Ohio State Ends Southern Cal's Four Year Reign; Buckeyes Joined in Men's Final Four by Georgia, UCLA and Virginia
©Colette Lewis 2013--
University of Southern California head coach Peter Smith has had sleepless nights at the NCAA Team Tournament, but the past four years those nights have been spent in celebrating an NCAA championship. This year, he'll lie awake thinking about what might have been, after his team, seeded fourth, lost to fifth seed Ohio State 4-3 in Saturday evening's semifinal at the Khan Outdoor Tennis Center at the University of Illinois.
Smith may reflect on the match point that Emilio Gomez and Roberto Quiroz had in the tiebreaker that decided the doubles point at No. 2 doubles.
Ohio State easily took the No. 1 doubles match, with Peter Kobelt and Connor Smith defeating Yannick Hanfmann and Raymond Sarmiento 8-3, but the other two matches were as tight as possible. At one stage, both matches were 7-7 deuce, and both eventually went to tiebreakers, with USC needing to win at lines 2 and 3 to earn the point.
USC's Max De Vroome and Eric Johnson put all the focus on court 2 when they beat Blaz Rola and Hunter Callahan 9-8(3) at 3, with the loud and numerous Ohio State fans turning their full attention to supporting Devin McCarthy and Ille Van Engelen at 2.
USC's Gomez and Quiroz, who played Davis Cup for Ecuador this spring in that country's 3-2 upset of Chile, had a match point at 6-5 in the tiebreaker, with Quiroz serving. The service return was on its way long but Gomez had left a little early and it touched his racquet, giving Ohio State the point. Gomez and Quiroz saved one match point, but not the second, with Van Engelen converting with a forehand volley winner.
"We jump a little early at that doubles, and that's the difference," said Smith. "When you play a great team like this, the difference is centimeters and that's what it was today."
In the singles, USC took control at lines 5 and 6, but all the other matches were extremely close. Johnson tied the score with his 6-3, 6-3 win over Chris Diaz at 5, but Ohio State regained the lead with a virtuoso performance by Rola at No. 1. Rola defeated Gomez 6-1, 6-0, but USC answered right back, with De Vroome defeating Constantin Christ 6-3, 6-1 at line 6 to make it 2-2.
USC looked certain to win at 3, with Hanfmann leading Smith 7-5, 4-1, up two breaks in the second set, while the Buckeyes had taken the first sets at lines 2 and 4 in tiebreakers and were early in their second sets.
McCarthy got on a roll in the second set, taking a 5-0 lead over Quiroz and posting the Buckeyes' third point with a 7-6(1), 6-1 win.
By then Smith had gotten both of the breaks back at 3, winning four straight games to take a 5-4 lead, while Kobelt and Sarmiento at 2 were on serve at 5-5 in the second set. Smith and Hanfmann went to a tiebreaker, as their teammates stood on the sidelines pivoting between the two courts, shouting encouragement after every point.
The 6-foot-7 Kobelt was having no difficulty holding serve, and Sarmiento was holding his with only slightly more effort. Serving at 4-5 in the second, Sarmiento was down 15-30, two points from defeat, but he came up with a big serve himself and some impressive forehands to hold.
By the time the tiebreaker on 2 began, which Sarmiento had to win to extend the match, Hanfmann had pulled USC even with a 7-5, 7-6(4) win over Smith.
For all that was on the line in the tiebreaker, both players stayed focused and executed their shots, with nerves not evidenced in their strokes or their second serves. Kobelt played flawlessly, getting a minibreak at 3-2 when Sarmiento's backhand went long. It was all the junior from Ohio needed, with a confident forehand putaway making it 5-3. After a long rally on the next point, it was Sarmiento who finally missed, netting a forehand, and Kobelt had three match points.
Kobelt thought he had hit an ace on his first match point, but the chair confirmed Sarmiento's out call. The crowd agreed with Kobelt, but he showed no signs of dismay or irritation, and immediately hit an excellent second serve. He attacked Sarmiento's return and Sarmiento rushed his next shot, hitting a forehand wide to set off a wild celebration by Ohio State.
"Even a blind squirrel gets a nut once in a while," said Ohio State head coach Ty Tucker. "Ohio State tennis beats USC tennis every once in a while. Hats off to what Peter Smith's done--four national championships in a row. We started this streak with them in 2009 and he continued it for four years. This is a little bit of consolation, that's for sure, but I'd rather have the big trophy from 2009 sitting at our place."
