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Monday, May 29, 2017

Michigan's Minor, Virginia's Kwiatkowski Claim NCAA Singles Titles, Ohio State Women and Oklahoma Men Capture Doubles Championships; US First Round Losses Mount at French Open

Brienne Minor is the first Michigan woman to win an NCAA title
Prior to the start of her NCAA singles final this morning in Athens, Brienne Minor of Michigan re-gripped her racquets. While wishing her luck, Virginia's Thai Kwiatkowski accepted Minor's gift of a grip for his racquet and by the time they had both completed their straight-sets victories, Kwiatkowski had dubbed it the "magic" grip.

Kwiatkowski's 6-4, 7-6(5) win over William Blumberg of North Carolina was not exactly a shocker, even though freshman Blumberg had won their previous two completed matches, including one just last week. Kwiatkowski, a senior, had already made an NCAA semifinal in 2015 and the quarterfinals last year, and won the American Collegiate Invitational last year at the US Open.  Despite playing at line 2 for most of the dual match season, Kwiatkowski's credentials were established, with his 9-16 seed reflecting his position in the lineup more than his overall proficiency.

Minor was unquestionably the player with the magic this tournament, with her 6-3, 6-3 win over No. 6 seed Belinda Woolcock of Florida the unseeded sophomore's third victory over a seeded player.  Minor, who had played at line 2 for most of the dual match season, was a longshot to make the semifinals, let alone win the title, especially when the 19-year-old from Illinois drew Miami's Sinead Lohan in the first round. Lohan had beaten Minor twice in 2016, including the first round of the NCAAs in Tulsa, but even after dropping the first set, Minor was able to shove aside that history to post a 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 victory. And in the quarterfinals, Minor faced another nemesis, this one from her junior days in the Midwest section. Sara Daavettila of North Carolina, also unseeded, had come out on top in those encounters. This time it was Minor who won the big match, beating the freshman from the Lansing area 6-2, 6-4 and after a tough 6-7(5), 7-5, 6-0 win over 9-16 seed Sydney Campbell of Vanderbilt, Minor found herself in the final against Woolcock.

Woolcock was playing her 10th singles match in 11 days and it showed in the first set, with Minor taking a 4-0 lead.  The senior from Australia had trouble holding serve in the first half of the match, but she kept fighting and she saved five set points before Minor finally closed out the opening set on a deuce point.

Minor went up an early break in the second set, was immediately broken back, but broke again and made that break stand up the rest of the way.  Minor had to win a deciding point serving at 3-2 to keep that lead, but she avoided having to serve out the match, breaking Woolcock on another deciding point to give Michigan its first women's NCAA champion.

Minor is also the first African-American to win the NCAA singles title, which for women's tennis, dates back to 1982.

"It feels amazing, I’m still soaking it all in," Minor said in her post-match press conference. "When I threw my racket at the end of the match I just felt this wave of relief because I was just so happy I could get that win. I was super tired so I was excited to let that racket go and just be done with the match.”

Woolcock admitted that her inability to close out Estela Perez-Somaribba of Miami in straight sets in the semifinals after taking a 6-1 5-1 lead hurt her in the final.

“Today was a challenge for me physically," said Woolcock, who was the Most Outstanding Player in Florida's run to the team championship. "Yesterday really took a lot out of me. I am so proud of myself considering I won all of my singles matches in the team event and to get this far in singles, I honestly didn’t really expect that because I put so much focus and energy into the team event. I am so incredibly proud of myself and happy about how I did today and how I did in the tournament.”

Virginia's Thai Kwiatkowski celebrates his NCAA singles title
Kwiatkowski also had every reason to be suffering physically, as he too had played singles in 10 of 11 days, with Virginia's team title, the third of the senior's career, making for a successful yet energy-sapping prelude to the individual tournament.

Fortunately for Kwiatkowski, Blumberg had also played in the team final, and although the freshman from Connecticut had gone undefeated in singles until today and made the doubles quarterfinals, the wear and tear began to show in the second set.

After an exchange of breaks to open the match, both players held until Blumberg was broken at 4-4. Kwiatkowski held when Blumberg netted a forehand at 40-30 to take the set, and he took a 2-1 lead in the second set, but Blumberg broke right back, and there were no breaks the rest of the way.  At 5-5 in the tiebreaker, Kwiatkowski hit the biggest ace of his career to give himself a match point, and he converted it when Blumberg's forehand went long.  Kwiatkowski, known for his emotional volatility, had little reaction at the end, at least until after the handshake, and he explained why.

