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Friday, May 27, 2016

Kalamazoo's Metzler Reaches NCAA Division III Singles Final Against Butts; Raventos and Chong Meet for Women's Title; My D-III Team Recap; Ross Qualifies for French Open Juniors

©Colette Lewis 2016--
Kalamazoo, MI--

Branden Metzler of Kalamazoo College rode the wave of local support Friday to reach the men's Division III singles final Saturday against 2015 finalist Skyler Butts of Claremont-Mudd-Scripps.

Metzler's first challenge of the day came in the form of top seed Noah Farrell of Middlebury. The seventh-seeded Metzler, a junior from Rockford, Illinois, had gotten off to slow starts in his first two rounds, but he came out ready against Farrell, taking a 3-0 lead and finishing the first set with a break. Metzler lost his serve to open the second set, but Farrell gave the break right back, only to go up a break at 3-2 with some excellent returning. Again, Farrell was unable to hold the lead, and Metzler went on one of his patented runs, winning the final four games of the match for a 6-3, 6-3 victory, with the crowd of more than 400 roaring with every point he won.

Metzler's opponent in the semifinals was unseeded Zach Hewlin of Whitman, who had surprised No. 3 seed Rafe Mosetick of Emory 0-6, 6-3, 6-1 in the quarterfinals. Metzler again took an early lead and although he was unable to serve out the first set at 5-2, he broke the sophomore from California with a laser backhand down the line to take it 6-3.

Again Metzler was broken to start the second set, and given Hewlin's comeback against Mosetick, a similar scenario wasn't out of the question. But again Metzler broke back, fell behind again, and down 4-2 won the next four games to close out the match.  Metzler saved a break point at 4-all and in the final game, Hewlin saved three match points and managed two game points. But on each game point, he double faulted, and when he netted a forehand, Metzler had a fourth match point. The crowd was in full voice when he converted it by sending a forehand deep into the corner that forced Hewlin to throw up a defensive lob, which drifted long. Shortly after the final point, the chants of B Metz, B Metz, echoed throughout Stowe Stadium.

Metzler said he felt much more comfortable on the court today than he had been in the first two rounds Thursday.

"I felt much more pressure yesterday, being seeded and being at home, and everything," said Metzler, who acknowledged that the crowd was a significant factor in his performance. "Today, I felt I had nothing to lose, and I was swinging freely. I mean, playing the No. 1 seed, I had nothing to lose and I could go for my shots. I said I had to bring my A game today, and I did."

Metzler said he was gratified to be able to play his best, and ecstatic that he had an opportunity to join Kalamazoo College's six previous NCAA Division III singles champions, the most recent being Seth Denawetz in 1994.

"It's not every day you get to play for a national championship," said Metzler.

No. 4 seed Butts, his opponent in the final, has another opportunity to play for a national championship, in circumstances that couldn't be any different from those he faced last year, when he played teammate Warren Wood.

Butts advanced to the semifinals with a 6-3, 6-2 win over unseeded Ben Rosen of Bates, then outlasted unseeded Abhishek Alla of Carnegie Mellon 6-4, 4-6, 6-3.  Alla, who had a grueling 6-2, 4-6, 6-4 win over No. 2 seed Sam Geier of Kenyon, was cramping by the middle of the second set against Butts.

Butts, who said he was feeling great physically throughout both matches he played today, was not changing his game to capitalize on Alla's cramping for the simple reason that he had already changed his game to counteract Alla's style.

"That whole match was about me staying away from my game," said Butts, a senior from Santa Ana, California. "He loves my kind of game. I usually don't hit that many slice backhands, but I was really trying to keep him off balance. He's probably one of the best ball strikers I've ever seen. So he likes my usual heavier ball off both sides, so I tried to chip it short, give him the high looper. I had to maintain my focus throughout really."

Butts will be forced to do the same in Saturday morning's final, and although he has never played Metzler before, he knows what to expect from the atmosphere, having played a match on the next court while the crowd was erupting regularly for Metzler.

"I'm excited. I think I'll thrive with a big crowd," said Butts, who mentioned a similar feeling when CMS hosted the tournament two years ago. "I'll come out with a lot of energy, and hope to use his home crowd against him. I think it'll fire me up and I'll be ready to go in the morning."

