Sunday, February 15, 2015

Top Seed Southern Cal, Second Seed Oklahoma Will Decide Another National Team Title Monday at ITA Men's Indoor

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

1 vs. 2. Defending national champion vs. defending runner-up. Cardinal and gold vs. crimson and cream. A legendary program vs one quickly building a legend.

On a snowy Sunday in Chicago, the University of Southern California Trojans and University of Oklahoma Sooners each dropped the doubles point 2-0, but then toughed out wins to set up a rematch of the 2014 NCAA championships, which Southern California won 4-2 (incidentally, after dropping the doubles point).

First up was #2-seeded Oklahoma against archrival #11 Baylor Bears. Last time these two teams met, it was for the Big XII championship, and was decided in an epic 28-minute game that either showed the glory of ad scoring or the problem with it, depending on one’s point of view.

Baylor dominated in doubles, with Vince Schneider and Felipe Rios securing a 6-1 win at 3 and Julian Lenz and Diego Galeano winning 6-2 at 2. Mate Zsiga and Tony Lupieri were up 4-2 on 1 when the point was decided.

Roddick said he didn’t see Baylor’s early strong effort in doubles coming. After his team went down so far early in doubles, “I just wanted to get it over with. It’s like on the goal line, letting the other team score so you can get the ball back with two minutes instead of five seconds left. It was so far gone, we just needed to regroup at that point. And that’s what we did.”

John Roddick guides Sooners to first Indoor final
Refocused for singles, #31-ranked senior Dane Webb took the match to #27 Tony Lupieri, who had been the hero in Baylor’s first two wins. Webb went up 6-4 in the first and didn’t lose a game in the second set. With his serve and forehand firing, he took the match out of Lupieri’s hands.

At #2 singles, #11 Axel Alvarez beat #67 Max Tchoutakian 6-4, 6-4 to put Oklahoma up 2-0,  ending a mixed-bag weekend for the French freshman that saw him beat a big name in Duke’s Jason Tahir and then lose to two top-11 players in Alvarez and Virginia’s Ryan Shane.

The rest of the matches were dog fights worthy of a thriving rivalry.

Oklahoma freshman Spencer Papa, perhaps the most highly sought recruit out of high school, faced Paraguayan senior Diego Galeano at #4. The hard-hitting Papa started strong, winning a deciding point in the sixth game of the first set and then breaking Galeano at 15 to go up 4*-3. Two service holds later put Papa up a set. Galeano stormed back in the second, going up 4*-0 and taking the set 6-1. The third set was an intense affair as several points culminated in stare downs. Young Papa was not intimidated, though, and broke at 3-2*. Galeano won the next two games in deciding points to even the match at 4-4 in the third and with momentum seemingly on Baylor’s side. However, a massive service game from Papa gave him a 5-4* lead, and with Galeano serving at 30-15, Papa won the last three points to put Oklahoma within a point of the final.

“It was very competitive – we definitely gave each other some stares – but I know he’s a nice kid and it’s just part of being competitive,” said Papa, who is now 3-0 in the tournament. About losing the second set, Papa said, “He had more energy than me, I would say. The whole Baylor team did. We had to come back in the third, all of us.”

At 6, Chilean junior Felipe Rios had started strong, up 7-5 and 4-1* sophomore Jose Antonio Salazar Martin of Spain. Salazar turned things around, however, winning the next 5 games (two on deciding points) to take the second set 6-4. In the third, Rios jumped to a 3-0* and survived a break at 3*-1, winning the final three games to secure a 6-2 win and keep Baylor alive.

Many in the crowd watching the westernmost courts at Midtown could be forgiven in assuming that court 5 would not be the clinching match for Oklahoma. There, senior Mate Zsiga, who clinched Saturday’s Baylor upset over Virginia, sprinted to a 6-4, 5*-2 lead over Romanian sophomore #63 Alex Ghilea. But Zsiga, serving for the match, started getting tight, missing shots that he’d hit with supreme confidence and double faulting on key occasions. Roddick counseled his charge to stay with it and Ghilea won game after game. After game. When the Sooner broke for the third consecutive time to take the second set, a frustrated Zsiga left the courts for a bathroom break. It didn’t help. Ghilea delivered a bagel in the third, winning the last 11 games and clinching the match for the University of Oklahoma.

