Jenkins Aims for Triple Crown, Gibbs Goes for Second Singles Title at NCAA Individual Championships Monday
©Colette Lewis 2013--
Since the NCAA Division I tournament moved to its current format, only three players, all of them men, have won the Triple Crown, which consists of the team, singles and doubles titles. The University of Virginia's Jarmere Jenkins can join Alex O'Brien (1992) and Bob Bryan (1998) of Stanford and Georgia's Matias Boeker (2001) on that elite list with two more victories Monday.
Jenkins, the No. 3 seed, will play Ohio State's Blaz Rola, a No. 9 seed who is also looking to make history by becoming the Buckeyes' first NCAA singles champion. Rola had the easier of the two semifinal matches, which were moved indoors after just 20 minutes of outdoor play due to rain, defeating unseeded Japie De Klerk of Tulsa 6-2, 6-3.
Rola, a semifinalist who lost in a third set tiebreaker to Kentucky's Eric Quigley last year, felt his experience was a factor in his win over De Klerk.
"I got a little unlucky last year going down 7-6 in the third," said the junior from Slovenia. "But I was a little lucky this year with the draw. He was an unseeded player in the semifinals, he had a great tournament, but I was the favorite in that one. First year quarterfinals, second year semifinals and I hope I can skip a year, and get a title this year."
Rola had a scare leading 3-1 in the second set, when he ran wide to his left and rolled his ankle a little bit.
"I'm going to check with the doctor in the training room and see if anything is wrong, but thank god it's not hurting me right now. I got really scared, thought no way, that's not happening, but thank god the pain went away after a couple of points."
Jenkins and his opponent, Sebastian Fanselow of Pepperdine, had barely completed their first set when Rola was wrapping up his victory, with Jenkins taking the first set tiebreaker 7-1. When Fanselow and Jenkins met in the final of the USTA/ITA Intercollegiate Indoor in November, Fanselow couldn't quite find Jenkins' level, losing 6-2, 6-1, but he had no trouble reaching it Sunday afternoon, with only a couple of loose volleys in the tiebreaker the primary difference.
In the second set, Jenkins went up a break at 4-3, but was uncharacteristically unable to consolidate it, dropping serve when a couple of close calls went against him, making it 4-4.
Serving at 5-6, Jenkins faced a set point at 30-40, but he aimed a forehand at the sideline and got it, then won the next two points, sending the match into a second tiebreak with an ace.
"There were a couple of calls that didn't go my way," said Jenkins, a senior from College Park, Georgia. "So I kind of thought I deserved that one. It was all will on that one."
Although Jenkins and Fanselow had played well throughout the match, Jenkins found another gear in the second tiebreaker. He served well taking a 4-2 lead with an ace, then showed off his touch with a drop volley winner for 5-2. Fanselow kept close by taking the next point, but a momentary lapse, which resulted in a netted forehand gave Jenkins three match points. Jenkins didn't get his first serve in, but it didn't cost him, with Fanselow, a senior from Germany, hitting a forehand long to end the 7-6(1), 7-6(3) match.
"I think we both played well today," said Jenkins. "It's unfortunate we couldn't continue it outside, but when we went inside things started to go my way. That match was fun. Two tiebreakers, and I was just able to step up and play really well in both of them."
Jenkins lost to Rola 6-4, 6-2 at the National Team Indoor this year, and in addition to any motivation that may add, Jenkins also knows a US Open main draw wild card likely awaits him if he wins.
"Blaz, I have a tremendous amount of respect for him and am excited to play him tomorrow," said Jenkins. "I think it's pretty cool that a foreigner makes it to the finals, because obviously what I have going for me if I win the tournament, he doesn't have."
That's not the case in the women's final, which will feature two Americans: defending champion Nicole Gibbs of Stanford and Mary Weatherholt of Nebraska, both No. 9 seeds.
Gibbs breezed past unseeded Breaunna Addison of Texas 6-1, 6-1 in 54 minutes, and Weatherholt defeated unseeded Alexa Guarachi of Alabama 6-0, 6-3, also in less than an hour.
Gibbs, who has said all week she is playing much more relaxed after winning the team title, but she admits ambivalence about defending her title.
"I haven't decided yet whether I think that's an advantage or a disadvantage going into the finals," said the junior from Santa Monica, California. "Obviously there's some weight on my shoulder, with a championship to defend from last year, but at the same time, I have late-in-the-tournament experience that my opponent won't have. I think just taking it one step at a time and doing all the things I do to prepare, and then playing every point the way I know how is the only way to really focus on getting to my ultimate goal."
Unlike Gibbs, who has not only two NCAA titles to her credit but also a long and illustrious tennis tradition at Stanford behind her, Weatherholt is the trailblazer for Nebraska, with her every win beyond the first round a new standard for Cornhusker tennis.
