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Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Querrey believes he's well served for pro game:: Ventura County Star

Rhiannon Potkey scooped everyone on the news that Sam Querrey has made his decision and will not be playing college tennis, opting for the pro tour instead. I spoke to Sam today and he's not sure how she heard about his signing with SFX early last week, but he was amazed how fast the word got around the tennis beat, once her story appeared this morning.

He'll be working with Colin Smeeton at SFX, and I asked if the fact that both the Bryan twins and Roddick are clients of that agency had any impact on his decision to sign with them. He said it didn't hurt, but that he just personally felt very comfortable with Smeeton.

I asked if he was planning on playing Kalamazoo in August and he gave a firm yes, saying that a semifinal showing at the Legg-Mason the week before (an SFX promoted ATP tournament where he's certain to get wild card) would be the only reason he would not return to the 'Zoo.

And in a related story by Bonnie DeSimone for espn.com, Vania King has most certainly NOT made a decision regarding her future as a pro, but has said it will be either pro tennis or college academics; she won't play if she decides on college. That's a bit odd, because eligibility for an athletic scholarship is really the only reason for retaining her amateur status.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Back in the Zoo

Our 11 days in the Bay Area flew by, and while we were gone summer arrived in Michigan. It's a brief interlude at home, as we'll be in Philadelphia for the Grass Courts in less than two weeks, so there's lots to take care of.

I'm too tired right now to say anything cogent about the Colorado Athletic Department's dropping of the men's tennis program, but there is a last-ditch effort to keep it via the Board of Regents.

Here is the link to the open letter from the USTA and ITA urging them to reverse the decision.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Babos and Kohlloeffel Win NCAA Singles Titles; Big Ten Sweeps Doubles Championships

©Colette Lewis 2006
Palo Alto CA--

The PAC-10 conference earned collegiate tennis bragging rights on a brilliant Memorial Day afternoon, with Suzie Babos of California-Berkley and Ben Kohlloeffel of California-Los Angeles winning NCAA Individual Championships at the Taube Tennis Center on the campus of Stanford University.

Babos overpowered Lindsey Nelson of the University of Southern California 6-4, 6-1 to become the first women's champion in Cal's history, while Kohlloeffel gave the Bruins their first individual champion since UCLA head coach Billy Martin took the title in 1975.

Babos, a unseeded sophomore, had all kinds of trouble with her serve and the crowd in her semifinal win over Stanford's Theresa Logar on Sunday, but Monday's final saw a complete turnaround on both fronts.

With all Stanford players eliminated, there were fewer Cardinal fans in attendance, but the Cal supporters gathered behind court 3 and let loose with several "Go Bears" cheers throughout the brief (one hour and ten minute) match. And Nelson, also an unseeded sophomore, was unable to dent Babos' serve, failing to earn a single break in the match.

"She served amazing," said Nelson, who suffered an foot injury in the fall and was out with pneumonia this spring. "She's a strong lefty and she hardly missed. I hadn't played a lefty all week and I wasn't as prepared as I would have liked. She pulled out really great shots at the right time."

Nelson hits with two-hands on both sides, and her flat deep groundstrokes gave all her previous opponents difficulty, including top seed Audra Cohen, whom Nelson beat in the round of 16. Babos seemed oblivious to Nelson's unorthodox forehand, and she stayed with Nelson in every baseline rally. Babos also gave credit to an improved mental outlook while working with a sports psychologist hired by the Cal athletic department.

"Coming into Cal as a freshman, I was a mess mentally," said Babos. "I couldn't handle my nerves. I was really negative and sarcastic, really critical of my game. But now I stay positive, take one point at a time, not even thinking about the next one until the point is over."

But when she came out strong, breaking Nelson and holding at the outset of the second set, she did admit to feeling in control of the match.

"She started hitting bigger, which was out of her range, and she started missing more," said 21-year-old from Hungary. "By the time it was 2-0 down, I think she never believed she could come back."

Nelson was proud of her run in the tournament, both with USC reaching the semifinals in the team competition, and her appearance in the final. As for the disappointment, she philosophically called it a "learning experience."

"I was so nervous and so excited," the spindly California native said. "She played a really great match, she hit a great ball, and I couldn't get back in there. I froze up I didn't play as well as I'd like to. I wish I could play it over again right now."

The men's final, which was played at the same time as the women's, produced a similarly lopsided 6-1, 6-4 result, due to Kohlloeffel's extra dimension--his ability to finish at the net.

"I knew he was going to come in a lot," said Somdev Devvarman, a sophomore at the University of Virginia, who was a nine seed. "Usually I pass a lot better, but I didn't pass that terribly today. He volleys really well, and his approaches were better, which makes passing a little bit harder."

Kohlloeffel, a junior from Germany, had a some net-cord luck to break Devvarman for the first time in the opening set, but the second break assured him of taking the set.

"I was really nervous," Kohlloeffel admitted. "I don't know if Somdev was as nervous, but it's good to know you're a break up. It makes you feel better out there."

Devvarman's backhand was put to the test by the lefthanded top seed, and he acknowledged that it produced some "uncharacteristic" errors. With consistency and depth his major strengths, his hopes were riding on a very clean, error-free performance, but Kohlloeffel pressed the issue, taking every short ball and coming in. He also felt his game came up a notch because Devvarman's style favors long points.

"He's more of a guy that gives you a rhythm. Yesterday (against Erling Tveit) the points were much shorter, but today I could stand there and find my rhythm."

Kohlloeffel managed a 4-1 two-break lead in the second, but confessed that he started thinking about what he was about to do and lost a bit of focus. Devvarman got his only break in the match to make it 4-2, but Kohlloffel closed that only slightly ajar door. Fittingly, Kohlloffel finished the match by making a textbook volley from Devvarman's return of serve, and the Pac-10 could claim its second champion of the day.

The 24-year-old was asked about his future plans in tennis, now that he had capped last year's team title with this year's individual ones; last fall he won the ITA Indoor singles championship, becoming the first Bruin to do so.

"At the moment, I'm not planning on playing the pro tour," said Kohlloeffel, who is majoring in economics and considering graduate school when he earns his degree next year. "Time is not really working for me, I'm kind of old. At some point you have to start living your life and start doing what you want to do for the rest of your life. I'll go home and relax...I'm glad to get a break now."

In the doubles championships, two Big Ten schools will hang banners from their indoor courts' rafters, as the University of Illinois team of Kevin Anderson and Ryan Rowe captured the men's title, and Cristelle Grier and Alexis Prousis of Northwestern took the women's.

Anderson and Rowe have lost only one match all year, and with their No. 3 seed, were hardly surprising finalists. But down two match points in their first contest of the tournament, Anderson and Rowe survived by the skin of their teeth.

"We scraped through a few matches in the beginning of the tournament," Anderson said, "but today we came out firing and really played a good match."

With their big serves and crisp volleys, Anderson and Rowe gave the second seeded team of Scott Doerner and Andres Begemann of Pepperdine no time to breathe. Rowe, from Moline Illinois, and Anderson, of South Africa, were never broken in their 6-2, 6-4 victory, giving Illinois its third doubles championship of this decade. Brian Wilson and Rajeev Ram won the title in 2003 while Cary Franklin and Graydon Oliver were the champions in 2000.

"It's a great feeling," said Rowe, who, like Anderson is a sophomore. "I'm not sure how to react, but I'm happy to share this experience with Kevin, who's one of my best friends. The more matches we play, the better we get."

That was the theme of the unseeded Grier and Prousis of Northwestern, who defeated Lucia Sainz and Katharina Winterhalter from Fresno State, five seeds, 6-4, 6-1.

"In our first match, we could have lost it," Prousis, a Lake Forest Illinois junior said of their three-set comeback win over Arizona State. "But after that we've really had our heads on straight. We've gotten better from the first match on."

"This last three months, Prous and I have played unbelievably well together," said Grier of Epsom England. "This tournament we got some revenge on some people we've lost to and that's really satisfying."

Grier was no doubt referring to their shocking domination of the number one seeded Stanford team of Alice Barnes and Anne Yelsey in Sunday's semifinals by a 6-3, 6-2 score. Barnes and Yelsey had beaten Grier and Prousis in the first round of the ITA Indoor Championships last fall.

In Monday's final Grier and Prousis used their lobs and angles very effectively, and as they got better throughout the tournament, so too did they improve throughout the final, becoming the second doubles champions from Northwestern. Katrina Adams and Diane Donnelly won the title as Wildcats in 1987.

Grier is lone senior among the participants in Monday's finals and she knows how fortunate she is to complete her college tennis experience with a win.

"I'm lucky," she said. "I was hoping to do it in the singles, until I played a pretty awful match (a 6-1, 6-1 loss to second seed Kristi Miller), so I didn't want to end it on that. It's fantastic to end my career this way."

