Sunday, May 26, 2019

Emory's Jemison and Gonzalez-Rico Win NCAA Division III Singles Championships; Noel Claims Title at ITF Grade A in Milan

©Colette Lewis 2019--
Kalamazoo, MI--

Emory's Jonathan Jemison and Ysabel Gonzalez-Rico proved too much for their unseeded opponents Sunday, adding to the school's impressive tennis legacy with NCAA Division III singles titles at Stowe Stadium on the Kalamazoo College campus.

The third-seeded Jemison, who clinched the team title for Emory on Wednesday, defeated Leo Vithoontien of Carleton 6-3, 2-6, 6-4 to end his college career with three national titles.

"Clinching a national championship for my team on Stowe on the stadium courts is going to be one of the best moments of my life," said Jemison, who also helped Emory to the team title in 2017. "Then to come back and win the individual championship, I never thought I would do both of those. To be sitting here now, with two national championship trophies at my feet, is quite an accomplishment and I'm very proud of myself."

Jemison took a 4-1 lead in the opening set, but Vithoontien got the break back, only to lose the next game. Serving for the set, Jemison couldn't convert his two set points at 40-15, saved two break points, then played some superb defense on his third set point to secure the set.

Vithoontien got an early break in the second set and kept the momentum throughout, closing out the set with his third break of Jemison.

Jemison, tired and discouraged by his performance in the second set, was able to regroup for the final set of his collegiate career.

"It was my last set of college tennis and my coach came over and sat me down after I lost that second set and was very close to just throwing in the towel," said Jemision, who was playing his 13th match in the past seven days. "He said, 'it's your last set of college tennis. How do you want to go out?' and I said, 'I want to win.'"

The pep talk worked, with Jemison earning a break to open the third set.  He held on to it for a 4-2 lead, when the second brief delay of the match due to light precipitation gave him another kind of break.

"It definitely helped," Jemison said of the 10-minute delay. "I was exhausted. I was so tired that when it started raining a little bit, I was like, oh, thank you. I just need a break right now. I could feel my legs burning after every point, so it helped me out a lot."

Jemison came back to get an insurance break to go up 5-2, and he needed it, with Vithoontien breaking Jemison serving for the match at 5-2. Vithoontien held for 5-4, hitting two winners from 30-all, and Jemison again stepped to the line to serve for the championship.

"When it was time for me to close it out at 5-4 I just told myself if I'm going to lose this game, I'm going down swinging," said the Marietta Georgia resident. "I'm not going to have him rip me off the court and get momentum."

At 15-all, Jemison earned a crucial point, with his serve up the T hitting the line and his forehand finding the corner, inches from both the sideline and baseline.

"I stepped up and hit a forehand and I thought it was going to float out, and it just dropped in at the last second and I was so happy," Jemison said.

Jemison was equally happy to get his first serve on the next point, with Vithoontien, who had excelled on returns throughout the match, unable to get it in play. At 40-15, Jemison wasn't able to connect on his first serve, and Vithoontien lined up a forehand, but it caught the tape and bounced wide.

Jemison didn't celebrate with the same abandon he showed when he clinched Emory's team title, but he did savor the moment.

"I couldn't have done it without my teammates, guys staying here to cheer me on, instead of going home," said Jemison, the fourth Emory man to claim the Division III singles title.  "My coaches staying here. My parents driving up this weekend. As soon as my brother finished graduating, my dad piled everyone in the car and drove up. It's just incredible to have the people closest to me share this moment."

The left-handed Vithoontien, the first player from Carleton to reach the final, was impressed with Jemison's stamina and mental toughness.

"I couldn't really do much, with fatigue and exhaustion," said Vithoontien, a sophomore from Thailand. "He's a great player and he deserved it. He's been playing the team championship and he was able to push through and fight back in the end. Once it comes down to the final, it's all mental and who wants it more."

Despite his disappoint in the result, Vithoontien is encouraged by his performance.

"I definitely exceeded all expectations and I'm happy with my results," said Vithoontien, who defeated No. 2 seed and defending champion Grant Urken of Bowdoin in the semifinals. "Obviously it would have been nice if I had won, but now I'm going to work on getting stronger and better and come back next year and hopefully win it."

Gonzalez-Rico had her own disappointment to overcome after her first round exit as the No. 2 seed in last year's individual event. The top-seed found herself down 4-2 to unseeded Venia Yeung of Wesleyan in the opening set, but came back to post a 6-4, 6-3 victory and earn Emory's fifth NCAA Division III women's singles title.

"Last year as a freshman, it's hard to switch from team to individual," said the left-hander from Florida, who lost in the team final last year to host Claremont-Mudd-Scripps. "I wasn't used to that. This year I was mentally prepared, I had two days off, so I was ready to battle. I was alone on court, but I was ready for that, without my teammates."

Gonzalez-Rico was able to come back to win four straight games to close out the set by sticking to her game plan.

"I knew what I had to do, and fortunately it started to work," said Gonzalez-Rico, who had beaten Yeung 6-3, 6-1 in the ITA Cup last fall. "I was trying to go deep to her backhand and attack whenever I had a short ball. I had to keep being aggressive."

