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Saturday, September 6, 2014

Top Seeds Giron, Loeb Win American Collegiate Invitational at US Open

©Colette Lewis 2014--
Flushing Meadows, NY--

UCLA's Marcos Giron and University of North Carolina's Jamie Loeb are assured of returning to New York for the 2015 US Open after capturing the titles at the inaugural American Collegiate Invitational Saturday at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

Top seed Loeb won the battle of the New Yorkers, beating University of Virginia junior Julia Elbaba 7-5, 6-1, while Giron, also the top seed, dismissed Peter Kobelt of Ohio State 6-1, 6-3 on a hot, humid and breezy afternoon on the new West courts of the National Tennis Center.

Loeb defeated Jennifer Brady of UCLA 6-3, 6-4 in Thursday's opening round in the eight-player draw, then earned her place in the final with a convincing 6-3, 6-1 over 2014 NCAA champion Danielle Collins of Virginia.

Against Elbaba, not just a recent ACC rival but an opponent that dates back to their days in the 12s in the Eastern section, Loeb started slowly, and neither woman held serve in their first three attempts.  Loeb held her next three service games, however, and that was enough to give her the 61-minute first set, breaking Elbaba at 5-6.

"We both struggled with our first serve and our serve in general," said Loeb, who hit nine aces, but only put in 47 percent of her first serves. "Once I held, it kind of gave me a little bit more confidence. By the second set, I felt very confident in my serve."

Elbaba noticed the difference once Loeb had secured the opening set.

"As soon as she won that set, she was playing with a lot of confidence," said Elbaba, who lost to Loeb 6-1, 7-5 in their only collegiate meeting last year. "She was playing freely, loose. I was just trying to get my way back in, but I couldn't."

"We had some grueling games," said Loeb, who has returned to Chapel Hill for her sophomore year after being named ITA Player of the Year for the 2013-2014 season. "And it definitely took a toll on me physically. I was getting a little tired, but I just tried to slow down, play smart points. I made some loose errors, but getting that break gave me my second wind."

Loeb said the second game of the second set, when she broke Elbaba for the fifth time in the match, was a key factor in her victory.

"After I won that second game, that really gave me the momentum the rest of the match," Loeb said.

Loeb, who was disappointed she did not receive a US Open qualifying wild card after her historic freshman season, is happy to have assured herself one for 2015 and can get a main draw wild card if she reaches 150 in the WTA rankings at the August 2015 cutoff date for entry.

"I'm very happy," said Loeb, who stayed at home in Ossining, New York during the tournament. "Even though it wasn't this year at least I'll be getting it next year. I'm losing some points from qualifying last year, so I'll probably drop to 570 or so, but at least I don't have the pressure of thinking how am I going to get to the US Open, thinking I have to win NCAAs. At least I know I'm in qualifying for sure."

Giron, who played in the main draw this year as NCAA champion, losing to John Isner in the first round 7-6(5), 6-2, 7-6(2), believes he can reach the 250 ATP ranking required to turn his qualifying wild card into a main draw.

"It's a great opportunity," said Giron, who turned pro after his junior year at UCLA. "You have to prove yourself out there on the tour, that you're able to hang with the professionals and move up the ladder. You have to earn your spot. I definitely think it's attainable. It's been a steep learning curve, the first couple months of professional tennis, but I'm definitely grasping it and I think as long as I keep working hard and keep improving, staying healthy, I definitely think I should be top 250 by next year."

Against Kobelt, who completed his eligibility at Ohio State this spring, Giron was rolling along in the first set, leading 5-1 with Kobelt serving at 15-40.  Then the rains came, and after Kobelt saved one break point, play was suspended, not an ideal time for either player.

"At that point I was a little worried," said Giron, who had beaten Raymond Sarmiento of USC and Alex Sarkissian of Pepperdine to reach the final. "I was like, oh my goodness, you've got to be kidding me, I'm returning 5-1, 30-40 break point. You've got to take advantage of your opportunities when you get them, and all of a sudden I have all the momentum. But I was able to go back to the locker room, stay focused and keep high energy and that was very helpful."

"I would have liked to be at deuce rather than 30-40," said the 6-foot-7 Kobelt. "I can't really complain, but it might have given me a fresh start. I think we were both fully energized, and that's just part of tennis. You have to come out of the gates playing the way you want to play. Sometimes it's tricky, but hats off to Marcos."

Kobelt's serve is his calling card and he did have ten aces in the 63-minute match, but he gave credit to Giron for returning well.

"I served maybe hit or miss in the first set," said Kobelt. "Marcos wasn't missing any returns, making me play on all my second serves, and he was doing a great job of it. Obviously I would have liked to do everything better."

Giron said his 7-6(3) 6-3 win over Sarmiento and his 1-6, 6-1, 6-4 win over Sarkissian helped him in today's final.

"The first few matches against Ray and Alex were very close matches and they got me mentally tough," said the 21-year-old from Thousand Oaks, California. "Having to play good tennis on the big points and coming through. Those two matches really gave me a lot of momentum coming into today playing Peter. I came out very sharp today and didn't let up. I'm very happy with the way I played."

For additional coverage of the tournament, see this article at usopen.org and this recap from Steve Pratt.