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Nelson and Babos Meet Monday For NCAA Women’s Title; Kohlloffel and Devvarman Vie For Men’s Crown; Stanford 0-3 on Home Court

©Colette Lewis 2006
Palo Alto CA--

Cal’s Susie Babos had a ticket booked to return to her native Hungary on Sunday, but she’s changed it. She has a more pressing engagement for Monday-a chance to compete for the NCAA women’s title.

On a warm and cloudless afternoon, the unseeded Babos fought through a tense and controversial contest against crowd favorite and fellow lefthander Theresa Logar of Stanford, earning a 6-4, 3-6, 6-2 victory.

In a match featuring break after break, it was difficult to determine who had an advantage, but when Logar had a rare hold of serve to go up 4-3 in the second set and Babos needed one of her own to level, everything seemed to go awry for her.

At 30-30, Babos hit a serve that the linesman and umpire called good, but Logar and Stanford assistant coach Frankie Brennan didn’t see it that way. After Brennan, who was seated on the court, spoke heatedly to the chair umpire, Brennan re-took his seat but the Stanford crowd weighed in with an array of boos and catcalls. Shortly thereafter, the chair umpire called an unsportsmanlike conduct point penalty on Brennan, a point that gave Babos the game. The chair called the game score as 4-4, but Lele Forood, Stanford’s head coach, asked to speak to Jane Goodman, the women's tournament referee, who conferred with the chair umpire and reversed the point, on the grounds that college rules require a warning first. Logar won the next three points to take the game and held her serve to take the set, and clearly had the momentum as the third set began.

But Babos, a sophomore, regrouped.

“By taking my time, going to the bathroom, calming myself down a little bit, definitely helped” she said. “I changed my strategy, played with more variety, mixed up my down-the-lines and cross-courts, my serve as well, and that helped.”

As for the crowd, which was primarily but not exclusively pro-Stanford, Babos made adjustments there too.

“It’s hard to face the crowd when they are not cheering for you, and it really bothered me. At first it upset me, but then in the third set it just completely fired me up more.”

And perhaps the Stanford crowd, had they known, would have kept quiet, as Babos ran off four straight games to start the third set, although Logar, a nine seed, managed to give them a glimmer of hope at 4-2. But when Babos held for 5-2 it looked bleak and in Logar’s next game, the tension came out where in often does for Logar, in her serve. It was a double fault on match point that gave Babos the win.

The energetic fist-pumping that was prevalent throughout the match gave way to a less than enthusiastic net handshake, and Logar, a junior, was still angry a few minutes later in the postmatch press conference.

“She was making comments about everything,” said Logar, “and maybe that keyed her up going into the third. She just got hot in the third, and it was hard to come back from that.”

Babos meets another Pac-10 rival Tuesday in Lindsey Nelson, and for the first time ever, both of the women's finalists are unseeded.

Nelson, from USC, took out William & Mary’s Megan Moulton-Levy 6-3, 6-2, using her profoundly deep groundstrokes to keep the speedy Moulton-Levy back on her heels.

“She did not miss a ball,” said Moulton-Levy who is probably an inch or two short of the five foot height that she claims in the Tribe media guide. “She was painting the lines, she played incredibly. She didn’t give me the opportunity to get my game going.”

Nelson, who is at least a foot taller than Moulton-Levy, didn’t think it was quite that easy.

“It was so tough. She hits such a rough ball and I knew I had to work hard from the very beginning because she gets everything back. She gives you nothing to work with.”

Nelson has shown an ability to adjust to her opponent’s strength this week, and she has gained confidence from her wins over “all these great players.”

“It’s making good decisions, playing smart, staying positive and really believing in myself,” Nelson said. “I know I have the potential to be an amazing player, one of the best in the world and I just have to believe that.”

Given the upsets that were rampant all week, it's surprising that the men’s final will actually feature two seeded players—-Ben Kohlloeffel of UCLA, the top seed, and Somdev Devvarman of Virigina, a nine seed.

Kohlloeffel made short work of unseeded Erling Tveit of Ole Miss 6-3, 6-1, in another duel of lefthanders. Tviet struggled to hold his serve throughout the match which left him defenseless against the uber-quick sophomore from Germany.

“I didn’t get any free points off my serve like I usually do” said Tveit, a sophomore from Norway, "and he played really well.”

Kohlloeffel, who wasn’t broken in the match, had a different take on his own performance.

“Actually it was a bad match," he said. “We both didn’t play our best tennis. I guess I was the better of the worse today. I’m glad to win not playing my best tennis. But I hope I can play my best tomorrow.”

He’ll go into the final match on Tuesday as a heavy favorite, but he won't be dealing with a hostile crowd, as KC Corkery, the Stanford hope, ran out of gas against a fresher Somdev Devvarman, dropping their semifinal match 6-4, 5-7, 6-3.

Corkery got down immediately, and the crowd, already deflated by the Logar loss, was subdued. Devvarman, a sophomore from India, showed no sign of nerves, neutralizing Corkery’s attempts to win points at the net with returns that zeroed in on the Stanford senior’s shoetops.

Devvarman was up two breaks in the first set, which was fortunate for him, because Corkery found his game down 5-1 and brought the score back to 5-4.

“I think I did a pretty good job of trying to stay in there,” said Corkery, who is unsure of his plans after graduation next month. “The crowd really helped me out, they kept me in it.”

He needed them again in the second set, when he fell behind 4-2. But he raised his game, at one stage even indulging in a Jimmy Connors like fist pump, the crowd roaring its approval when he evened the set. He rode that wave of momentum to finish off the second set by breaking Devvarman.

But in the third set Corkery admitted to fatigue, and the vigilant Devvarman noticed.

“I saw him getting a little bit tired. He’s played a few longer matches than I have and I think it might have caught up to him. I definitely thought like I was stronger today.”

Once again Corkery got down early, and couldn’t quite pull even. When Devvarman got through the 4-3 game to take a 5-3 lead, Corkery had all the pressure weighing on him, and even though he took a 30-0 lead, things unraveled quickly.

“I hit one or two key shots, he missed a couple of easy volleys,” Devvarman recalled, “and the next thing you know I’m at match point, I play a good point and it’s over.”

The crowd gave Corkery a standing ovation after the match, but it wasn’t the ending either of them wanted.

“It was a great week,” said Corkery, who won a national championship in doubles with Sam Warburg in 2004. “I came up a little short, but I’m not disappointed. I had a great career here.”

There was more disappointment in store for Cardinal supporters as the top seeded doubles team of Alice Barnes and Anne Yelsey dropped a 6-3, 6-2 decision to unseeded Cristelle Grier and Alexis Prousis of Northwestern. The exit of Barnes and Yelsey left Stanford without a women's singles or doubles finalist for the first time since 1996.

Grier and Prousis will face Lucia Sainz and Katharina Winterhalter, a five seeded team, from Fresno State, who pulled a mild upset by ousting fourth seeds Sara Anundsen and Jenna Long of North Carolina 7-5, 6-3.

The men's doubles final will feature the second seeds, Andre Begemann and Scott Doerner of Pepperdine against the third seeded team of Kevin Anderson and Ryan Rowe of Illinois. Begemann and Doerner defeated the Middle Tennessee State team of Marco Born and Andreas Siljestrom, a five seed, 6-3, 7-6 (7). Anderson and Rowe came from a break down in the second set, winning the last four games to beat the unseeded Texas Christian duo of Rafael Abreu and Jordan Freitas 6-4, 7-5.

"We were always in every receiving game," said Anderson. "We just had to increase our intensity to get it done."

"We had really tough first and second round matches," said Rowe, of their victories over Corkery and James Pade, when they saved two match points, and again when they came back from a break down in the third to defeat Strahinja Bobusic and Colin Purcell of Georgia. "But I wouldn't say it was destiny. We still have to play well to win."

For more stories on the NCAA championships, see Stanford's website.

Tomorrow's finals will also be broadcast over the internet at radiotennis.com at noon Pacific Time.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Home Team Wins Three at NCAA Tournament

©Colette Lewis 2006
Palo Alto CA--

The Stanford Cardinal fans were out in force on a cool and breezy Saturday, giving a lift to Theresa Logar, KC Corkery and the doubles team of Alice Barnes and Anne Yelsey, all of whom advanced to Sunday's semifinals.

Logar, a nine seed, took out Kristi Miller of Georgia Tech, the nation's top-ranked player and the tournament's second seed 6-3, 2-6, 6-3. Logar, a lefthander who gives new meaning to the word feisty, credited the partisans in the stands for helping her to victory.

"There were a ton of people here, which was sweet," said Logar, a junior from Rochester Hills, Michigan. "I was like, `I kind of like playing in front of all those people, maybe I'll do this again tomorrow.' So in order to do this tomorrow, I've got to win."

Controlling the first set with depth and consistency, Logar dominated Miller, a longtime opponent of Logar's from their preteen years in Michigan. Miller committed a bevy of unforced errors and didn't appear to relax until the third game of the second set, when she broke Logar for the first time, and then followed it with another break on Logar's next service game.

