. Hopefully I made him cool down a little bit, but he's always a tough guy to take out."
Nguyen, who had beaten Texas A&M's Alexis Klegou 6-2, 6-0 in a quarterfinal match much closer than that score would indicate, found himself in the same situation as many of Frank's opponents--going for too much in an attempt to hit through him, and making errors as a result.
"I started to hit the ball deeper," said Frank of the turnaround. "I started to move the ball a lot better and hit it heavier, and I was able to get him out of position a little more than he would have liked. That kind of caused him to force some shots."
Spencer's path to the final included two three-set wins. In the quarterfinal, he defeated Fresno State's Remi Boutillier 6-1, 2-6, 6-4. Calling Boutillier "a smart player," Spencer got an early break in the third set, lost it to make it 4-4, but broke and held for the win. Immediately after the final point of the match, which was dozens of strokes long, Spencer vomited behind the court, a result, he said of his competitive nature and nerves.
In his semifinal against Oklahoma's Costin Paval, Spencer managed those two attributes better, coming from behind for a 3-6, 6-1, 6-1 win.
Paval had won the match of day against qualifier Roy Kalmanovich of Illinois, saving three match points in a 5-7, 7-6(9), 7-5 victory that took three hours and 46 minutes to complete.
Kalmanovich served for the match at 5-4 in the second set, and again at 5-3 in the third, but didn't get to match point in either case. Two of his three match points were in the tiebreaker, and a backhand error and a Paval return winner kept the match going on those two occasions. Serving at 4-5 in the third set, Paval saved his third match point at 30-40, anticipating a Kalmanovich pass and volleying a winner. Three deuces later, Paval finally held, and when Kalmanovich was broken in the next game, the Oklahoma junior had his chance to serve it out. He had to save a break point, which he did with a big first serve at 30-40, and two huge first serves later, the left-hander had his spot in the semifinals.
Against Spencer, Paval's ball-striking, especially on the forehand side, kept the Georgia senior defending, and after five straight breaks, Paval held to take control of the first set.
"I got away from my game plan a little," said Spencer. "I wasn't hitting high enough. Coach talked to me and said to go higher, heavier to his backhand and dictate more with my forehand. His forehand's his weapon, so I had to be more mentally tough and more disciplined in the second and third sets."
Paval was broken immediately to start the second set, and Spencer took it quickly 6-1. In the third set, still showing few signs of fatigue, Paval held for 1-1 and had four break points in Spencer's next service game. Spencer saved them all, a key turning point in the match.
"It was huge. That was momentum," said Spencer, who was taking an ice bath to recover from the long day while being interviewed. "When you're winning, for some reason you get energy, so I knew I needed to hold that game. Momentum's huge in the third set--it's like a sprint. And I really wanted an insurance break in the third set, because he's so good, he could get a break back and this wind's unpredictable."
Broken in the fourth game and trailing 4-1, Paval just couldn't find the energy that had gotten him through the first five hours of tennis he had played Saturday. He was broken again for 5-1 and Spencer served it out with no resistance from the exhausted Sooner.
In Sunday's final, both Frank and Spencer are hoping to follow in the large footsteps of recent All-American winners from their schools. Last year, Virginia's Alex Domijan, a 6-foot-7 freshman who had received the tournament's top freshman wild card, just as Frank did this year, became the first Cavalier to capture an All-American singles title. The past champions from Georgia include Travis Helgeson (2007), John Isner (2005), Al Parker (1989, 1990) and Mikael Pernfors (1984).
The doubles final, also scheduled for 10 a.m. on Sunday, will feature top seeds Kevin King and Juan Spir of Georgia Tech against 2010 finalists Chase Buchanan and Blaz Rola of Ohio State, the No. 3 seeds. Buchanan and Rola beat Georgia's Sadio Doumbia and Ignacio Taboada 6-2, 6-4, while King and Spir won the final four games of the match to overcome Auburn's Andreas Mies and Alex Stamchev 6-2, 3-6, 6-4.
The consolation final in singles will feature Pepperdine's Sebastian Fanselow and Kentucky's Eric Quigley. The doubles consolation final is between Nick Andrews and Christoffer Konigsfeldt of Cal and Devin McCarthy and Ille Van Engelen of Ohio State.
For complete results, see the ITA tournament page.
In the ITA Riviera All-American Championships in Pacific Palisades, California, No. 2 seed Allie Will of Florida will meet Jacqueline Cako of Arizona State for the title. Will is also in the doubles final, with Sofie Oyen. They will play Stanford's Nicole Gibbs and Mallory Burdette for the championship. See the ITA tournament page for more.