North Carolina's Loeb, UCLA's Thompson Claim USTA/ITA Indoor Intercollegiate Titles; Columbia Men, Georgia Tech Women Make History in Doubles
Flushing Meadows, NY--
North Carolina freshman Jamie Loeb continued her domination of the fall majors, while UCLA senior Clay Thompson is still pinching himself after winning his 15th straight match after the pair collected the singles championships at the USTA/ITA National Indoor Intercollegiate Championships at the USTA Billie Jean King Tennis Center.
All-American champion Loeb repeated last month's final result in California on the opposite coast, again defeating UCLA junior Robin Anderson, this time by a 6-3, 6-2 score.
Top seed Loeb, who hasn't lost a set since the second round of qualifying at the Riviera All-American last month, won the big-hitting battle with defending champion Anderson. Up 4-1 and two breaks in the opening set, Loeb gave back one, but the 18-year-old from Ossining New York reasserted herself late in the set, breaking Anderson to win it.
Anderson, who had dropped the All-American final to Loeb 6-4, 6-0, got off to a good start in the second set, breaking Loeb in the first game, but the 20-year-old from Matawan, New Jersey couldn't consolidate, losing her next service game and watching Loeb take a 4-1 lead. Anderson held for 4-2, and forced Loeb to win a deuce game to keep her lead, but when Loeb held there for 5-2, she let out a loud "c'mon," pumping her fist in the direction of her family, friends and private coach sitting in the viewing area above the court.
Loeb was correct in thinking that was a key hold, with Anderson serving to stay in the match. Seeing the finish line, Loeb kept giving back Anderson's pace with more of her own and soon it was 15-40. After so many penetrating ground strokes throughout the match, Loeb picked her first match point to display her variety, hitting an excellent backhand slice that Anderson had to come forward to get. When Anderson's forehand went long, Loeb turned to her supporters with another fist pump and c'mon, having secured the first National Indoor title for the Tar Heels.
"We both played pretty well," said Anderson, who had won her previous four matches in straight sets. "Jamie came out, she executed. She really didn't miss at all. Congrats to her, she played really well. She has a solid game all around."
Anderson said she's seen improvement in her own game since winning the title last year, so she didn't have many regrets about surrendering it.
"I still played really well. I felt like played better than I did last year, so as long as I'm improving, that's the goal," said Anderson, who will be on the team representing the United States at the Master'U BNP Paribas international college tournament in Paris next month.
Loeb didn't see much of a change in strategy from Anderson, although she did notice that Anderson was hitting the ball bigger than last month.
"She mixed it up with a lot of slice and she has a good serve," said Loeb. "I think she served better today than last time we played. Plus, indoors, it's faster, a faster pace obviously. I think she was hitting the ball harder today. But I think that helped me, because I was able to redirect it and use that pace. But I think both of us played pretty well today."
As for her future, Loeb is looking to catch up on the school work that she's missed during the fall season, yet not being on the courts the next two months when she's playing at such a high level is a concern.
"I know I'm going to want to play more, because that's just me," said Loeb, who trains at the John McEnroe Academy in New York. "When I come home for Thanksgiving, I'll definitely be playing."
Loeb is also looking forward to her first spring dual match season.
"I'm going to see how the rest of the season goes, and I'm going to be there for my team and support them," said Loeb, who is the first woman since Texas' Lucie Ludvigova in 1993 to win both the All-American and the Indoor titles. "I'll know they'll do the same for me. I'm excited for the spring and I'm just going to think about that for now, see how that goes, and by the end, I'll make a decision and see what I want to do and how I feel."
For men's champion Thompson, a major title was unanticipated, even given his outstanding fall season. So when he overcame a late bout of nerves in the second set to defeat Illinois sophomore Jared Hiltzik 6-4, 7-5, he was mostly in shock.
"Honestly, I was happy to get past the first round, so I didn't have to play consolation again," said the sixth seed, who received entry into the tournament via his consolation title at the All-American championships last month. "Wow, what a surprise, what a treat. This has been so great, so fun, such a week, I can't even start to put together how it all happened."
Thompson did credit his serve as a key to the match, and he didn't face a break point in the first set. Eight straight holds to start the match gave no indication from either player that nerves were a factor, although both were competing in their first major final.
At 4-4, Hiltzik blinked first and was broken, with Thompson serving out the set. The 6-foot-6 Thompson was demonstrative throughout the first set, applauding himself and Hiltzik for any winners, and there were plenty from both.
"I had some friends here, so I wanted to put on a good show for them," said Thompson, from Venice Beach, Calif. "It was fun. I was having a great time, and I was really excited for this one. I think the added pressure of the moment kind of helped me get a little more fired up than usual, especially in the first couple of games."