Ghilea, who also clinched for Oklahoma in the 2014 NCAA quarterfinals, said he was glad to be the one to clinch, but made it clear that it was a team effort. “I know he’s a tough, tough opponent. He beat me last year and I was kind of looking for revenge. I had to keep my head in the game, and play the next point and the next point.”

“[Coach Roddick] was trying to make me think positive, next game, every time, don’t lose your mind. We had a very good strategy for this match; he played great in the first set and the beginning of the second. He could have closed the match, but I’m glad he didn’t.” Ghilea recalled that the two had also played once in juniors, a clay match that Ghilea said lasted four hours. “I think I won.”

“Zsiga’s a tough match up. You’ve got to get comfortable with what you’re trying to do and he’s very good at making you not comfortable.”

“Great start to the season for us,” said Baylor coach Mark Knoll. “We walk out of here really excited about what’s coming up. We’ve been able to play in this tournament with the best teams in the country and really get a sense of where we stand. We’ve got a lot to work on but we’re really optimistic.”

Knoll said that Lupieri and some of his teammates may have been a bit “emotionally hungover” after Saturday’s dramatic win. “What a great learning experience for us to understand that you’ve got to be able to extend yourself emotionally and then come back the next day and do the same thing. That’s something we’ll improve on. That’s what’s great about this tournament. You can’t emulate that in practice.”

Knoll said he was glad to have Oklahoma in their league, and noted that there’s a chance the two teams could play up to five times this year. “They’ve raised our level. We’ve had to get better because they’re so darn good.”

At #1 singles, Oklahoma’s Andrew Harris (#26) and Julian Lenz (#10) would be the one unfinished match, which some fans found disappointing, as it was so intense and close (5-5 in the 3rd). Asked about whether he’d like to have seen the match finish, coach Knoll said, “we absolutely shouldn’t finish the match. Oklahoma’s got a final to try to win tomorrow. They don’t need to worry about staying out there to finish a match that doesn’t count.” He said he’s rooting for the Sooners to win, noting that a Big XII team hasn’t won the National Indoors since Baylor in 2005. “If we want to have the best league, we’ve got to win championships.”

In the day’s second match, top seeded Southern California saw their #3 doubles team Nick Crystal and Connor Farren lose 6-1 to Georgia’s freshmen Paul Oosterbaan and Wayne Montgomery; while its #1 team (in fact, the country’s #1 team) Yannick Hanfmann and Roberto Quiroz fell 6-4 to unranked Ben Wagland and Austin Smith.

Georgia competed well in the first three positions, going to three sets at 1 (where #17 Montgomery was up 4-1 in the third over #7 Hanfmann when the semifinal was decided) and at 3 (where #15 Nathan Pasha was at 3-3 in the third vs. #20 Jonny Wang). Unfortunately for the Dawgs, they were overwhelmed at the bottom of the order.

Eric Johnson thoroughly outplayed Nick Wood at 4, winning 6-1, 6-1 to quickly even the overall score at 1-1. At 6, #49-ranked sophomore Nick Crystal went up 6-2 4-0 on freshman-from-Kalamazoo, Michigan Paul Oosterbaan, and served for the match at 5*-1 and again at 5*-3. But the UGA youngster stepped up his game and the Trojan started netting his shots, and suddenly the match was back on serve. However, Oosterbaan’s first serve disappeared at 4*-5 and he was broken at love to give Southern California a 2-1 lead.

After winning a tiebreak at #5, Max De Vroome put it in cruise control to beat Ben Wagland 7-5, 6-1, giving Southern California a 3-0 sweep at the lower three positions, needing just won win at the top.

