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Thursday, May 31, 2007

West Nott Takes Position at USC; Junior News

Between Marcia Frost of collegandjuniortennis.com and West Nott of Underground Tennis, I had plenty of company in Athens. West was interviewing for coaching jobs while there, and it didn't take him long to land one; he's accepted an offer to serve as an assistant coach for the University of Southern California women's team. The above link to his site explains that his website may not survive the job change. I'm hoping he finds a way to keep it viable; in less than a year, it has become an important part of the amateur and fledgling pro tennis scene.

I was happy to see quite a few juniors in Athens, too. With several National Opens in the Atlanta area, it wasn't difficult to combine playing a junior tournament with watching tennis at the next level.

I spotted Atlanta resident Donald Young the first day of team competition, and Brad and Jordan Cox, from nearby Duluth, came out the first evening to watch Jesse Levine's Florida team take on Georgia (Jesse and Brad were suitemates at Bollettieri's.) Jessica Alexander was there to cheer on her sister Megan, who plays No. 2 for Florida, and Jarmere Jenkins was there to support his brother Jarmaine's girlfriend Natalie Frazier, Georgia's No. 1 player. Sacha Jones, on her way to the French Open Juniors and Wimbledon, was there for her brother GD of Illinois. Dennis Nevolo, Ryan Lipman and Jackie Wu had a look around the Dan Magill Tennis Complex, and I'm sure there were others there that I didn't see. The whole NCAA atmosphere has to be an inspiration for juniors, and observing the level of play is probably pretty sobering for them too. It's certainly a great place to set goals.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Wimbledon Junior Acceptances

For those of you asking where I'll be next, there's only one tournament I'm certain I'll be attending--Wimbledon!

It's been a goal of mine since I started writing about tennis to make the pilgrimage, and thanks to SMASH magazine, I've received a credential for this year's junior championships. The good news is that I'm going, the bad news is that I will need special permission, which I am still seeking, to cover it for zootennis while I'm there. In order to submit a credential, you must sign an agreement that you won't write for another internet site other than the one sponsoring you for a credential. As you know if you're a regular reader, daily tournament reports are an integral part of my routine when I'm traveling--I can't imagine how I'll manage without that outlet. I guess I'll just keep my fingers crossed.

Anyway, the junior acceptances were posted last week on the Wimbledon website.

The most notable entry is Donald Young, who hasn't played a junior tournament since last year's Orange Bowl. The other American boys competing are Johnny Hamui, Mateusz Kecki and Austin Krajicek. The U.S. girls in the main draw are Madison Brengle, Reka Zsilinszka, Mallory Cecil, Gail Brodsky and Veronica Li. Melanie Oudin and Julia Boserup are in the qualifying draw.

I am considering a short trip to the ITF Grass Courts in Philadelphia, one of my favorite tournaments, and to the Boys 18s & 16s Clay Courts in Delray Beach, but I haven't made any concrete plans for those two events. I'll let you know if I do.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Au Revoir Athens

One of the things I enjoy most about traveling to college tournaments is the chance I get to meet the local newspaper reporters who are assigned to cover them. In Athens, I had the pleasure of getting to know Chip Towers of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and to talk with him about both issues and players in the college game.

Because he writes for the Atlanta daily paper (registration required), his focus is primarily on the University of Georgia's tennis team and players, and this story which came out before the tournament started, looks at the UGA facility, and the decision to rotate the NCAA championships to counteract the unfair advantage Georgia was thought to have when they hosted.

This story of Tower's is an examination of the liberal transfer rules in college tennis, and it focuses on an unusual rupture of the college coaches' fraternity. Manny Diaz of Georgia and Michael Center of Texas no longer speak after Center's No. 1 player, Travis Helgeson, transferred to Georgia after the 2005-06 season.

Tower's story on the final is about only the men's contest (he was complaining about how little space he gets for tennis coverage, even in a huge tennis city like Atlanta), but the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel hired a stringer to do a final's story on their local star, Audra Cohen.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Devvarman, Cohen Earn NCAA Championships

©Colette Lewis 2007--
Athens, GA--

The Georgia Bulldog fans leaving the Dan Magill Tennis Complex on another improbably perfect soft spring evening may have gone home disappointed in the outcome, but if they were fans of tennis, they knew they had witnessed a special NCAA final. No. 2 seed Somdev Devvarman of Virginia defeated Georgia's John Isner, the top seed, 7-6 (7), 4-6, 7-6 (2), a feat he accomplished without once breaking the 6-foot-10-inch right-hander's serve.

"I just realized that I won a match and did not break serve one single time," said the junior from Chennai, India. "I don't think I've done that ever. His is a great, great serve, and it's going to take him a long way in his pro career."

Devvarman cited his serve as the biggest improvement in his game since his appearance in the NCAA final in 2006, and throughout the first set he was as successful as Isner at holding. Break opportunities were nonexistent, a tiebreak inevitable.

Devvarman earned a 5-4 lead in the first tiebreak by retrieving a forehand putaway and dipping it past a surprised Isner at the net, and reached set points when Isner sent a backhand long on the next point. But he failed to extinguish the hopes of Isner and his fans. A crosscourt backhand winner and a deft forehand drop volley by Isner brought it to 6-6, and he urged the hundreds of Bulldog fans to ramp up the volume when Devvarman just missed a down-the-line forehand, giving Isner his only set point. But Isner's backhand error and a forehand volley winner by Devvarman gave him a third try, and this time he guessed right on an Isner second serve and hit a winner to take the lead.

The second set brought the novelty of a break of serve, when at 3-3 Isner capitalized on his sole break point by pulling Devvarman off the court and guiding a forehand into the open court. The crowd held its collective breath while the ball made its way through the air, and let out a sigh of relief when the line umpire on the far end of the court made the safe sign, giving Isner the break. He held on, benefiting from two apparently wide serves called aces when serving at 5-4, to send the national championship to a deciding set.

It was as tight as the first two, as both players continued to protect their serves. Although the "break, break, break" chants would rise periodically from the wooden bleachers behind the Mikael Pernfors Center Court, they had no impact on Devvarman, who kept matching Isner hold for hold.

In the final tiebreak, Devvarman gave the crowd momentary hope when he made a backhand error serving for the first point, but Isner failed to get a first serve in on the next two points, and Devvarman took advantage, hitting two winners to deflate the hopes of the Georgia faithful.

"I served really well in the breakers, especially in the second one," said Devvarman. "He was serving well but I had a few good returns and made the most of my opportunities."

Although Isner managed one more ace to narrow Devvarman's lead to 5-2, it was Devvarman who closed the match with a flourish, hitting an ace of his own, then leaping high in the air and twirling around, racquet in hand and fist pumped.

"Right after I hit the ace I was pretty relieved," said Devvarman, 22. "I didn't want John serving at 3-6, because I knew the kind of clutch player that he is, you have to expect him to do something great because he does it repeatedly. It was a great, great feeling."

Although Isner was disappointed by the loss, he gently reminded Devvarman during the trophy presentation remarks who had won the team championship.

"I enjoyed every bit of the year going 32-0 and winning a national championship," Isner said. "I wouldn't trade it for anything."

Devvarman said he expects to return for his senior year at Virginia, citing his degree and a national team championship as goals for the 2007-08 season, while the 22-year-old Isner will begin his pro career while training in Florida.

The women's champion, Audra Cohen, who defeated Lindsey Nelson of USC 7-5, 6-2, announced that she would leave the University of Miami after her junior year to try her hand at the pro tour.

"It's definitely a tough decision," said Cohen, 21. "I have a team of my best friends to leave behind, the college atmosphere that I'm walking away from. But I feel like it's my time. I've won so many college tournaments and been No. 1 in the country for a while, and it's my time to go out and play."

"I think she's ready and that she's making the right decision," said her coach Paige Yaroshuk-Tews. "She's definitely going to be missed, but she's making the right decision for herself."