Thompson broke Hiltzik, the No. 8 seed, to start the second set, despite Hiltzik's 40-0 lead in the game. Using his strategy of keeping points short against an outstanding counterpuncher like Hiltzik paid off, as did some scouting reports he received.
"I was serving very well," said Thompson, "and someone told me he preferred the backhand return, so I went 98 percent of my second serves to his forehand, and I thought that was a big help for me."
Thompson's eagerness to end points quickly wasn't solely due to the indoor surface.
"It's kind of a new thing I've been doing," said Thompson. "I've been trying to serve and volley a lot, trying to hit my forehand and come in. My shots are pretty penetrating for the most part, but I don't make too many of them in a row, so I like to just hit them, and rush in behind them and see what happens."
Thompson made that early break in the second hold up until he was serving at 5-4. Up 30-0, the nerves began to get the better of Thompson, and he missed nearly every first serve and double faulted twice. Hiltzik had his only break points of the match in that game, converting the third with a lob winner.
"I was having such a great time, but it does hit you, that you're this close to winning a major tournament," said Thompson. "I don't think I've really won a major tournament before. I got to the finals of the Easter Bowl, quarterfinals of Kalamazoo, but I don't think I've ever won a tournament that people would call a major. So I'd never been in that situation before."
But for all his inexperience, Thompson could draw on his performance in the pressure-packed dual match season.
"When it comes down to the pressure points, I'm pretty good," said Thompson. "It helped me get the break back at 5-all. That happens a lot during the dual match season, and honestly, more often than not, I'm down a break when it comes down to me in that deciding match and I break back and run with that. So that's been a strength of mine, to break when my back's against the wall."
Hiltzik was down 30-40 serving at 5-6, got it back to deuce, but was overruled in his call of out on Thompson's backhand volley on the second break point.
Serving for the match a second time, Thompson earned a match point with a perfectly executed forehand volley. He hit a first serve that Hiltzik called out, but after some confusion, the chair umpire overruled Hiltzik's call and Thompson had his major championship.
"Honestly, I thought the ball was in," said Thompson. "It's tough to say completely, but that's the way it goes. You just accept it one way or another. But it is sad that it had to end that way. It was such a great match and for it to end that way, with any controversy, any doubt in anyone's mind, it's kind of sad. Honestly, I would have rather played the point out, taken a second serve."
Hiltzik took the decision with the same stoicism he's displayed all week.
"That's tennis," said Hiltzik, 19. "Whatever happens, happens. I saw it out, and didn't agree with the ref."
Hiltzik said he wasn't particularly nervous, but that the match "went by really quickly."
"I prepared pretty well, but he just came out and played better than me today," said the Wilmette, Illinois resident. "There's a point where it's just a tennis match, and you treat like a tennis match, not like something more than it is. I think I treated it more like who I'm playing, what he does, rather than me playing my own tennis match."
Hiltzik returns to Champaign to compete in the Pro Circuit Challenger there next week as a wild card, while Thompson returns to Los Angeles with a trophy and his name on the list of champions. The last Indoor champion from UCLA was Benjamin Kohlloeffel, who won back-to-back titles in 2005 and 2006.
"That's a pretty big name, Ben Kohlloeffel," Thompson said of the 2006 NCAA champion. "He was a really good player. So wow, just to be among that list of players, to have this opportunity, it's so amazing. That's just all I can say. It's such a great feeling."
The atmosphere at the singles finals was typical of any individual tournament, but the noise level engulfing the men's doubles final between Tennessee and Columbia was more like an NCAA dual match between bitter rivals.
Columbia, the host school, was seeking its first national tennis title since 1889, and Ashok Narayana and Max Schnur delivered, beating top seeds and All-American champions Mikelis Libietis and Hunter Reese 6-3, 6-2.
The cheers of "Let's Go Lions" reverberated throughout the indoor tennis center after nearly every point, and once Narayana saved three break points serving down 1-2 in the opening set, the Columbia team was on its way.
Reese and Libietis had been cruising along on their first three service games, but Reese was broken at 3-3, and after a love hold from Narayana, Libietis was broken to give Columbia the first set.
The cheer changed from "Let's Go Lions," to "Here We Go Lions," to start the second set, but there was no change in the momentum on the court, with Libietis broken in the second game, while both Schnur and Narayana rode the emotion of the crowd to easy holds. Although Tennessee trailed 5-2, it was only one break, and doubles can turn on a dime. The crowd refused to let that happen however, and Reese was broken at love to deliver the title to the Lions and their fans.
"I thought this tournament we were so loose, because we were fortunate to get the home wild card," said Schnur, a junior from Richmond, Va. "But we also felt like we really belonged here, because we played it last year after winning our regional. So that combo served us really well."