As for the performance of Kobelt in ending the Trojans' run of four straight titles, the voluble Tucker was, almost, at a loss for words.
"Peter Kobelt, what can you say?," said Tucker. "The guy's got a 135 mile an hour hammer. He's not facing any adversity at all in his service games. Peter Kobelt's made a jump, he's definitely for real."
Kobelt was determined to use what he had learned in his disappointing loss to Virginia's Alex Domijan in the deciding match of the Team Indoor semifinals.
"I don't think I could have handled it as well as I did today if I hadn't been in positions like that in the past," said Kobelt, a junior from Ohio. "I was in a similar position against Alex Domijan at National Indoors and it didn't work out. I really made an effort after that, in practice matches and actual matches, to really focus on closing out matches and if I was ever back in that situation, I would capitalize. And I ended up helping my team advance today."
Peter Smith admitted that despite his belief Ohio State "was well-deserving, they played to win and they won," he was disappointed.
"I won't sleep tonight," Smith said. "I'll have my moments. But that's competition, and you can't always expect to win every one...We put ourselves in a position to win another national championship, and they were just a little too good for us today."
No. 5 Ohio State 4, No. 4 USC 3
4 p.m. CT – North Courts
1. #12 Blaz Rola (OSU) def. #7 Emilio Gomez (USC) 6-1, 6-0
2. #8 Peter Kobelt (OSU) def. #16 Ray Sarmiento (USC) 7-6(3), 7-6(3)
3. #45 Yannick Hanfmann (USC) def. #71 Connor Smith (OSU) 7-5, 7-6(4)
4. #73 Devin McCarthy (OSU) def. #36 Roberto Quiroz (USC) 7-6(1), 6-1
5. #90 Eric Johnson (USC) def. #104 Chris Diaz (OSU) 6-3, 6-3
6. Max de Vroome (USC) def. Constantin Christ (OSU) 6-3, 6-1
1. #12 Kobelt/Smith (OSU) def. #37 Hanfmann/Sarmiento (USC) 8-3
2. #90 McCarthy/Van Engelen (OSU) def. #47 Gomez/Quiroz (USC) 9-8(7)
3. de Vroome/Johnson (USC) def. Rola/Callahan (OSU) 9-8(3)
Order of Finish: Doubles (1,3,2); Singles (5,1,6,4,3,2)
The last team to win a national championship before USC's four-year run was the University of Georgia, and the surprising Bulldogs are still in the running to claim the 2013 title after a tense 4-2 victory over No. 11 seed Pepperdine. Although Georgia is the No. 3 seed, and would have been expected to be in the semifinals, the Bulldogs lost their No. 1 player, KU Singh, who quit the team unexpectedly prior to the NCAA tournament.
Georgia head coach Manny Diaz is getting a little bit tired of all the attention Singh's departure has garnered.
"This is very satisfying, only because I'm tired of answering the question about having such a rough two weeks," Diaz said. "I've been trying not to say anything. But I knew we had a great group that was going to be tough to beat. And that's all you want. Everybody on the same page, everybody fighting hard, everybody united. So we're moving forward, doing the best that we can."
After losing the doubles point to Pepperdine, a team with an indifferent record in doubles this year, Georgia faced a big challenge, but they got a huge boost with freshman Austin Smith's impressive 6-2, 6-0 domination of Finn Tearney at line 3. Smith had lost badly in Georgia's round of 16 match with Oklahoma on Thursday, and he was determined to improve on that performance.
"I definitely picked up my game today," said Smith, who is from Georgia. "When you get crushed like that, you feel like you need to prove yourself again, redeem myself a little, so I was really excited for this match. I was there last year( in Athens, when Pepperdine defeated Georgia 4-3 in the quarterfinals), I wasn't on the team, but I was watching, and that was a painful, painful loss for us last year, so I was really amped.
Diaz acknowledged how important Smith's quick point was to Georgia.
"That was huge, because I thought that was one of the toughest matchups we had," said Diaz. "He's really growing. He's still somewhat inconsistent at times, like any freshman, but the bigger the match, the bigger he plays. I was very inspired by watching him play the way he did."
Three hours into the match the score was still 1-1, but Georgia took the lead when Nathan Pasha completed his 2-6, 7-5, 6-2 comeback against Alex Sarkissian at line 2. Pasha was down three break points at 5-5 in the second set, but he fought those off and took the momentum from there.