That win came from senior stalwart #24 Quiroz. Like De Vroome, he won a first set tiebreak, this one against #21 Smith and went up an early break in the second set. Serving up 4*-2, Quiroz went down 0-30 but won the next two points to even the game at 30-30. Then, luck paid the Ecuadoran a visit, as hit he approached the net and hit a volley that clipped the top of the tape and rolled over. Smith won the next point to set up a deciding point but couldn’t put a return in play on second serve, and Quiroz was up 5-2*. The junior from Cumming, Georgia, held to put the pressure back on USC. But apparently the Trojans are immune to pressure – or perhaps it’s better to say they thrive on it. Quiroz served out the match at love to send Peter Smith’s squad to the final.

Regarding Quiroz, Smith said, “I think why coaches coach is to see growth. To see the growth in Roberto from a freshman to a senior is so big. Now he’s such a leader for us. To have him in that situation, we’re just really fortunate. He’s been there before. He’s very confident and we’re very confident in him.” On Oklahoma, “certainly everyone’s taken notice of their program the last few years. John and Bo [Hodge, Associate head coach] have done a great job there.”

Georgia coach Manny Diaz was disappointed with the loss. “I thought it was a very competitive match. I’m proud of our guys, we had a great tournament. But we’re not quite pleased in a lot of ways with our match today. USC’s a great team, we knew that coming in. To take the doubles point the way we did was a good boost for our guys. But they played tremendous tennis at 4, 5 and 6. I expected closer matches. I think if we stay in those matches a little longer, we play a little bit better there, it obviously changes the complexion of the whole dual match. But give USC credit for that.”

Southern Cal, a finalist now the past four years, last won the championship in 2012. This is Oklahoma's first appearance in the Team Indoor final, which has been played since 1973.

Links to live streaming, live scoring and consolation results can be found at the ITA tournament page.

Men’s Team Indoor Championships Semifinals
Feb 15, 2015
#2 Oklahoma 4, # 10 Baylor 2
1. #26 Andrew Harris (OKLA) vs. #10 Julian Lenz (BU) 6-1, 4-6, 5-5, unfinished
2. #11 Axel Alvarez (OKLA) def. #67 Max Tchoutakian (BU) 6-4, 6-4
3. #31 Dane Webb (OKLA) def. #27 Tony Lupieri (BU) 6-4, 6-0
4. Spencer Papa (OKLA) def. Diego Galeano (BU) 6-4, 1-6, 6-4
5. #63 Alex Ghilea (OKLA) def. Mate Zsiga (BU) 4-6, 7-5, 6-0
6. Felipe Rios (BU) def. Jose Salazar (OKLA) 7-5, 4-6, 6-2

1. #5 Axel Alvarez/Dane Webb (OKLA) vs. #40 Mate Zsiga/Tony Lupieri (BU) 2-4, unfinished
2. Julian Lenz/Diego Galeano (BU) def. Spencer Papa/Andrew Harris (OKLA) 6-2
3. Vince Schneider/Felipe Rios (BU) def. Jose Salazar/Alex Ghilea (OKLA) 6-1

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

Men’s Team Indoor Championships Semifinals
Feb 15, 2015
#1 Southern California 4, #4 Georgia 1
1. #7 Yannick Hanfmann (USC) vs. #17 Wayne Montgomery (GA) 4-6, 6-3, 1-4, unfinished
2. #24 Roberto Quiroz (USC) def. #21 Austin Smith (GA) 7-6 (7-2), 6-3
3. #20 Jonny Wang (USC) vs. #15 Nathan Pasha (GA) 6-3, 2-6, 3-3, unfinished
4. Eric Johnson (USC) def. Nick Wood (GA) 6-1, 6-1
5. Max De Vroome (USC) def. Ben Wagland (GA) 7-5, 6-1
6. #49 Nick Crystal (USC) def. Paul Oosterbaan (GA) 6-2, 6-4

1. Ben Wagland/Austin Smith (GA) def. #1 Yannick Hanfmann/Roberto Quiroz (USC) 6-4
2. #38 Max De Vroome/Eric Johnson (USC) vs. Nathan Pasha/Eric Diaz (GA) 5-5, unfinished
3. Paul Oosterbaan/Wayne Montgomery (GA) def. Nick Crystal/Connor Farren (USC) 6-1

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