The third set was close until Logar, squawking after each shot, broke Miller at 3-4, but with the double faults Logar was frequently contributing to Miller's cause, holding for the match was certainly not a given. In that final game, Logar did need to save a break point before stroking the forehand winner that put her in the semifinals.

Logar, who clinched the team victory for Stanford on Tuesday at No. 3 singles, admitted that she was running on adrenaline this deep into the fortnight of tennis.

"This is like day 15 of the tournament. I never expected to be the one to clinch, that was icing on the cake and this is the sprinkles and cherry on top," she said.

Logar will battle unseeded Suzi Babos of California-Berkley in one of Sunday's semifinals. Babos defeated Riza Zalameda of UCLA, also unseeded, 7-5, 6-1.

"I had a pretty good game plan, but the main thing was to keep it simple," said Babos, a sophomore from Hungary. "Coming in I didn't have high hopes, and I'm surprised to be here. But with each match I'm more engergized and more confident."
Babos and Logar haven't played since last year's NCAA individual tournament, when Logar defeated Babos in straight sets.

The third Pac-10 player to reach the semifinals is unseeded Lindsey Nelson, who came back to defeat Celia Durkin of Stanford 5-7, 6-0, 6-3. Nelson's game was a bit off at the start, and with the small margin of error on her flat, deep ground strokes, it doesn't take much for them to catch the tape or sail a few inches long. But she also gave Durkin credit for that.

"By the end of the first set, I had picked up the pace of her ball, got used to it," said the sophomore, who is unseeded despite playing No. 1 for USC. "But it was close, it could have gone either way, even in that 6-0 set, it was close."

Nelson has now played three consecutive three-set matches, and with Southern Cal's loss in the semifinals of the team event, it would be understandable if her less-than-substantial frame is beginning to wear down. But instead she talked only of the positives of the past two weeks.

"I'm a confident person, I have faith in my game, and this is one of my goals. I can play better, and I feel like I can play forever."

Her opponent in the semifinals is William & Mary's Megan Moulton-Levy, who continued her surprising run with a 7-5, 6-1 win over Tatsiana Uvarova of Virginia Commonwealth. The diminutive Moulton-Levy was down 3-0 to start the match, but she wasn't discouraged.

"She was on fire," said the junior from Michigan. "Hitting winners from everywhere. It was impossible for me to do anything."

But she worked her way back to 3-3, primarily by "moving my feet and digging more," only to fall behind again. At 5-3, the whole match turned around for Moulton-Levy as she was the one who could do no wrong, at one stage winning 13 straight and 26 of 27 points to take the first set and a 4-0 lead in the second.

Moulton-Levy was recently announced as the winner of the ITA/Arthur Ashe, Jr. Award for Leadership and Sportsmanship, and her on-court demeanor has won her a new legion of fans in Palo Alto. She's enjoying the ride.

"I'm having a blast. These are perfect conditions to play good tennis, and I am," she said.

The men's quarterfinal matches were less compelling than the women's, but there's always suspense when Stanford's KC Corkery takes the court this week, with every match possibly his last as a collegian. The unseeded senior from Southern California
forestalled that event on Saturday, taking a 7-5, 6-2 win over unseed Clement Reix of Clemson.

"The crowd's been great," said Corkery. "They seem to really invigorate me every time there's a big point or I've hit a big shot."

Corkery admitted that he'd already reached one his goals--to be a four-time All-American. He needed two wins to do it, because he was not seeded in the tournament, and now he's set his sights on even more.

"This is great. I've felt like I've had potential since I've gotten here at Stanford. I've had a great career, but I always thought I could do this every year. It's nice to finally go out and show it. I don't know how many people think I'm that good, but I've always felt that I could play with these guys."

Next up for Corkery is Somdev Davvarman of Virginia, a nine seed. Devvarman outsteadied unseeded Sheeva Parbhu of Notre Dame 6-1, 6-3.

"My basic strategy was to stay really tough right in the beginning, get the early break and cruise ahead," said the sophomore from India, who is the only semifinalist with four straight-set victories in the tournament.

Breaking Parbhu in the first game gave Davvarman a chance to test his strategy and it worked perfectly, as he took a 4-0 lead before finally surrendering a game. Davvarman counts quickness and competitiveness as his main strengths, and he'll enter Sunday's match against Corkery with a psychological advantage--a win in the only other match they've played, in a Pro Circuit Futures match last year.

"The first and second sets were really close and I pulled off the third," said Davvarman. "It wasn't that big of a deal at the time--it was qualifying on court 29 with no one watching."

He knows that won't be the case on Sunday.

"KC's obviously from Stanford and he's going to pull a crowd. It's not going to be on court 29," he laughed. "It'll be fun to play, fun to be the bad guy."

While Corkery was the center of attention on Court 1, top seed Ben Kohlloeffel of UCLA was quietly exorcising some demons of his own with a 6-4, 6-2 win over Conor Niland of California-Berkley. Niland had defeated Kohlloeffel in their two previous meetings this spring and even the nation's top-ranking didn't keep him from coming into the third encounter "a little bit nervous and a little bit scared."

But Kohlloeffel, a quarterfinalist in the individual tournament last year when UCLA took the team championship, got off quickly with a break in the third game, and that was all he needed for the first set.

"I wasn't putting that much pressure on his serve," said Niland, a senior from Ireland. "He didn't make many unforced errors....it's tough to beat Ben three times in the space of a few months."

Niland fell behind immediately in the second set and it was 4-0 before he took a game. Kohlloeffel effectively varied his pace and style, using his quickness to disrupt the rhythm of Niland, whose groundstrokes can be lethal when given pace and time.

"You can't play beautiful tennis in the wind," said Kohlloeffel, a sophomore from Germany. "It's tough to play in those conditions, you can't go for your shots, you can't go for the line. It's a little more putting the ball in the court and hoping something happens."

The top seed will face unseeded Erling Tveit of Ole Miss in a battle of lefthanders Sunday, as Tveit upset yet another lefty, eighth seed Travis Helgeson of Texas 7-6 (4), 6-4.

Helgeson had managed an early break over the hard-serving sophomore from Norway, but could not close out the set serving at 5-4, and the dangerous Tveit took the tiebreak. When Tveit got an early break in the second set, he held on to it to eliminate the sophomore from Kansas.

When asked about facing the nation's top-ranked player, the 22nd-ranked Tveit didn't seem to be overawed.

"I know he's good. I'm just going to try to play my game and see what happens."

The third Stanford winner of the day, the doubles team of Alice Barnes and Anne Yelsey, made short work of Pac-10 rivals Laura Gordon and Riza Zalameda of UCLA 6-1, 6-4. The top seeds will take on the unseeded Northwestern pair of Cristelle Grier and Alexis Prousis in one semifinal, while five seeds Sara Anundsen and Jenna Long will meet another five seeded team, Luci Sainz and Katherina Winterhalter of Fresno State, who upset the second seeds Melissa Applebaum and Audra Cohen of Miami.

Three seeded teams also advanced in the men's doubles, with second seeds Andre Begemann and Scott Doerner of Pepperdine matching up with five seeds Marco Born and Andreas Siljestrom of Middle Tennessee State in one semifinal. The other semifinal will feature Illinois' Kevin Anderson and Ryan Rowe, the third seeds, against unseeded Rafael Abreu and Jordan Freitas of Texas Christian.

For complete scores and draws, see the Stanford website.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Top Seed Cohen Bounced in Round of 16 at NCAA Women's Championships

©Colette Lewis 2006
Palo Alto CA--

It was a day of surprises at the Taube Tennis Center on Friday as women's top seed Audra Cohen and a slew of other favorites were ousted in the Round of 16.

Unseeded Lindsey Nelson of the University of Southern California had the sweatshirt-clad crowd riveted throughout her 6-2, 5-7, 6-3 victory over Miami's Cohen, the nation's second ranked player and the top seed in the tournament. Nelson used her power and deception to take control of the first set, with her two-handed forehand doing most of the damage. When Nelson took a 5-2 lead in the second set, Cohen seemed doomed, but just as she had in her previous match when down a set and a break, she dug deep and took the next five games. Nelson had three match points in that stretch, but converted none of them and she wasn't happy.

"It was heart-breaking, I was really disappointed in myself," said the sophomore who is a rail-thin collection of arms and legs. "I got nervous and tentative and it cost me."

Nelson and Cohen had played in the team semifinals on Monday, with the match tied in the third set and unfinished when Miami clinched the victory, so Nelson knew what to expect.

"She's very crafty, very tricky and tried to get me impatient, but I wanted to hit a million balls today. Going into the third, I knew I had to stay positive, because if I had gotten all mopey, she would have killed me 6-0," Nelson said, perhaps recalling that Cohen had done just that to her opponent on Thursday.

