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Saturday, February 14, 2015

On Day Two of ITA Men's Team Indoor Championships, Baylor Upsets Virginia, Defending Champion Ohio State Falls

©2015 Jonathan Kelley for zootennis--
Chicago, IL--

Baylor's Tony Lupieri came up with another big win for the Bears Saturday
Tennis thrillers don’t have to necessarily go to a final set, as proved today by Tony Lupieri and Thai-Son Kwiatkowski. The #27-ranked Baylor senior scored a big upset over the #1-ranked Virginia sophomore at #3 singles to help propel the #11-seeded Bears to its second upset in as many days over an ACC team.

The doubles point presaged a great singles event. Baylor won 6-3 at #3 doubles while #1 and #2 became mirror images of each other at 4-4. Simultaneously, Ryan Shane/Luca Corintelli broke Mate Zsiga/Lupieri at 1 and Julian Lenz/Diego Galeano broke Mac Styslinger/Kwiatkowski at 2. Remarkably, though, both teams broke back immediately and eventually went to tiebreaks. There, Baylor prevailed 7-2 at 2 to take the doubles point.

A buzz built in the crowd as Baylor went up early in its three matches at the top of the lineup. #10 Julian Lenz took Baylor to 2-0 with a 2 and 0 win over UVA senior captain Mitchell Frank. Virginia got a point back at #4 singles as 2013 USTA Boys 18s champion Collin Altamirano closed out Diego Galeano 6-1, 6-2. But after J. C. Aragone beat Vince Schneider 6-3, 6-4 at #6 and #4 Ryan Shane took out new Bear Max Tchoutakian 4-6, 6-1 6-1, attention turned to #3 singles.

Up a set and 4*-1, Lupieri had the biggest win of his college career in sight, but Kwiatkowski started to turn things around. He got a break back for 3-4* and after the players traded holds, Lupieri tried to serve out the match at 5*-4 but Kwiatkowski broke on a Lupieri double fault, and then held for a 6-5* lead. Lupieri went down 0-30 but then played four great points to hold, and the set went to a tiebreak.

The roller coaster continued. Kwiatkowski went up 3*-0 but Lupieri came back and took a 5*-4 lead on a missed Kwiatkowski volley. Kwiatkowski continued to come forward, though at on match point, Lupieri wasn’t able to pass, and the players were even at 6-6 going into the changeover. Each player saved match/set points until 11*-10 Baylor. Lupieri took the final point and his teammates and fans erupted but there was little time for celebration as a mass of humanity raced to the two back courts, behind a wall, where #5 singles was on serve at 3-4 in the final set.

The huge infusion of energy seemed to help Zsiga, who immediately broke Alexander Ritschard at love to a huge roar from the Baylorites. Up 5*-3, the 6-2 Hungarian senior calmly closed the match out at 15 and almost instantaneously found himself at the bottom of a pile of Bears.

Video of Zsiga's clinch can be found here.

Zsiga was understandably elated with his win. He recalled losing the clinching match against Illinois earlier this season, despite having match points.

“It feels really really good that I was able to learn from that match and get the most out of it. Since that match, I changed a few things about my game style and I feel I made a lot of improvements. Virginia is an indoor team; we’re from Texas, not really an indoor team. We really tried to focus on our game style and tried to get the most out of our guys, and I feel we did that. I tried to do the same thing: serve big, be aggressive, and come to the net as much as possible.”

Zsiga noted that this was Baylor’s first win against Virginia since assistant coach Dominik Mueller’s freshman year (2006-2007). "It’s really special.”

Lupieri, who clinched the upset of Duke yesterday, said, “I’m really happy for our team. This is probably our biggest win since I’ve been at Baylor, so I’m really excited, but we’re not done yet. Nothing is over. We have a match tomorrow at 12 and we have to re-focus and try to win tomorrow.”
Regarding the set points he faced in the tiebreak, “I just tried to relax and to breathe deeply, and it worked out perfectly for me.”

