©Colette Lewis 2013--
Unpredictable weather is the norm in Tulsa this time of year, and so is a Virginia player in the finals of the St Francis Health System ITA Men's All American Championships.
After highs near 90 degrees on Friday, a cold front caused the temperature to drop 40 degrees by Saturday morning, but the change didn't have any effect on 2011 champion Mitchell Frank of Virginia, who reached Sunday's final with two straight set victories.
Frank, the No. 12 seed, will meet unseeded Guillermo Alcorta of Oklahoma, who is looking to become the first Oklahoma player to win a collegiate major, while Frank is seeking Virginia's fourth consecutive singles title at the event.
Frank, a junior who was unable to defend his title last year due to a knee injury, started the cool and overcast morning with a 6-2, 7-6(5) win over No. 14 seed Jared Hiltzik of Illinois. Frank, whose literal run-in with a scoreboard on Friday produced a cut that required three stitches, admitted his injured left hand was giving him some trouble on his two-handed backhand.
"My hand wasn't feeling great, so I knew against Jared I would have to take my chances when I had them," said Frank, from Annandale, Virginia. "I was hitting as many forehands as possible, and in the first set I did a great job of that. In the second set, I had some opportunities to put him away and couldn't do it, so I was lucky to kind of squeak that one out in the second set tiebreak."
Hiltzik didn't give Frank any pace or many free points, so Frank had to make an adjustment against his semifinal opponent Julian Lenz of Baylor. Lenz had won a slug fest with freshman George Goldhoff of Texas 7-5, 6-4 in the morning's quarterfinal, with Goldhoff having a set point serving for the first set at 5-4, and up a break in the second set, before Lenz hit his way past the qualifier. Lenz was unable to out muscle Frank however, and in less than 90 minutes, Frank had a 6-2, 6-3 victory and a place in the final.
"Against Julian, he's a huge hitter, so when I first came out, the speed of the ball was kind of catching me off guard," Frank said. "I said wow, this is a huge ball compared to what I was seeing this morning. But we have some huge hitters at UVA, so I get to practice against those guys day in and day out. His ball is just about as big as any of those guys, so it definitely helped me through, having experience with those guys."
One of the big-hitting teammates Frank was referring to is senior Alex Domijan, who won the tournament as a freshman in 2010 and as a junior last year, but was injured in 2011 and was unable to compete this year due to a death in the family.
Alcorta's quarterfinal victory was no easy affair, as he needed over two hours to get past another Baylor big hitter in No. 13 seed Patrick Pradella. Pradella took the first set 6-3, but Alcorta got back into the match with an early break and coasted to a 6-0 second set. Pradella was serving to stay in the match at 4-5 in the third set, but fell behind 15-40. Alcorta went for a big forehand return on a second serve and missed it long, but Pradella again missed his first serve and after a brief rally, his backhand hit the netcord and dribbled wide to put the senior from Bilbao, Spain in the semifinals.
There he would find unseeded Gonzales Austin of Vanderbilt, who had won the match of the day in the quarterfinals against qualifier Austin Smith of Georgia 7-6(2), 6-7(5), 7-6(5). Smith, who had saved two match points in his third round win over Harrison Adams of Texas A&M on Friday, saved five match points serving at 4-5 in the second set. Smith, who had beaten Austin twice in the past month, the last time in two tiebreakers, won the tiebreaker without saving another match point, and had the momentum going into the third set. Austin won a 10-deuce game to hold for 2-2, then broke Smith and held for a 4-2 lead, but was broken in his next service game for 4-4. That was the first of five straight breaks, with Austin twice serving for the match. Austin, a left-hander from Miami, had three more match points serving at 6-5, but couldn't convert those either, and another tiebreaker, the fifth straight the two have played, was necessary.
With both players putting so much into each shot throughout the three hour and 37 minute match, tired errors were inevitable, but there were also memorable shots, including Austin's backhand slice volley to make the score 5-5 in the tiebreaker. He hit a good first serve to get to match point No. 9, and he converted when Smith netted a forehand.
Against Alcorta, Austin simply had nothing left, and was down 6-0 in no time. Austin had a brief visit from the trainer, but continued to play even as the unforced errors continued to pile up. Austin eventually began to find the court with his shots, but it was too late, with Alcorta taking the second set 6-3.
"Whether it was him or Smith, I knew they were going to be affected by it," Alcorta said. "Apparently he rolled his ankle right at the beginning, so that was bad for him also, but I did well. It's always difficult to play those matches, no rhythm and stuff, so I did well, stayed focused."
Alcorta was also pleased that he could be physically and mentally ready for two matches in one day, agreeing that the cool weather made that easier.
"From Spain, we never do two matches a day whenever I played there," Alcorta said. "So that was tough, but the cold weather helped me. When I was playing Quiroz in the second round the other day, that was a really tough match, and it was so hot, so today was better, it was pretty cold."
Frank and Alcorta have only played once before, in a dual match in 2012, which Frank won in three sets after Virginia had clinched the team match.
The doubles finals are set after Saturday's semifinals. Due to some confusion between the referee, the umpires and the ITA Game Committee representative, the semifinals were played as eight-game pro sets, even though the tournament has traditionally gone to best-of-three tiebreak sets for the semifinals and finals.
UCLA's Mackenzie McDonald and Marcos Giron won the battle of the qualifying teams, beating Oklahoma's Dane Webb and Andrew Harris 8-5, while top seeds Mikelis Libietis and Hunter Reese of Tennessee eased past TCU's Nick Chappell and Will Stein 8-7(7).
The consolation finals will also be played Sunday morning, with Alabama's Daniil Proskura playing UCLA's Clay Thompson. The doubles consolation finals will feature Illinois' Tim Kopinski and Ross Guignon against Texas' Lloyd Glasspool and Soren Hess-Olesen. Winners of the consolation finals will receive a wild card into the main draw of the USTA/ITA Indoor Intercollegiate Championships next month in New York.
Complete draws can be found at the ITA tournament website.
At the ITA Women's Riviera All American Championships in California, top seed Robin Anderson of UCLA will face unseeded freshman Jamie Loeb of North Carolina for the singles title. Loeb, a pre-qualifier, has won ten matches in the past eight days, and today defeated No. 2 seed Lauren Herring of Georgia 6-2, 7-6(4). Anderson downed qualifier Cristina Stancu of Texas A&M 7-6(3), 6-3.
The doubles final will feature Southern Cal's Giuliana Olmos and Zoe Scandalis, who were lucky losers from pre-qualifying, against another qualifying team, Anderson and Jennifer Brady of UCLA.
For complete results, see the ITA tournament home page.