Nelson took a 5-1 lead in the third before Cohen regained some momentum, but it was too deep a hole this time, and the 2005 NCAA finalist joined 14 other women's seeds on the sidelines.

An unseeded finalist is guaranteed, as no seeds remain in the upper half of the draw. Nelson will play Celia Durkin from Stanford who upset Zuzana Cerna of Baylor, a nine seed 6-3, 6-2. Tatsiana Uvarova of Virginia Commonwealth is proving in her first five months of college tennis that she is a serious contender for the title, taking out third seed Daniela Bercek of Duke 6-2, 6-3. And, as predicted by Marcia Frost of collegeandjuniortennis.com yesterday, Megan Moulton-Levy of William & Mary shocked seventh seed and team tournament MVP Alice Barnes of Stanford 6-3, 6-3 and will face Uvarova on Saturday.

And if the Stanford fans weren't stunned by that result, they certainly were when two-time national champion Amber Liu fell to unseeded Riza Zalameda of UCLA 5-7, 6-2, 7-5. Despite the pro-Cardinal crowd, Zalameda was unfazed by the occasion and the loss of the extremely close first set seemed to give her confidence. By the end of the nearly three-hour long match, it was the graduating Liu who couldn't win the big points, while the sophomore Zalameda seized her opportunities. Zalameda will face another Pac-10 opponent in the quarterfinals, unseeded Suzi Babos of California-Berkley, who dismissed defending champion and fourth seed Zuzana Zemenova of Baylor 6-3, 6-4.

The only quarterfinal match featuring seeded players will have Stanford's Theresa Logar, a nine seed, against second seed Kristi Miller of Georgia Tech. Each had relatively easy victories on Friday, with Miller taking out nine seed Cristelle Grier 6-1, 6-1 and Logar eliminating fellow lefthander Amanda Fink, the sixth seed, from Southern California 6-0, 6-2.

The men's side actually has one quarterfinal match that follows the seeding, a Pac-10 confrontation between top seed Ben Kohlloeffel of UCLA and sixth seed Conor Niland of California-Berkley. Both breezed by their opponents on Friday: Kohlloeffel defeating Pierrick Ysern of San Diego 6-2, 6-1 and Niland taking out Callum Beale of Texas 6-2, 6-0.

Travis Helgeson of Texas, the eighth seed, also advanced in the upper half of the draw, taking out nine seed Ryler DeHeart of Illinois 6-2, 6-4. He will face unseed Erling Tveit of Mississippi who came back to defeat Adrians Zguns of Arkansas 2-6, 6-4, 6-2.

Clement Reix of Clemson claimed the biggest upset of the day in men's play as he dominated third seed Luigi D'Agord of Miami 6-2, 6-4. Reix, a junior from France, played very solid tennis and D'Agord looked alternately disgusted and disinterested.

"I was expecting a really tough match--he's a really big hitter--but my coach says that sometimes when you expect it to be tough, it's an easy job," he said quoting Clemson coach Chuck Kreise.

In the crucial ninth game, the third seed double-faulted to hand Reix the break, and then failed to apply any pressure when Reix was facing the always difficult task of serving out the match. Instead, D'Agord's unforced errors led to Reix holding at love to become the first Clemson player in 20 years to reach the quarterfinals.

His opponent will be Stanford's KC Corkery, who also downed a seed, taking out No. 7 Arnau Brugues of Tulsa 4-6, 6-2, 6-3. The unseeded Corkery got off to a fast start, leading 4-1 before losing the next five games, but in the second and third sets his serving improved and he controlled the net when Brugues didn't hit with depth.

Somdev Devvarman of Virginia, a nine seed, took out fifth seed Ludovic Walter of Duke 6-2, 6-3 and will face Sheeva Parbhu of Notre Dame, a 6-3, 2-6, 6-3 winner over Roger Matalonga of Arizona. Devvarman is the only seeded player remaining in the lower half of the draw.

The doubles seeding has not held up any better, with only three seeded teams remaining among the final eight on the men's side. Pepperdine, at No. 2 and Illinois, at No. 3 are the favorites, although each had difficulty Friday. Andre Begemann and Scott Doerner of Pepperdine defeated last year's finalists Mark Growcott and Ken Skupski of LSU 7-6 (2), 7-6 (5), while Illinois' Anderson and Rowe had to come back from a break down in the third to beat Strahinja Bobusic and Colin Purcell of Georgia 6-4, 5-7, 6-4.

The top two seeds in the women's doubles advanced, with Alice Barnes of Stanford and Audra Cohen of Miami putting aside their disappointing singles losses earlier in the day to keep alive their dreams of a national title. Barnes and Anne Yelsey, the top seeds, once again dropped the first set, but came back to beat Helena Besovic and Ana Cetnik of Texas Christian 3-6, 6-3, 6-4. Cohen and partner Melissa Applebaum, seeded second, took out Maryland's Marianne Baker and Ramona But 6-3, 6-4.

For complete draws, see Stanford's website.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Second seed Isner Falls to Matalonga in NCAA Men’s Action Thursday

©Colette Lewis 2006
Palo Alto CA--

Roger Matalonga of Arizona stood on the grass outside the Taube South courts, happily accepting a congratulatory phone call from his mother in Spain within minutes of his 7-6 (5), 6-4 upset of Georgia’s John Isner in second round action Thursday afternoon. Following the live scoring via the internet, she knew her son had bagged the biggest win of his college career, and had earned the designation of All-American.

Any unseeded player who wins two matches is automatically granted All-American status. (As are all seeded players, regardless of their performance in the tournament.) In addition to Matalonga, other players to earn that prestigious designation were Pierrick Ysern of San Diego, Callum Beale of Texas, (who needed over three hours to complete his victory), Adrians Zguns of Arkansas, Mississippi’s Erling Tveit, Stanford’s KC Corkery, Clement Reix of Clemson and Sheeva Parbhu of Notre Dame—all unseeded and all in the round of 16.

Matalonga was certainly the most unlikely to advance on a day so chilly and breezy that even late May California sunshine couldn’t warm it, especially when he fell behind in the first set tiebreak against the 6’ 9” Isner, the second seed.

“I came back from down 5-1 in the tiebreaker, won six straight points. After that I knew I had a chance,” said Matalonga, who was an All-American in doubles last year as a junior.

The players exchanged breaks to open the second set, but Isner was not able to get in his trademark huge first serve at 4-5, and Matalonga seized his opportunity.

“I knew I had to attack his second serve, and when I got a chance to put the ball either low or right at him.”

Matalonga also admitted to employing one other strategy—“I’m a senior, so I just wanted to try to have fun.”

Isner's day went from bad to worse as he and partner Antonio Ruiz, the defending NCAA doubles champions, lost to Konstantin Haerle and Robert Searle of Rice 6-3, 7-6.

There were two surprises on the men's side for the Stanford fans--one good and one bad. Senior Corkery easily defeated nine seed Arnaud Lecloerec of Virginia Commonwealth 6-1, 6-3, but Cardinal freshman Matt Bruch, the ITA Rookie of the Year, fell to Erling Tveit of Mississippi 7-6 (1), 7-5. Bruch, a nine seed, was down 4-0 in the second set and had not yet broken the hard-serving lefthander. But Bruch fought back to even the set at five, only to be broken in the next game, giving Tveit a second chance to serve it out.

Top seed Ben Kohloeffel from UCLA lost his first set against Eric Molnar of Colorado but came back for a 2-6, 6-4, 6-2 victory and will face Ysern, a finalist last year, in the third round.

The top seeded woman, Audra Cohen of Miami, also had to come from behind to post a victory. Down a set and a break to Whitney Deason of Stanford, Cohen found another gear just in time, reeling off eight straight games for a 4-6, 6-4, 6-0 win.

The only seed to lose on the women's side in second round action was Nicole Leimbach of Texas Christian, who was soundly beaten by Tatsiana Uvarova of Virginia Commonwealth 6-2, 6-0.

One quarter of the Round of 16 participants are members of Stanford's championship team. Alice Barnes, Amber Liu, Celia Durkin and Theresa Logar are all in different quarters of the draw, setting up a possibility of an all-Cardinal semifinals, but none are seeded to advance past the quarters.

The doubles upset of the day saw top seeds Scott Green and Ross Wilson of Ohio State sent packing by the Duke tandem of Joey Atas and Jonathan Stokke 7-5, 3-6, 6-3. Atas and Stokke played as if all the pressure was on the Buckeye seniors, and swinging freely, they went for and usually hit the lines.

The third seeded team of Kevin Anderson and Ryan Rowe of Illinois survived two match points in the second set tiebreak and the partisan Stanford cheering section to take a 4-6, 7-6 (6), 6-4 win over the Cardinal team of Corkery and James Pade. Several times during the match the umpire admonished the crowd behind the court to keep silent while the ball was in play, and although they eventually complied, a final warning was necessary to accomplish it.

