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Saturday, November 9, 2013

Anderson and Loeb Meet Again in Women's Final, Thompson and Hiltzik Will Decide Men's USTA/ITA Indoor Intercollegiate Championship

©Colette Lewis 2013--
Flushing Meadows, NY--

Back in October, North Carolina freshman Jamie Loeb and UCLA junior Robin Anderson met in the final of the ITA Riviera All-American Championships. Sunday morning they will decide the season's second major at the USTA/ITA Indoor Intercollegiate Championships after straight set victories in the semifinals.

Loeb has taken the college tennis world by storm in the past six weeks, winning 11 matches in 10 days to take the All-American title and picking up right where she left off in New York this weekend, with four straight-set wins. In her semifinal win over No. 4 seed Sabrina Santamaria of Southern Cal, the No. 1 seed needed only 56 minutes to post a 6-2, 6-0 victory.

"I've been playing really well, especially this match," said Loeb, 18. "She was trying to change it up and throw me off a little bit, use variety, but I just stuck to my game plan, and didn't really let that affect me. I kind of made her adjust to my game, rather than me adjust to her, so that was pretty good on my part."

Santamaria, the top-ranked player in the preseason rankings, has a multi-dimensional game, but she was unable to make any impression on Loeb, who served well and made few errors despite taking aggressive swings.

For 30 minutes on Saturday, it looked as if it would be an all-Carolina final, with Loeb's teammate and fellow freshman Hayley Carter, the No. 7 seed, leading Anderson 5-1 in the first set. But the defending champion withstood the barrage of winners, cut down her own errors and came away with a 7-5, 6-2 victory.

"In the first six games, she didn't make any errors," said No. 2 seed Anderson, who is from Matawan, New Jersey.  "She was being really, really solid and I was sticking to my game plan of being really aggressive and making errors. At 5-1, something just clicked and I just started making a lot more balls.  She still played really well--she covers so much court--and so I was having to hit a lot of balls. I think me being a little more patient helped."

Although the 20-year-old Anderson and Loeb both played their junior tennis in the USTA's Eastern section, they don't recall playing each other since the 12s or 14s, so their only recent history is last month's final, which Loeb won 6-4, 6-0.

"Jamie's playing really, really well, so it's going to be a good match," said Anderson, who admits to some extra motivation, in not only avenging her All-American loss. but in protecting her title. "I think it's just execution for both of us. If we both play well, I think it's going to be a close match. We're both big hitters, so we'll just see what happens."

Loeb doesn't anticipate making any changes to the strategies she's been employing during this winning streak.

"I think I play my best when I play my game and not really focus on what they're doing to me," said Loeb, who is from Ossining, New York, and had a dozen or so friends and family members supporting her from the USTA Billie Jean King Tennis Center viewing deck. "I need to come out, keep mixing it up, take charge and hopefully come out with a win."

Tomorrow's women's final will feature the same two players as the All-American championship match for the first time since 1987, when Ann Grousbeck of Texas and Sonia Hahn of Kentucky split those two titles, the men's final is the opposite end of the spectrum, with both Jared Hiltzik of Illinois and Clay Thompson of UCLA meeting for the first time in their first major final.

No. 6 seed Thompson avenged his last defeat this fall, beating Oklahoma's Axel Alvarez 6-3, 7-5. Alvarez had beaten Thompson in the opening round of the All-American Championships last month in Tulsa, but Thompson went on to win the consolation tournament there, which sent him on a winning streak that has now reached 14 matches.

"I didn't want to lose to the same guy in the preseason twice," said Thompson, a senior from Venice Beach, California. "So I wanted to get my revenge there. But he's such a great player and great guy--we're friends off the court--so I have a lot of respect for him. Today was a great match, honestly. It was a high level for both players and I'm really happy to come out on top."

