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Sunday, April 17, 2016

Kozlov Saves Match Points to Win Little Rock Futures Title; Min Makes it Two Straight; Falconi Claims First WTA Title; Auburn Wins Tennis on Campus Championship

Stefan Kozlov won his third Futures title of the year today in Little Rock, but not without drama, saving six match points in a 6-7(3), 6-3, 7-6(10) win over former Kentucky All-American Eric Quigley.

Kozlov, the No. 3 seed, was down two match points serving at 5-6 in the third set, and was down 6-3 in the tiebreaker before bringing it back to 6-6.  The 18-year-old Floridian didn't convert his match points at 7-6 and 8-7 in the tiebreaker, then fought off another match point at 9-8 before closing the deal against the No. 5 seed, in just short of three hours.

Kozlov, who reached the final of the $100,000 +Hospitality ATP Challenger in Guadeloupe last week, has now won three $25,000 Futures this year: in California in January, in Canada in March, and now this one in Arkansas.

He received entry into next week's $50,000 ATP Challenger in Savannah as an alternate and has drawn James McGee of Ireland. Fortunately for him, he is not on the schedule for Monday, but plenty of Americans are.  Noah Rubin will play No. 2 seed Donald Young, Jared Donaldson(8) and Ryan Harrison face off Monday, as do wild cards Brian Baker and Tommy Paul.  Mitchell Krueger is the only American not playing another American in the main draw matches scheduled for Monday; he plays Daniil Medvedev of Russia. Denis Kudla, who received a wild card, is the top seed and will face the Baker-Paul winner in the second round if he gets past Giovanni Lapentti of Ecuador.

Grace Min, who went all the way back to the $10,000 ITF Women's Circuit level earlier this year, has seen an uptick in her results this month, claiming her second straight $25,000 tournament with a win today in Pelham, Alabama.  The 21-year-old Min, seeded sixth, defeated unseeded Bernarda Pera 6-4, 6-4 in the championship match.  Min will be in the $50,000 tournament in Dothan next week, the first of three tournaments that will decide the USTA's French Open Wild Card Challenge.

In Bogota, Colombia, Irina Falconi, the 2010 ITA Player of Year at Georgia Tech, won her first WTA title, beating Silvia Soler-Espinosa of Spain 6-2, 2-6, 6-4 in the final.  Falconi, who has been ranked as high as 64, will get back near that number in Monday's rankings after the win. It's been more than a decade since a woman with collegiate experience has won a WTA title, so the accomplishment is more than just a boost for Falconi's ranking. For more on the final, see the WTA website.

In Fed Cup news, the US swept Australia on Brisbane's clay to retain their place in the World Group for 2017.  CoCo Vandeweghe beat Sam Stosur 2-6, 7-5, 6-4 to clinch the win for the US, which also got singles victories from Madison Keys and Christina McHale.  For more on the tie, see the Fed Cup website.

Auburn defeated North Carolina to claim Tennis on Campus national title
photo by Susan Mullane

The USTA's Tennis on Campus National Championships were held this week in Cary, North Carolina, and Auburn captured the title.  Auburn defeated two-time defending champions Cal-Berkeley in the quarterfinals and squeezed past North Carolina 23-22 in the title match.

Steve Pratt's article on the final is below:

Cary, N.C., April 16, 2016A new USTA Tennis On Campus national champion was crowned Saturday night in dramatic fashion as the University of Auburn came back to win its first-ever national title in a super tiebreaker, 23-22, over the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill.

Down 18-15 heading into the final mixed doubles match, the Tigers tandem of Mitchell Vegas and Ashley Kitchen pulled it to within one, 22-21 by defeating the Tar Heel team of Phil Mayer and Roxanne Henshall, 6-4. Auburn won the one-game overtime by breaking Henshall’s serve and then captured the super tiebreaker, 7-5, to claim the national title.

“Relief!” is the one-word answer Kitchen gave to the media members when asked what she was feeling when Mayer’s final volley fell into the net to end the match. “I was so nervous in that super tiebreaker.”

After North Carolina opened the match with a 6-0 lead with a huge win in women’s doubles by Sarah French and Henshall, Kitchen made it 8-6 with a 6-2 victory over Alexandra Lee.