On the women's side, the top two seeds advanced, but no. 3 and no. 4 did not. The third seeded Thompson twins from Notre Dame lost a third set tiebreak to Luana Magnani and Lindsey Nelson of Southern California, while Iva Gersic and Maja Dovacek of New Mexico, seeded fourth, dropped a three set marathon to Kim Coventry and Carolina Escamilla of Kentucky.

For full draws, see the Stanford website.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Fourth Seed Poerschke Falls to Pepperdine's Rico In First Round NCAA Action Wednesday

©Colette Lewis 2006
Palo Alto CA--

Ideal tennis weather greeted the 128 players who took the court today for the NCAA Individual Championship's first round, and with 64 matches to play on just 12 courts, a rainless day was essential. After the tense and emotional 4-2 Pepperdine win over Georgia Tuesday night, I was interested to see the toll it might take on the four Georgia and Pepperdine players (two each) in their singles matches today.

Georgia's No. 1 and the tournament's second seed, John Isner didn't have any difficulty rebounding, taking a 7-5, 6-3 win over Minnesota's D.J. Geatz. But Pepperdine's No. 1, Scott Doerner, a nine seed (technically 9-16 seed, but for brevity's sake I'm going to refer to all 9-16 seeds as nines), was unable to re-energize and dropped a 7-5, 6-0 decision to Notre Dame's Sheeva Parbhu. Georgia No. 2 Luis Flores got off to a slow start and couldn't recover in time to avoid a 6-1, 7-5 defeat at the hands of nine seed Ryler DeHeart of Illinois. It was Pepperdine's No. 2 Pedro Rico who did the unexpected, taking down fourth seed Lars Poerschke of Baylor in a grueling 6-4, 6-7(2), 7-5 contest at Taube South.

"I lost to him in the first round of the All-Americans (last fall)," said Rico, who was named to the all-tournament team at No. 2 singles. "It was the same kind of match, very close," Rico said of the 6-3, 6-7(3), 6-4 loss in Tulsa, where he was seeded and Poerschke was not. "He has a big serve, big forehand, but this time it went my way."

The Baylor sophomore broke Rico at 4-4 in the third and was serving for the match, but couldn't get any closer than 30-30 in that game, and a Rico backhand winner and a double fault put the match back to even. Rico survived a break point in the next (four deuce) game and put all the pressure back on Poerschke, who hit a forehand long at 30-40 to give the Wave senior from Spain the upset.

"I've played well the whole week," said Rico. "I wanted to do well for myself because I'm a senior and I lost in the first round last year. I didn't want to go out on a down note; I was fired up, not tired" he said, although he did admit to attending a celebration Tuesday night after the team win.

The other seeds to fall on the men's side were all nines. Raian Luchici of North Carolina lost to Harel Srugo of Old Dominion; Daniel Byrnes of Oklahoma State retired to Robert Searle of Rice down 6-2, 3-0; Jerry Makowski of Texas A & M was defeated by 2005 NCAA finalist but unseeded Pierrick Ysern of San Diego 6-3, 6-3.

The women also lost one top eight seed and several nines. Zsuzsanna Fodor of California, the fifth seed, lost to Taka Bertrand of Vanderbilt 6-2, 6-3. Nine seeds eliminated were Elena Gantcheva of UNLV, by Lindsey Nelson who plays No.1 for USC but wasn't seeded; Florida's Diana Srebrovic, by Megan Moulton-Levy of William & Mary; and Srebrovic's teammate Alexis Gordon, by Suzi Babos of California. Stanford's Anne Yelsey, a nine seed, withdrew with an injury, but Stanford is well represented in the second round, as all five Cardinal women advanced.

For complete draws, see Stanford 's Official website. And for a different perspective, try the unofficial Stanford sports website thebootleg.com

SMASH Column, NCAA Team Edition

The last series of first round NCAA Individual Championship matches doesn't take the court until 9:30 p.m. Eastern time, so it might be quite late before I can have a report up.

In the meantime, please visit my weekly online SMASH column for the aces, faults and lets from last weekend in Palo Alto(and San Francisco).

And I would like to thank Peter Bodo for directing his TennisWorld blog readers to zootennis and collegeandjuniortennis.com
for NCAA championship coverage.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Pepperdine Waves Crash Over Bulldogs for First NCAA Title

©Colette Lewis 2006
Palo Alto CA--

Andre Begemann clinched his school's first ever NCAA title with a come-from-behind singles win over Matic Omerzel at No. 4, but his contribution at No. 1 doubles was just as instrumental in the second-ranked Waves' 4-2 victory over Georgia on a chilly evening at Taube Tennis Center.

Begemann and Scott Doerner grabbed the key doubles point for the Waves, defeating the defending NCAA doubles champions John Isner and Antonio Ruiz 9-7. Ivor Lovrak and Pedro Rico had earlier taken their match in the No. 2 slot.

"Last time we played Georgia, we lost the doubles point," said Lovrak of his team's loss in the finals of the ITA Team Indoor in February. "Everyone knows there's six great singles players on the court, their team and our team," said Begemann, "so knowing we only needed three more, not four more, made a huge difference for us."

When top seed Georgia took the first set in five of the six singles, they still had hope of overcoming the doubles loss just as they had done against Baylor in Monday night's semifinal.

"We actually had a chance," said Georgia head coach Manny Diaz, "up until we got broken at 4-all in the third at No. 4 singles."

Pepperdine took a 3-0 lead when No. 6 Omar Altmann and No. 3 Lovrak won their contests, but Georgia fought back with No. 1 John Isner and No. 5 Colin Purcell getting wins. The two remaining matches featured Omerzel, Georgia's hero in the Baylor semifinal, against Begemann and Bulldog Luis Flores versus Pedro Rico at No. 2. When Omerzel took a 6-2, 4-2 lead, Georgia still had a chance, but when Begemann took a second set tiebreak to force a third set, the momentum shifted in the Waves favor.

"I knew what I had to do, I had to come in," said Begemann, a sophomore from Germany. "I had to move great and I knew that was the way I could beat him. I fought on every point, I stayed in the match and I believed in myself."

Adam Steinberg was also a believer, and in only his fourth year as head coach guided his team to a NCAA record 36 victories and the national title.

"Wow, this is a dream come true," said Steinberg. "I know it's a cliche, but to win Pepperdine's first national championship ever, with all the great teams and the great tradition that we have...to win it for a small school like ours means the world to me and the guys."

There was another NCAA championship first recorded Tuesday night when Lovrak, a senior and the tournament's Most Valuable Performer, became the first player to win a championship with two different teams, since the current format was adopted in 1977. Lovrak was on the 2004 championship team at Baylor.

For Georgia, it was a disappointing end to a magical season, but Diaz, only minutes after the loss, was able to recount many of the year's highlights.

"We won the National Indoors, we won the regular season in the SEC and went undefeated all the way up to the finals. We've had a great year, and that's what I told my guys. I'm very proud of them. They left it all on the court, but Pepperdine was just the better team out there."

"We knew everything was against us, that everyone thought Georgia was going to win," said Steinberg. "But you go through a whole season and you win as many matches as we did, you grow up and you just believe. We believed going through this whole tournament that we were going to become champs."

Stanford Women Take Third Straight NCAA Championship

©Colette Lewis 2006
Palo Alto CA--

A new chapter in the storied history of Stanford tennis was written on Tuesday when the women’s team concluded its third straight undefeated season with the NCAA Division I women’s title, disposing of the University of Miami Hurricanes 4-1.

It was Theresa Logar at No. 3, undefeated herself in dual matches this year, who clinched the championship and the Cardinal’s 85th consecutive win with a 6-0, 6-3 victory over Monika Dancevic--and suddenly Logar was beneath a pile of teammates on court 3 at Taube Stadium.

“It hits you and then the team hits you,” laughed Logar, a junior who has never felt the sting of a team loss in her college career. “I realized it was the fourth point and looked over and there was like a sea of teal or aqua coming at me,” she said of the colorful T shirts worn by the rest of the team and many of their local fans in attendance.

Overwhelming favorites when the tournament began, Stanford pitched shutouts in their first four matches; the suspense in the final was whether they could go through the event without dropping a point.

It was close. After winning the doubles point when their No. 1 team of Alice Barnes and Anne Yelsey reeled off six straight games down 3-7, the Cardinal gave Miami no chance to establish momentum with an early surprise. Hurricane star Audra Cohen, who with Melissa Applebaum lost those six consecutive games, knew the opportunity for a huge upset may have died there.

“It affected the whole match,” said Cohen, a sophomore. “We got caught up in the moment and the tables turned. But that’s athletics.”

Even with Stanford No. 4 Anne Yelsey unable to play singles in the final due to a strained quad, the Cardinal didn’t miss a beat with freshman Jessica Nguyen, who moved into the lineup at No. 6, and ran out to a 5-0 lead, as did Celia Durkin at No. 5. Durkin gave Stanford its second point, Nguyen its third, demonstrating the real strength of team.