Thompson closed out Alvarez, a sophomore from Spain, with significant help from his forehand. With Alvarez serving at 5-5, 15-40 the Sooner saved the first break point with an ace, but Thompson hit a forehand winner on the second. Serving for the match, Thompson netted a backhand to make it 30-30, but a good first serve earned him a match point, and he converted it with a sizzling forehand winner. He then dropped his racquet, and spread his hands out wide with palms out in an almost theatrical gesture of celebration.

Thompson cites his improved mental outlook for the recent string of outstanding results.

"After I lost in Tulsa, I kind of put it in perspective," said Thompson. "I was like, I'm having a great time in college tennis. After I won consolation, I'm going to go to Flushing Meadows, and just to be here and play in this atmosphere is so special. I shouldn't take it for granted and I shouldn't be mad at myself when I miss a shot. Whatever happens, happens and I am happy to be here and put on a good show. It's just a good time."

While Thompson was able to avenge his All-American loss, Raymond Sarmiento of Southern Cal was not, again losing to No. 8 seed Hiltzik 6-2, 7-6(5).

Sarmiento was serving at 5-3, 40-0 in the second set, but Hiltzik broke back and held his next two games. With Hiltzik serving at 5-6 deuce, Sarmiento and Trojan assistant coach Kris Kwinta were certain Sarmiento had hit a winner, but the chair umpire agreed with Hiltzik's out call and he held to force a tiebreaker. Keeping his emotions in check, Hiltzik prevailed, with his temperament now an advantage, not a liability.

When he was in his early teens, Hiltzik regularly lost control of his emotions while on the tennis court, and he knew it was keeping him from better results.

"It was very unhealthy for me," said Hiltzik, 19. "It was driving me nuts, my parents nuts, putting a toll on my schoolwork and stuff. It was just hard, being a mental head case out there. My mom pulled me off the court in the boys 14s Clay Courts, and I got suspended for such a temper tantrum, but ever since then, it changed. It's a lot nicer out there, staying calm, it really is."

Hiltzik has no idea what to expect from Thompson in Sunday's final.

"He's right-handed, with a two-handed backhand," said Hiltzik, a Wilmette, Illinois resident. "That's all I know. I'll talk to people, but I'm not sure yet who I'll talk to."

Regardless of who wins the doubles titles on Sunday, it will be a historic day for that school's tennis program.

In the men's final, top seeds Mikelis Libietis and Hunter Reese of Tennessee will play unseeded wild cards Ashok Narayana and Max Schnur of host Columbia. All-American champions Libietis and Reese defeated No. 4 seeds Ross Guignon and Tim Kopinski 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 and with a victory on Sunday will become the only Tennessee doubles team to win two major collegiate championships. Narayana and Schnur downed unseeded Benjamin Lock and Marco Nunez of Florida State 6-4, 6-4 and are looking to win Columbia's first collegiate major in the modern era, although the school did win two NCAA doubles titles back in 1888 and 1889.

The women's doubles final will feature two unseeded teams in Georgia Tech and Louisville.

Georgia Tech's Kendal Woodard and Megan Kurey defeated unseeded Giuliana Olmos and Zoe Scandalis of Southern Cal 6-0, 4-6, 6-0 and are seeking the Yellow Jackets' first Indoor doubles title.  Louisville's Julia Fellerhoff and Rebecca Shine are looking to claim the Louisville women's program's first national championship of any kind after beating unseeded Lauren Herring and Maho Kowase of Georgia 7-6(6), 6-3 Saturday morning.

In Sunday's consolation finals, UCLA's Marcos Giron will face Baylor's Patrick Pradella, and Duke's Beatrice Capra will meet Georgia State's Abigail Tere-Apisah.

The men's doubles consolation final will be between Giron and Mackenzie McDonald of UCLA and Ohio State's Peter Kobelt and Kevin Mekta. The women's doubles consolation final features Pleun Burgmans and Emily Flickinger of Auburn against Southern Cal's Zoe Katz and Brynn Boren.

For complete draws, see the ITA tournament page.