Collins, Giron Claim NCAA Division I Singles Championships; Alabama and Tennessee Take Doubles Titles
©Colette Lewis 2014--
For unseeded Danielle Collins, the NCAA singles title she earned with a 6-2, 7-5 victory over Cal's Lynn Chi Monday afternoon at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex was "shocking" and historic, representing the first NCAA title for the University of Virginia's women's program.
Men's champion Marcos Giron, the No. 2 seed, joined a list of UCLA men's winners that includes Jimmy Connors, Arthur Ashe, and current Bruin coach Billy Martin, as the 20-year-old Californian survived both expectations and the Georgia heat and humidity, claiming the title with a 6-4, 6-1 victory over unseeded Alex Sarkissian of Pepperdine.
Collins, a 20-year-old from St. Petersburg, Florida, had had difficulty closing out several matches earlier in the tournament, but she spared herself that frustration against Chi. After winning the first set by winning the final three games, primarily with her lethal returns, Collins found herself down 3-1 and 5-3, with Chi finding her rhythm and doing some effective returning of her own. But Chi couldn't push the match to a third set, catching the tape on her shots four times while serving for the set at 5-4. That's when Collins took her game up a notch, breaking Chi in the final game.
"Once I got down I just got really angry," said Collins. "I was like, okay, let's get it together, let's step it up and I just really got on a roll. It's incredible, but I still can't believe it; I'm really caught off guard to be honest."
Ranked No. 32 in the country and playing the No. 2 position at Virginia after transferring there from Florida last summer, Collins was hardly a favorite for the title, but her coach, Mark Guilbeau saw signs she was capable of competing among the best.
"The last half of the season, I could see," said Guilbeau, in his ninth season at Virginia. "Who knows who's going to win the NCAA title, but I could see that Danielle could beat just about anyone, and would probably be one of the toughest kids to beat as well."
Chi, a 19-year-old sophomore from Weston, Florida, had played Collins a couple times in the juniors, and they were on the 2011 Florida sectional team that won the USTA 18s Team Championship, but they hadn't met while in college. The 24th-ranked Chi, who played No. 4 for Cal in the team tournament, said her performance exceeded her expectations.
"I never thought that I would get to the finals," said Chi, a pre-med major at Cal. "To make it to the finals for me was just unbelievable. I never expected that, or anything near that. She played well. I learned so much this tournament and I'm just going to use it for next year."
Collins now faces a decision. With a US Open main draw wild card expected to be offered to her as an American champion, Collins will need to decide whether to proceed with the wrist surgery she is scheduled to have on Friday.
Although she is looking forward to competing at the US Open, she is not tempted to turn pro right now.
"There's a lot more I want to accomplish during my time at UVA," Collins said. "We still haven't won the team championship, and that's something I hope I can help my team do, sooner rather than later. I think there's a lot more that needs to be accomplished and I believe Mark and Troy (associate coach Porco) can help me to develop more as a player, staying in college for the time being."
Giron, a junior, is also not ruling out a return to UCLA for his final year of eligibility, although he is planning to take the fall off and compete on the Pro Circuit rather than play collegiate events.
"I'm going to take the fall off and we'll see from there, depending on how I do," said Giron, from Thousand Oaks, Calif. "If things go real well, we'll see. But the plan is to take the fall off, and we'll see from there."
In Monday's final, Giron broke open a tight first set with a break at 2-all, using a big serve and showcasing some variety to go along with his always reliable forehand. Although he had several visits from the UCLA trainer for treatment on his back during changeovers, it was Sarkissian who seemed to suffer more fatigue as the match went into a second set.
"I noticed he wasn't changing directions as strong as he usually does," Giron said. "I wanted to make sure I used the entire court and not have too many straight up points. He's a big guy and he can hit big, so I wanted to get him more tired. He's had some really tough matches this week, so that had to be affecting him a little bit."
Broken in the first game of the second set, Sarkissian couldn't find a solution for Giron's consistency and power. A few attempts at shortening points were successful, but he couldn't muster enough first serves to threaten Giron.
"I expected him to come out playing well, he's a good player," said Sarkissian, a 24-year-old senior from Glendale, Calif. "He was just fitter than I was today, was able to hit a lot more balls than I was, so that's how he pulled it off."
Sarkissian expects to receive a wild card into the US Open qualifying in August, and will continue to train in the Los Angeles area, with perhaps a trip overseas for some ITF Men's circuit events.
Giron said he was honored to join the ten other NCAA singles champions from UCLA, and credited the staff with making the title possible.
"The UCLA program has done an unbelievable job," said Giron. "Billy Martin and Grant Chen did a fantastic job coaching and really supporting me throughout the season. And to become a part of such an exclusive list of champions is such an honor."
Giron's junior coach, Amir Marandy, was also in Athens to assist in the preparations for Giron's run at the NCAA title.
"All year long this has been a big goal, a big journey," said Marandy, who began working with Giron five years ago. "We always had the bigger picture of always being ready for the NCAAs. All week's been tough, obviously, with the team event being a difficult outcome for a second time, but he's done such a great job."
Should Giron receive the expected US Open wild card, he is not particular about who he gets in the draw.