Since her dramatic comeback in the round of 16 against Celia Durkin, where she trailed 6-3 4-0 0-40, Cohen has been playing high-level tennis. But in the final, she started slowly and trailed 5-3 in the first set before reeling off the next nine games of the match.

"In the beginning I was rushing myself," said Cohen, of Plantation, Fla. "I was a little bit nervous; it was a big moment, big crowd; it took me a little while to get comfortable on the court and to start dictating the pace of the play."

Nelson, of Villa Park, Calif., hits two-handed from both sides, and flat and early are the watchwords of her style. But the thin six-footer couldn't keep the errors out of her game, and she noted that as the major difference between her play and Cohen's.

"She didn't miss--at all," said Nelson, who lost in the NCAA final for the second straight year. "And I missed a lot of balls. I made a lot of winners, but I missed way too many. Her slice was very effective today, her high balls were deep and heavy and it was difficult."

At 5-0, Nelson held and broke, but although she kept fighting, Nelson admitted it was "too late." As for Cohen, even the knowledge that it was her last collegiate match didn't give her any incentive to prolong it. "The quicker the better," she laughed afterwards. "And frankly, at the end, when it was 5-0 and then it was 5-2, it wasn't going quick enough."

As Cohen leaves college tennis with three major titles--the ITA Indoor, the ITA All-American and the NCAA individual--she looks back on the Hurricanes' 2006 NCAA season as one of the highlights of her college career.

"Getting the team to the finals was great. We were kind of underrated, but we just had heart; we didn't have all of the talent that the other teams had, we just had the fight, and that's something that helped me along the way. It helped me today and it will help me in the future as well."

Middle Tennessee State Seniors Win NCAA Men's Doubles Title for Retiring Coach; Tar Heel Seniors Take Women's Title

©Colette Lewis 2007--
Athens, GA--

Middle Tennessee State's Dale Short announced his retirement last month, and his doubles team of Marco Born and Andreas Siljestrom gave him the perfect gift, winning the NCAA Men's doubles championship on Monday over defending champions Kevin Anderson and Ryan Rowe of Illinois, 4-6, 7-6(5), 7-6 (4).

"It was a tearful moment," said Siljestrom, a senior from Sweden, who is nicknamed "Doc" for his surgeon-like hands. "I almost had tears coming out myself. He's been a great coach over twenty years and he really deserved this win. No one from MTSU has ever won an NCAA championship so we're very happy, and proud of ourselves too."

As the scores would indicate, the match, between two No. 5 seeds, couldn't have been closer. With Rowe the shortest player on the court at 6-foot-5, it's not surprising that the points would be short and dominated by serving.

Illinois broke Siljestrom in the first set, the only break until Born dropped his serve at 4-all in the second. Rowe stepped to the line to serve out the match for the Fighting Illini at 5-4, but he didn't get a first serve in until 0-40, and by then it was too late; he was broken at love. Siljestrom faced two break points at 5-all, but served his way out of them, and Anderson held to force the tiebreak.

Rowe's serving woes continued in the tiebreak as he threw in two double faults, the second at 5-all to give the Blue Raiders the only opening they needed. Moments later, Siljestrom's service winner evened the match.

"We kind of felt like he was going to crack a little bit there, when we saw him double faulting in the tiebreaker," said Born, a 6-foot-9 German. "That's where the momentum shifted," said Siljestrom, also 6-foot-9. "Right at that point, when we got it to 6-5 and served for the set."

The third set was a lot of short points, with either serves or first volleys deciding most of the points. Down 5-6, Siljestrom, tossing and re-tossing the ball on his every serve, double faulted twice, the second time to give Illinois a match point. But he regrouped, hitting a first serve that Anderson couldn't handle, and two points later, a third set tiebreak would decide the championship.

Predictably, there were mostly service winners and return errors in the tiebreak, but a volley error by Rowe was the only misstep by the Illini on their own serve. Unfortunately for Rowe, a junior from Moline, Illinois, it was all the Middle Tennessee team needed, with Born serving it out for the title.

"Two tough tiebreaks," Rowe said. "It could have gone either way, but it went their way today. They played some really good doubles, stayed strong under pressure, and they were the better team today."

It seemed clear enough when the women's final started who the better team was, as Megan Moulton-Levy and Katarina Zoricic of William and Mary College zipped through their first set against Sara Anundsen and Jenna Long of the University of North Carolina 6-1. But the 6-2 second set was just as resoundingly in favor of the Tar Heels, and they rode the wave, taking the championship 6-2 in the third set.

"We played a tough first set, and thought we had it after the first set," said Moulton-Levy, who announced she has had a year of eligibility restored by the NCAA. "But we stopped playing our game and they took advantage of it and went full force for it."

The Tribe team, seeded No. 1, hadn't lost a set in the tournament, but Anundsen, a senior from Colorado, thought the tight matches she and Long had survived actually helped them.

"We had some really close matches, definitely our second match (a 7-6, 7-5 win over Olga Borisova and Mariann Yuferova of Virginia Commonwealth) we didn't know if we were going to pull through that one. I think that helped us."

"Yesterday's match, a three-setter (against No. 4 seeds Ana Cetnik and Anna Sydorska of TCU), was pretty close," said Long, a senior from California. "I think having a close match and getting through it gave us a lot of confidence for today also."

Semifinalists at last year's NCAA championships, Anundsen and Long got an early break in the final set to go up 2-0, but at 2-1 Anundsen found herself down 0-40 and in danger of giving it back. But a combination of their touch and errors by the William and Mary team--and a strategy change--earned them the next five points and a crucial hold.

"Brian (coach Kalbas) told us to use the lob more up the line," said Long. "They close very tight on the net, and that seemed to work pretty well. And we took returns a little earlier."

"We stayed positive, we really didn't get down," said Anundsen. "We just felt we could be in it at any time."

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Isner and Devvarman, Cohen and Nelson to Play for NCAA Individual Championships

©Colette Lewis 2007--
Athens, GA--

Top seed John Isner and second seed Somdev Devvarman survived tough three-set matches Sunday to earn their shot at an NCAA singles championship, while Audra Cohen and Lindsey Nelson will renew their rivalry in the women's final after straight set wins.

Isner came back to defeat sixth alternate Alex Slovic of Washington 6-7 (4), 6-4, 6-4, finally closing the book on the Cinderella story of the senior from Serbia. Devvarman, a finalist in the 2006 NCAAs, returned to college tennis's biggest stage with a 7-6(3), 5-7, 6-3 victory over No. 4 seed Kevin Anderson of Illinois.

The smoke from the south Georgia wildfires swept into the Athens area Sunday morning, permeating the warm and humid spring air with the smell of autumn. The haze cleared in mid afternoon, as it did for local hero John Isner, who will play his final collegiate match on his home courts of Athens.

"In the first set, my legs weren't really underneath me and it showed," said Isner, who got down a break in the first, got it back, but uncharacteristically lost the tiebreak. "But I told myself I was so close, one win away from the national championship, and I'm not going to let fatigue get in the way."

Isner, who has played 16 matches including doubles since the tournament started on May 17th, has spent a lot of time in ice baths the past two weeks, and admitted that Slovic had the edge in freshness. But the one thing that the 6-foot-9 senior always has is his serve, and Slovic had no defense for that in the final two sets.

"It's coming so fast and the trajectory is always going away from me," said Slovic who estimated Isner's serve speed at 130 mph. And that's not just "Big Bertha," as former Georgia coach Dan Magill calls Isner's hard flat one. "First and second, there isn't that much difference. His second serve is maybe 120," Slovic said.

Slovic was bouncing and feinting like a boxer when receiving Isner's serve, but it didn't seem to disrupt Georgia's all-time leader in singles wins, who has totaled 56 aces in five matches. The crowd of several hundred, who may have rooted for the underdog in other circumstances, were vocal in their support, and once were admonished by the umpire for disagreeing with a call while the point was still undecided.

