Gomez Ousts Top Seed Cunha, Pecotic Saves Six Match Points as ITA Men's All-American Moves into Quarterfinals
The weather changed dramatically Friday at the ITA Men's All-American Championships, but the surprising results kept on coming, with unseeded Emilio Gomez of Southern California knocking off top seed Henrique Cunha of Duke, qualifier Mac Styslinger of Virginia rolling on, and Princeton's Matija Pecotic saving six match points to win a dramatic third set tiebreaker among the day's highlights.
The normal high temperature for this time of year in Tulsa is 75, but the thermometer barely reached into the low 50s Friday, with gusty north winds providing a new challenge with every change of ends.
Gomez, the son of 1990 French Open champion Andres Gomez, had Cunha on his heels from the start of the match, taking a 4-1 lead in the first set of his 6-3, 6-2 victory. Cunha looked as if he might be finding his form when he broke Gomez to close the gap to 4-3, but the left-hander from Brazil was broken in the next game. Cunha saved one break point with an ace, but on the second, Gomez played some excellent defense and put a well-struck backhand right at the feet of Cunha, who was closing the net to put away the volley. The pace and the placement of Gomez's backhand was too much for Cunha, who netted the volley, and Gomez served out the set.
In the second set, Cunha again fell behind 4-1, this time two breaks, and was unable to get either back, as Gomez continued to hit deep, keep his errors to a minimum and play with the confidence he gained the past few months in Futures and Davis Cup play. Gomez and his cousin, Roberto Quiroz, also on the USC team, helped Eucador beat Peru 4-1 in the Americas Group I Relegation playoff, and Gomez won one Futures title in singles, made the final of another, and won both doubles titles in those tournaments with Quiroz.
"I'm really happy right now," said Gomez, a junior. "I'm coming from a really good summer in Futures, won one and made a final, and after that I came to SC again and then started to practice for Davis Cup. We did really well, and I'm just happy the way I'm accomplishing my goals right now. It's really fun to be here and competing at a really high level."
Gomez's cousin Quiroz couldn't join him in the quarterfinals, although six times in the third set tiebreaker, he was just a point away from advancing before Pecotic pulled out a 6-3, 3-6, 7-6(11) win. Pecotic, a senior from Malta, trailed 6-2 in the tiebreaker, with a series of unforced errors putting him in that perilous position. Quiroz's forehand let him down as he tried to close it out, and he then missed a volley to squander the fourth match point. Another Quiroz match point at 7-6 and another forehand error made it 7-7. His sixth match point is probably the one he'll regret most. Pecotic was serving down 7-8, and his second serve appeared to be long, but Quiroz played it, missing the return, and with a helpless look at the official, he recognized that he'd been too late in making the call.
Pecotic earned his first match point on another Quiroz forehand error, but he wasn't able to end the drama either. Quiroz's first serve was too good, and it was 9-9, and after the third change of ends, Pecotic was the one getting the match points and failing to convert them. Quiroz played more aggressively when he was down those three match points, but he double faulted at 11-11 to give Pecotic his fourth match point, and after a long rally, Quiroz tried and missed a forehand drop shot to end the marathon.
"I don't think I've ever had a closer match," said Pecotic, who is the first Ivy League player since Harvard's James Blake to make the quarterfinals at the ITA All-American tournament. "I guess nerves got the better of him on a few points and I got lucky on a few points, clawed my way back. After I finally got the last match point, it was a sigh of relief."
Pecotic admitted that adjusting to the blustery conditions required patience.
"I started the tiebreaker playing against the wind, which I thought was a bit of a disadvantage," Pecotic said. "But I knew when we changed sides if I just hit out a little bit more, the ball would really sort of take off when it lands on his side. So I tried to use that to my advantage, managed to hit two good forehands, but the wind definitely played a role."
|Warm clothes and blankets were a necessity for spectators Friday|
Pecotic will play another USC Trojan in the quarterfinals, No. 7 seed Raymond Sarmiento, who defeated unseeded Tom Jomby of Kentucky 6-7(5), 6-3, 6-4. Gomez will face No. 6 seed Alex Domijan of Virginia, the 2010 All-American champion, who defeated Slim Hamza of Utah 6-2, 6-2.
Domijan was a freshman when he won the title, and last year Virginia freshman Mitchell Frank captured the championship, so Mac Styslinger has the opportunity to use his teammates' experience in his own run, which continued Friday with a quick 6-2, 6-0 win over No. 13 seed Mikelis Libietis of Tennessee. Styslinger, a qualifier, has yet to drop more than four games in a set. He will play unseeded Peter Kobelt of Ohio State, who defeated Marcos Giron of UCLA 6-3, 6-2. Kobelt's big serve and forehand will present problems for Styslinger if Kobelt hits them as well Saturday as he did in his match against Giron.
Saturday's fourth quarterfinal will feature wild card Japie DeKlerk of host Tulsa, who defeated Soren Hess-Olesen of Texas 6-2, 6-0. DeKlerk's opponent is No. 8 seed KU Singh of Georgia, who defeated Yannick Maden of Clemson 6-3, 6-3.
The doubles semifinals are set after two rounds were completed Friday afternoon, and no seeded teams remain in the final four. The University of Virginia team of Styslinger and Jarmere Jenkins will play University of North Florida's team of Moritz Buerchner and Norbert Nemcsek, who won two tiebreakers over teams from Duke and Tennessee to advance. The other semifinal will feature another Virginia team--qualifiers Alex Domijan and Harrison Richmond--against Auburn's Dan Cochrane and Andreas Mies.
The singles quarterfinals and semifinals will both be played on Saturday, with the doubles semifinals to follow.
For the complete results, see the ITA tournament page.
At the Women's ITA All-American at Riveria Tennis Club, Virginia freshman Julia Elbaba continues to roll, winning her eighth and ninth matches of the week to advance to the semifinals. Elbaba will play No. 4 seed Zoe Scandalis of Southern Cal, while No. 3 seed Lauren Embree of Florida meets Scandalis' teammate Danielle Lao.
For complete results, see the ITA tournament page.