"For Will to be a freshman and lead his team like that and then come out here after the heartbreaking loss in the finals and crushing most of the guys he played is very impressive," Kwiatkowski said in his press conference. "I wanted to be respectful after the match and shake everyone’s hand before I laid down on the court and really absorbed the moment.”

Kwiatkowski captured the Cavaliers' fourth NCAA singles title, joining Somdev Devvarman (2007 & 2008) and Ryan Shane(2015) as NCAA champions.  He also was able to send coach Brian Boland off with another NCAA title, with Boland leaving the program he built into a powerhouse to take over as head of men's tennis for the USTA.

Because both Kwiatkowski and Minor are Americans, they are expected to receive US Open main draw wild cards.  An American woman has won the NCAA singles title the past six years and an American man has won it the past four years, with all receiving main draw wild cards in New York.

Two unseeded teams won the doubles title, and both came from behind to do so.  Spencer Papa and Andrew Harris of Oklahoma defeated top seeds Robert Loeb and Jan Zielinski of Georgia 4-6, 6-2, 10-6 to become the Sooners first individual champions in history.  Loeb and Zielinski led 2-0 in the second set, but Papa and Harris took the next six games, carrying that momentum into the tiebreaker, where they never relinquished the lead from 2-1 up, much to the dismay of the large hometown crowd supporting the Bulldogs.

The article from the Oklahoma website mistakenly refers to the team earning a US Open main draw wild card with the win. Unless something has changed this year, both members of the winning team must be Americans for that to happen, and Harris is from Australia.

The Big Ten made it a sweep of the individual titles when Ohio State's Francesca Di Lorenzo and Miho Kowase defeated No. 5-8 seeds Erin Routliffe and Maddie Pothoff of Alabama 6-7(6), 6-4, 10-7.  The unseeded Di Lorenzo and Kowase made their move down 5-6 in the tiebreaker, winning both points on Routliffe's serve, then two more on Kowase's serve for a 9-6 lead.  Routliffe saved the first match point with a volley winner, but Pothoff hit a backhand long on the second match point, giving the Buckeyes women's program its first NCAA title.

Routliffe, a senior from Canada, was denied her third NCAA doubles title, having won with Maya Jansen in both 2014 and 2015. In Athens in 2014, Routliffe and Jansen beat Lauren Herring and Maho Kowase of Georgia in the final, so Maho's younger sister Miho was happy to avenge that loss.

“It feels amazing, I still can’t believe it," Kowase said. "Three years ago I watched my sister lose her last match here against Alabama. And I thought to myself, ‘I want revenge.’ Here I am two years later winning it.”

For complete draws and more quotes, see the tournament website.

Day two of the French Open wasn't particularly successful for US players, with Americans going 3-9 today.  CiCi Bellis and Varvara Lepchenko picked up wins, as did Steve Johnson[25], who spoke to the press for the first time since the recent sudden death of his father. Tennis.com's Steve Tignor has filed a lovely essay on Steve Johnson Sr.'s contribution to tennis and why the love of the sport, particularly in the US, often comes from a family member.

Six US players will play their first round matches on Tuesday, with Madison Keys[12], Taylor Townsend, Alison Riske, John Isner[21], Sam Querrey[27] and Ernesto Escobedo on the schedule.


Update from RG said...

USA's Escobedo drops first round match at Roland Garros 6(3),3,4 vs Istomin.
Sam Querrey is playing Chung and its 1 set all, on serve in the third.
John Isner will play J Thompson of AUS later today.

Update from RG said...

Sam Querrey loses first round at the French Open. 4-6, 6-3, 3-6,3-6vs Chung.
So it's up to John Isner playing Thompson of AUS today to join the lone american, stevie johnson in the second round

Update from RG...It Pays to Stay in School:) said...

THREE CHEERS for the COLLEGE GUYS!! John Isner, University of Georgia, joins Stevie Johnson, USC moving on to the 2nd round of Roland Garros. Isner defeats Jordon Thompson, AUS, 6-3,4-6,7-6(5), 6-3.

Update from RG said...

USC Graduate, Stevie Johnson, advances to the 3rd round at Roland Garros. defeating Coric 6-2,7-6(8), 3-6,7-6(6). Will play Thiem in round 3.

Update from RG said...

Go Dawgs! John Isner moves into the 3rd round of the French Open, defeating Paolo Lorenzi, 3,6(3),6(2).

Curious said...

Where is Sloane Stephens? Is she Injured? She hasn't played since last August, 2016 at the Olympics in Rio.

Update on Sloane said...