"There were a couple of moments when I thought it wasn't really fair," Slovic said. "Everybody started yelling during a point and I got distracted. It would have been better if the crowd was cheering for me, but that's not going to happen here."

Isner began to return Slovic's serve much more regularly in the final two sets, often just blocking it back, instead of taking a full swing. And when he broke early in the third set, the anxious Bulldog fans began to breathe a little easier. "One more hammer, Johnny" a particularly vocal fan yelled out when Isner was serving, and Isner obliged, giving Slovic no hope of adding yet another upset to his string of them the past week.

Isner's opponent in Monday evening's final will be a familiar one, as he and Devvarman have met three times this season alone. Isner holds a 2-1 lead, but Devvarman won the most recent contest, earning Virginia its only point in their 4-1 semifinal loss to Georgia in the team competition.

The junior from India outlasted No. 4 seed Kevin Anderson of Illinois 7-6 (3), 5-7, 6-3 in a three-hour match containing many break opportunities but precious few actual breaks.

"It was that close a match," said Devvarman. "I saved a lot of break points in the first set, a lot. Both of us came up with some big shots. Down break point on his serve, he served unbelievable."

After Devvarman got his first break of the match in the third game of the final set, hitting a sublime backhand cross court pass at 30-40, Anderson, who has played more matches than Isner in the past two weeks, called for a trainer and received a medical attention for a tight hamstring.

"I felt like he was getting a little bit tired in the third set," said Devvarman, "but I think I was getting tired at that point as well, but I don't know if he knew that. When he took the three minute break it just gave me time to sit down and recoup and think about how I'm going to hold my next serve."

Anderson, a junior from South Africa, has an excellent one-two punch with his serve and forehand, and although he said he felt in control of the match for most of the first two sets, there were some regrets about how he played in the third.

"I didn't do such a great job of playing every point with full intensity," Anderson said. "A lot of balls come back that don't usually come back, and so you've just got to stay focused and keep going right until the point ends."

The women's semifinals produced the day's only upset, when No. 4 Lindsey Nelson of USC defeated No. 2 Megan Falcon of LSU 7-6(2), 6-2, but with Nelson a 2006 NCAA finalist, it's not surprising that she would come through. Falcon, playing in her first NCAA competition, lost only two matches all year, but the sophomore from California couldn't find an answer when Nelson got her two-handed strokes grooved.

Serving at 2-2 in the second set, Nelson was down 0-40, but Falcon couldn't convert, or rather Nelson wouldn't let her.

"She hit an ace and two winners," Falcon recounted. "What could I do? I wish it had been a little different, that I'd had a short ball, that would have been great, but there were like six straight points there where she made no mistakes. I'm not a machine--I tried my best."

"The first set was really tough," said Nelson, a rail-thin six-footer from Villa Park, California. "I was so nervous, my stomach was acting up. The second set, I just wanted her to play well, I wanted to enjoy the ball coming back so much, that it was just a mental thing. I just stepped it up."

Nelson admitted that nerves got in the way of her ball-striking in last year's 6-4, 6-1 loss to Cal's Susie Babos in the finals, but she is expecting to benefit from that experience in Monday night's final against top seed Audra Cohen.

"I'll just enjoy it," she said. "Take really deep breaths."

The final will be something of a grudge match, as Nelson took out the top-seeded Cohen in the 2006 NCAA round of 16, and this year in the team competition, Cohen defeated Nelson to clinch Miami's 4-3 win over USC, a match Nelson described as a "heartbreaker."

Cohen reached the final by taking out the only remaining champion in the tournament, Zuzana Zemenova of Baylor, 6-2, 6-2. Zemenova, who defeated Cohen in Athens in 2005, when both were freshmen, assessed the difference in Cohen's game.

"I think she improved her serve," said the Slovakian. "She's serving better now; it's very hard to break her, and she has a pretty good forehand too."

"My serve has developed into one of my biggest weapons," Cohen said. "Once I had back surgery I was able to come back and put a lot of emphasis on not just getting my serve back to where it was, but getting it even better."

Cohen has lost only six games in the two matches she's played since staging her dramatic comeback against Celia Durkin, when she was down a set, 4-0 and 0-40. Thoughts of that match haven't gone away, even if it was Cohen who had the big advantage in the second set of Sunday's semifinal.

"I was thinking to myself, 'Oh my god, you better keep on her, you better keep on her,'" Cohen said. "When I lost that game to go to 4-2, I said to myself 'you've got to step it up, hold this game and get up 5-2.'"

The doubles champions will be crowned on Monday afternoon, and the Illinois team of Anderson and Ryan Rowe have an opportunity to defend their 2006 title after a 7-5, 7-5 victory over Mariusz Adamski and Todd Paul of Wake Forest in a battle of No. 5 seeds. Another No. 5 seeded team, Marco Born and Andreas Siljestrom of Middle Tennessee State, pulled off their second straight upset, defeating No. 2 seeds Devvarman and Treat Huey of Virginia 6-3, 7-6 (5).

The women's doubles final, like the men's singles, will feature the top two seeded teams--No. 1 William and Mary and No. 2 University of North Carolina. William and Mary's Megan Moulton-Levy and Katarina Zoricic downed unseeded Ani Mijacika and Federica van Adrichem of Clemson 6-3, 7-5 in one Sunday semifinal. UNC's Sara Anundsen and Jenna Long prevailed over No. 4 seeded Ana Cetnik and Anna Sydorska of TCU 6-2, 1-6, 6-3.

For complete results, including the starting times for Monday's championship matches,
see georgiadogs.com.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Washington's Slovic Shocks Levine; Cohen, Falcon Roll into Semis at NCAAs

©Colette Lewis 2007--
Athens, GA--

There were two things that college tennis fans could count on all week at the NCAA individual tournament: great weather and straight-set victories by Florida's Jesse Levine.

There was no change in the weather on Saturday, but Levine lost the fourth and fifth sets of his college career to Washington's Alex Slovic, the tournament's sixth alternate, ending a previously perfect freshman year with a 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 loss.

"I came here hoping to get in," said Slovic, a senior from Serbia, "and I was lucky enough to get in, so every match for me was a bonus." Slovic, ranked 64th coming into the tournament, needed six players ahead of him to withdraw from the competition, and exactly that number did, including his good friend and countryman Ivan Bjelica of Mississippi State. "I sent him a message asking what happened. He did me a favor."

Although Slovic was a late entrant, he is hardly an unknown in college tennis. He lost in the first round of the NCAAs last year, but he was a top eight seed in 2005. "This is my fourth time playing in the (NCAA) draw; it's not like I'm somebody who came out of nowhere," he said.

Slovic started quickly and didn't back off, taking a 2-0 lead, and throughout the set he moved forward and finished when he had the chance. Keeping Levine off balance is a near-impossible task, but Slovic's serve gave him chances for first-strike tennis and he took them.

In the second set, Levine came back, and few thought he'd lose the momentum once he'd evened the match, but Slovic continued to play relaxed and hit out on his shots.

"He was ripping," said Levine, seeded third. "He was on fire." One Slovic shot, a perfect forehand volley off a blistering pass from Levine had the Florida freshman looking up to his supporters and shrugging his shoulders in disbelief. "He came up with the goods at the clutch times. I was definitely not on top of my game today. I'm not making excuses, but I haven't played that bad in a long time. Maybe I let the nerves get to me a little bit, but that's just experience, and I'll learn from that."

So the much anticipated semifinal match between Isner and Levine will feature only Isner, who handled No. 5 Steven Moneke of Ohio State 6-3, 6-2 in less than an hour.

Another dominating performance was turned in by 2006 NCAA finalist Somdev Devvarman of Virginia. The second seed lost only six points in the first set against Tulsa's Arnau Brugues (6), and after dropping the first two games of the second set, reeled off six straight for a 6-0 6-2 decision.