"I cannot wait to play the main draw of the US Open," said Giron. "I played in the qualifying once, but to be in the main is another story. I don't care who I play, just whoever comes my way. I haven't played in any main draw ATP tournaments, so I'd like to see how my game holds up to it, but I definitely believe I can compete with anyone. I just always have to make sure to keep working on my serve, because if that stays strong, I know I can hang with anyone from the baseline. I'm excited to see where I stand up with the top pros in the world."
In the doubles finals, two SEC teams grabbed the titles, but their method of collecting those championships couldn't have been less similar.
Fourth-seeded Erin Routliffe and Maya Jansen of Alabama kept the hometown crowd out of the women's final match, dominating No. 2 seeds Lauren Herring and Maho Kowase of Georgia 6-1, 6-0, collecting their third win this year over the Bulldog pair.
"It's a matchup, I think," said Jansen, a sophomore from Valleyford, Washington. "I think how they play and how we play matches up perfect for us. We played amazing all three times we played them and we felt confident going into the match. Not too confident, because they're a tough team and we knew they'd been playing well, but I think we just played very well today."
Routliffe, a freshman from Ontario, Canada, said the support from the area's Crimson Tide fans also made a difference.
"When we found out we were going to be in the finals we texted all our friends near here telling them to come watch us," said Routliffe, who is just as comfortable saying "Roll Tide" as any native of Tuscaloosa. "We had a great support system, they've been supporting us all year, and our fans are amazing. In the match, when you're tight, and you hear them cheering your name, it's just the greatest feeling ever."
The title was the program's first, an accomplishment that Alabama athletic director Bill Battle was able to see in person.
"It was the first time in program history and had a lot of support from Bama Nation, said Alabama coach Jenny Mainz. "It's been a total team effort. Our team collectively has played a big part in them winning this champion. They've pushed each other to be better in practice every day, and they kept raising the bar for each other. I couldn't be more proud of Maya Jansen and Erin Routliffe."
While the women's doubles final was one-sided, the men's doubles final couldn't have been any closer. For the first time in modern NCAA history (since 1977), the men's doubles title was decided in three tiebreak sets, with Tennessee's Mikelis Libietis and Hunter Reese earning a 7-6(4), 6-7(3), 7-6(6) decision over Ohio State's Peter Kobelt and Kevin Metka.
The Tennessee team, seeded No. 2 and the winner of the ITA All-American championships last October, did not face a break point in the three scintillating sets of ATP-level tennis. They had only five break points themselves, with two match points in the second set, both saved by Kobelt, serving at 5-6 to force the tiebreaker.
The third set was more of the same, with short points, dominated by Ohio State's big serving and overheads and some deft volleying by the Tennessee pair.
As the tension mounted in the third set, with V-O-L-S cheers from the Tennessee fans competing with similar noise from the Tennessee team members sitting in the stands directly opposite them, a tiebreaker looked inevitable, and when Libietis held for 6-all, it arrived.
Tennessee broke Kobelt's serve on the first point, but Ohio State recovered the mini break with Metka hitting a clean backhand down the line return winner with Libietis serving. Ohio State's Kobelt held for a 5-4 lead, with the serve going to Reese who won both points, the second with an ace, for a 6-5 lead and the Vols' third match point. Metka missed his first serve, but with Libietis standing practically on top of the net, the junior from Worthington, Ohio got the second one in and Kobelt hit Reese's return right at Libietis, who could not react in time.
After the change of ends, Metka missed his first serve long, and his second serve also went well past the service line, giving Tennessee its fourth match point. At 7-6, Libietis missed his first serve, but hit a good second serve with the return clipping the tape. Libietis handled that with no problem, directing the approach at Kobelt, who netted his forehand reply. Both Reese and Libietis threw their racquets high into the air, and as the Tennessee team members made their way down to the courts to assist in celebrating, the pair shared a long embrace before the handshake.
"We did have a great season," said Reese, a junior from Kennesaw, Georgia, who also reached the National Indoor final with Libietis last November. "But it's hard to say we deserved it more than them today. It could have gone either way. But it feels nice to be rewarded for the season we have had."
Libietis, a junior from Latvia, who said he couldn't sleep last night thinking about playing in the final, also acknowledged the slim margins in their victory.
"It was a tough match, we couldn't find the break, we had some chances, they played really well," said Libietis. "We were holding our serve easy as well. It went that way and those tiebreakers, it's just a lottery."
Tennessee associate coach Chris Woodruff echoed that.
"We just hung in there," said Woodruff. "The way this match went, we could easily be having this conversation the other way."
"I told them if we held serve all day we'd win this match," said Ohio State coach Ty Tucker. "It didn't come true. Tennessee's a tough team and we were in it until the end. We had some opportunities to win that match."
Kobelt, a senior from New Albany, Ohio, felt the pain of such a close loss in his final match as a Buckeye.
"They came up with the plays at the end," said Kobelt. "They knew what they had to do and they executed. We fell short and it's disappointing, but it was a hell of year and I wouldn't have wanted to do it with anyone else. I'm proud of my team, proud of my teammates, proud of Kevin, but it's tough to swallow right now."
With their victory, Reese and Libietis become the second Tennessee team to win the NCAA title, joining Rodney Harmon and Mel Purcell, who took the championship in 1980.
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