2010 Champion Klahn and 2011 Champion Johnson Meet Sunday in Men's Semifinals; Gibbs Ousts Defending Champion Juricova, Faces Top Seed Will in Women's Semis
©Colette Lewis 2012--
Another chapter in the rivalry that is reaching the length of the novel War and Peace will take place Sunday afternoon at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex, when top seed and defending champion Steve Johnson of Southern California faces 2010 champion Bradley Klahn for a place in the NCAA Division I singles final.
Klahn is the last player to beat Johnson, with that string extending back to January 17, 2011, and since then Johnson has won 70 matches in a row. Johnson's 70th, a grueling 6-0, 5-7, 6-1 win over unseeded Alex Domijan from Virginia was not what he wanted, especially given the temperatures, which had already reached 87 degrees when the match began at noon.
Johnson breezed through the first set, barely losing a point, and playing some jaw-dropping tennis, but Domijan didn't get discouraged, and had two break points at 5-5 in the second. His passing shot skipped off the netcord with Johnson at the net for 15-40, but Johnson saved the first with a confident overhead. At 30-40 it was the Cavalier sophomore who put the pressure on, approaching the net himself, and when Johnson's backhand pass went wide, the match was even.
With the heat rule in effect, there was a 10-minute break between sets, and Domijan seemed ready to continue his push, earning a break point in the opening game. Johnson saved it however, and got a break in the next game, and went on to take a 5-1 lead. Serving for the match, Johnson double faulted at 40-30, then just missed a lob to give Domijan a break point, which Johnson saved with an ace. Another ace gave Johnson another match point and he never got the ball in play, double faulting again. Another double fault and Johnson's fifth miss of a serve in a row gave Domijan another break point, but Johnson saved that with an overhead winner. A forehand winner gave him a third match point and he double faulted it away again. He didn't make any first serves in this stretch, but his forehand remained lethal and he earned a fourth match point, and, like Groundhog's Day, he again double faulted. Finally, on match point No. 5, he missed his first serve, just barely, but made his second and hit a forehand winner to claim his place in the semifinals.
"It was more mental," said Johnson, when asked his reason for all the double faults. "I think at that point I was exhausted from the heat, and having such a good first set, so dominant, and then a tough second set lost, and in the third set I wanted to close it out at 5-1. It just got to me mentally that I double faulted, which is completely unlike me. To do it four straight times is, I guess special, but to still win the game was kind of a testament to my mental toughness out there towards the end of the match."
Johnson and his partner Roberto Quiroz, seeded second, retired from their quarterfinal doubles match against Texas Tech's Raony Carvalho and Gonzalo Escobar trailing 6-2, 3-2, and at times in that evening match, Johnson appeared to be in pain.
"After singles I was feeling just exhausted physically and I tried to come out here and play doubles, but my body just wasn't holding up," said Johnson, who had an ice bag wrapped around his stomach area. "I knew more time on the court would be bad for me, so I just decided the body wasn't feeling good, so just call it a day. The heat finally got to me today, and I've 12, 16 hours to get ready for singles tomorrow against Bradley, so I'll get up in the morning with a better attitude, I think."
Klahn had a less taxing win in the quarterfinals, defeating Ole Miss freshman Nikola Scholtz, a 9-16 seed, 6-1, 6-3. Scholtz had played three consecutive three-setters in advancing to the quarterfinals, and in the extreme heat was no match for the 2010 NCAA champion.
Klahn also had a doubles match and it was nearly 8 p.m. when he and Ryan Thacher, the 2011 finalists and seeded fourth this year, lost to unseeded Costin Paval and Dane Webb of Oklahoma 7-5, 6-7(4), 6-3.
After his singles match, Klahn said he was pleased with his overall physical condition.
"My fitness is feeling pretty good, and I feel fit and fresh. I couldn't be happier with the way my back is holding up this week," said the senior, who had surgery for a herniated disc last October. "It's hot today, obviously, so it's nice to get a straight-set win and get on and off the court pretty quickly against a great opponent."
Although Johnson said he's played Klahn "way too many times to count," Klahn threw out a number, saying he thought Sunday match would be their 14th, in college alone.
"If you count the practice sets, you're looking at a couple hundred," said Klahn, who grew up with Johnson playing junior events in Southern California. "Steve and I go way back and we're going to be training together this summer, probably living together. I was lucky that I was the last one to beat him, but he's certainly put together a string of unfathomable records, to say the least. You don't win 70 matches without playing with a lot of confidence, but at the same time, I feel I'm playing better and better each match."