Devvarman will face No. 4 seed Kevin Anderson of Illinois who survived a hard-hitting match with No. 5 Luigi D'Agord of Miami 6-4, 3-6, 6-4. At 4-4 in the third, D'Agord had break points but Anderson served his way out of trouble to put all the pressure on the right-hander from the Bahamas. At 4-5 15-15, D'Agord double faulted, and when Anderson threaded a perfect passing shot down the line, the South African had two match points. He only needed one, as D'Agord chipped in with another double fault to hand Anderson the match.

After all the excitement on the women's side on Friday, Saturday's contests were a bit of a letdown.

Top seed Audra Cohen decisively ended the run of Stanford freshman Lindsay Burdette 6-0, 6-2 to set up a rematch of the 2005 NCAA final in Athens against Zuzana Zemenova of Baylor. The unseeded Zemenova, who won that battle of freshmen, is looking forward to reliving that experience.

"I really like the atmosphere here," said Zemenova, who defeated unseeded Tracy Lin of UCLA 6-4, 6-7 (3), 6-4. "I like the courts and the people are very supportive."

No. 2 seed Megan Falcon wasn't taken off her game by the hometown fans, defeating Bulldog Natalie Frazier, the No. 7 seed, 6-4, 6-4. The sophomore, playing her first year of college tennis, outlasted the senior from Atlanta, whose fans outnumbered the Californian's by about 300 to 13.

"I knew with Nat playing at home, it was going to be a little tougher to stay calm," said the quick right-hander. "I think it's great that they're cheering for her."

Frazier, who had played the match of the tournament against Stanford's Theresa Logar in the round of 16, winning 7-6 in the third and saving match points in a hard-hitting marathon, refused to credit that as a factor in her loss.

"The long match yesterday isn't an excuse for losing," Frazier said of her last match as a Bulldog. "I wasn't tired at all today. That's tennis, to play a three-and-a-half hour match one day and come back the next day to play."

Falcon, the only semifinalist who hasn't played in an NCAA final, will face 2006 finalist Lindsey Nelson of USC in the lower-half semifinal. Nelson, the No. 4 seed, took out another local favorite, No. 6 seed Kristi Miller of Georgia Tech 6-3, 6-3.

The afternoon's doubles quarterfinals also produced some disappointed area fans, as the top-seeded team of John Isner and Luis Flores of Georgia were upset 7-5, 7-5 by No. 5 seeds Mariusz Adamski and Todd Paul of Wake Forest. Adamski and Paul had an unheard of three breaks against the 2006 ITA All-American and Indoor champions who did not return well when the Demon Deacons give them a few opportunities to get back in the match in the second set.

Adamski and Paul now have their shot at the 2006 NCAA champions from Illinois, fifth seeds Anderson and partner Ryan Rowe, who defeated No. 4 seed Danny Bryan and Colt Gaston of LSU 6-4, 6-4, getting a break at 4-5 in each set to earn their semifinal berth.

Another five seeded team, Marco Born and Andreas Siljestrom of Middle Tennessee State, upset the third-seeded team of Levine and Greg Ouellette of Florida 6-7(4), 6-4, 6-2.

"Their serves are a joke," said Levine of the 6-foot-9 inch pair. "I've never played them before, but I could just tell that these guys were going to be rough with their serves. We had a couple of break points, but they just came up with the goods every time."

The women's doubles went more to form, with top seeds Megan Moulton-Levy and Katarina Zoricic of William and Mary and second seeds Sara Anundsen and Jenna Long of North Carolina getting through in straight sets. The third seeded team of Ana Cetnik and Anna Sydorska of TCU also advanced as did the unseeded team of Ani Mijacica and Federica van Adrichem of Clemson. Mijacica and van Adrichem defeated Stanford's last entry in the individual tournament, Burdette and Anne Yelsey 6-3, 6-4. This is the first time since 1995 that Stanford has failed to contest a singles, doubles or team title in the NCAAs.

For complete results, see georgiadogs.com.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Only One Top Eight Seed Missing From NCAA Men's Quarterfinals

©Colette Lewis 2007--
Athens, GA--

The women provided most of the thrills on another beautiful day at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex, with five of their eight matches going to three sets (see post below). Only one of the men's round of 16 matches went the distance--sixth alternate Alex Slovic of Washington's 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 win over unseeded Robbye Poole of Ole Miss.

But there were some close matches and some good tennis played, starting with top seed John Isner of Georgia, who used some big serving to hold off unseeded Ken Skupski of LSU 7-6 (8), 7-5. There were no breaks in the first set, and no breaks in the first set tiebreak until 5-all. Isner got it, but his subsequent double fault gave Skupski new life. A wide forehand by Isner and an ace gave the left-hander from England a set point, but Isner hit a service winner and an ace to put himself back at the advantage, and Skupski hit a forehand long on the next point to end it.

The second set was more of the same--big serving, big forehands and occasional volleys. A 5-6, 30-40 Skupski had control of the point, but Isner hit a forehand pass from deep behind the baseline to keep alive his chance for the NCAA triple crown (team, singles and doubles titles).

The other Georgia player who came into Friday's action with a chance, Luis Flores (9), was playing on the court next to Isner against Jesse Levine, the No. 3 seeded Florida Gator. Levine had no trouble in the first set against his fellow left-hander, but he was behind 3-1 in the second, with Flores holding game points for 4-1. But the junior from Mexico didn't win them, and Levine faced little resistance after that.

There will be no Bulldog vs. Bulldog confrontation either, as the third Georgia player in the Round of 16, Travis Helgeson (9), fell to second seed Somdev Devvarman of Virginia 6-1, 6-2. Mindful of his first round match against Sheeva Parbhu of Notre Dame, when he held a big second set lead and ended up needing a third set tiebreak to win, Devvarman didn't ease up, continuing to pressure the left-handed junior from Kansas until he had won the last point.

Devvarman will meet No. 6 seed Arnau Brugues of Tulsa, who defeated Andre Begemann (9) of Pepperdine 7-6 (4), 6-4. It was a fascinating matchup of contrasting styles, as Begemann, aware that he could not outsteady the Spanish left-hander, served and volleyed relentlessly. Begemann was passed in a variety of ways, but Brugues couldn't dishearten him, at least not until the last few points, when Brugues tracked down some very competent volleys and overheads and hit winners when he got there.

The other quarterfinal in the lower half will feature No. 8 Luigi D'Agord of Miami against No. 4 Kevin Anderson of Illinois. Anderson got past a very pesky Greg Ouellette of Florida 6-3, 7-6 (3), while D'Agord hit winner after winner against unseeded Bryan Koniecko of Ohio State in a 6-2, 6-3 victory.

Koniecko's teammate, Steven Moneke, the No. 5 seed, salvaged a split in the day's second Ohio State vs. Miami contest, defeating unseeded Hurricane Daniel Vallverdu 7-5, 6-3 to earn his shot at Isner. Slovic and Levine make up the fourth pairing in Saturday's quarterfinals.

The doubles quarterfinalists are set with seven of eight men's seeds advancing Friday. Only Miami's Josh Cohen and D'Agord (5) failed to move on, losing to the Ole Miss team of Eric Claesson and Erling Tveit 6-3, 7-5.

There were several upsets in women's opening round play Thursday, but on Friday the only seeded team to fall was Cal's Susie Babos and Zsuzsanna Fodor(5), who went out to Notre Dame's Catrina and Christian Thompson 5-7, 6-2, 6-4.

For complete results, see georgiadogs.com

Top-seed Cohen Stages Remarkable Comeback; Frazier Saves Match Points in Victory over Logar

©Colette Lewis 2007--
Athens, GA--

"This isn't the way I want to go out," No. 1 Audra Cohen of Miami said to herself trailing a set, 4-0 and 0-40 to Celia Durkin (9) of Stanford. "I would never want to lose like this," she recounted after the match. "I was just playing sloppy tennis and I didn't want to leave here feeling poorly about my tennis, so I stepped it up."