On beating the #1-ranked player: “Feels amazing. That was my goal - to be the best. If you want to be the best, you have to beat the best.”

Baylor coach Matt Knoll gave Virginia “a lot of credit. I thought their guys competed incredibly well and fought as hard as you can fight, and it was a toss-up we were lucky to win.”

Knoll noted that Zsiga being a senior “probably helped him today. He’s been in that situation a lot. He did a great job of executing the plan that we had in place” - a plan developed as the match went along due to the team’s lack of familiarity with Ritschard.

Baylor will face a familiar foe in fellow Big 12 power Oklahoma. The Sooners had little trouble with UNC, rolling through singles after dropping the doubles point. Among the four finished straight-set matches (at #1, #2, #4, and #5) only #26 Andrew Harris at #1 was taken to a tiebreak, by #6 Brayden Schnur. Harris went up 6*-4 but double faulted on his first set point. However, he hit a huge return on his second match point and won the tiebreak 7-5.

On other courts, #11 Axel Alvarez defeated yesterday’s hero #19 Ronnie Schneider 6-1 6-4 at #2, Spencer Papa rolled past Oystein Steiro 6-4 6-2 at #4, and #63 Alex Ghilea beat #104 Jack Murray 7-5 6-1 at #5.

Oklahoma coach John Roddick on Alvarez’s win: “Axel knew Ronnie from the NCAA’s and we thought we had a good game plan, and Axel, when he serves well and hits the ball well from the baseline, he’s a tough out. He played really well today.”

When asked about facing Baylor, Roddick said, “Obviously we both know each other well. It’s been 4-3 just about every time we’ve played them [including last year in the National Team Indoors consolation bracket].

I think it’ll be similar tomorrow.” Knoll said, “It’s going to be a huge challenge for us. We’re going to have to play a great match to have a chance to win.”

In the mid-afternoon dual, last year’s runner-ups, #8 seed Ohio State, were defeated by top seed Southern Cal 4-1. Southern Cal took the doubles point with wins 6-2 at #2 and 6-4 #1.

Perhaps because they were missing top recruit Hugo Di Feo (who hasn’t been ruled eligible by the NCAA and may not play all season), OSU managed only a win by Finnish Davis Cupper Herkko Pollanen 6-3, 6-2 against #20 Jonny Wang at #3 to tie the match at 1-1. After that it was a bit anticlimactic as in quick succession, three matches finished in straight sets: Eric Johnson won 7-5, 6-4 at #4, #24 Roberto Quiroz beat #30 Mikal Torpegaard (after Torpegaard served for the second set) at #2, and #7 Yannick Hanfmann beat #53 Eric Diaz 7-6, 6-1 at #1.

USC coach Peter Smith was adamant, however, that the win could not be called routine.

“I would say any time you play the Buckeyes, it’s never routine. It will never be routine," said Smith, no doubt recalling that it was Ohio State that ended their run of four straight NCAA team championships in 2013.

"Lot of respect for the Buckeyes program and how hard they work, and how hard they prepare, and how hard they fight. We played a good doubles point. We got up in the doubles at 2 and that gave us some breathing room at 1 and 3, and Roberto and Eric and Yannick - three seniors -really played great matches.”

Ohio State brought out a number of fans, and Smith was really happy with the turnout on a frigid day in the Windy City. “This is the most well-attended quarterfinal of a National Indoor I’ve ever participated in.”

If Southern Cal finds itself up against Illinois tomorrow, he hopes there’s a huge home crowd. “All these guys want a crowd, whether they’re screaming for or against them. We want that atmosphere.”

In day's final match between No. 4 Georgia and No. 5 Illinois, college tennis provided a Valentine’s Day spectacle – a great match between two traditional powers, the outcome of which was in doubt from the first ball to the last.

