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Saturday, October 6, 2012

Former Champion Domijan, Unseeded Kobelt Meet Sunday in ITA Men's All-American Final

©Colette Lewis 2012--
Tulsa, OK--

The University of Virginia's Alex Domijan, who won the All-American title as a freshman in 2010, can become the third straight Cavalier to take the title, while Ohio State's Peter Kobelt is looking to become the first Buckeye to claim the prestigious title when they meet in Sunday's final.

The winter weather continued Saturday, with both the quarterfinals and semifinals played inside at the Michael D. Case Tennis Center, as temperatures hovered in the upper 40s throughout the day. Although Kobelt and Domijan are big guys with big serves who are extremely comfortable playing indoors, neither looked a likely winner as their first set leads in the semifinals disappeared.

"I thought I was going to lose the whole time in the third set," said the sixth-seeded Domijan, who beat unseeded Matija Pecotic of Princeton 6-4, 6-7(6), 7-6(7). "I was up 6-4 (in the final tiebreaker) and once it was 6-all I thought I was going to lose, and then I got lucky I thought to get away with it. I should have lost for sure."

Pecotic had saved six match points in his third round match with Roberto Quiroz of USC on Friday, and in Saturday's quarterfinal, he disposed of another Trojan, defeating No. 7 seed Raymond Sarmiento, who retired with a leg injury trailing 3-6, 7-6(1), 4-1.  It's become obvious this week that Pecotic isn't a player who knows when he's beaten however, and the intense left-hander survived Domijan's  attempts to serve out the match at both 5-4 and 6-5 in the second set, forcing the tiebreaker. Pecotic didn't need to save any match points in the tiebreaker, and stayed right with Domijan throughout the third set, which saw no breaks of serve.

In the third set tiebreaker, six of the first seven points went to the returner, with Domijan finally taking a 5-3 lead with a lob winner, one of the few points in the tiebreaker that didn't end with an error. When Pecotic netted a forehand to make it 6-4, Domijan had his opening, but saw those two match points evaporate with a netted backhand and wide forehand. Domijan earned his third match point with a good backhand forcing an error, but Pecotic saved that one too, moving in to challenge Domijan to pass, which he couldn't do.  At 7-7, Pecotic hit a backhand wide and Domijan reached match point No. 4, and, as he had throughout the tiebreaker, he missed his first serve. His second serve was outstanding, however, deep and kicking, and he came into the net. Pecotic's backhand pass attempt went wide and Domijan had won his 11th straight match at the All-American Championships.

"I was doing that a lot today, in my first match I did that quite a bit," Domijan said of his second serve and approach strategy. "But I don't know, I wasn't really thinking that well. It was more of a hit it and hope he misses, and he missed."

Domijan, who didn't play last year's All-American due to an injury, was impressed with Pecotic's play.

"I'd never even heard of him or seen him play at all, but he's pretty good," Domijan said. "His serve was tricky, and he would hit flat cross court then hit it heavy to the other corner and it was sometimes difficult to get into position. He keeps you moving quite well. He's a good player."

Three of the six indoor courts at Case Tennis Center

Kobelt faced a similarly precarious situation in his semifinal match with No. 8 seed KU Singh, trailing 3-1 in the final set of what turned out to be a 7-5, 1-6, 6-4 victory.  Singh had won seven games in a row in capturing the second set and the first two games of the third, but Kobelt got the break back in the sixth game to make it 3-3. He was in trouble again serving at 4-4, going down 15-40 before his serve bailed him out. The junior from Ohio saved the first break point with a good first serve that Singh couldn't get in play and the second on an ace, which Singh called out but the chair umpire overruled. Another ace gave Kobelt a game point, and he converted it by serving and coming in on his second serve, with Singh netting his passing attempt.

Serving at 4-5, Singh took a 40-0 lead, but Kobelt chipped away. A double fault and a couple of backhand errors later, and Singh faced a match point. The senior from India hit a good first serve, and Kobelt's backhand return went cross court. Singh called the ball out, Kobelt appealed the call and the chair umpire ruled the ball was on the line, giving Kobelt the match.

Singh had won his three-hour quarterfinal match with Tulsa's Japie DeKlerk on an overrule by the chair umpire at 5-5 in the third set tiebreaker. DeKlerk had already been overruled three times, so when DeKlerk called out Singh's ball, which appeared to most observers to hit the lines in the far corner, and was overruled on appeal, DeKlerk was assessed a game penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct and Singh moved  into the semifinals with a 6-2, 2-6, 7-6(5) victory.

Kobelt had served exceptionally well in his 6-4, 6-4 quarterfinal win over freshman qualifier Mac Styslinger of Virginia, and he credits the work he did this summer on his service motion for the improvement.

"I've worked hard on it, I've made a few changes over the summer and fall to make it a little bit more of a simpler swing," said Kobelt, who is listed at 6-foot-7, but says he probably is only 6-foot-6 1/2 inches tall. "I've really worked hard on it and I'm really glad to see it finally paying off."

The unseeded Kobelt, who played No. 3 for Ohio State last season, was certainly not a favorite coming into the tournament, but he said he's accustomed to that position.

"I'm kind of rolling under the radar, that's how I've always been, but it's nice to see some results," said Kobelt, whose family drove 13 hours from Columbus after he won his first two matches on Thursday. "At Ohio State we take pride in how hard we work, and whoever it is on our team that breaks through or has a good tournament, we're all real supportive of each other. We understand how much work we put in and it's nice to see."

Kobelt and Domijan have never played, but Kobelt knows the former champion presents a challenge.

"I have a ton of respect for him and the whole Virginia team and coach Brian Boland," Kobelt said. "I'm going to have to come out and play better than I did today to beat him. He's a world-class player."

The doubles final is set, with the Auburn team of Daniel Cochrane and Andreas Mies facing Virginia's Jarmere Jenkins and Styslinger. Jenkins and Styslinger defeated the North Florida team of Moritz Buerchner and Norbert Nemcsek 6-2, 6-4, while Auburn prevented an all-Virginia final by downing Domijan and Harrison Richmond 4-6, 6-2, 6-3.

Both teams in the finals have earned a spot in the USTA/ITA National Indoor Intercollegiate Championships in New York next month, as have all the quarterfinalists in singles.

The first-round consolation draw winners also receive entry into the Indoors and those matches will be played Sunday morning. In the singles, Connor Smith of Ohio State will face Jonas Lutjen of Ole Miss, and in the doubles, Hernus Pieters and Ben Wagland of Georgia meet Ashok Narayana and Max Schnur of Columbia.

The singles and doubles finals are scheduled for noon Central time on Sunday.

For complete results, see the ITA tournament page.

At the women's All-American in California, No. 3 seed Lauren Embree of Florida will face unseeded freshman Julia Elbaba of Virginia for the singles title.  Elbaba, the first Virginia woman to reach the final of a collegiate major, has now won ten matches over the past eight days after defeating No. 4 seed Zoe Scandalis of USC 6-4, 7-6(4) in today's semifinals.  Embree downed unseeded Danielle Lao of USC 6-2, 7-5 in the semifinals.

The unseeded Duke team of Beatrice Capra and Hanna Mar will meet top seeds Kaitlyn Christian and Sabrina Santamaria of USC for the doubles title.

For complete results, see the ITA tournament page.