After Cohen dropped her serve for a second time in the second set to go down 3-0, she took a bathroom break. When told by the chair umpire that she couldn't change her shirt at the same time, Cohen angrily threw it back toward the bench and stormed off to the rest room.

"When I pulled it back together and took a bathroom break and took a little bit of pressure off myself, I got myself back in the match and I was fine," Cohen said.

But not immediately. Durkin held, and Cohen didn't look that interested in what was happening on the court through the first three points of her service game. Durkin was attacking Cohen's slice backhand and waiting for the errors, but suddenly Cohen seemed to relax and begin getting balls where she wanted them. Durkin lost the next six games and although she broke Cohen to open the third set, the junior from Los Angeles was out of answers, falling 3-6, 6-4, 6-2.

"She's just such a momentum player," Cohen said. "Once I stopped just feeding her balls to hit winners off of and started playing more aggressive tennis and smarter defense, I got back into the match. Once I did that, a lot of opportunities opened up and I saw a lot more of the court."

Baylor's Zuzana Zemenova was happy to see the Athens courts again. She was NCAA champion as a freshman when the women's event was last held on the University of Georgia's campus in 2005. Although unseeded this year, Zemenova cleared her own path with a 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 win over No. 3 seed Melanie Gloria of Fresno State, and pointed to a strategy change as the key to her comeback from down 4-1 in the third set.

"She's a good mover, and so I hit more to her forehand," said Zemenova. "I could see it was working, so I got more confidence, and she started to miss. But it was a really tough match; I imagined I was going out."

Usually an unseeded player who plays in the six slot, even one from Stanford, would be the top story by advancing to the quarterfinals, but Cardinal freshman Lindsay Burdette's 7-6(5), 2-6, 6-4 victory over Georgia Rose (9) took a back seat to not one but two losses by her teammates.

In a match that ran over three-and-a-half hours, Stanford senior Theresa Logar (9) fought back from losing the first nine games of the match to hold three match points against seventh-seeded Natalie Frazier of Georgia, but was beaten by the shot of the tournament in the third set tiebreak, losing 6-0, 5-7, 7-6 (6).

After Frazier had saved her three match points at 3-5 and 5-4 in the third set, she went up 6-4 in the final tiebreak, which featured blistering ground strokes and twice as many winners as errors. But the feisty Logar, who had outlasted Catherine Newman in a third set tiebreak in another three-and-a-half-hour marathon, didn't know she was beaten. She hit a backhand winner for 6-5 and was fortunate on the next point when Frazier's backhand swinging volley caught the net and went wide. At 6-6, Frazier's serve produced a return error from Logar, but after the ups and downs of the previous two and a half hours, one more match point saved was almost expected.

Logar gained the advantage, and as Frazier's weak reply floated toward her, the left-hander from Michigan prepared for the smash, and Frazier retreated. She stayed in the center of the court and reflexed a perfect lob over Logar. Logar looked back as if she couldn't grasp what had just happened, while the several hundred Georgia fans rose in unison cheering not just for Frazier's victory, but for the incredible match they had just witnessed.

In the other Round of 16 women's action Friday, Kristi Miller (6) defeated unseeded Nina Henkel of Cal-Berkeley 6-2, 2-6, 6-3. She will face Lindsey Nelson of USC, who beat unseeded Megan Alexander of Floria 6-2, 6-4. Frazier's opponent is No. 2 Megan Falcon of LSU, who took out Cal's Zsuzsanna Fodor (9) 6-1, 6-4. Cohen and Burdette are in one upper-half quarterfinal, while the other features two unseeded players--Zemenova and UCLA's Tracy Lin. Lin defeated Csilla Borsanyi of Florida 6-4, 7-6 (3).

For complete results, see georgiadogs.com.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Defending Champion Babos Out of NCAAs in Second Round

©Colette Lewis 2007--
Athens, GA--

UCLA’S Ben Kohlloeffel withdrew before the individual tournament started, meaning the men were assured of a new champion before competition began. The 2006 women’s champion, Susie Babos of Cal-Berkeley, joins him on the sidelines after Stanford freshman Lindsay Burdette rolled past the left-hander from Hungary 6-4, 6-4 on another day of perfect weather in Athens.

“It feels amazing,” said Burdette, who played in the No. 6 position for the Cardinal. “Not just because she’s the defending champion, but I’ve seen her play multiple times with both of us being in the Pac-10, and she’s just a really good player.”

Babos didn’t play her best Thursday morning, but Burdette had something to do with that. She came in when given the opportunity, and finished with crisp volleys, a skill that has helped her move up to the No. 1 doubles position for the Cardinal.

As for playing low in the lineup , Burdette, who is from Jackson, Georgia, appreciates coach Lele Forood’s reasons for putting her in that slot.

“I think it was a really, really smart move on her part,” said Burdette, whose sister Erin won a NCAA doubles title for Stanford in Athens two years ago. “I got a lot of confidence this year, got a lot of ‘Ws’ under my belt, and I think that’s a great way to establish yourself in college tennis.”

At No. 5, Babos was the highest seed to fall in the second round, but No. 8 Megan Moulton-Levy of William and Mary, a semifinalist at last year’s NCAAs, also was upset, losing to UCLA’s Tracy Lin 7-5, 4-6, 6-3. Auburn freshman Fani Chifchieva, a No. 9 seed, lost to alternate Csilla Borsanyi of Florida 2-6, 7-5, 6-3. Stanford’s Theresa Logar (9), also a semifinalist in 2006, advanced with a 6-7, 6-2, 7-6 (2) victory over Catherine Newman of Vanderbilt, in a match that took over three and a half hours to complete.

The men also lost a top eight seed, with No. 7 Notre Dame’s Stephen Bass falling to sixth alternate Alex Slovic of Washington 6-3, 6-4. Erling Tveit of Ole Miss (9) was the victim of Ohio State’s Bryan Koniecko’s 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 comeback. Luke Shields of Boise State (9) went down, literally, rolling an ankle in the middle of the first set and was eventually forced to retire to Robbye Poole of Ole Miss, trailing 6-4, 2-0.

All the surprises in the opening round of doubles came on the women's side, with three of the eight seeded teams losing. Yvette Hyndman and Darya Ivanov of Georgia (5) were taken down by Bianca Kulgheru and Sylvia Kosakowski of Pepperdine 6-4, 6-4 and Whitney McCray and Kristi Miller of Georgia Tech, the third seeds, were bounced by Elena Gantcheva and Kristina Nedeltcheva of UNLV 6-2, 6-2. Yasmin Schnack and Riza Zalameda of UCLA, All-Tournament at No. 1 doubles, weren't seeded, but their 4-6, 6-2, 62 victory over a fifth-seeded team of Kim Coventry and Joelle Schwenk from Kentucky wasn't unexpected, given their play in the team event.

For complete results, see georgiadogs.com.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Morning After

©Colette Lewis 2007--
Athens, GA

The day after the team championships the adrenaline is gone, and not just for the players. Today, another improbably beautiful day at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex, the fans numbered in the hundreds, not the thousands, the TV trucks were gone and the press box featured a chair and a vantage point for every reporter who wanted one. After two championships in one day for the state of Georgia, it's no wonder the start of the individual singles championships feels like New Year's Day--plenty to watch, but it's being seen through the fog of celebration and sleep deprivation.

There weren't many of us around at 9 a.m. for the Jesse Levine - Treat Huey match; their families, coaches and teammates, plus the odd fan interested in seeing the undefeated freshman from Florida. I thought it was a particularly tough first round match; although Huey obviously wasn't seeded, I've seen him play some great tennis for Virginia at the All-American and the Team Indoor, and I expected he'd challenge Levine. It was 3-3 in the opening set when Levine got his first break, but he went on to take eight of the next nine games until Huey battled back, got his only break when Levine was serving for the match at 5-2 and held to make it momentarily interesting. But Levine closes on short balls better than anyone I've seen in college tennis, and his speed robs his opponents of the time to prepare for the shot they want to hit.