In front of a raucous pro-Illinois crowd, four student athletes hailing from three continents - a Welshman, two Australians, and a South African – battled on two courts in back-and-forth affairs that both went into third set tiebreakers. When Farris Gosea’s final ball went into the net, giving Wayne Montgomery the match and the University of Georgia the win, Aleks Vukic was left unable to try to convert his match point against Ben Wagland. Although the crowd, and the losing squad, walked away disappointed, there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that they had just witnessed a classic.

Or, at least, half a classic. Midtown Tennis Club is an excellent facility for this event, boasting enough courts to have two simultaneous dual matches plus room for spectators (and a bar). However, was only possible to see three courts at any time, as 1-3 were on one side, and 4-6 on the other, of the tarp backstops for each set of courts. So the crowd had to choose, and with more seating and standing available, a majority chose #1, featuring Montgomery and Gosea.

Of course, to get to a hugely dramatic finish, a stage must be set. It started early, with the doubles point going to 6-6 at 1 after the two schools split 2 and 3. Prior to the tiebreak, Illinois’ Tim Kopinski and Ross Guignon had been up 5*-3 and had match point at 40-40, but lost the deciding point. In the tiebreak, the Georgia team was a bit stronger, winning 7-4 to put themselves up 1-0, which proved crucial in the end.

Deciding points would prove to be a theme in singles, as on court after court multiple games got to deuce. At #4 singles, the first 5 games of the match went to deuce, and Hiltzik won three of the deciding points. He then won the last 3 games of the set, and took a 3-0 lead on Nick Wood.

Meanwhile, #23 Jared Hiltzik went up 6-1 over #21 Austin Smith at #2 and #41 Farris Gosea went up by the same score against #17 Montgomery at #1. With #46 Aleks Vukic recording a bagel over struggling (and unranked) Wagland, it looked like it could be a short night for the Illini.

Georgia had other ideas though. At #3 singles, passionate #15 Nathan Pasha overcame an early deficit to take his first set 7-5 against #37 Tim Kopinski. He would go on to ride his big serve and groundies to win 7-5, 7-5.

Prior to that, Jared, the older of the Hiltzik brothers, dominated Smith 6-1 in the second to secure Illinois’ first point. But on 6, the big freshman from Kalamazoo, Paul Oosterbaan, picked up a 6-4, 6-4 win over senior Blake Bazarnik, who replaced Toshiki Matsuya in the lineup. Then Aron, the younger Hiltzik, overcame a hiccup (and a resurgent opponent, who batted from 1-4 to 4-4) to beat Wood 6-2, 6-4 and pull Illinois to within 2-3.

So that was the prelude.

At #1, Montgomery took the second set 6-3 and it was clear that a long third set was in the works. As that progressed, and those two were the sole match remaining on their side of the divide, they were oblivious to the drama unfolding at #5.

Wagland, a junior who two years ago found himself  playing #1 singles for Georgia, was down 0-6, 1-4* against fellow Aussie Vukic and it looked like the writing was on the wall. His forehand was not firing, in fact at one point he was slicing every forehand he saw, and Illinois fans were heckling him for it. Vukic tried attacking it but to Wagland’s credit, he started keeping the ball in play. Slowly the forehand came back and with it his confidence. He broke for 2*-4 then held for 3-4*. And then he broke again. 4-4. Hold. 5-4*.

And then another break, and the second set, 6-4.

However, Vukic did not let this turn of events discourage him. He’s built up a nice reputation already for mental toughness, including a third-set tiebreak against Zsiga of Baylor to secure a 4-3 win for Illinois last month. As he and Wagland became the last court on their side of the tarps, both players survived multiple break points – including, inherently, deciding points – and yet neither was able to get the advantage. Memorably, Vukic got to 0-40 at 3-3 but big (actually, enormous) serving by Wagland got Georgia to 4-3.