“We like to think we have a very deep team, “ understated coach Lele Forood, who now has four perfect seasons in her six years as head coach. When asked to rank this particular team, she asked for time to gain some perspective, but she did call them a “very competitive, spirited group” who take losses “really personally.” That would be losses of points, not matches, because only the seniors have any experience in losing a match.

Senior Amber Lui, a two-time NCAA singles champion in 2003 and 2004, was unable to handle Cohen at No. 1, and her 6-3, 6-3 loss, coming just moments before Logar won, spoiled the shutout. But it was knowing that she had played her last team match that brought tears and perspective.

“When we won we started crying, the seniors, knowing that was the last match” said Lui. As for her assessment of where this team ranks among the four she’s played on, Lui said, “I think we’ve gotten stronger every year, performing better and better each year.”

Alice Barnes, another senior and the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player for all three years the award’s been given, also admitted that playing in her last team match was bittersweet.

“I couldn’t sleep last night. It’s so important and I was thinking what can I do to help my teammates, to prepare them. It’s such a massive part of your life, it means so much and then it’s taken away. I’m in denial right now.”

Barnes’ college career may be over, but she and Liu are leaving behind a very vibrant winning streak and legacy for a program that is full of them.

Miami head coach Paige Yaroshuk-Tews put it best during her oncourt ceremony comments.

“Stanford makes something very, very difficult look easy.”

Monday, May 22, 2006

Georgia Keeps Perfect Season Intact with Dramatic Win Over Baylor

©Colette Lewis 2006
Palo Alto CA--

Matic Omerzel had the weight of Georgia's perfect season on his shoulders Monday evening at the Taube Tennis Center. Baylor and Georgia were tied at 3 matches each before Omerzel and Will Ward had completed a set and a half of their contest at No. 4, each player well aware of the stakes.

Ward was playing under a different kind of pressure, knowing that any overrule of one of his line calls would cost him the match. In the first set, the freshman from New Zealand was overruled twice. Leading 3-1 in the tiebreak, Ward thought an Omerzel serve was out, and when he was overruled, under college rules, he lost a point. Arguing with the umpire brought him a code violation that cost him the game and Georgia had taken the first set. Another overrule or conduct violation would result in his being defaulted.

Darkness began to descend as the crowds made their way to court 4, and every point was fraught with the pressure of the moment. The Stanford band could be heard practicing across the street, but often the hundreds gathered were totally silent, anticipating greater drama. When the second set also went to a tiebreak, Ward jumped out to a 4-2 lead but couldn't hold it and Omerzel had his first match point with Ward serving at 5-6. A wide forehand cost him that chance and it would be nine games until he got another chance, as Ward served an ace leading 8-7 to send the match to an appropriate third set.

"I was a little bit nervous in the second set, in the breaker," admitted Omerzel, a junior from Slovenia. "but the third set, I was up a break serving, and feeling pretty confident on my serve. I tried to relax myself as much as possible, and I think I did a pretty good job."

Omerzel got the break in a marathon fourth game, and it was all he needed. Although at 5-3 serving for the match, he again steered a forehand wide in his first chance to end it then, needing one more ad to secure the win for Georgia.

"Omie's been unbelievable for us," said Georgia head coach Manny Diaz. "Coming into the tournament he was having fun again, and I felt he would have a great tournament."

With senior Strahinja Bobusic's injury keeping him out of the lineup, Georgia has relied on its depth, and Omerzel has clinched two of their three wins here in California.

The Bulldogs will meet second seeded Pepperdine Tuesday evening for the title; Earlier in the day, the Waves defeated third seed Texas 4-1 to set up a rematch of the National Indoor Team Championships finals in February, won by Georgia 4-0.

Pepperdine coach Adam Steinberg was not discouraged when asked about the likely matchup with Georgia, a meeting that Baylor came very close to preventing.

"We're a different team than we were then," he said. "And outdoors it's a different game. Getting to the finals is not enough, we want the title."

For complete results, visit Stanford's website.

Miami Women Reach Finals with Rain-delayed Win over USC; Stanford Cruises over Florida

©Colette Lewis 2006
Palo Alto--

The sun shone on the Hurricanes Monday morning as they converted their rain-delay advantage in singles to a 4-1 win over the third seeded University of Southern California.

Trailing 1-0 with the loss of the doubles point on Sunday, Miami quickly evened the score when Caren Seenauth took out Carine Vermeulen at No. 6. Melissa Applebaum scored a huge win for the Hurricanes at No. 2, when she upset Amanda Fink, the seventh ranked player in the country in three sets. Miami's Patricia Starzyk finished off Anca Anastasiu at No. 5 just minutes later for a 3-1 lead and it was No. 3 Monika Dancevic who clinched it with a 4-6, 6-4, 6-2 over Luana Magnani.

"I was more relaxed today than I was against Notre Dame," said the freshman from Canada about the Hurricanes upset of the No. 2 seeds on Friday. "I went through the nerves then. I wasn't playing my best tennis yesterday and I had to kick it up a notch."

"The break helped us," said head coach Paige Yaroshuk-Tews. "Especially at No. 3, when our freshman got her heels into the match. Late in the year we've been playing agressive tennis, not waiting for things to happen."

Audra Cohen, the Hurricanes' No 1, who raced from her third set with Lindsey Nelson to congratulate Dancevic, was even more convinced that the rain delay favored her team.

"I think the break was a tremendous advantage for us," said the sophomore, who is the second ranked player in the country and has lost only one match this year. "We played as if we were even, not ahead."

Anyone looking for suspense in the Stanford women's match Monday against Florida knew it wasn't in the cards about ten minutes into the doubles. It took the top-ranked and undefeated home team only 35 minutes to dispose of the Gator no. 2 and 3 teams 8-0 and 8-2. And the singles gave the number four seeds no hope either, as Stanford took the first set in every match. Celia Durkin (no. 6), Alice Barnes (no. 2) and Whitney Deason (no. 5) collected the points to put Stanford in the final on Tuesday.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Ohio State Loses Heartbreaker in NCAA Men's Quarterfinals

©Colette Lewis 2006
San Francisco CA--

The first person we saw upon entering the San Francisco Tennis Club Sunday evening was a downcast Justin Kronauge, Ohio State's blue chip recruit who is enrolled in classes in Columbus but not joining the tennis team until the fall. He was understandably glum, as the Buckeyes had just lost 4-3 to third seeded Texas, with the final match at No. 5 going to 7-6 in the third. OSU's Dennis Mertens was unable to convert when leading 5-2 in the tiebreak, and Miguel Reyes Varela of Texas snatched his team a semifinal berth against Pepperdine with his second heroic performance of the day. An eyewitness account of the match, which Ohio State led 3 matches to 1, can be found here.

Reyes Varela and partner Callum Beale had shocked the nation's top-ranked doubles team of Scott Green and Ross Wilson by winning five straight games to secure the precious doubles point for the Longhorns (see post below) Sunday morning before maddeningly frequent rain showers forced an indoor finish.

Stanford has no indoor courts on campus, so a 45 minute trek into downtown San Francisco was required of all the men's quarterfinalists, and staggered starting times due to the 12-court limitation made for a very long evening. Seating was scarce, but fans were plentiful and at one time all six teams had their vocal boosters' cries reverberating in the cavernous facility.

The defending champion UCLA Bruins didn't survive the evening, winning only No. 1 singles in their 4-1 loss to the second seeded Pepperdine Waves. Undefeated Georgia continued their roll with a 4-0 whitewash of Virginia. The Bulldogs will face either Stanford or Baylor in the semifinals Monday (weather permitting).

The women's semifinals did not resume on Sunday due to the weather. USC leads Miami 1-0, while Stanford and Florida did not take the court Sunday.

For the Stanford - Baylor outcome and Monday's revised schedule, please see Stanford's website.

Marcia Frost of collegeandjuniortennis.com has more photos and Sunday's results here.

Rain Delay: Doubles point in first men's and women's matches all that has been decided in NCAA play on Sunday

©Colette Lewis 2006
Palo Alto--

With rain in the area this morning, the 9 a.m. women's semifinal between No. 7 Miami and No. 3 USC was delayed for an hour; when play resumed, USC took the doubles point with wins at 2 & 3. Shortly after noon, a heavy shower stopped play with the Hurricanes up a set in five of the six singles matches.

The men's quarterfinal match between Ohio State and Texas was scheduled for 10 a.m. and after a delay of less than a half hour the doubles matches took the court. The No. 2 Buckeye team of Bryan Koniecko and Drew Eberly grabbed the first point, and when Scott Green and Ross Wilson, Ohio State's and the country's No. 1 team, got the first break in the tenth game against Callum Beale and Miguel Reyes Varela, the doubles point seemed a foregone conclusion.