"After I got that back, it may have broken his spirit a little bit," said Pasha, a sophomore from Georgia. "To be honest, after I got the break I just rolled with it the next set. He looked to be a bit tired and I tried to run him side to side every chance I got."
Georgia picked up their third point with Nunez taking a third set tiebreaker at line 6 over David Sofaer. Nunez was aided in that effort by the large number of noisy Georgia fans, including the Georgia women's team, who packed the stands behind court 6 for that key point. Pepperdine got its first singles point when Francis Alcantara came from a set and a break down to defeat Hernus Pieters 4-6, 7-5, 6-3 at line 4, making it 3-2, but Georgia's Garrett Brasseaux had broken serve at 4-4 in the third set of his match at line 5 against Mousheg Hovhannisyan. Brasseaux, who clinched the Bulldogs' win over Oklahoma Thursday, came through again, taking a 40-30 lead with a good first serve and on his first match point, forcing an error with a well-struck forehand.
"Pepperdine is a such a tough, deep team," said Diaz. "It's very hard to take four points from them in singles, and we knew we had our work cut out. But we thought we had the right guys to do it."
No. 3 Georgia 4, No. 11 Pepperdine 2
Noon CT – North Courts
1. #11 Sebastian Fanselow (PEPP) vs. #33 Ben Wagland (UGA) 7-5, 6-7(0), 4-3*
2. #47 Nathan Pasha (UGA) def. #62 Alex Sarkissian (PEPP) 2-6, 7-5, 6-2
3. Austin Smith (UGA) def. #107 Finn Tearney (PEPP) 6-2, 6-0
4. #102 Francis Alcantara (PEPP) def. #115 Hernus Pieters (UGA) 4-6, 7-5, 6-3
5. Garrett Brasseaux (UGA) def. Mousheg Hovhannisyan (PEPP) 6-4, 4-6, 6-4
6. Marco Nunez (UGA) def. Davis Sofaer (PEPP) 1-6, 6-3, 7-6(4)
1. Fanselow/Alcantara (PEPP) vs. #5 Pieters/Wagland (UGA) 5-4*
2. Sarkissian/Tearney (PEPP) def. #15 Pasha/Brasseaux (UGA) 8-3
3. Hovhannisyan/Sofaer (PEPP) def. Nunez/Diaz (UGA) 8-4
Order of Finish: Doubles (3,2); Singles (3,2,6,4,5)
Georgia's opponent in the Monday's semifinal will be No. 2 seed Virginia, who beat No. 7 seed Tennessee 4-0 in the day's most unfortunate ending.
Tennessee's Mikelis Libietis, the No. 1 ranked player in the country, rolled his left ankle on set point in the second set against Virginia's Jarmere Jenkins, with Virginia already leading 2-0. Libietis had the ankle taped, but his mobility was severely hampered and although he continued, he also showed signs of pain in his knee, and retired down 3-0 in the third.
Virginia had taken the doubles point and the match at line 2, with Alex Domijan beating Hunter Reese 6-2, 6-3. With Libietis' retirement, it was 3-0, and both Mitchell Frank at lind 3 and Mac Styslinger at line 5 were serving for their matches and the fourth point. Both were broken, but Styslinger had the luxury of two breaks and he delivered the second time, beating John Collins 6-4, 6-4.
Tennessee head coach Sam Winterbotham described Libietis' injury.
"[It was] set point and he had to slide into a shot to take it down the line, and you just saw his knee and ankle stick. He played on, but he wasn't able to play. He didn't want to stop. It was basically him trying to see if he could feel better but it wasn't just his ankle. When his ankle turned over, it jarred his knee."
Later in the day, it was determined that Libietis didn't have any structural damage, so he is still in the individual tournament in both singles and doubles as of now.
Virginia head coach Brian Boland was pleased his team has reached the semifinals for the fourth straight year, but acknowledged that Libietis' injury made for conflicting emotions.
"I feel bad for the Tennessee player, he's an outstanding player at No. 1, Mikey, and hopefully he's okay," Boland said. "The guy's just a tremendous player and it's sad to see something like that happen. It's had to continue focusing when you see something like that happen, but our guys and I think Tennesee did a good job with that. It's wasn't easy, and that's sad to see, but hopefully he's okay."