Johnson, who has beaten Klahn in straight sets twice in the past six weeks, is eager to play his friend again.
"I'm just more or less happy that Bradley's back playing and playing at a high level," Johnson said. "To come back from that back surgery, to be back to where he is now is pretty remarkable and I'm really happy for him. He's a good buddy of mine, and I know it's going to be a good match tomorrow."
The other men's semifinal will feature No. 3 seed Eric Quigley of Kentucky against Blaz Rola of Ohio State, a 9-16 seed. Rola, playing outstanding tennis, surprised No. 2 seed Mitchell Frank 7-6(5), 6-1, dealing the freshman from Virginia, who won both fall individual majors, only his second loss of the season.
"It was a great day for me," said Rola, who reached the quarterfinals last year. "I played unbelievable. I'm hitting my forehand really well, and for the last two rounds, I've also been serving well."
Quigley downed No. 5 seed Henrique Cunha of Duke 6-4, 6-3 and he also attributed his success to his serve, which is not surprising, after hitting two consecutive aces to close out the match against Cunha.
"I think we were both tight in the beginning," said Quigley, a senior who has reached the Final Four for the first time. "I know I was, but even in the beginning, I felt that I was serving well. I feel like I've served really well throughout the tournament."
Quigley and Rola have not played this year, as Rola was playing at No. 2 both times Kentucky and Ohio State met, but they split their two decisions last year.
"It will be a tiebreaker tomorrow," Quigley said.
His doubles partner Panav Jha plans to stick around to support his teammate Sunday, but he faces a dilemma if Quigley advances to the final.
"I really want him to win," said the sophomore. "But I think even if he wins tomorrow I think I'm going to have to head home. I've got summer school. But being here is great and being around Eric, seeing how professional he is, really helps me. He's quite an accomplished player, and at times he's carried me."
The women's semifinals feature two Stanford players, junior Mallory Burdette and sophomore Nicole Gibbs, and Burdette is hoping to see her teammate in the final.
"Of course, why not?" said Burdette, when asked if she wanted to play Gibbs in the final. "It's a chance for a Stanford player to come out with a win."
Burdette beat No. 2 seed Beatrice Capra of Duke 6-3, 6-2, in a match that took over two hours despite the seemingly routine score.
"I knew I was going to have to be really aggressive," said Burdette, who is from Jackson, Ga., about an hour and a half from Athens. "She was going to make me play a lot of balls, and I think I did a good job of staying level-headed and just taking it one point at a time."
Burdette will play freshman Zsofi Susanyi of Cal, a 9-16 seed who ended the run of unseeded Sabrina Santamaria of Southern California 6-2, 7-6(4). Burdette has beaten Susanyi twice in the last month, both times in straight sets.
Gibbs took out defending champion Jana Juricova of Cal, who had eliminated Gibbs in the semifinals last year in Stanford, 6-2, 7-5. Juricova served for the second set at 5-4, but Gibbs, who had beaten Juricova in Stanford's win over Cal last month, managed to break the senior in her final two service games.
"I got an early taste of revenge this year at the Regionals," said Gibbs, the tournament's third seed. "And then again in the dual match season, but nothing feels sweeter than beating her at this tournament, because she took me out last year. I think I still owed her one."
Gibbs has had long energy-sapping battles in the past two rounds, and she was happy to get out of the quarterfinal encounter with such a dangerous opponent in two sets.
"It was a good match and the second set was really tough," Gibbs said. "I had to stay in the game at 5-all that I think could have turned the match the other way. She took it to me in the second set and encouraged me to start hitting the ball a little more, which is great, going into my match tomorrow."
Juricova finished her career at Cal with an ITA Indoor singles title in 2009, an NCAA doubles championship in 2009, the NCAA singles championship in 2011, and reached the team final with the Bears in 2009.
"It's obviously not how I wanted to finish," said the senior from the Slovak Republic, who also lost in the doubles quarterfinals. "It was a pretty tough day today. I think I had a really good career for Cal, and I always enjoyed it. I think I improved in the four years, and I want to continue playing so I'll play professionally, starting this summer. College is over, but not tennis for me, so I feel like I'm not done yet."
Gibbs has another loss to avenge tomorrow when she faces top seed Allie Will of Florida, who beat her in Stanford's dual match win over the Gators back in February.
Will defeated No. 7 seed Cristina Sanchez-Quintanar of Texas A&M 6-3, 6-3 and said she is finally beginning to find her form in the tournament.