Huey's teammate, No. 2 seed Somdev Devvarman, was on the adjacent court, and he was facing Sheeva Parbhu of Notre Dame, an alternate who got in due to withdrawals. But Parbhu was a quarterfinalist at last year's NCAAs, and it was Devvarman who defeated him on his way to the finals.

This year's match started with Devvarman winning the first set 6-1 and taking a 4-1 lead in the second. But Parbhu dug in and before he knew it, Devvarman had lost the second set 7-5 and was down 3-1 in the third. At the two and a half hour mark, the match stood at 5-5, and a major upset was looming.

"I'm lucky to have gotten through," Devvarman said after winning the third set tiebreak 7 points to 2. "He showed lots of character; a lot of players wouldn't stick with it down 6-1, 4-1. But he did, and I learned a lesson today. I cannot let up."

By the time Devvarman had avoided the upset, Todd Paul of Wake Forest, a 9-16 seed (for simplicity's sake I will refer to all the 9-16s as 9s from now on) had already lost to LSU's Ken Skupski in a battle of left-handers. As the day wore on there were several other close calls, but only two other seeds lost in men's play; Adam Holmstrom of Denver University (9), who was beaten by Martin Sayer of Radford 7-5, 7-6 (4) and Lars Poerschke of Baylor (9) who lost to Daniel Vallverdu of Miami 7-5, 7-6 (3).

I was looking forward to the rematch between Matt Bruch of Stanford and Erling Tveit of Ole Miss who had played in the second round of the NCAAs last year, with the unseeded Tveit defeating the ninth seeded Bruch. This year the seeding status was reversed, but with Bruch healthy and coming off a win in the PAC-10 singles championships last month in Ojai, I thought it could be a great match. Unfortunately Bruch rolled an ankle at 2-1 in the first and had to retire trailing 4-1.

No. 7 seed Stephen Bass of Notre Dame, who spent the past six days with a soft cast on his right ankle, did play, and he advanced 6-2, 6-4 over Kaes Van't Hof of USC.

The women also lost three No. 9 seeds Wednesday. Jenna Long of the University of North Carolina fell to Megan Alexander of Florida 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (3). Sarah Fansler of USC lost to Amanda Taylor of Vanderbilt 7-6 (5), 6-4, and Riza Zalameda of UCLA was beaten by Ana Cetnik of TCU 6-4, 6-3.

Top seed Audra Cohen, playing her former Miami teammate Monica Dancevic (now with Georgia),had a scare, but won the final six games of the match to take a 6-0, 4-6, 6-2 victory.

The early evening matches featured mostly players who had competed in the team finals on Tuesday.

Kristi Miller, the only Georgia Tech player who played singles in the team event yesterday in the individual draw, had no letdown. The No. 6 seed downed Nadia Abdala of Arizona State 6-3, 6-3.

Luis Flores and Travis Helgeson of Georgia won their opening matches, but team tournament Most Outstanding Player Matic Omerzel was beaten by Matko Maravic of Michigan 6-3, 1-6, 6-1.

John Isner became the all-time leader in singles victories in Georgia history when he defeated Andy Juc of Furman 6-2, 6-2. Isner passed Al Parker, who was on campus for his induction into the Intercollegiate Tennis Hall of Fame Wednesday night, with his 139th singles win.

In addition to Al Parker, the ITA inducted seven other players into the Hall of Fame this year: Steve Bryan (Texas), Harry Likas, Jr. (San Francisco), Matt Lucena (California), Todd Martin (Northwestern), Allen Miller (Georgia), Alex O'Brien (Stanford), and MaliVai Washington (Michigan).

For all the day's results, see georgiadogs.com. And for more coverage of the NCAA tournament, see collegeandjuniortennis.com.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Georgia Tech Women Defeat UCLA for School's First NCAA Title

©Colette Lewis 2007--
Athens, GA--

The chants of "Alie, Alie" rose louder and louder as Georgia Tech senior Alison Silverio's lead over UCLA's Tracy Lin at No. 2 singles went from 4-1 to 5-1. Lin was serving, but she had already been broken twice in the third set, and the crowd, led by the very vocal Georgia Tech men's team, could sense a championship.

Yellow Jacket Tarryn Rudman was staving off elimination at No. 6 singles against Bruin Elizabeth Lumpkin, but she trailed 2-5 in the third, so all eyes were focused on Silverio and Lin, the two players who would determine which team would capture their first NCAA women's tennis title.

There wasn't much time for the suspense to build. Silverio had her chance at 30-40, and when Lin's ball sailed long, the third-seeded Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets had earned not just their first tennis title, but their school's first NCAA championship in any sport. (Georgia Tech has won national championships in football, but they are not recognized as NCAA titles).

Silverio, a right-hander from Ohio, distributed the credit for her 7-5, 5-7, 6-1 win in all directions.

"The crowd was unbelievable, and the support from my team and the coaches--I couldn't ask for a better environment," Silverio said.

Although the Georgia Tech supporters didn't approach the numbers of the Georgia fans witnessing the men's final during the afternoon, the Yellow Jackets' title run had drawn a strong contingent from Atlanta throughout the tournament. And the cheers, whistles and applause they generated during the post-match trophy presentation were loudest for head coach Bryan Shelton.

"I love winning," said Shelton, in his eighth season at Georgia Tech. "I think everyone does, but for us to get this one, and get the first one for Georgia Tech, it's special. I went to school there, so Georgia Tech's always had a special place in my heart, and it's nice to be able to contribute in a positive way."

The match's start didn't go positively for Georgia Tech, as the 12th-seeded UCLA team zipped through the doubles point, winning at the number two position when Ashley Joelson and Alex McGoodwin defeated Amanda Craddock and Silverio 8-3, and at No. 1 when Riza Zalameda and Yasmin Schnack took out Kristi Miller and Whitney McCray by the same score. But Shelton reassured his team during the ten minute break before singles began.

"We took a beating," Shelton admitted, "but I told them that UCLA's strength was in their doubles. I said that's the best that we'll see all night, and the rest of the way through, we can win six matches."

And the Yellow Jackets came out as if they believed it, taking the first set in four of the six matches.

As she had done in Georgia Tech's semifinal win over Cal, freshman Amanda McDowell dominated her opponent at No. 4, earning Tech's first point with a 6-1, 6-0 rout of Ashley Joelson. Schnack gave the Bruins a 2-1 lead at No. 3, defeating Craddock 6-3, 6-1, but that was the only singles point UCLA would earn.

At the No. 1 position, Miller had taken her first set from Zalameda 6-3, and when she won a second set tiebreak to pull Tech even at 2, the Yellow Jackets had seized the momentum.

"I don't know if there was an exact turning point," said UCLA coach Stella Sampras Webster, "but when Kristi Miller won at 1, that was a match that I think we needed to win. Every set, every match, was so close."

Christy Striplin, who had clinched Tech's semifinal against Cal late Monday night, finished her comeback at No. 5 with a 4-6, 6-1, 6-2 win over Alex McGoodwin to give the Yellow Jackets a 3-2 lead, setting the stage for Silverio's heroics.

"I think she got a little excited in the second set," said Shelton, who with the win became the first African-American to win a Division I tennis title. "She started pressing a little bit and playing right into Tracy Lin's strength. She made the adjustment to play a little bit heavier, take the ball up a little bit higher where Tracy didn't like it, get weak replies and then capitalize when she was inside the baseline."

Shelton, who is as calm and reserved while coaching on court as his players are feisty, made a point of recognizing the contributions of all those involved in Georgia Tech's run to the championship during the trophy ceremony. And he also acknowledged his debt to Dan Magill, the legendary coach of the University of Georgia.

