Collins Meets Chi for NCAA Women's Singles Title; Giron and Sarkissian to Decide Men's Champion Monday in Athens
©Colette Lewis 2014--
Floridians Lynn Chi of Cal and Danielle Collins of Virginia will meet for the women's NCAA singles title Monday, while Marcos Giron of UCLA and Alex Sarkissian of Pepperdine, both Southern California residents, will represent that tennis hotbed in the men's championship match at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex on the campus of the University of Georgia.
Trailing Georgia State's Abigail Tere-Apisah 5-4, and 6-5 in third set of their semifinal match Sunday afternoon, Chi found another gear, breaking both times to stay in the match and going on to dominate the tiebreaker in her 6-4, 3-6, 7-6(2) victory. Collins provided semifinal drama as well, serving for the match three times in the second set before finally collecting herself to defeat Ester Goldfeld of Duke 6-3, 7-6(3).
Chi took a 4-0 lead in the first set before Tere-Apisah got on the board, but once the senior from Papua New Guinea got her first game she began to relax, making fewer errors to keep herself in points longer.
Chi started the second set with a break, but she failed to hold serve even once in the set, and Tere-Apisah, using the support of the Atlanta school's fans, held to even the match.
The third set began with Chi leading 3-0, but Tere-Apisah, ranked 22nd, refused to concede, winning the next three games. With Chi serving at 4-4, Tere-Apisah had two break points. She netting a forehand on the first but hit a forehand return winner and a backhand volley winner in succession to earn an opportunity to serve out the match.
With all the breaks of serve in the match, a quick conclusion was unlikely and Tere-Apisah was broken at love, double faulting on the first game point. But after three deuces, she broke Chi again, and serving at 6-5, she once more failed to reach match point. Chi had something to do with that, really going for her shots when she had the slightest opportunity and either hitting outright winners or forcing errors.
"Especially at the 5-6 game, I felt I'm already down, so I guess I'll go for it," said the 19-year-old sophomore from Weston, Fla, who is ranked 24th. "I had nothing left to lose and the balls just went my way. My coach just kept telling me to stay up on the baseline, stay inside the court, and I think that really helped. It allowed me to swing freely and I was able to hit my shots."
In the tiebreaker, Chi started with a forehand winner and a backhand winner, while Tere-Apisah's shots were landing wide with regularity. Leading 5-2 Chi hit a good first serve to earn four match points and she closed out the match on the first, hitting clean forehand winner to earn a place in the final against Collins.
It was only minutes before Chi's win that Collins had closed out her two-set victory over Goldfeld. Leading 6-3, 5-2, Collins served for the match and had two match points, but netted a backhand on the first and watched as Goldfeld blew a forehand winner past her on the second. Goldfeld held for 5-4, and when Collins served for it a second time, she didn't get to match point, with Goldfeld hitting several big backhands to earn the break.
Goldfeld, a junior from Brooklyn, New York ranked 27th, played a loose game to get broken, and again Collins, ranked 32nd, was serving for the match. She lost that game too, with Goldfeld getting her return game going and hitting a forehand return winner at 30-40 to force a tiebreaker.
Collins took a 6-1 lead in the tiebreaker, but Goldfeld saved two more match points, with Collins missing two returns. But on match point No. 5, Collins pounded a backhand winner to secure the win, and wasn't too upset with her inability to end the match quickly.
"I've been in that situation so many times this tournament, it seems like, so when it got to 5-all, she was obviously playing very well, took some chances there," said Collins, a 20-year-old sophomore from St. Petersburg, Florida who transferred from the University of Florida to Virginia and the end of last season. "I still wasn't too worried at 5-all, because I'm handling some of those pressure situations pretty well. I was looking forward to battling it out."
Collins said her matches with Chi in the juniors went "back and forth," but they were teammates in the USTA 18s Team Championships, which the Florida section won back in 2011.
"We're good friends, and it's going to be a great match," said Collins, who is looking to become the first player from the University of Virginia to win an NCAA women's tennis title. "Lynn's a great player and obviously has had a great season, so it's going to be an awesome match."
On the line for both, as Americans, is a wild card into the main draw of the US Open, which the USTA, although not obligated to do so, has given to all the NCAA champions from the United States since 2009.
Chi said she and her coach actually discussed the possibility of that wild card in a goal-setting session several weeks ago, but she settled on a goal of being named and All-American multiple times.
"It had never really been my goal to get that (wild card)," said Chi. "I just wanted to get through college tennis, survive it. But having this opportunity, I'm definitely going to try my best and go for it."
Collins is also not solely focused on the wild card.
"It's a huge prize and I would love to play in the US Open more than anything," Collins said. "But at the same time, I've done so well, this is the best tournament I've ever had, and I think it's a lot to be proud of just to be there. I think it's good to just throw that behind and whatever happens, happens. Just battle your hardest and see how it goes."