The women's final will feature the two top seeds, with defending champion Eudice Chong of Wesleyan, the No. 2 seed, against top seed Juli Raventos of Williams.

Both advanced through their quarterfinal and semifinal matches in straight sets, although Raventos was down two breaks in the first set of her quarterfinal match with unseeded Alexandra Fields of Middlebury before posting a 7-5, 6-1 win.  Raventos also had something of a slow start against unseeded Caroline Casper of Pomona-Pitzer, but found her form for a 6-3, 6-2 victory.

Raventos, who played six singles and doubles matches in the team event in three days and has played six singles and doubles matches in two days in the individual tournament, was looking at the positives of so much tennis.

"The individual tournament is obviously more tiring because I played those three days, but it's a lot of fun," said the sophomore from Costa Rica. "They're good matches and I'm happy to be here. It's hard to have two or three matches every day, but I guess I just look forward to each match, because everybody here is so good."

Chong's team did not make the Final Eight, but she has six matches in two days under her belt before taking on Raventos in the final Saturday morning, including a win in the quarterfinals over Joulia Likhanskaia of Bowdoin, who Chong defeated in last year's final 6-4, 4-6, 7-5.

Today Chong had no such difficulty, beating Likhanskaia 6-1, 6-0, then overcoming a tough first set to knock out No. 3 seed Ria Gerger of Middlebury 7-6(7), 6-2.

"Winning the first set, because it was so close, was big," said Chong, a sophomore from Hong Kong. "The mindset of being up a set, instead of losing a close set. I think I did well to stay on top of the ball and stay aggressive and keep moving in the second set. In the first set, I think I may have been a little flat. But then again, Ria played really well in the first set."

Chong's only loss of the year came at the hands of Raventos in an April dual match, with their other contest earlier this month going unfinished with Chong up a set.

"I think it's going to be a good match tomorrow and a long one," said Chong. "Juli's such a good player. She changes the rhythm a lot and she comes in, so it's going to be a tough match but it'll be a good one."

Raventos, who reached the NCAA semifinals last year, is looking forward to the match.

"She's just very solid, very tough mentally," said Raventos. "She'll fight for every point."

Chong and Raventos are also both through to the doubles semifinals, which will take place after the singles final, with the doubles final also on Saturday's schedule.

Chong and her partner Aashli Budhiraja, the No. 3 seeds, will play top seeds Kathleen Kuosman and Caroline Ward of CMS.  Raventos and Linda Shin, the defending NCAA champions at No. 2 seeds, will play No. 4 seeds Tiffany Cheng and Likhanskaia of Bowdoin.

The men's doubles semifinals will feature top seeds Christopher Krimbill and Louis Stuerke of Case Western Reserve against No. 4 seeds Palmer Campbell and Hamid Derbani of Middlebury.  Both teams in the bottom half of the draw are unseeded with Geier and Tristan Kaye of Kenyon playing Benjamin Foran and Matthew Heinrich of Stevens.

The singles finals both begin at 10 a.m.  For draws and links to live streaming, see the Kalamazoo College tournament central page.

The quarterfinals are set for the NCAA Division I singles and doubles championships in Tulsa, with two US men and four US women still in the running for a possible US Open main draw wild card. UCLA's Mackenzie McDonald and Virginia's Thai Kwiatkowski are the men; the women are Kennedy Shaffer of Georgia, Breaunna Addison of Texas and the top two seeds, North Carolina's Hayley Carter and Virginia's Danielle Collins. Bobby Knight has updated results at College Tennis Today.

I hope you followed my daily coverage of the Division III Team Championships earlier in the week, but if you prefer a less detailed overview, check out my recap for the Tennis Recruiting Network.

At the French Open junior qualifying, Easter Bowl champion Gianni Ross has advanced to the main draw, beating No. 12 seed Mattias Siimar of Estonia 6-1, 6-0.  Oliver Crawford fell in three sets to Yshai Oliel of Israel in his final round qualifying match.  The main singles draws should be out Saturday.

John McNally lost in the semifinals of the Grade 1 Astrid Bowl in Belgium today, beaten by Ryan Storrie of Great Britain 7-5, 6-2.