Vegas, who lost a singles match for the first time this year falling to UNC’s Connor Cooke, 6-3, said after the match, “I knew I had to come back in mixed doubles. I needed that redemption. There are just so many emotions right now – every emotion imaginable. It’s too much for me to handle.”

Vegas won 13 of 14 sets over the three days with Kitchen winning all 14 of her sets, seven in singles and seven in mixed doubles.

It was one of the most exciting finals contested in the event’s 17-year history, according to Glenn Arrington, National Director of USTA Tennis On Campus. “This was absolutely the most exciting and dynamic final we’ve ever had,” Arrington said. “The crowd was pumped, and no one left. Just the atmosphere and the electricity here tonight. It was a great night for tennis, and for Tennis On Campus.”

USTA Southern Section TOC Coordinator Jeff Smith was a ball of nerves throughout the entire match watching two teams from his section battle it out. “I was pacing all over,” Smith said. “That was a match for the ages.”

“It was so nerve-racking,” Auburn captain Christian Lyerly said. “It’s huge for the university and huge for all these guys. It was an amazing season.”

Said North Carolina captain Henshall: “It was quite a match. That’s the most you can ask for in tennis. That’s playing at the highest level possible.”

The tournament was put on in partnership with NIRSA: Leaders in Collegiate Recreation; World TeamTennis, and the USTA.

Auburn team members included captain Lyerly (Birmingham, Ala.), Marshall Brown (Fairhope, Ala.), Alexandria Hall (Lakeland, Fla.), William McWhirt (Atlanta), Vegas (Spanish Fort, Ala.), Kitchen (Hilton Head, S.C.), and Hannah Shoener (Greensboro, N.C.).

North Carolina team members include captain Henshall (Greensboro, N.C.), Cooke (Greensboro, N.C.), Sarah French (Fort Collins, Colo.), Nelson Hughes (Lakeland, Fla.), Caroline Jones (Richmond, Va.), Alexandra Lee (Charlotte, N.C.), Philip Mayer (Chapel Hill, N.C.), Seth Pinosky (Mosunt Pleasant, S.C.), Louis Rico (Cary, N.C.), and Tracey Yang (Marlboro, N.J.)

Championship Match Results:
Auburn University 23, North Carolina University 22
Women’s Doubles: Sarah French/Roxanne Henshall (UNC) def. Alexandria Hall/Hannah Shoener (Auburn), 6-0 (UNC leads 6-0)
Women’s Singles: Ashley Kitchen (Auburn) def. Alexandra Lee (UNC), 6-2 (UNC leads 8-6)
Men’s Doubles: Marshall Brown/William McWhirt (Auburn) def. Seth Pinosky/Nelson Hughes (UNC), 6-4 (Score tied 12-12)
Men’s Singles: Connor Cook (UNC) def. Mitchell Vegas (Auburn), 6-3 (UNC leads 18-15).
Mixed Doubles: Vegas/Kitchen (Auburn) def. Phil Mayer/Roxanne Henshall (UNC), 6-4 (UNC leads 22-21)
Overtime Mixed Doubles: Vegas/Kitchen (Auburn) def. Mayer/Henshall (UNC), 1-0 (Score tied 22-22)
Super Tiebreaker: Vegas/Kitchen (Auburn) def. Mayer/Roxanne Henshall (UNC), 7-5

Earlier in the day, the University of Florida took home third place honors as the Gators defeated Cornell University, 22-18. In the semifinals, Florida fell to North Carolina, 25-23, and Cornell lost to Auburn, 27-20, in the other semifinal.

At the Awards Ceremony, the College of William and Mary was announced as the winner of the National Club of the Year award for this season. The award is presented annually to the college or university club tennis team that has achieved a level of sustained excellence while also demonstrating a commitment to giving back to its local community. Pittsburgh senior Brian Rubin was named the 2016 Tennis On Campus National Leader of the Year and Delaware University was presented with the tournament’s Sportsmanship Award.

The USTA Tennis On Campus program features nearly 45,000 college students competing nationwide in intramural and intercollegiate coed club play. Since its inception in 2000, Tennis On Campus has grown significantly and today is on more than 700 college campuses across the country.