Giron, the only seed left in the singles after his 7-5, 6-3 win over No. 9 seed Soren Hess-Olesen of Texas, admits to giving the possibility of a US Open wild card some thought.
"I'd be lying if I said I didn't think about that," said Giron, a 20-year-old from Thousand Oaks, California. "It's obviously a huge goal of mine to get to the main draw of the US Open, so tomorrow's a great opportunity. I've been thinking about it, but I try to stay relaxed out there, because I don't want to add any pressure."
Giron trailed Hess-Olesen 4-1 in the opening set, before his serve and his forehand began to allow him to dictate the majority of points. After getting the break back to serve at 3-4, Giron hit four aces in that eighth game, and continued to threaten when Hess-Olesen was serving. Giron broke for a 6-5 lead and closed out the set, then took a 3-0 lead in the second set before Hess-Olesen got one of the breaks back. Giron kept his lead however, and earned his place in the final when Hess-Olsen, a junior from Denmark, double faulted on match point.
Hess-Olesen had withdrawn from the doubles quarterfinals Saturday with Lloyd Glasspool, and may have been less than 100 percent healthy for the semifinal.
"I saw him yesterday when he was playing Mackie (teammate Mackenzie McDonald) and he had an issue with his ab," said Giron, who has had no injury problems all year. "I don't how much it affected him today, but I felt today on his serve, I was able to play on every return game. I think that put a lot of pressure on him. I didn't know how healthy he was, when he pulled out of doubles, but either way, it was going to be a battle. The guy's very solid from the baseline and I had to take care of business."
Giron was pleased that he had only had to play one three-set match in the Georgia heat, but Sarkissian, his opponent in Monday's final, needed three sets to get past Harvard's Denis Nguyen in Sunday's semifinal 4-6, 7-5, 6-2.
Nguyen played flawless tennis in the opening set, breaking the 28th-ranked Sarkissian in the ninth game and converting his second set point with a crisp backhand that forced an error from Sarkissian.
The second set was decided by one loose game from the 39th-ranked Nguyen, who was serving at 5-6. After Sarkissian had hit a remarkable forehand passing shot to make it 0-15, Nguyen made three successive errors and was broken at love to lose his first set of the tournament.
Because the temperatures were in the upper 80s and the humidity high, the heat rule was in effect, and both Sarkissian and Nguyen went into the men's locker room to cool down and change clothing. Sarkissian said a break after winning the second set wasn't the momentum killer it might have been.
"I guess it worked out in my favor, so I can't really complain," said the 24-year-old senior from Glendale, Calif. "But I hadn't done that since juniors so it was something new. I just went to the bathroom, refreshed, came back, changed my shirt and got ready for the third set."
Sarkissian stayed steady, taking a 3-0 lead, as Nguyen, a junior from Anaheim, Calif., began making errors that he had avoided in the first two sets. Sarkissian didn't face a break point in the third set, and with Nguyen serving at 15-40 had a great look at a down the line forehand pass that he missed just wide. He didn't need to hit another ball however, as Nguyen double faulted on match point to put Sarkissian in the final, the first Pepperdine player to reach that stage since Robby Weiss won the title for the Waves in 1988.
Despite Giron's No. 2 ranking and a 6-2, 6-3 win over him earlier in the year, Sarkissian does not view himself as an underdog in Monday's match.
"He played well the last match; he was the better player that day," Sarkissian said. "But no, I'm going out there tomorrow with just one attitude and that's to win the match."
The doubles finals are set, and unlike the singles, all four teams are seeded.
The women's doubles final will feature No. 2 seeds Lauren Herring and Maho Kowase of Georgia against No. 4 seeds Maya Jansen and Erin Routliffe of Alabama. Herring and Kowase defeated unseeded Emily Flickinger and Pleun Burgmans of Auburn 6-4, 7-5, much to the delight of the several hundred Georgia fans in attendance. Jansen and Routliffe reached the final with a 6-0, 4-6, 6-2 victory over No. 5 seeds Beatrice Capra and Hanna Mar of Duke.
The men's doubles final has the same pairing, with No. 2 seeds Mikelis Libietis and Hunter Reese of Tennessee against No. 4 seeds Peter Kobelt and Kevin Metka of Ohio State. Libietis and Reese, who have reached the final of all three collegiate major this season, winning the All-Americans in October, defeated unseeded Hunter Harrington and Dominique Maden of Clemson 6-4, 6-2 in a match completed shortly before thunderstorms moved into the Athens area.
Kobelt and Metka, who where the recipients of the walkover from Hess-Olesen and Glasspool in Saturday's quarterfinals, beat unseeded Arjun Kadhe and Jakob Sude of Oklahoma State 7-6(2), 6-2.
The singles finals are both scheduled to begin at noon, and will be streamed, with commentary, on ncaa.com. The doubles finals, also streamed live, will follow the singles.
There is a chance of rain again on Monday, so follow @NCAATennis2014 on twitter for news of any schedule changes.
Complete results can be found at georgiadogs.com.