"I've been struggling a little bit at the beginning mentally," said Will, a junior. "Today I was a little more relaxed, got a little more depth on my shots and I went after it today. I really went for the win and I think that's why I was successful."
While Will has the three-set win over Gibbs in Stanford as a positive memory, their previous meeting in the NCAA singles tournament, in last year's round 16, was less so. Gibbs trailed 5-1 in the third set, but came back to force a tiebreaker, which she the won to claim the nearly four-hour match.
"She's an incredible player," said Will. "We've battled a lot, I know I played her at Stanford and we had a really long three setter as well, so I know I've just got to be mentally prepared. I know she's going to fight just as hard as I am."
The women's singles semifinals are scheduled to start at noon, followed by the men's semifinals.
The doubles semifinals are also set, with only one seeded team advancing in both the men's and women's draws. Top seeds Chase Buchanan and Rola will play unseeded Paval and Webb from Oklahoma in one men's semifinal. In the other, twins Chris and Marcel Thiemann of Ole Miss will face Carvalho and Escobar of Texas Tech.
In the women's doubles, Burdette, the 2011 champion, and Gibbs, who are second No. 2, will play Natalie Pluskota and Kata Szekely of Tennessee. Pluskota and Szekely saved three match points in their 6-4, 4-6, 7-6(3) quarterfinal win over Florida's Lauren Embree and Joanna Mather. In the other semifinal, UCLA's Courtney Dolehide and Pam Montez will play Georgia's Nadja Gilchrist and Chelsey Gullickson, who were doubles semifinalists in 2010. By reaching the quarterfinals, as Gilchrist and Gullickson did with their win Friday, both earned All-American honors. For Gullickson, that win gave her the rare distinction of being an eight-time All-American, the first in Georgia history.
The doubles semifinals are scheduled to begin with the women's at 4:00 p.m Sunday, followed by the men's.
Men’s Singles Quarterfinals
#1 Steve Johnson (1), SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA def. #39 Alex Domijan, VIRGINIA, 6-0, 5-7, 6-1
#36 Bradley Klahn, STANFORD def. #14 Nik Scholtz (9-16), MISSISSIPPI, 6-1, 6-3
#3 Eric Quigley (3), KENTUCKY def. #5 Henrique Cunha (5), DUKE, 6-4, 6-3
#9 Blaz Rola (9-16), OHIO STATE def. #2 Mitchell Frank (2), VIRGINIA, 7-6(5), 6-1
Women’s Singles Quarterfinals
#1 Allie Will (1), FLORIDA def. #6 Cristina Sanchez-Quintanar (7), TEXAS A&M, 6-3, 6-3
#3 Nicole Gibbs (3), STANFORD def. #8 Jana Juricova (6), CALIFORNIA, 6-2, 7-5
#13 Zsofi Susanyi (9-16), CALIFORNIA def. #26 Sabrina Santamaria, SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA 6-2, 7-6(4)
#5 Mallory Burdette (5), STANFORD def. #2 Beatrice Capra (2), DUKE, 6-3, 6-2
Men’s Doubles Quarterfinals
#1 Chase Buchanan-Blaz Rola (1), OHIO STATE def. #7 Panav Jha-Eric Quigley (5-8), KENTUCKY, 6-3, 6-4
#10 Costin Paval-Dane Webb, OKLAHOMA def. #4 Bradley Klahn-Ryan Thacher (4), STANFORD, 7-5, 6-7(4), 6-3
#17 Chris Thiemann-Marcel Thiemann, MISSISSIPPI def. #63 Antoine Baroz-Alexis Heugas, VCU, 2-6, 6-3, 7-6(4)
#18 Raony Carvalho-Gonzalo Escobar, TEXAS TECH def. #2 Steve Johnson-Roberto Quiroz (2), SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA, 6-3, 3-2, retired
Women’s Doubles Quarterfinals
#9 Courtney Dolehide-Pamela Montez, UCLA def. #13 Ema Burgic-Nina Secerbegovic, BAYLOR, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3
#27 Nadja Gilchrist-Chelsey Gullickson, GEORGIA def. #15 Jana Juricova-Zsofi Susanyi, CALIFORNIA, 6-1, 6-2
#10 Natalie Pluskota-Kata Szekely, TENNESSEE def. #22 Lauren Embree-Joanna Mather, FLORIDA, 6-4, 4-6, 7-6(3)
#2 Mallory Burdette-Nicole Gibbs (2), STANFORD def. #32 Lorraine Guillermo-Khunpak Issara, PEPPERDINE, 6-1, 6-3