Tennessee's Libietis Defeats Top Seed Pradella; North Carolina Freshmen Impress at USTA/ITA Indoor Intercollegiate Championships
©Colette Lewis 2013--
Flushing Meadows, NY--
The top seeds at the USTA/ITA Indoor Intercollegiate Championships met with contrasting fates Thursday, with women's No. 1 Jamie Loeb of North Carolina extending her run of major championship victories, while men's No. 1 Patrick Pradella of Baylor fell to preseason No. 1 Mikelis Libietis of Tennessee in opening round play at the USTA Billie Jean King Tennis Center.
Libietis was down a break twice in the opening set against Pradella and saved a set point in the first set tiebreaker before closing out the 7-6(7), 6-4 victory.
Libietis, who has been having back problems and retired from the Regional final due to that injury, sounded puzzled that he wasn't seeded, but didn't mind an obvious tough first round draw.
"It was a little bit surprising, to be honest, that I wasn't even seeded," said Libietis, a junior from Latvia. "But everybody here's good. So if you want to win the tournament, you need to win five matches in a row. I actually liked it, that first round was really hard for me, so I can get ready for the next match. Next round I'm playing Sarmiento, so I think it's going to be a good match."
Pradella, a senior from Germany, was up a break at 3-2 in the first set, then served for it at 5-4, but didn't get to set point until the tiebreaker, when he was serving, leading 7 points to 6. Both players came into the net often throughout the match, but Pradella's trip on that crucial point didn't go as planned, botching a backhand volley. He netted a forehand on the next point, giving Libietis his second set point, and he converted, convincingly, with an ace.
In the second set, Libietis broke at 3-3 and had an opportunity to end the match with Pradella serving at 3-5, but Pradella saved two match points and held. If Libietis felt any disappointment from those missed chances it didn't show in the next game, with some big serving giving him a hold at love and the match.
"I didn't serve well at the start of the second set, I missed a lot of first serves," said Libietis. "But in the last two, three service games, I got more focused on where I needed to serve. He's a really good player, I hadn't seen him play. This was the first time I had seen him play, against me, and it was a fun match. I really enjoyed it, and it was tough."
Pradella wasn't the only men's seed to be sent into the consolation draw, with No. 4 seed Austin Smith of Georgia also going out in a close match. Notre Dame's Greg Andrews defeated Smith 3-6, 7-6(7), 6-2.
All-American finalist Guillermo Alcorta of Oklahoma, seeded No. 2, breezed by Yannick Hanfmann of Southern Cal 6-4, 6-1, and is one of three Sooners in the round of 16. Freshman Andrew Harris of Oklahoma, who received a wild card into the tournament, needed nearly three hours to advance to the second round over small college Super Bowl winner Deni Zmak of Embry-Riddle, while Axel Alvarez prevailed over George Goldhoff of Texas 7-5, 6-1 in one of the evening's last matches.
The women field lost three seeds in the opening round, with No. 3 seed Beatrice Capra of Duke, No. 5 seed Zsofi Susanyi of Cal and No. 6 seed Lauren Herring of Georgia all falling in long, tough three-setters in which they had taken the first set. Maho Kowase of Georgia beat Susanyi 5-7, 6-3, 6-1, Julia Elbaba of Virginia defeated Herring 6-7(4), 6-4, 6-2, and Jennifer Brady of UCLA downed Capra 2-6, 6-2, 6-4. Brady, a freshman, led 4-1 and 5-2 in the final set, but that one-break lead was precarious. Serving at 4-2, Brady was down 0-40, but hit three straight winners to get back to deuce and held for a 5-2 lead. Serving for the match, she again was down 0-40, but this time Capra capitalized on her second break chance, only to be broken in the next game, giving Brady the win.
Top seed Loeb, who won eleven matches to capture the All-American championship last month, only needs four more victories to earn her second straight major after she defeated Florida's Sofie Oyen 6-2, 6-4.
Loeb expressed some surprise at the success she's had in her first semester of collegiate competition.
"I didn't really know what to expect, or what goals to set for this fall and this spring," said Loeb, who trained at the John McEnroe Academy prior to starting college. "But I've been improving my game and working hard every day at practice and I think that shows in my results."
Loeb did have a goal of returning to her home in New York for this tournament.
"I love North Carolina, but it's always good to be home," said the 18-year-old from Ossining. "I'm staying at home tonight and throughout the tournament, seeing my parents. My coach Felix came this morning and he's going to come tomorrow as well. It's nice seeing everybody and being able to play in New York."
Loeb's teammate Haley Carter, the No. 7 seed, also reached the second round, defeating Columbia wild card Bianca Sanon 6-3, 6-3. Carter, who suffered a concussion recently when she hit her head in her room, was only cleared to play in the tournament on Tuesday, but showed no ill effects in her match Thursday evening.
North Carolina head coach Brian Kalbas believes the two freshman have made a great impression on the team in their brief time in Chapel Hill.
"I don't limit what they can do, even as freshmen," Kalbas said. "The best players are always going to play in the top positions, the ones that earn it. Caroline Price came back as an All-American, Whitney Kay played in the top half of the lineup as a freshman, so we have a very deep team and there's no positions that are set in stone. But I definitely think our freshmen, because of the work they've put in, the attitude they have, they're making everyone else take notice and play at their highest level, and I think it's helping our program."
The doubles quarterfinals are set, with women's top seeds Brady and Catherine Harrison of UCLA and two-time defending champions Kaitlyn Christian and Sabrina Santamaria of Southern Cal, the No. 2 seeds, picking up 8-4 victories.
In the men's doubles, All-American champions Libietis and Hunter Reese of Tennessee are into the quarterfinals, as are No. 2 seeds Lloyd Glasspool and Soren Hess-Olesen of Texas.
For complete results and draws, see the ITA tournament page.