©Colette Lewis 2011--
Flushing Meadows, NY--
Unseeded seniors Joanna Mather of Florida and Marta Lesniak of SMU will meet for their first major collegiate title on Sunday, while Virginia freshman Mitchell Frank takes aim on his second consecutive championship against Dennis Nevolo of Illinois in the men's final at the USTA/ITA Indoor Intercollegiate Championships at the USTA Billie Jean King Tennis Center.
Mather, who played No. 4 on Florida's 2011 NCAA championship team, has gotten stronger with each match this tournament, taking Saturday's semifinal from No. 2 seed Nicole Gibbs of Stanford by a 6-4, 6-2 score.
Mather, from Duluth, Georgia, got a late break to take the first set, but was down a break early in the second set before winning the final six games of the match. Mather was hitting with depth and pace on both her forehand and backhand, but wasn't making the errors that often attend that aggressive baseline play.
In the final game, Gibbs, who had played until nearly 10 p.m. on Friday evening, beating Anna Bartenstein of Miami in three sets, tried to mount another comeback, but despite saving four match points, she eventually succumbed to Mather's perfect execution.
Mather was well aware of Gibbs' ability to come back, having witnessed Gibbs defeat Mather's Florida teammate Allie Will in the quarterfinals of the 2011 NCAA Individual Championships, after trailing 5-1 in the final set.
"It is upsetting when you let four match points go by you," said Mather, who saved match points herself in her first round victory over Samantha Vickers of Tulsa. "I did watch her play Allie at NCAAs and I know she can come back, so I just really wanted to make sure I won the deuce points and didn't give her any chance to win that game."
Mather conceded that she had played exceptionally well, which she knew was a necessity against Gibbs.
"I thought I played really well today, and I had to play really well to beat Nicole Gibbs," said Mather. "She's a really tough player."
Reaching the final in her first trip to the Indoor, Mather expressed some surprise at her showing.
"I can't believe it, I'm so excited," Mather said. "My first time here and I get to the finals, it's kind of like a dream. Hopefully tomorrow I'll play just as well as I played today and we'll see what happens."
Lesniak is also in her first major final, although the senior from Poland reached the quarterfinals of the ITA Riviera All-American Championships this year and won the consolation draw at last year's Indoor.
Against No. 5 seed Denise Dy of Washington, Lesniak got a late break in a seesaw third set and held on for a 7-6(2), 1-6, 6-4 victory.
Lesniak showed some signs of discomfort with her right knee serving at 4-3, an injury that occurred in her second round win over Florida's Lauren Embree, but she held for 4-4 and then won the first three points on Dy's serve. Dy won four points in a row, but couldn't win the fifth and two errors later she was broken. It wasn't a foregone conclusion that Lesniak would hold, as there had been plenty of breaks throughout the match, but she did come up with two good serves to make it 30-15 and when Dy's backhand went wide, Lesniak had a match point. She didn't get a first serve in, but Dy's return of the second went long to give the SMU Mustang the victory.
"Every single time I play Denise we have three-set matches that are like three hours long," said Lesniak, who beat Dy in three sets in the first round of the All Americans last month. "I was kind of prepared mentally for a tough one. It's the first time I've played her indoors and the ball comes at you much faster than outdoors, so it was really tough. But I'm playing my best tennis right now so I got through this one."
Like Mather, Lesniak is surprised by her results this week.
"I didn't expect it at all," Lesniak said. "I wasn't seeded here, but as the last tournament of the season, I obviously wanted to do really well, but I took it one match at a time, and somehow I'm in the final. I'm really, really excited about it."
Lesniak is the first woman from SMU to reach the final of the Indoor Championships, while Mather is seeking to become the fifth Florida Gator to win and Indoor singles title.
Virginia's Mitchell Frank has yet to lose a match in college tennis, as the top-seeded freshman ran his win streak in majors to 10 with a 6-2, 6-3 victory over No. 5 seed Henrique Cunha of Duke.
Frank controlled the match from beginning to end, although he was broken serving for the match at 5-2, he broke Cunha in the next game to secure the victory.
"I was trying to open up the court a little bit more cross court than I would have if I was playing a righty," Frank said of his first meeting with the left-handed Cunha. "I knew he could pull me off court on his serve, so I was practicing some of those in warm up today."
Frank will meet Illinois senior Dennis Nevolo, who beat No. 4 seed Eric Quigley of Kentucky 7-5, 6-4, his first win over the Wildcat senior in six tries.
Nevolo, the No. 8 seed, had six break points in the first game of the match and Quigley had three in the second game, but after that neither player was in much trouble in his service games until Quigley served at 5-5. Two forehand errors and a double fault gave Nevolo three break points and this time he didn't let the opportunity get away, with Quigley sending a forehand wide to make it 6-5. Nevolo served out the set with the help of three winners, and got the one break he needed in the second set at 3-3, then held at love at 5-4 to secure his place in a major final for the first time in his career.
"It was just whoever played better on the break points," said Nevolo. "I hit smart second serves and I think that was a key."
Nevolo's win set up a rematch of the controversial quarterfinal match in Tulsa, when Nevolo was late returning from a bathroom break after winning the second set from Frank, and was given nine point penalties before resuming play and losing the final set 6-0.
"It's great," Nevolo said of his opportunity to face Frank again in an important match. "Mitchell's been playing very well, so I'm going to have to play well. He's a solid baseliner so there's going to be a lot of good rallies. It'll be fun."
Frank knows that after their match in Tulsa, the element of surprise he had as an unknown freshman is gone.
"He's going to be even tougher this time, because he knows me better now, knows what to expect," said Frank. "Whereas the first time it's always feeling each other out, trying to determine what the strengths and weaknesses are. I look forward to that match, and I know I'll have to play really good tennis to beat him."
Frank is looking to become only the second player in history to win both the All-American and Indoor tournaments in the same year. Arizona State's Sargis Sargsian took both titles in 1994.
"It's pretty special," said Frank, who hopes to join Cavalier Somdev Devvarman, the 2007 Indoor champion, on the list of winners. "To be in another final feels really good, and I'll be ready to go tomorrow."
Play begins on Sunday with the men's and women's doubles finals at 10 a.m., followed by the singles finals, not before noon. There is no charge to attend, but if you are unable to make it out to the Indoor Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, there is a live chat available. See the ITA tournament page for complete draws and results.
The consolation doubles title in the women's draw went to Robin Anderson and Skylar Morton, in a walkover with Ole Miss's Kristie Boxx and Abby Guthrie. The men's consolation doubles winners were Princeton's Matt Siow and Matt Spindler, who defeated Nebraska's Christopher Aumeueller and Benedikt Lindheim 9-7.
The singles consolation finals are Sunday, with freshmen Robin Anderson of UCLA and Beatrice Capra of Duke deciding the women's winner, and Wil Spencer and Sadio Doumbia of Georgia contesting the men's final.
For coverage of the doubles semifinals, see the post below, from earlier today.
The USTA/ITA Sportsmanship awards were presented today, with Denise Dy of Washington and Eric Quigley of Kentucky receiving the honors.