Narayana was both surprised and not surprised by the support the team received.
"We knew we'd get fans out and everything," said Narayana, a junior from Houston, Texas. "But it surprised me how loud they were today. I think that was a mistake on my part, because we have some of the best fans in the whole country, especially when we play at home in our bubble, it gets loud, even louder than this. But today I was a little surprised, because it was an individual match, but I shouldn't have been."
"We definitely fed off them," added Schnur. "Our entire team was sitting on the court and it felt like a clincher of a dual match, how everyone's waiting on the side of your court. It felt like that for the entire match. I think we did a really good job playing with a sense of urgency and playing really smart."
Schnur and Narayana believe the title will help the perception not only of the Columbia program, but of the Ivy League.
"We play in the Ivy League and some people think we're just students," said Narayana. "But you're not just going to school. You're competing with the best teams in the nation. We can compete with anyone if we work hard. I hope recruits see that as well. Winston (Lin, a quarterfinalist this weekend) is sitting right there, and he's one of the best players in the nation. We have some of the best coaches, best facilities and I know we have the best fans, so I hope other players realize this is a place where they can get their tennis better while also getting a really good degree."
The next step for Narayana and Schnur is qualifying for the NCAA tournament. It was in the predecessor to the NCAAs that Columbia collected its only previous national titles, with Oliver Campbell winning the doubles with V.G. Hall in 1888 and with A.E. Wright in 1889, in competition that was primarily between Ivy League schools, although it was considered a national event.
"We haven't been able to make it into the NCAAs our first two years," said Schnur. "That's our goal. But hopefully in the spring we'll continue to take it one match at a time. We're trying to peak for our Ivy League season in April and we think if we get better, getting into the NCAAs and making a run there will take care of itself."
The women's doubles final was the only match of the day that went three sets, with Megan Kurey and Kendal Woodard of Georgia Tech defeating Julia Fellerhoff and Rebecca Shine of Louisville 4-6, 6-3, 7-5.
It was a match of many twists and turns, and a few strokes of luck, as the two unseeded teams tried to concentrate on their task at hand as the Columbia crowd roared for their Lions.
The only break of the first set came courtesy of a net cord winner with Woodard serving. The second set went to the Yellow Jackets, with Kurey digging out a volley at her feet and somehow turning it into a lob winner on set point.
Woodard and Kurey, both sophomores from suburban Atlanta, had a 3-0 lead in the third set, but seniors Shine and Fellerhoff got the break back winning three games in a row. Fellerhoff was broken to give Woodard a chance to serve out the match at 5-3, but she couldn't close the deal. Shine held for 5-5, and Kurey held for 6-5, leaving it up to Fellerhoff to hold for a tiebreaker. A couple of errors and a double fault gave Woodard and Kurey two match points. Kurey missed a return on the first and Woodard barely touched a lob with the top of her racquet to lose the second. But the pair converted the third, as a Louisville forehand sailed wide, and Georgia Tech had its first National Indoor doubles title.
"They were really serving well, and they played well the whole match," said Kurey. "In the first three games(of the third set), we played so well and we got up, and they started making more balls. We just realized we're still in the set, we're not losing, so we just had to focus in on a couple more points and finally got the win."
"We've been playing together for almost a year," said Woodard. "We had a really good spring," said Kurey. "When we played regionals, we didn't play that well until the finals," said Woodard. "But coming into this, we knew that if we played like we did in the finals, then we'd have a pretty good chance of winning this."
"It was our goal to get here," said Kurey. "But we never imagined that we'd win it, so we're excited."
Georgia Tech head coach Rodney Harmon flew in Saturday night for the finals, and his team was glad to have both him and assistant Alison Silverio on court with them.
"We knew he was coming last night," said Woodard. "We wanted him to come. We're the first [Georgia Tech] team to win National Indoors, so why not have him here?"
In the singles consolation for those losing in the first round, UCLA's Marcos Giron won the men's tournament, beating Patrick Pradella of Baylor 6-4, 6-2. Duke's Beatrice Capra won the women's consolation final, defeating Abigail Tere-Apisah of Georgia State 7-5, 6-4.
The men's doubles consolation final went to Peter Kobelt and Kevin Metka of Ohio State, who downed Giron and Mackenzie McDonald of UCLA 8-7(5). Brynn Boren and Zoe Katz of Southern Cal won the women's doubles consolation final 8-7(4) over Pleun Burgmans and Emily Flickinger of Auburn.
The sportsmanship awards, which are given to a player who has reached the semifinals, went to Clay Thompson of UCLA and Hayley Carter of North Carolina.
For more coverage, including video interviews of the champions, see the ITA tournament page.