At 5*-6, Vukic started up 30-0 but Wagland hit two winners to get it to 30-30. Two points later it was deuce. Game point. Deciding point. Semifinal point (for Georgia).

Huge Vukic serve. Tiebreak.

Over on 1, Montgomery had gone up an early break for 2*-1 but Gosea fought back immediately and the two held serve (but not without two deciding points along the way) until the tiebreak.

Hopping back and forth between the two sides hopefully helped this reporter get his cardio in for the weekend. Vukic and Wagland’s match was the more intense, but unfortunately was not allowed to finish, as mentioned above. Montgomery was the stronger finisher at #1 and that was all it took. They’ll face Southern California next in a rematch of their Pac 12 Showdown match in January, which was dominated by the Trojans.

Diaz on Montgomery, who had lost badly to Columbia’s Winston Lin on Day One: “Wayne is a very relentless competitor and a very resourceful competitor. I knew it was going to take a great performance by him. I think he was maybe a little bit off his game [at the start] – he may have been a little bit nervous, a little bit tentative – that’s a pretty big situation to put a freshman in. But I knew that he was going to hopefully find his game. He had to get a little more patient, a little bit more disciplined with his patterns. But he is such a wonderful competitor that I didn’t count him out.”

Diaz on Wagland: “To me it was just a huge win – a moral win for him. He just competed tremendously well after a very disappointing performance yesterday (in his words). He had a lot to prove to himself and I think he did that.”

Diaz on his team’s many deciding points: “It’s great either way, but this is fantastic for these guys. I just find that it’s teaching them a whole lot to play under pressure. It makes for a very exciting match.” Would he have said that had they lost the match? “Absolutely.”

On USC: “They’ve got a little bit of rest on us. They beat us pretty soundly in January. I think we can do a little bit better. Hopefully.”

Montgomery: “I don’t want to sound arrogant or anything – I felt like I was in control. I wasn’t doubting myself or anything. I knew I was prepared. I was just playing every point, point-for-point, just focusing on the moment and it turned out to come my way, so I’m really happy about the result.”

Montgomery on whether he knew what was going on at 5: “Had no idea – no clue at all. I went straight over there as soon as I finished my match and realized he was match point down. So yeah, good feeling.”

Montgomery on Gosea:  “The first set he played unbelievable. I just made too many mistakes. I gave him way too many free points. I just wasn’t on my game. And then I kind of settled down and I just said to myself ‘What are you doing? This is not your game style. Just focus on what you do good, focus on your strength and try to exploit his weakness and that’s what I did.”

For all results, including the consolation matches, see the ITA tournament page.
Men’s Team Indoor Championships Quarterfinals
Feb 13, 2015
#2 Oklahoma 4, #7 North Carolina 1
1. #26 Andrew Harris (OU) d. #6 Brayden Schnur (UNC), 7-6(5), 6-3
2. #11 Axel Alvarez (OU) d. #19 Ronnie Schneider (UNC), 6-1, 6-4
3. #31 Dane Webb (OU) led Brett Clark (UNC), 6-4, 3-6, 3-0, unfinished
4. Spencer Papa (OU) d. Oystein Steiro (UNC), 6-4, 6-2
5. #63 Alex Ghilea (OU) d. #104 Jack Murray (UNC), 7-5, 6-1
6. #75 Robert Kelly led Jose Salazar (OU), 6-0, 3-6, 5-4, unfinished

1. #6 Axel Alvarez and Dane Webb (OU) d. Brayden Schnur and Oystein Steiro (UNC), 6-1
2. Brett Clark and Robert Kelly (UNC) d. Andrew Harris and Spencer Papa (OU), 6-4
3. Jack Murray and Ronnie Schneider (UNC) d. Alex Ghilea and Jose Salazar (OU), 6-3

Order of finish: Doubles (1,3,2); Singles (2,4,5,1)

