©Colette Lewis 2014--
Tuesday's women's final between UCLA and North Carolina features an upstart against a perennial contender, and the men's final will follow suit, with first-time finalist Oklahoma facing top seed Southern California after the Sooners and Trojans won tense victories Monday night.
Top seed Southern Cal, who has now reached five of the last six finals, defeated No. 4 seed and defending champion Virginia 5-1 on the main courts, while second seed Oklahoma came up clutch in two third-set tiebreakers to defeat No. 6 UCLA 4-2 on the back courts of the Dan Magill Tennis Complex.
The Sooners took the doubles point with wins at lines 1 and 3, forcing UCLA to come up with four singles wins to return to the final, where they lost in heartbreaking fashion last year to Virginia. The Bruins looked as if they might do that with four first sets in singles, including a 6-0 drubbing of Guillermo Alcorta by UCLA's Clay Thompson at line 1. But Alcorta, a senior from Spain, came back to take the second set, crucial in assuring the Sooners' victory.
UCLA tied the score with Adrien Puget's 6-2, 6-3 win over Austin Siegel at line 5, but Axel Alvarez put Oklahoma back on top with a 6-4, 6-2 win over Marcos Giron at line 2. Mackenzie McDonald again tied it for the Bruins with a 6-4, 6-4 win over Dane Webb at line 3, while UCLA's Karue Sell had forced a third set at line 6 against Alex Ghilea, and Oklahoma's Andrew Harris had forced a third with Gage Brymer at line 4.
Sell took a 5-2 lead in the third set, but Ghilea fought back, and aided by a point penalty for Sell's third overrule of the match at 5-6, 30-30, earned a third set tiebreaker. At the same time, Alcorta and Thompson were heading to a tiebreaker, meaning that either team was minutes away from a victory, or, with a split of the two tiebreakers, a last-match-on situation at line 4.
Ghilea made his share of errors in the tiebreaker, and a spectacular running passing shot as well, but after Sell missed a return at 5-5, Ghilea stood at match point. After a long rally, the freshman from Romania unloaded on a forehand for a clean winner, and all the fans at the top two courts rushed down to see the tiebreaker on 1, which Alcorta led 5-4. Thompson missed his first serve, but came in on his second, and Alcorta missed the passing shot wide for 5-5. Thompson again served and volleyed, this time on a first serve, and Alcorta didn't miss with his passing shot a second time give him a match point at 6-5.
Alcorta missed his first serve but got his second serve in, and after a short rally, Thompson missed a slice into the net, giving the Sooners the victory, and setting off a celebration befitting a first trip to an NCAA championship.
UCLA coach Billy Martin gave credit to Alcorta for hanging tough after losing the first set so decisively.
"He's lost to Clay twice this year, and last time quite badly at the (Team) Indoors," said Martin. "After he won that first set, I was like, oh my gosh Clay must just have his number. A lot of times matchups are funny in tennis. But coming back there was probably as big a help for Oklahoma as anything, to get back in that match, which ends up being the last match."
Alcorta admitted he too was thinking that Thompson had his number after the first set, but coach John Roddick jolted him out of that mindset.
"I asked for coach, who was up in the 5 and 6 courts, and he came and he asked me if the guy was that much better than I am," said Alcorta, a senior from Spain who is known as Willy to all the Sooner fans. "I said no, so at this point I have to fight. I stayed there, kept fighting, fighting. He made mistakes, I took profit of them, and that's how I won I guess."
Roddick, who had the in-person support of his younger brother Andy, who is also expected to be at the final tomorrow, knows his team is at an experience disadvantage against Southern Cal.
"We enjoy it," said Roddick, in his fifth season at Oklahoma. "It's a battle trying to catch up with those teams. I've been a part of one of those programs (Georgia), and as an underdog we feel like we have to fight and scrap. That's how Georgia made it, and that's how we're going to make it."
Southern Cal also took advantage of a very close doubles point, with two tiebreakers being played simultaneously after Southern Cal had won on court 2. Max de Vroome and Eric Johnson won at No. 3 8-7(5) to give the Trojans the lead.
Neither team established any real advantage in the singles, with each winning three first sets, but Virginia got its first point with Ryan Shane's 6-1, 6-4 victory over Roberto Quiroz at line 3. Eric Johnson made it 2-1 USC by taking a 6-4, 7-5 decision from Justin Shane at line 5, but Virginia looked they could grab some momentum with a victory by Alex Domijan over Yannick Hanfmann at line 1. Domijan, who had won the first set 6-4, had two match points in the second set tiebreaker, but Hanfmann saved one on a remarkable forehand cross court passing shot that both teams were still talking about after the match.
"I heard you hit an unbelievable forehand pass," Smith said to Hanfmann at the postmatch press conference. "Everyone was telling me about it. Cross court?"
"Yeah," said Hanfmann. "Not a good return, he comes in and I'm just reacting and I went cross court."
"Was he at net?," Smith asked. "Yes," said Hanfmann. "Surprisingly."
Domijan actually fell down while Hanfmann's shot zipped past him.
"He had match points in the tiebreaker, he came in on one of them," said Boland, who was coaching on that court. "Hanfmann hit a great passing shot cross court. Alex played well enough to win the match when you hit a good serve, you come in in the tiebreaker and you get passed. Great passing shot, Alex went down. So he had tons of opportunities in that tiebreaker and it could have gone either way. That could have changed the momentum of the match, no question."
