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Saturday, February 18, 2012

Four Top Seeds, Including Defending Champion and Host Virginia, Reach Semifinals at ITA Men's Team Indoor Champoinships

©Colette Lewis 2012--
Charlottesville, VA--

Duke had surprised two-time defending NCAA champion Southern California in the first round of the 2010 ITA Men's Team Indoor, but this year, the now three-time defending NCAA champions erased that unpleasant memory, defeating the Blue Devils 4-0 in Saturday's quarterfinals at the Boar's Head Sports Club.

USC took the doubles point, with victories at No. 1 and No. 3, the latter match ending on a racquet abuse penalty that proved to be the match point. The Trojans came out confidently in singles, eventually taking all six first sets. USC's Yannick Hanfmann made it 2-0 with a quick 6-0, 6-2 win over fellow freshman Raphael Hemmeler at line 5, and Emilio Gomez followed with a 6-3, 6-1 win over Fred Saba at 4 to make it 3-0. Duke did manage to force a third set at No. 2, when Chris Mengel fought back against Raymond Sarmiento, but Daniel Nguyen didn't give the Blue Devils any hope, beating Torsten Wietoska 6-4, 6-2 to clinch it for the Trojans.

The Virginia fans had began making their way into the Boyd Tinsley courts prior to their team's evening match with Stanford, with many of them pausing to watch the match at No. 1 between USC's Steve Johnson and Duke's Henrique Cunha. Although Cunha is the second-ranked player in the country to Johnson's No. 11, no one would have considered it an upset had Johnson won, given his position as reigning NCAA champion. Johnson took the first set 6-4 and was up a break at 3-2 in the second, and it was primarily his serve that was the difference. Cunha's service games were long and Johnson had plenty of chances for breaks, while most of Johnson's service games were quick. Cunha finally broke Johnson to make it 3-3 in the second set, which is where the match ended when Nguyen clinched.

USC's opponent on Sunday will be No. 4 seed Georgia, who lost the doubles point to No. 5 seed Florida, but came back to post a tough 4-2 win over the Gators. Florida was playing without its No. 1 player Bob van Overbeek, who was injured in doubles in Friday's opening round and was unable to play singles, moving everyone one spot higher in the lineup.

Florida took 4-0 leads at both No. 1 and No. 2 doubles, and although Georgia managed to get back into both matches, they ultimately lost both to give the Gators the lead. Georgia needed a quick win in singles and they got it from Ignacio Taboada at No. 4, who beat Spencer Newman 6-1, 6-3. Ultimately Georgia won four first sets and they managed to hold off any comebacks, with freshman Nathan Pasha clinching the win for the Bulldogs with a 6-3, 7-6(4) win over Billy Federhofer at No. 6.

The closest quarterfinal match of the day was the first one, with No. 3 seed Ohio State barely beating back the challenge from No. 6 Kentucky to claim a 4-3 victory.

Ohio State won a high-quality doubles point with wins at No. 1 and No. 2, and the energy displayed by both teams was impressive for so early in the morning.

The Buckeyes took first sets in singles at 4, 5, and 6, while the Wildcats had the opening sets at 1, 2, and 3. All matches went the way of the first sets except for No. 4, where Kentucky's Tom Jomby had earned the second set from Ohio State's Ille Van Engelen. After Connor Smith gave Ohio State a 3-2 lead at No. 6, and Alex Musialek had tied it for Kentucky with a win at No. 2, the fans and teammates of both programs gathered around Court 4, where Van Engelen had taken a 3-0 and 4-1 lead.

It wouldn't last, with Jomby getting the break back to make it 4-3 and holding for 4-4. Van Engelen, a sophomore from the Netherlands, held for 5-4, and Jomby followed suit to make it 5-5. The teammates of both players were given warnings by the referee for their overly personal comments, there was plenty of emotion both on and off the court, with Jomby particularly fond of emphasizing his success on a big point. Several line calls also caused the tension to grow, and Jomby had been overruled twice in the third set.

Van Engelen saved a break point at 5-5, with the left-hander coming up with three excellent first serves after Jomby had made a drop-shot/pass combination that produced both a vigorous chest pounding and an ad-out. An ace saved it, and two more unreturned serves assured Van Engelen of a place in the tiebreaker.

He didn't need it, with Jomby starting off his service game with a double fault. Van Engelen missed a forehand long to make it 15-15, but Jomby missed a volley to go down 15-30. After a brief rally, Van Engelen went all-in on a forehand and it appeared to find both lines deep in Jomby's forehand court. He didn't see it that way however, and called it out. The chair umpire overruled him, and with the third overrule, he received a point penalty, which ended the match 6-4, 3-6, 7-5. There was a slight delay before the Ohio State players realized the match was indeed over, but they stormed the court to celebrate, regardless of the ending.

"Do I hate to see a match end like that?" said Ohio State head coach Ty Tucker. "Probably not, because I don't think I could stand the 15-40 point that was to come. The far sideline, I think the umpire had a lot of guts to overrule it. It was a tough way for Kentucky to lose the match."

Tucker agreed that the energy level was high for both teams throughout the match, although with his coaching confined to the 1, 2, and 3 courts that the Buckeyes lost, he said most of it was coming from the Wildcats.

"I heard allez an awful lot," said Tucker, referring to the three French players Kentucky has on their team, including Jomby. "I heard at least 75 allezs to one c'mon. It was nice to finally hear a c'mon at the end. But the energy is probably what makes both teams good. And that's the excitement about college tennis, competing for your school and the name on the front of the jersey."

The excitement of college tennis was on full display in the final match of the evening, when No. 2 seed Virginia overcame the loss of the doubles point to No. 9 Stanford to post a 4-1 win.

A crowd estimated at over 1,000 was a bit subdued following doubles losses at courts 1 and 2, especially after Virginia had easily taken No. 3 doubles, but they came alive midway through the first sets in singles. The four-time defending champions couldn't shake Stanford in the early stages of the singles matches, but once freshman Mitchell Frank took a tiebreaker from 2010 NCAA champion Bradley Klahn at line 3, giving Virginia four first sets, the crowd and the Cavaliers accelerated toward the finish line.

"I think to get that tiebreaker win was huge," said Frank, who has yet to lose a match in college tennis. "It kind of took a little pressure off a lot of the guys. After the first set, I was in a lot of return games, so I knew I would have opportunities to break him in the second, and I did that right away, then got another one. It was a battle and it was fun."

Drew Courtney beat Denis Lin at No. 4 and Alex Domijan made it 2-1 Virginia with a win over Matt Kandath at No. 2, with Frank and Julien Uriguen, at No. 6, holding big leads. Uriguen made it 3-1 with a victory over Robert Stineman, and either Jarmere Jenkins at 1, against Ryan Thacher, or Frank was in position to put Virginia in the semifinals. Jenkins dropped his serve, but Frank, feeding off the support of the crowd--several cries of 'I love you Mitchell' were heard during his match--put away Klahn by a 7-6(6), 6-3 score.

"I kind of figure when I have the fans for me, I want to use them if I can," said Frank, who gestured to the crowd to increase the level of their already ear-splitting noise on several occasions. "Brad's an unbelievable player, so I wanted to take advantage of every ounce of that I could. I was trying to get them going, and I hit some shots to get them going, so it was a lot of fun."

The Georgia - USC semifinal is scheduled for noon on Sunday, with the Virginia - Ohio State semifinal to follow.

For complete results, see the ITA's tournament page.