Jenkins said he was able to recapture his focus after the injury.
"It can be hard if you let it," Jenkins said, who ended up winning the match 4-6, 6-4, 3-0, ret. "I was just trying to play the match as if he were 100 percent healthy. I just tried to stay pumped up, and stay focused on my court, and it worked well. Credit to him, he was on today, having a lot of confidence in his forehand, slapping it all over the court. He played well."
No. 2 Virginia 4, No. 7 Tennessee 0
Noon CT – South Courts
1. #3 Jarmere Jenkins (UVA) def. #1 Mikelis Libietis (TENN) 4-6, 6-4, 3-0, ret.
2. #2 Alex Domijan (UVA) def. #34 Hunter Reese (TENN) 6-2, 6-3
3. #39 Mitchell Frank (UVA) vs. Brandon Fickey (TENN) 6-3, 5-5*
4. Jarryd Chaplin (TENN) vs. #69 Ryan Shane (UVA) 6-4, 3-6, 4-2*
5. #28 Mac Styslinger (UVA) def. John Collins (TENN) 6-4, 6-4
4. Jarryd Chaplin (TENN) vs. #69 Ryan Shane (UVA) 6-4, 3-6, 4-2*
5. #28 Mac Styslinger (UVA) def. John Collins (TENN) 6-4, 6-4
6. Julen Uriguen (UVA) vs. Edward Jones (TENN) 7-5, 5-5*
1. #4 Jenkins/Styslinger (UVA) def. #1 Libietis/Reese (TENN) 9-7
2. #21 Domijan/Frank (UVA) vs. Fickey/Chaplin (TENN) 6-6*
3. #89 Shane/Uriguen (UVA) def. #34 Jones/Collins (TENN) 8-4
Order of Finish: Doubles (1,3); Singles (2,1,5)
* = unfinished
Ohio State's opponent in Monday's semifinal will be top seed UCLA, who beat No. 9 Duke 4-0.
The Bruins took a closely contested doubles point, but Duke came back to post four first sets in singles, making UCLA earn their victory.
Karue Sell collected UCLA's second point with a 6-0, 6-2 win over Jason Tahir at line 6, and Dennis Novikov earned a 6-4, 6-4 victory over Henrique Cunha at line 1 to make it 3-0. UCLA trailed in three other matches, but at line 3, Adrien Puget had earned a split with Michael Redlicki, and with his 1-6, 6-2, 6-1 victory, he spared his teammates at least another hour on the court.
UCLA coach Billy Martin thought Novikov played one of his best matches of the year against Cunha.
"That match at No. 1 was huge for us," said Martin. "That's probably for sure Novikov's best win. We know he's dangerous, but [Cunha] is so solid. He just happened to have one of his best matches of the year, and we needed it today. To beat Cunha in both singles and doubles in the same day is a great accomplishment."
Novikov didn't disagree with his coach's assessment.
"It was definitely one of the better matches I've played," said the sophomore from California. "Every match throughout the season I keep improving, trying to peak around this time. I thought I played pretty well. I served overall really well. It wasn't anything special, but it was a solid match overall."
No. 1 UCLA 4 – No. 9 Duke 0
4 p.m. CT – South Courts
1. #27 Dennis Novikov (UCLA) def. #9 Henrique Cunha (DUKE) 6-4, 6-4
2. #43 Fred Saba (DUKE) vs. #25 Marcos Giron (UCLA) 6-3, 5-5*
3. #22 Adrien Puget (UCLA) def. #46 Michael Redlicki (DUKE) 1-6, 6-2, 6-1
4. #121 Chris Mengel (DUKE) vs. #75 Dennis Mkrtchian (UCLA) 7-6(7), 2-1*
5. #74 Raphael Hemmeler (DUKE) vs. #119 Clay Thompson (UCLA) 7-6(3), 4-3*
6. Karue Sell (UCLA) def. Jason Tahir (DUKE) 6-0, 6-2
1. #42 Giron/Novikov (UCLA) def. #2 Cunha/Hemmeler (DUKE) 8-6
2. #77 Puget/Sell (UCLA) def. #19 Tahir/Redlicki (DUKE) 9-8(5)
3. Brigham/Thompson (UCLA) vs. Saba/Semenzato (DUKE) 6-6*
Order of Finish: Doubles (1,2); Singles (6,1,3)