"I started to gain a perspective on how tough things were when I talked with Dan Magill and heard how long it took him to earn his first SEC title. I realized it's not as easy as I thought it would be. Building a program is hard work, and it requires a lot of people working together, not just one person doing it."

And as his players gathered for the obligatory photos with the National Championship trophy, Shelton, in the center of it all, could savor the fruits of that teamwork.

Georgia Men Sweep Illinois for Fifth NCAA Title

©Colette Lewis 2007--
Athens, GA--

Georgia senior Matic Omerzel is familiar with the two sides of team competition in tennis. In last year’s NCAA finals in Palo Alto, he lost to Andre Begemann of Pepperdine, giving the Waves their first NCAA title.

On a warm and breezy Tuesday afternoon in Athens, Omerzel delivered the Bulldogs’ fifth NCAA men’s tennis championship, earning the final point in top-seeded Georgia’s 4-0 win over the University of Illinois with a 7-6 (5), 6-2 victory over Ruben Gonzales.

“The whole summer that match was haunting me,” admitted Omerzel, who had gotten his team to the finals last year with a clinching win over Baylor in the semis. “I was thinking about it a lot, I couldn’t help it. But the longer we went into the season, the less I thought about it.”

With shouts of “Omi” cascading down on him from many of the Bulldog fans surrounding court 4, the Slovenian right-hander was listening more for the roar from the main three courts, where fellow senior and tri-captain John Isner was heading to a tiebreak in the second set of his match with Kevin Anderson at No. 1.

“I looked up at the scoreboard at the 4-1 changeover and saw John going into the tiebreaker and I was really confident that he was going to win that tiebreaker,” said Omerzel, who was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. “I kind of listened to the crowd while I was playing my game, and when everyone went crazy, I looked up at the assistant coach, and he said ‘that’s it, it’s on you.’ I got goosebumps, I got that chill in my body. It was so loud, all eyes were on me, and I just enjoyed it, I loved it.”

Georgia had taken a 1-0 lead by outlasting a very determined Illini squad in doubles play. At one stage the scoreboard read 5-5, 5-5 and 6-6 on the three courts, but Georgia freshmen Jamie Hunt and Nate Schnugg broke GD Jones and Marc Spicijaric at 7-8 to secure the match at No. 3, and Travis Helgeson and Omerzel at No. 2 took the clinching point by an 8-6 score over Brandon Davis and Gonzales.

As the crowd, which eventually numbered over 3200, continued to filter in from their tailgate parties, packing the bleachers with their red and black Dawg-wear, the singles competition began. And it couldn’t have begun more promisingly for Georgia, as Isner buzzed through a 6-1 first set against Anderson.

“He gave me that first set,” said Isner. “Kevin’s a great player, but he just started out real slow, really just kind of gave it to me.”

The other five matches were much closer, and there were three tiebreaks in first sets, but when Georgia’s Nate Schnugg at No. 5 defeated Jones 6-4, 6-1, the crowd began to sense that a championship was imminent. And when it happened, it happened quickly. Isner, who had fought off three set points at 4-5 in the second to get to the tiebreak, played what he called “one of the best tiebreakers I’ve ever played,” and moments later, Omerzel delivered. It took a moment for the players on the other courts to make their way to the “pit” as the bottom three courts at The Dan Magill Tennis Complex are called, but the pandemonium wasn’t delayed—the thousands of delirious fans saw to that.

Asked if the disappointment of last year’s loss to Pepperdine made this one sweeter, Georgia’s Manny Diaz cut to the chase.

“Absolutely. I won’t lie anymore,” he laughed. “We showed up back here in the fall, and I could tell these guys were still hurting from it. It did take us a very long time to put it behind us. We had to find something to hold on to, and at the same time look in front of us, instead of the rearview mirror.”

And now Diaz has the luxury of looking at another championship trophy, and his undefeated team’s place in college tennis history.

“The question wasn’t really relevant until this afternoon,” Diaz said when asked if this was one of the best teams in college tennis since team championships were instituted in 1977. “Do you know how hard it is to win an NCAA championship? We’ve had some really great teams that didn’t. But now, since you asked that question, I think it’s worth asking and we deserve to be in the debate.”

Monday, May 21, 2007

UCLA Ends Stanford's Reign, Faces Georgia Tech for National Team Championship

©Colette Lewis 2007--
Athens, GA--

For eight years running, there was one team you could pencil in as a finalist of the NCAA women's team championship. Stanford was the New York Yankees, the Tiger Woods, the Roger Federer of women's college tennis--until Monday evening, when the Cardinal lost to the UCLA Bruins 4-2, ending their hope for a fourth consecutive NCAA title.

The season's first indication that top-seeded Stanford might be vulnerable came at the ITA Team Indoor, when their 86 match winning streak came to an end courtesy of Georgia Tech. Then three 4-3 wins against Cal, USC and UCLA proved to those teams that the Cardinal weren't the juggernaut they had been in years past.

"They've been very intimidating because they've been so dominating," said UCLA head coach Stella Sampras Webster. "This year is different because they've had a lot of close matches. In the past they were just dominating, it was tough to win a match against them. Everyone knew this tournament was anyone's, whichever team was going to peak was going to be the winner."

With a 4-0 win over No. 5 Northwestern and 4-3 win over No. 4 Florida, the No. 12 Bruins are definitely peaking and Sampras Webster credits the improved doubles play as a key to their run.

"In April and May, when we finally had our doubles partners set, we were starting to win the doubles point," said Sampras Webster. "We stressed doubles in practice, and we knew if we had the doubles point we had a chance to win every match."

In their previous two losses to Stanford this season the Bruins had lost the doubles point, but not Monday evening, as UCLA won at the No. 1 and No. 2 positions to take a 1-0 lead.

Stanford evened the match when Theresa Logar handled Riza Zalameda 6-2, 6-2, but freshman Yasmin Schnack gave the Bruins a 2-1 lead with a 6-2, 6-4 win over Celia Durkin at No. 3.

Tracy Lin gave UCLA a 3-1 lead by beating Anne Yelsey 6-4, 6-4 for what she said was the first time ever, dating back to their days as Southern California.

"I was really nervous today," Lin said, "but I convinced myself I could do it. I got down 0-3 in the first set, but I knew if I could just win that first set, the match was mine."

With the main three courts finished, the action moved to Nos. 4, 5 and 6, with UCLA needing just one more point. Alex McGoodwin was trailing in the third set against Jessica Nguyen of Stanford, so that final point wasn't likely to come from her at No. 5. Bruin Ashley Joelson, who served for the first set of her No. 4 match with Whitney Deason but lost it in a tiebreak, had a big lead in the second set, while Liz Lumpkin at No. 6 was down a set and even in the second against Cardinal freshman Lindsay Burdette. While Lumpkin broke Burdette to force her to a third, Nguyen finally put away McGoodwin, closing the gap to 3-2. Joelson earned an early break and held it, although she needed to save two break points at 4-3 to keep Deason from pulling even. But Deason, for all her power, could not keep the ball in play long enough to truly threaten Joelson, and while Lumpkin held off Burdette, saving match points, Joelson stayed steady. When she broke Deason for a 6-7(4), 6-1, 6-3 win, the sophomore from Texas set off a riotous celebration.

"It's one of those things that you don't believe, but then you believe" said Joelson. "You knew you could do it, but then once you do it, it's like 'wow, we really did it.' Everyone's so excited."

It was nearly midnight when No. 3 Georgia Tech took the measure of an experienced and determined Cal-Berkeley squad, earning their chance for a national championship with a 4-2 win over the Bears. Due to lengthy matches earlier in the day, it was after 8 p.m. when the teams took to the courts at the Dan Magill Tennis Center, and Tech Coach Bryan Shelton had no doubt that his team was in for a long night.