Men’s Team Indoor Championships Quarterfinals
Feb 14, 2015
#10 Baylor 4, #3 Virginia 3
1. #10 Julian Lenz (BU) def. Mitchell Frank (UVA) 6-2, 6-0
2. #4 Ryan Shane (UVA) def. #67 Max Tchoutakian (BU) 4-6, 6-1, 6-1
3. #27 Tony Lupieri (BU) def. #1 Thai-Son Kwiatkowski (UVA) 6-4, 7-6(10)
4. Collin Altamirano (UVA) def. Diego Galeano (BU) 6-1, 6-2
5. Mate Zsiga (BU) def. Alexander Ritschard (UVA) 6-4, 3-6, 6-3
6. J.C. Aragone (UVA) def. Vince Schneider (BU) 6-3, 6-4

1. #37 Ryan Shane/Luca Corinteli (UVA) vs. #40 Mate Zsiga/Tony Lupieri (BU) 6-6, unfinished
2. Julian Lenz/Diego Galeano (BU) def. #41 Mac Styslinger/Thai-Son Kwiatkowski (UVA) 7-6(2)
3. Vince Schneider/Felipe Rios (BU) def. Mitchell Frank/Collin Altamirano (UVA) 6-3

Order of finish: Doubles (3,2); Singles (1,4,6,2,3,5)

Men’s Team Indoor Championships Quarterfinals
Feb 14, 2015
#1 Southern California 4, #8 Ohio State 1
1. #7 Yannick Hanfmann (USC) def. #53 Chris Diaz (OSU) 7-6(4), 6-1
2. #24 Roberto Quiroz (USC) def. #30 Mikal Torpegaard (OSU) 6-1, 7-5
3. Herkko Pollanen (OSU) def. #20 Jonny Wang (USC) 6-3, 6-2
4. Eric Johnson (USC) def. #68 Ralf Steinbach (OSU) 7-5, 6-4
5. #104 Max De Vroome (USC) vs. #110 Hunter Callahan (OSU) 5-7, 6-3, 0-1, unfinished
6. #49 Nick Crystal (USC) vs. Kevin Metka (OSU) 6-7(6), 3-2, unfinished

1. #1 Yannick Hanfmann/Roberto Quiroz (USC) def. #7 Ralf Steinbach/Kevin Metka (OSU) 6-4
2. #38 Max De Vroome/Eric Johnson (USC) def. #36 Hunter Callahan/Chris Diaz (OSU) 6-2
3. Nick Crystal/Connor Farren (USC) def. Mikal Torpegaard/Herkko Pollanen (OSU) 5-4

Order of finish: Doubles (2,1); Singles (3,4,2,1)
Men’s Team Indoor Championships Quarterfinals
Feb 14, 2015
#4 Georgia 4, #5 Illinois 2
1. #17 Wayne Montgomery (GA) def. #41 Farris Gosea (ILL) 1-6, 6-3, 7-6(3)
2. #23 Jared Hiltzik (ILL) def. #21 Austin Smith (GA) 6-1, 6-1
3. #15 Nathan Pasha (GA) def. #37 Tim Kopinski (ILL) 7-5, 7-5
4. #69 Aron Hiltzik (ILL) def. Nick Wood (GA) 6-2, 6-4
5. Ben Wagland (GA) vs. #46 Aleks Vukic (ILL) 1-6, 6-4, 6-6, unfinished
6. Paul Oosterbaan (GA) def. Blake Bazarnik (ILL) 6-4, 6-4

1. Ben Wagland/Austin Smith (GA) def. #11 Tim Kopinski/Ross Guignon (ILL) 7-6(4)
2. Nathan Pasha/Eric Diaz (GA) def. Jared Hiltzik/Farris Gosea (ILL) 6-3
3. Blake Bazarnik/Brian Page (ILL) def. Paul Oosterbaan/Wayne Montgomery (GA) 6-3

Order of finish: Doubles (3,2,1); Singles (2,6,4,3,1)