But when Travis Helgeson and Luis Ibanez of Texas evened the match by winning at No. 3, all eyes turned to court one. Green served for the match at 7-5, but despite saving a break point with a second serve ace that sent the rest of the Buckeye team on the sidelines into a frenzy of cheering, it was the last big point he and Wilson won. They dropped the final five games of the match and the third seeded Longhorns had secured the precious doubles point.

In the ensuing singles, Ohio State won the first set in three matches, while Texas had one first set in their favor.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Stanford Surprises Duke at Men's NCAAs

©Colette Lewis 2006
Palo Alto--

Stanford's surprising 4-0 win over fourth seeded Duke sent the Cardinal fans home happy on Saturday afternoon, while earlier in the day another PAC-10 powerhouse, UCLA upended seventh seed Illinois 4-2.

I didn't see any of the UCLA - Illinois match, and didn't arrive on campus until after Stanford had taken the doubles point, but I did get an opportunity to ask John Whitlinger if being left out of the Team Indoor championship in February had motivated his team during the past couple of months. He admitted that it had, and on Saturday Matt Bruch, James Pade and James Wan at 2, 3, 4 gave the team the points necessary to advance to a meeting on Sunday against Baylor, who defeated Washington 4-1.

I caught a bit of the top seeded Georgia Bulldogs' 4-0 win over Notre Dame, and then crossed the street for the Miami - Virginia battle on the Taube South Courts. With Miami having beaten Virginia 4-3 in Charlottesville last month and then dropping a 4-2 decision to the Cavaliers in the ACC tournament, it was certainly expected to be a close, tough battle, but when Darrin Cohen and Doug Stewart took the no. 3 doubles 8-0, it was the beginning of the end for the ninth seeded Hurricanes.. Cohen won the second point at no. 6 singles and then Rylan Rizza took a tense 22 point tiebreak for the third point at no. 2. At no. 4 Treat Huey, down a set early, took the next two sets for the deciding point, and the Cavaliers had their revenge, 4-0. They face Georgia in the quarterfinals.

Ohio State had no trouble with North Carolina, and the Buckeyes will take on the third seeded Texas Longhorns, who defeated Mississippi 4-1. Pepperdine shut out Florida and will face Pepperdine in the other quarterfinal.

The weather forecast is not promising for Sunday, and with no indoor courts on the Palo Alto campus, the options are few. The schedule calls for the women's semifinals and the men's quarterfinals, so everyone is hoping the weather forecast is pessimistic.

For updates see Stanford's website.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Travel Day

We're on our way to Stanford today and don't arrive until this evening, so we'll miss the women's quarterfinals today. But Marcia Frost of collegeandjuniortennis.com is already there and will be on the scene for this afternoon's matches. Please check out her coverage throughout the men's and women's team championships.

It's too bad that with the excitement of the first ever combined men's and women's Division I championships, college tennis has to hear this sour note: Colorado Cuts Men's Tennis Program.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

New SMASH Column Now Available!

After a dismal week of weather here in Michigan, I'm more than ready to head to Palo Alto for the NCAA Division I tennis championships. Before I look ahead to that, however, I did want to note that my SMASH column from Monday is now posted.

And speaking of SMASH, its editor, James Martin, was a guest on tennisliveonline.com last week and an interview with him about the magazine and his new job as editor-in-chief of TENNIS Magazine is available as archived audio. You do need to join, but it's free and simple and in the few months that I've been listening, I've been impressed by their guests and their interest in college tennis. Matt Bruch of Stanford and Ryan Sherry are guests this week, along with crack tennis reporter Matt Cronin. With all the sports radio talk shows out there, very little time is spent discussing tennis, so it is great to have at least one hour devoted to the sport every Saturday.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Smyczek Named Pro Circuit Player of the Week

Tim Smyczek played some outstanding tennis in Orange Park Florida last week, winning the Pro Circuit Futures event there, his first singles title at that level. It led to his being named USTA Pro Circuit Player of the Week. Smyczek is one of my weekly SMASH column aces too, but I've been warned that due to a website re-launch and the extensive travel plans of my editor, the column may not get up the day after I send it in, which has been the case up until now. So I apologize if you've been looking for it the past couple of days--I hope it will be posted soon.

Anyway, Smyczek has picked up where he left off; in this week's event in Tampa, he won his first round match and will face fellow 18-year-old Alex Clayton Thursday.

In addition to Smyczek and Clayton, the Tampa tournament has lots of boys in the remaining sixteen that I expect to see here in Kalamazoo in August: Kellen Damico, who beat top seed Travis Rettenmaier in the first round; Attila Bucko, who took out the fifth seed, and Marcus Fugate and Holden Seguso, who defeated unseeded players.

It's also great to see Vahid Mirzadeh back on the court. A serious back injury kept him from playing almost all of last year, but he's been in India and Turkey playing satellites this winter and spring, and his results in his home state of Florida suggest he's gotten rid of any rust in his game.

Michael Shabaz, who will be 19 in August and is therefore not eligible for Kalamazoo, is also playing very well in Florida. Last week he defeated Donald Young before dropping a 7-6 in the third decision to Smyczek, and today he upended second seed Brendan Evans.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

What's Wrong With British Tennis?

There's no question that tennis is a much more important feature of the sports landscape in Great Britain than it is in the United States and the dearth of homegrown talent there has been a major concern for a long, long time. Last week, the Guardian published this examination of the issue which tends to gravitate to the lack-of-hunger-and-drive theory, but explores many others.

Australia and the U.S. may be feeling the pain of tennis globalization, but it's way beyond that in Great Britain. This is hard to believe, but there is only one British woman in the WTA top 200; Canada and Luxembourg each have two, for goodness sake. There are all of four British men in the ATP top 200, but in Andy Murray they have a legitimate contender for the top 10; whether he'll spark any rush to tennis excellence remains to be seen.

The LTA has a new chief executive, Roger Draper, and he's shaking things up. This article gives the details of the firing of performance director David Felgate, who had only three years on the job.

Monday, May 15, 2006

French Junior Open Acceptances Posted

The ITF published the acceptance list today, and it confirms what I've been hearing--that the French is the toughest junior slam to get in to.

The U.S. has only three girls assured of a main draw spot: Julia Cohen, who will be seeded, Alexa Glatch, who has barely played since breaking her elbow last November, and Lauren Albanese. Chelsey Gullickson and Lindsay Burdette would have qualified for the main draw but did not enter. Nor did Anna Tatishvili. There are five U.S. girls in the qualifying.

The girls field seems exceptionally strong; 17 of the 46 girls named to the main draw are ranked inside the WTA Top 500, as are six of the 26 girls in the qualifying.

The boys field does not contain defending champion and world number one Marin Cilic, but the next 46 boys in the ITF junior rankings have entered, with Donald Young likely to be seeded second. Four other U.S. boys--Kellen Damico, Jamie Hunt, Clint Bowles and Dennis Lajola are in the main draw; Nate Schnugg, Johnny Hamui and Chris Racz are qualifying.

No boy entered at Roland Garros is in the ATP top 500. That's either a comment on the depth of the men's tour or the longer tennis maturation of boys. Take your pick.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Secret's out::Heraldtribune.com

I met Sekou Bangoura Jr. at last year's Easter Bowl and when I heard how accomplished he was at not only tennis, but golf, chess and piano, it wasn't long before I had an assignment to write a story about him for SMASH. (It appears in the March edition of SMASH under the title Renaissance Kid, but unfortunately there is no link available).

That got him on Sports Illustrated's radar and Jon Wertheim has a story about him in the works, as Bangoura's hometown newspaper notes in this feature story.

I doubt there will be a link available for that either, but subscribers to SI should be on the lookout for it.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Tennis Player at Arkansas Ruled Ineligible by N.C.A.A.:: New York Times

On Friday, the New York Times published this article, about a women's tennis player at Arkansas who was found to have entered a tournament as a professional and was suspended immediately, and barred from competing in the NCAA Regionals Friday. You might think this indicates that the NCAA has been shamed into action by the Times' investigation into this issue, which was published last month, but this is all self-policing by the school and the SEC. The AP's version of the story has this very curious quote by Wally Renfro, senior adviser to the NCAA president:

"They're the ones who have indicated that they want student athletes to not have played as professionals, not to have played with professionals, [emphasis mine] not to have accepted prize money that exceeds the expenses involved in participating," he said.

Amateurs play with professionals all the time; the USTA approved that for major junior events several years ago, and every single Pro Circuit Futures event in the country has dozens of amateur juniors in it. Doesn't give me a lot of confidence that the NCAA knows what's going on.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Taken for a (free) ride:: my response

I still don't have my copy of Tennis Magazine containing Jon Wertheim's column "Taken for a (free) ride" but he was kind enough to send me an unedited version so I could continue this discussion knowing what he had written.