Yeung had rolled her ankle late in her 6-2, 6-2 semifinal win over No. 2 seed Catherine Allen of Claremont-Mudd-Scripps and she admitted that she was in pain during the match.

"It hurts a lot, especially towards the end," said the freshman from Hong Kong, who took a medical timeout to receive treatment on it after the conclusion of the first set. "I tried to tell myself not to get bothered, try not to think about it, because I had to give my very best."

Yeung was broken in the opening game of the second set, but she continued to go for her shots and stayed with Gonzalez-Rico until the seventh game, when Gonzalez-Rico got a second break. Serving for the match at 5-2, Gonzalez-Rico was unable to close it out, but she went up 15-40 with Yeung serving only to see those two match points disappear as well. On the first, Yeung cracked a forehand winner; on the second, Gonzalez worked her way into position to put away a short forehand, but she missed it well long, which she attributed to nerves.

"I was very tight at the end," said Gonzalez-Rico, who showed no frustration after that error. "But I managed not to think about it and play each point, one by one. I focused on the next point, and managed to win that game, so we're all good."

Yeung had a game point that she couldn't convert and when Gonzalez-Rico got a third match point, she converted it, with Yeung's forehand going just wide.

"This was for sure one of my goals coming into college, so I'm really happy," said Gonzalez-Rico who did not lose a match in Division III competition this year. "I just want to come back next year, win it with my team also. That's my main goal here in college."

Yeung's loss broke Wesleyan's string of women's singles titles at four, all won by Eudice Chong, but Yeung is cherishing the Cardinals first team title.

"It's a little sad that I couldn't end it perfectly with my singles title, but I'm so really happy with the results that I had," said Yeung. "I hope there's many more to come."
The doubles semifinals and finals were played on Sunday, with two teams from Claremont-Mudd-Scripps facing off for the women's championship.

Catherine Allen and Caroline Cox, who played at line 1 for the Athenas, and Sarah Bashoun and Nicole Tan, who played at line 2, battled for more than two hours before Allen and Cox emerged with a 6-7(7), 6-1, 6-3 victory.

"It was awful," said Allen, a junior from Washington. "That was not fun at all. You never think you are going to be playing your teammates before and when you actually do, it's just a very uncomfortable feeling."

"I don't think it's even possible to put it out of our heads that we're playing teammates," said Cox, a sophomore from Kentucky. "We spend every day with them, and we're close friends off the court too, so it was tough.  But at the end of the day, it's the NCAA finals, so you have to compete."

Under the circumstances, Allen and Cox were not exulting in their second NCAA title.

"It felt a lot better last year," Allen said of CMS's first national team title.  Cox agreed. "It felt a lot better to win team, but for sure this is an amazing accomplishment and I'm proud of Cat."
For Grant Urken and Yangeng (Jerry) Jiang of Bowdoin, Kalamazoo holds special memories. The pair were freshmen when Bowdoin won the program's first national team title at Stowe Stadium in 2016, and they closed out their careers with another national title, beating top seeds Noah Lilienthal and Adrian Roji of Wesleyan 5-7, 6-1, 6-4 for the men's doubles championship.

"Obviously this is a special place for us and 2016 was definitely a great kickstarter to our careers at Bowdoin," said Urken, a New Yorker who won the singles title last year. "It's definitely special to end on such a high note here. Things didn't go as we'd planned with the team and singles, but I'm definitely happy to cap it off with this kid."

"Same," said Jiang, who is from China. "Definitely good memories here from 2016 and couldn't ask for a better spot and time to finish my career here. One of our goals here was to extend our tennis careers for as long as we can and we're super thrilled to be here."

The No. 3 seeds were a point away from defeat in the semifinals against Eric Kerrigan and Ninan Kumar of Chicago but saved that match point at 7-8 in the second set tiebreaker and went on to a 3-6, 7-6(8), 6-4 win.

The final set came down to just one break, in the seventh game, and two holds later, the Polar Bears claimed the championship.

"We started to swing out a little bit," Urken said of their comeback. "We play are best when we are at our loosest. I think things connected for us, luckily."

"Those guys play amazing doubles and it was not easy to pull that off today," Jiang said.

Complete results can be found at the Kalamazoo College tournament page. Highlights are available at NCAA.com.
Alexa Noel claimed her second ITF Grade A title today at the Trofeo Bonfiglio in Milan Italy. The 16-year-old, seeded No. 6, defeated unseeded Sada Nahimana of Burundi 6-2, 6-4 in the final. Noel's previous Grade A title also came on clay, at the 2017 Abierto Juvenil in Mexico City. For more details on the match, see this post from TennisUnderworld.

No. 4 seed Jonas Forejtek of the Czech Republic beat No. 13 seed Thiago Tirante of Argentina 6-3, 6-4 for the boys title. Unseeded Tristan Schoolkate and Dane Sweeny of Australia won the boys doubles title over Tirante and Admir Kalender of Croatia 6-4, 7-6(3).  The girls doubles title went to No. 2 seeds Natsumi Kawaguchi of Japan and Adrienn Nagy of Hungary. They defeated Nahimana and Sohyun Park of Korea, the No. 6 seeds, 6-1, 6-3 in the final.