During that tiebreaker, Virginia's Mitchell Frank had a set point to extend his match with Raymond Sarmiento at line 2, serving at 5-4, but Sarmiento broke, held, and broke again for a 7-5, 6-4 win to make it 3-1 Southern Cal. USC's Max de Vroome had forced a third set with Thai Kwiatkowski at line 4, and Michael Grant was up a break in the third set against Virginia's JC Aragone at line 6, while Hanfmann had also taken a lead in his third set with Domijan.
"When there's three matches left, and you've got to win one, the guys know the deal," said Smith. "They're looking at it okay, just one, we can get one, and what an effort by him (Hanfmann). What an effort by everybody."
As it happened Grant had two match points at 5-3 in the third set against Aragone, while Hanfmann was serving for the match against Domijan at 5-4 in the third. With Grant losing his first match point--and he and Aragone were playing some very lengthy points--Hanfmann earned two at 40-15. And while all the attention was on Grant, playing his second match point, Hanfmann's first serve hit the net and trickled over for an ace, giving him a 4-6, 7-6(10), 6-4 win and Southern Cal its fourth point. The whole team was at Grant's match however, and it was Grant who was mobbed when he went on to win his second match point, even though it turned out to be point No. 5 in USC's 5-1 win.
Smith and his team have happy memories of Athens, having won their fourth straight title here in 2012.
"It's always great to be back here," said Hanfmann, a junior from Germany. "So many good memories. I wish we could play here every year."
"We walked into the Indoors last night and the four of us just look at each other and smile," said Smith. "There are great memories here. We walk in these locker rooms and there's great memories. So yeah, but I don't know how much that means. But we have good feelings when we're walking around here."
Boland sees an edge for USC with their recent history in Athens, where they've won two of their four NCAA titles.
"I don't think there's any question that USC has the advantage in terms of the times they've been here and with the experiences they've had," said Boland. "That being said, Oklahoma is an incredibly talented team, and John's done a great job with them this year, and he'll have them ready. These matches always come down to an inch here or there. That's what makes college tennis so exciting."
The women's final is set to begin Tuesday at 1 p.m., followed by the men's match at 5 p.m. For live scoring and live video, see georgiadogs.com.
Men’s Semifinal: #2 OKLAHOMA (28-3) def. #6 UCLA (26-4), 4-2 - McWhorter Courts
Doubles (Order of finish: 2,3,1)
1. Axel Alvarez/Dane Webb (OKLAHOMA) def. #10 Marcos Giron/Mackenzie McDonald (UCLA), 8-6
2. Adrien Puget/Karue Sell (UCLA) def. Guillermo Alcorta/Andrew Harris (OKLAHOMA), 8-5
3. Alex Ghilea/Nick Papac (OKLAHOMA) def. Joseph Di Giulio/Clay Thompson (UCLA), 8-7(5)
Singles (Order of finish: 5,2,3,6,1)
1. #5 Guillermo Alcorta (OKLAHOMA) def. #1 Clay Thompson (UCLA), 0-6, 6-2, 7-6(5)
2. #7 Axel Alvarez (OKLAHOMA) def. #2 Marcos Giron (UCLA), 6-4, 6-2
3. #35 Mackenzie McDonald (UCLA) def. #41 Dane Webb (OKLAHOMA), 6-4, 6-4
4. #53 Andrew Harris (OKLAHOMA) vs. #71 Gage Brymer (UCLA), 4-6, 6-3, 2-3, unf.
5. Adrien Puget (UCLA) def. Austin Siegel (OKLAHOMA), 6-2, 6-3
6. Alex Ghilea (OKLAHOMA) def. #95 Karue Sell (UCLA), 6-3, 6-4, 7-6(5)
Men’s Semifinal: #1 USC (31-3) def. #4 VIRGINIA (27-3), 5-1 - Henry Feild Stadium
Doubles (Order of finish: 2,3)
1. #1 Yannick Hanfmann/Ray Sarmiento (USC) vs. #38 Alex Domijan/Justin Shane (VIRGINIA), 7-7, unf.
2. Connor Farren/Roberto Quiroz (USC) def. Thai-Son Kwiatkowski/Mac Styslinger (VIRGINIA), 8-5
3. Max de Vroome/Eric Johnson (USC) def. Ryan Shane/Mitchell Frank (VIRGINIA), 8-7(5)
Singles (Order of finish: 3,5,2,1,6)
1. #10 Yannick Hanfmann (USC) def. #6 Alex Domijan (VIRGINIA), 4-6, 7-6(10), 6-4
2. #9 Ray Sarmiento (USC) def. #4 Mitchell Frank (VIRGINIA), 6-4, 7-5
3. #46 Ryan Shane (VIRGINIA) def. #42 Roberto Quiroz (USC), 6-1, 6-4
4. #91 Max de Vroome (USC) vs. #113 Thai-Son Kwiatkowski (VIRGINIA), 6-7(8), 7-6(2), 3-1, unf.
5. Eric Johnson (USC) def. Justin Shane (VIRGINIA), 6-4, 7-5
6. Michael Grant (USC) def. J.C. Aragone (VIRGINIA), 7-5, 3-6, 6-3