"I know I can get it done, but I don't go into a match thinking about the end result one way or the other," said the senior from Prairie Village, Kansas. "So when I finished, it was like, oh my gosh, I'm in the finals. It kind of takes me off guard."
While Gibbs has already enjoyed the perks of a US Open main draw wild card with by virtue of her singles title last year, Weatherholt, who has lost only one match all year, is not even thinking about that possibility.
"I have not considered that," said Weatherholt, who prides herself on her one-point-at-a-time mentality. "I'm not looking past that, because Gibbs is obviously a very strong opponent. I just love good competition, so I'm looking forward to hopefully a great match tomorrow."
Weatherholt's ability to stay positive was tested in the second game, after she had broken Guarachi to take a 1-0 lead. Down 0-40, Weatherholt saved all three of those break points, and four deuces later she had a 2-0 lead.
"I just try to treat each point the same," said Weatherholt. "I don't really think if I'm down love-40 that the game is over, or up 40-love the game's over. I don't even remember how I got the points back, but I was glad to hold there."
Gibbs and Weatherholt have not played before, but immediately following her win over Addison, Gibbs was back on the practice court with coach Lele Forood.
"I was just trying to get in a groove," said Gibbs. "And I think the girl I'm playing tomorrow is going to have a flatter ball, so I was just trying to transition to that, assuming that Weatherholt continues in the fashion she started."
By the time Gibbs completed her match, the rain had ended, allowing the doubles semifinals to be played outside. The first men's semifinal, between the No. 3 seeds Jonas Lutjen and Nik Scholtz of Ole Miss and unseeded Chris Camillone and David Holiner of Texas was the first to go on, and the Longhorns had a 6-2, 3-1 lead before the rain, and the Rebels came back. After a rain delay that stretched past an hour, Lutjen and Scholtz took the second set and a 3-1 lead in the third, only to see Camillone and Holiner win the final five games of the match to take a 6-2, 5-7, 6-3 decision.
Jenkins' quest for the Triple Crown looked to be dying with the daylight at the Khan Outdoor Tennis Center when he and Mac Styslinger, the No. 3 seeds, trailed No. 2 seeds Henrique Cunha and Raphael Hemmeler of Duke 5-2 in the first set. Styslinger held serve to make it 5-3, and then the rains came, which appeared to work in the Cavaliers' favor, as the came back to win the first set 7-5 and take a 4-1 lead in the second set.
This was not the stage of the match where Jenkins and Styslinger wanted a break, but Styslinger's nosebleed forced a lengthy delay, amounting to more than 10 minutes. When they returned to the court, Virginia promptly lost two games, to put Duke back on serve at 4-3, but Hemmeler was broken again, and Styslinger served out the match at love to give Virginia a 7-5, 6-3 win and its third pair of NCAA finalists in the past five years.
Last year, the men's NCAA champions Rola and Chase Buchanan of Ohio State completed the first collegiate Triple Crown in doubles, winning the two ITA fall majors and the NCAA title.
This year, Southern Cal's Sabrina Santamaria and Kaitlyn Christian are aiming for their place in history as the only women's team to accomplish that feat after their 7-5, 7-5 win over No. 4 seeds Kata Szekely and Brynn Boren of Tennessee.
Christian and Santamaria didn't make it easy on themselves, losing a 4-0 first set lead, but on serve with Tennessee serving at 5-6 when the rain came, Christian and Santamaria got the break and the first set when play resumed. The Indoor and All-American champions, seeded No. 2 this week, saved three set points down 5-4 in the second set before escaping with a straight set win.
"They're a really good doubles team," said Santamaria. "Maybe the best team we've come across in the entire season and the fall. They did a really great job and we just fought hard those three set points, played for each other and came out on top."
With three major titles already on their resumes, Christian and Santamaria have always been upfront about their desire to add the NCAA title.
"This has been a goal of ours for the entire season, and we've really worked at this," said Christian. "We're really excited to be here and happy to play in the finals tomorrow."
Their opponents will be from Pac-12 rival UCLA, with unseeded Skylar Morton and Robin Anderson advancing to the final with a 7-5, 6-3 win over No. 5 seeds Alexa Guarachi and Mary Anne Macfarlane of Alabama. Santamaria and Christian did not play together against Anderson and Morton in either of the crosstown rival's two dual matches this year.
The singles finals are scheduled for noon, with the women's doubles at 1 p.m. and the men's doubles not before 2 p.m. CDT, depending on the length of Jenkins' singles match. Rain is again in the forecast, but if outdoors, there will be live streaming with commentary by Harry Cicma and Joe Gentry at ncaa.com.
Check the tournament site for updates on weather Monday.