Usually I agree with Jon, but I think he’s mostly wrong on this topic. He demands outrage, but any I feel is reserved for the NCAA’s lackadaisical enforcement of their rules for amateur status when it concerns foreign players. There is absolutely no justification or excuse to give foreign citizens the benefit of the doubt on this. If they are pros, or ever have been, they should not be eligible for athletic scholarships at an NCAA Division 1 university. That needs to change---now. But beyond that, he loses me.

As I’ve written in response to the many comments I’ve received on this issue before, I don’t support quotas. I don’t care if other countries have them. I consider myself a free-trade sort, brainwashed no doubt from reading the Wall Street Journal editorial page daily in my previous career, but I believe erecting barriers to competition stifles excellence. Sports is a meritocracy. If Division I college tennis limits the opportunities for foreign amateurs to a certain scholarship number or dollar amount, it is the quality of tennis that will suffer.

Brian Boland, the men’s head tennis coach at the University of Virginia, has not gone the foreign recruiting route. He was asked about this issue recently on the blog No Man's Land.

I will start by saying I have no problem with foreign players as long as they are eligible. I think they are part of our sport as tennis is an international game. One of the reasons the top Americans even look at going to school is because the competition is so good. If it were not for the foreign players we would not have the depth we do in the college game.
Wertheim wonders why the USTA and ITA have been strangely mum on this issue. Well, they haven’t. They have published a thorough Q & A that I’ve linked to in the past. (This link is to a pdf file that is required reading for anyone with an opinion on this issue.) But those organizations don’t want to see college tennis slip into irrelevancy, which it was dangerously close to doing before the influx of overseas talent helped revive it.

Nor do I agree that American universities supported by taxpayers have any special obligation to avoid foreign athletes. Should the University of North Carolina reserve a starting position on the basketball team for the best Tar Heel state product? Should the University of Oklahoma be compelled to have a player from that state in every football position’s depth chart? Or are they free to recruit the best players from Michigan, Ohio and Florida for their teams? Even though they didn’t pay any taxes to help support UNC or OU?

And when he brings up the European Basketball leagues and their quotas, it leads to comparisons that Wertheim might be better off avoiding. Which title conveys more prestige, theirs or the NBA’s? It’s the NBA’s precisely because they DON’T limit who can play on their teams based on nationality. If you can play the game, the NBA wants you. They don’t care if you’re from Argentina, Germany, China or Canada.

I was called a “Pollyanna” by a commenter when I addressed a variation of this issue last year. Guilty as charged. And in character, I’ll end this post with an excerpt from a comment by pg over at Peter Bodo's TennisWorld. I have shamefully taken these two paragraphs out of context and I hope you’ll read the entire comment for more of his insights.
I played college tennis for my hometown university in florida. We were and still are very competitive. Our top 5 were consistently international students and they all had some sort of pro experience. This was before tighter rules on prize money etc. came in. I was 18 coming out of juniors and these guys had so much more tennis experience than me and easily beat me on court. Obviously, it was a bit unfair.

That said, the years I played were great years of my life. In terms of tennis my play improved dramatically and I made radical changes because I was playing these top flight players everyday. In terms of life, I made some really good friends from all around the world. They were a cool bunch of guys. All of whom made great student athletes.

Again, I urge you to use a nickname or initials when you comment so that there is some frame of reference for the rest of us.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Good story, bad ending

This Charlie Bricker story about Americans struggling on clay is similar to the others that I linked to last week, but in the last few paragraphs, Bricker is wrong about Alex Clayton's current status. The eighteen-year-old from Ft. Lauderdale is playing Pro Circuit events as an amateur and has not yet made his decision on whether he will attend college.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Lajola Lives Tennis Highlife:: Star-Bulletin.com

Thanks to the zootennis reader in Hawaii who sent me the link to this article yesterday about Easter Bowl finalist Dennis Lajola, who was home for a brief visit. It's a feature story, not a sports story, but it does give a glimpse of the challenges a world-class junior encounters, especially one who lives so far from the sport's power bases.

I encourage anyone who comes across an electronic version of a story about junior or college tennis to email it to me. No matter how much time I spend reading about tennis online, I'm bound to miss some, and zootennis will be a better resource if we can increase the eyes looking for local stories. My email is available by clicking on the Contact headline on my profile page.

Tuesday, May 9, 2006

Smash Column and Smash Story

It was almost a year ago when I first learned that Will Guzick had earned a perfect scores on his SAT test. The link to the initial story in his local paper isn't active any longer, but my post on it is here.

I had an assignment for SMASH to do an article on Guzick and I did, but it didn't make it into the magazine. It's finally been published though--with some updating--on SMASH's website. Better late than never.

My weekly column has also been posted. And while you're visiting SMASH's website, please take a moment to fill out the survey at the bottom of the home page.

Monday, May 8, 2006

Two Ryans Make News

This time the news is good for Ryan Sweeting, who won the Vero Beach Futures Sunday, as a qualifier. This tcpalm.com story gives all the details of his grueling week and also an interesting look at his prize money accounting as an amateur. Not too often you see dollars and cents cited for a player's expenses. It also has the first reference I've seen that Sweeting is now working at Harold Solomon's new tennis academy. Having a young Futures winner is pretty good advertising.

The other Ryan, Ryan Thacher, is the subject of a recruiting profile I wrote for the Tennis Recruiting Network, which appears on their site today. I enjoyed getting to know him (and his coach Barry Horowitz) at the Easter Bowl last month, and I hope this story gives some insight into why he decided on tennis over the other sports he had played, and why he hasn't taken the home schooling route.

Sunday, May 7, 2006

Zsilinszka Plays Tennis by Ear

In one of those six-degrees-of-separation stories that I'm finding are pretty common in tennis, Reka Zsilinszka of Fayetteville North Carolina works with the tennis professional at Country Club of North Carolina in Pinehurst, where my brother was an assistant superintendent of golf until three years ago.

Zsilinszka has told me she doesn't get there daily, as it's an hour's drive one-way, but this story in the local Pinehurst/Southern Pines newspaper mentions a method of tennis training that I've never heard of--concentration on the sound of the ball meeting the racquet.

But what the reporter didn't uncover was the fact that Zsilinszka has played piano for six or seven years, before she began taking tennis seriously, which makes this unique emphasis on sound especially appropriate for her.

Saturday, May 6, 2006

ITF Dress Code Changes Bring Lawsuit from Adidas

Back in March, the ITF's website featured a notice on the revised dress code. It was "effective immediately" except for the limitations on the size of the Adidas three-stripes, which had a June 26 implementation date.

Anyone, junior or pro, who wears Adidas clothing would have to insure that the stripes are no bigger than four inches on each piece of clothing. In this photo of Chardy, it's obvious that he's going to need an entirely new wardrobe.

When Peter Bodo got wind of this back in November, he posted his objection to this restriction, but even someone with Peter's audience and influence couldn't dissuade the ITF from adopting it.

This is a huge blow for Adidas of course, and last month they announced they were suing the Grand Slams over this decision.

John Toppel, Adidas' Tennis Sports Marketing Coordinator, has been keeping me up-to-date on this, as the juniors they sponsor will need to have all their clothing replaced before Junior Wimbledon starts.

He sent me a release explaining their position. An excerpt follows:

In their dress code, the ITF and Grand Slams explicitly state that the adidas "3-stripes" will be considered a manufacturer's identification at their tournaments, which discriminates against adidas and infringes elementary EU competition rights. adidas "3-stripes" are not a standard manufacturer's logo, as the adidas manufacturer's logo is clearly the adidas performance logo. This logo has always been used in conformity with the Grand Slam and ITF Rules regarding Dress. adidas "3-stripes" are an integral part of the product - although a trademark, and not a standard logo - and they have been used for over 30 years in a consistent way, without any objection by the Grand Slams or the ITF.
All other manufacturers try to create identification tools and endeavor to differentiate their products with different patterns, distinctive designs, colors, promotion concepts, etc. However, none of these elements has been pinpointed as constituting a manufacturer's identification in the way that adidas' 3-Stripes have.
In the light of the immense impact of the rule change on the sport of tennis on all levels of play worldwide, on timelines concerning production and retail and on anticipated severe losses, adidas has no other alternative and is forced to protect its interests. adidas has therefore started legal proceedings and issued a claim form at the High Court of Justice in London, which is to being served on the organisers of the Grand Slam tournaments and the ITF. adidas seeks the right to continue to use "3-stripes". adidas is also applying for interim injunctive relief in order to restrain the introduction of the new ruling pending full trial.

I've always been partial personally to the Adidas stripes and style and I agree with Peter Bodo that the ITF is basically punishing success here.

But I'm posting about it because I'm concerned about the juniors who buy their own clothes and can't afford to replace their Adidas outfits just to make sure they conform. Maybe most of those playing the Grand Slam juniors are sponsored, but I assure you that many playing in ITF Grade 5s in College Station or Baton Rouge are not. This is a big, silly mess and tennis has much more important issues to address.

But I don't want to see a player denied a chance to compete because he or she doesn't know about it, so I'm hoping that this helps get the word out.