Qualifier Smith Saves Match Points to Reach Quarterfinals at St Francis Health System ITA Men's All American Championships
©Colette Lewis 2013--
Georgia's Austin Smith had been beaten by Texas A&M's Harrison Adams less than two weeks ago in the finals of the SEC Fall Classic, but revenge for that loss wasn't foremost in his mind in Friday afternoon's third round match of the ITA Men's All American Championships. Down a set and break to his fellow qualifier, Smith fought back to force a tiebreaker in the second set, saved two match points en route to winning it, then put together an outstanding set of tennis in the third set to claim a 4-6, 7-6(7), 6-2 victory.
"I think the biggest thing for me was knowing one more match was to go to New York," Smith said.
The quarterfinalists at this week's first collegiate major are automatically entered in the USTA/ITA Intercollegiate Indoor Championships next month in New York, and they avoid the upcoming regional qualifying that determines most of the other competitors in the 32-draw. Smith, a sophomore, did not play in New York last year, so gaining entry this year was important, especially after battling from a set down in all three of his victories the past two days.
"It would be nice if maybe I could get a straight set win in there in the main draw," said Smith, who won his three qualifying matches in straight sets. "There's been a lot of matches and this is our third tournament in a row, but it's been great. I did a lot before the season started. Our trainer does a good job, so I thank her a lot for all this."
Adams controlled play throughout most of the first half of the match, and led 6-4, 4-2 before Smith got the break back and forced the tiebreaker. Adams, also a sophomore, was up a mini-break 5-2 in the tiebreaker, but Smith stayed close. Adams had his first match point at 6-5, on Smith's serve, but netted a down the line backhand. After the change of ends Smith was broken, when he sent a backhand wide and long, giving Adams his second match point, this time on his own serve. Smith went big on a forehand which was a clean winner, and Adams then netted a forehand to give Smith a set point. He converted when Adams missed another down-the-line backhand.
Smith took control of the third set with a break in the third game, and played nearly perfect tennis the rest of the way. The points were often long in length but the shots were struck with pace and purpose, and when Smith converted his second match point with a good first serve, ending the 2 hour and 52 minute match, the small crowd of spectators, riveted by the level of play, broke out in applause.
"In the third set, I just kind of had momentum and started trusting myself more and more as the match went on," said Smith. "I feel like I'm playing well. I don't know that I'll ever feel I'm playing my absolute best, but I'm playing very well, yeah."
Smith will face unseeded Gonzales Austin of Vanderbilt in the quarterfinals Saturday, after Austin defeated Amerigo Contini of Virginia Tech 7-5, 3-6, 6-4. Austin has lost only two matches this fall, both in quarterfinals to Smith: a three-setter in the Southern Intercollegiates in Athens, and in two tiebreakers in the SEC Fall Classic in Nashville.
Smith is not the only qualifier in the quarterfinals, as Texas freshman George Goldhoff continued his impressive run with a 6-2, 6-4 win over Dane Webb of Oklahoma. Goldhoff will play Julian Lenz of Baylor, who got by qualifier Ronnie Schneider of North Carolina 6-3, 4-6, 6-2.
Baylor is the only school with two quarterfinalists, as No. 13 seed Patrick Pradella joined Lenz in the final eight with a 5-7, 6-3, 6-3 win over San Diego's Clarke Spinosa. Pradella will play Guillermo Alcorta of Oklahoma, who defeated qualifier Austin Powell of North Carolina State 6-4, 6-1.
Illinois sophomore Jared Hiltzik took out the lone Top 8 seed remaining, ousting No. 7 seed Raymond Sarmiento of Southern Calfiornia 6-2, 6-2. Hiltzik, the No. 14 seed, was able to handle the gusty winds that made shotmaking a challenge throughout the match.
"I had a really calm mindset, and I was locked in and focused on what I had to do," said the No. 14 seed. "I didn't go away from that at all. Whenever I maybe started to go away from it, I locked myself back in to where I knew I had to be. Yesterday was a good warm-up for playing in the wind, and I talked to Brad (head coach Dancer) about how to play in the wind today, and it translated really well today."
Hiltzik is also excited about earning a place in the draw for the Indoors next month at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York.
"I've seen the indoor facility and I hear it's a great tournament, so I'm really looking forward to playing there," Hiltzik said.
Hiltzik will face 2011 All American and Indoor champion Mitchell Frank of Virginia in the quarterfinals, the only quarterfinal featuring two seeded players. Frank, seeded No. 12, struggled a bit after he cut his hand on the electronic scoreboard, but managed to get by Winston Lin of Columbia 6-0, 7-6(4).
"I ran into the scoreboard and beat up my hand pretty bad," said Frank, who was up 6-0, 1-0 at the time. "It kind of stopped my momentum, and it kind of hurt me. After that, I played a little tighter and he started to swing out more. That was a huge game changer for him, but he played much better in the second, for sure."
Frank went on to play doubles and said the injury to his left hand, which had several cuts from the hard-edged plastic that serves as shade for the names on the scoreboard, didn't bother him. He wasn't sure if he'd need stitches, but said he would make that decision later.
Frank missed last fall with a serious knee injury that kept him from defending both his titles, but the junior said he didn't think about that too much.
"Last year at this time I was barely walking," Frank said. "So to be in this tournament just playing is obviously a great thing. I had a great tournament here in 2011, but for me, it's just taking it match by match, try to enjoy it, keep improving my game."
Two rounds of doubles were played Friday afternoon, so the semifinals are set, and the theme of qualifiers' success continues, with a team that has come through qualifying guaranteed to make the finals.
UCLA's Marcos Giron and Mackenzie McDonald will play Andrew Harris and Dane Webb of Oklahoma in a battle between two qualifiers. The second semifinal features top seeds Mikelis Libietis and Hunter Reese of Tennessee against TCU's Nick Chappell and Will Stein, who are unseeded.
The complete draws and results are available at the ITA tournament home page.
In the ITA Women's Riviera All American Championships, Robin Anderson of UCLA will play qualifier Christina Stancu of Texas A&M in the top half. The bottom half will be another top seed/qualifier semifinal, with No. 2 Lauren Herring of Georgia playing North Carolina's Jamie Loeb, who has now won nine matches in the past seven days, in both pre-qualifying, qualifying and now main draw.
See the ITA tournament page for more.
Top seeds Mikelis Libietis and Hunter Reese of Tennessee