"Cal's a great team. We knew they were going to come after us today," Shelton said. "We thought they'd come after us harder in the doubles, and they came out a little bit flat. We were so jacked up starting the match, and we got on them early."

After taking the No. 1 and No. 2 doubles matches for the point, Tech carried the momentum straight to the singles, winning the first set in four of the six singles, much to the delight of the hundreds of Georgia Tech supporters in the crowd. But only Amanda McDowell at No. 4 stayed on top, defeating Stephanie Kusano 6-3, 6-0 and giving Tech a 2-0 lead. It was much later when freshman Amanda Craddock defeated Nina Henkel 6-3, 2-6, 6-1 at No. 3 to make it 3-0 Georgia Tech, but by then, the Bears had made their move.

"I told the team that at some point they were going to come after us today," Shelton said. "And when they came hard, they got up, started rolling and the momentum started going their way."

Cristina Visico got the Bears on the board with a 6-4, 6-2 win over Tarryn Rudman at No. 6, and Susie Babos roared back to take a 2-6, 6-3, 6-0 decision from Tech's Kristi Miller at No.1. With Tech's Christy Striplin down 4-1 to Marion Ravelojaona at No. 5, it looked as if the No. 2 match between Alison Silverio and Zsuzsanna Fodor, in which Silverio had just forced a third set, would decide who would face UCLA on Tuesday.

But Striplin, who had been blitzed in her match against Notre Dame on Sunday, winning only one game, won five straight games to put her team in the final.

"She kind of broke down in the third," said Striplin, a sophomore. "I could sense she was getting tight. The momentum switched, and I carried with it. It's all mental with me--I psyched myself out yesterday. I know when I'm there and in the match, I can beat anyone in the nation, and when I'm not in the match I can lose to anyone."

After coming through three straight 4-2 matches, the Yellow Jackets have their final challenge Tuesday against UCLA, hoping to give their school its first NCAA title in women's sports. Shelton is expecting a battle.

"We're going to be up against it tomorrow," he said. "We understand that, and we felt the same way against Cal. But at this point, I definitely feel like things are going to go in our favor tomorrow. I truly belive that."

For complete results, visit georgiadogs.com.

Georgia Handles Virginia to Earn Another Shot at the NCAA Men's Title

©Colette Lewis 2007—
Athens, GA

It was close. At one point in Georgia’s 4-1 win over Virginia on a hot and sunny afternoon in Athens, the Bulldogs had won three first sets in singles, and the Cavaliers had won three. But Georgia had taken the doubles point, by virtue of a tiebreak win at No. 1, so Virginia needed a valiant comeback. It didn’t materialize.

In the end, the real suspense was whether Virginia could sneak off with a point before Georgia closed the door. The Bulldog faithful were not worried about the ultimate outcome, but they badly wanted a fifth straight 4-0 win. Cavalier Somdev Devvarman didn’t cooperate, taking down John Isner 6-4, 6-4 at No. 1 just minutes before Nate Schnugg clinched at No. 5 with a 4-6, 6-2, 6-2 victory over Houston Barrick.

The Virginia team wasn’t claiming any moral victories.

“I’d rather take a loss and have the team win,” said Devvarman, the 2006 NCAA individual singles finalist. “It’s pretty disappointing, because we knew we could compete with them, and we came out and showed we could.”

In addition to Devvarman and Barrick taking opening sets, Ted Angelinos gave Virginia a lift by taking the first set from Jamie Hunt at No. 6. The 4, 5, and 6 spots have been Georgia’s sure points all season, and to lead in two of them should have given the Cavaliers a psychological boost. But Matic Omerzel quickly put Georgia up 2-0 with a 6-2, 6-3 decision over Marko Miklo, and Bulldogs had sets in hand at Nos. 2 and 3, and Schnugg and Hunt forced third sets. Travis Helgeson gave Georgia point number three with a 6-4, 6-4 win over Dominic Inglot at No. 3 giving the Bulldog supporters hope that Schnugg could finish before Devvarman. That didn’t happen, and the subdued celebration, at least when contrasted with the enthusiasm shown by the Illinois team after their victory, showed clearly the different expectations of the two teams.

Matt Knoll’s comment that Georgia could not be beaten was revisited with both Brian Boland of Virginia and Manny Diaz of Georgia, and they were vehement in their disagreement with the Baylor head coach.

“Illinois is playing great,” said Boland, “and I don’t think they are going to lay down, that’s for sure. Georgia’s a great team, sure they’re the better team, but you gotta go play.”

“I love Matt Knoll, he’s a great friend,” Diaz said, “and I can empathize with the disappointment of his losing today’s match, but I don’t think that means anything. Illinois has beaten the No. 2 seed, they’ve beaten the No. 3 seed in the tournament and they’ve beaten the No. 7 seed in the tournament. I think they deserve a little credit.”

Illini's Dream Run Continues

©Colette Lewis 2007--
Athens, GA

"Nobody gave us a chance to get past the first round, nobody gave us a chance to get to the final four, and nobody gave us a chance today," said Marc Spicijaric of Illinois' string of upsets, including their 4-3 win over No. 3 Baylor Monday morning. "We've had our backs against the wall the whole year, but we've put in the hours and put in the effort and we'll be ready to go no matter what."

Spicijaric, the hero of the 10th ranked Illini's 4-2 win over Ohio State on Saturday, again came up big against Baylor, when he pulled his team even with a 7-6 (4), 7-6 (6) victory over Matt Brown at No. 3.

The sophomore from Florida trailed 5-1 in the second set tiebreak, dismaying all the Georgia fans gathered for the Bulldogs' noon match with Virginia. A third set to decide the match could easily mean another hour of waiting. But they didn't know what Spicijaric knew.

"I didn't think that was much of a problem," he said of the 1-5 deficit. "I always knew I was going to win the match, I mean the dude was dead, and I was fresh. I could have played for another four hours."

Brown took a medical timeout at 1-1 in the tiebreak, but Baylor coach Matt Knoll thought the problems he was suffering from were more mental than physical.

"I think we were just nervous," said Knoll, whose teams had reached the NCAA team semifinals four consecutive years and lost 4-3 in that round two years running. "It wasn't a loss of conditioning, I think we were just nervous out there, and when you get nervous and tight you start having symptoms that could be associated with cramping."

By "we" Knoll was including Michael Kokta, a senior who squandered two match points in the second set tiebreak against Ryan Rowe, and when Spicijaric brought Illinois even, Kokta was trailing 4-1 in the third at No. 2 singles. He needed to mount a comeback similar to the one he'd managed in the first set when he came back from a 3-0, two-break deficit to win six of the next seven games, but there was no energy left. Kokta called for a trainer down 5-2, and after evaluation and treatment, more than five minutes had passed, giving Rowe plenty of time to think about his lead.

"Ryan and I had a great dialogue there," said Illinois head coach Brad Dancer. "I said let's analyze things here. We're serving well, he's not serving well. We're hitting our forehand big, he's missing some forehands; we can play the transition game pretty good, he's maybe a little bit nervous on transition. I said we've got a lot of things going for us in the third set, so let's make sure you're calm between points, and courageous during the point and that's what he did."

When asked if Illinois had a chance to continue its string of upsets in the final, Knoll was blunt.

"No, Georgia's way too good for everybody," he said. "I think it's hard for us to sit here today and see how good Georgia is. I think you're going to see a guy like (Nate) Schnugg playing Davis Cup for the USA. These guys are elite players. They're way better," he said adding that he would feel the same if it was his team that was facing them in the finals.

Dancer wasn't quite so resigned to a loss. "I feel they're an unbelievable team. When you've got guys that are all-stars all the way through their lineup, big players, big hitters. They've got studs at every position. I guess the only thing I'd say to that is we'll be here at 3 o'clock and we'll be ready to go."

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Sunday, May 20, 2007

Georgia Tech and Cal reach Women's NCAA semifinals Monday

©Colette Lewis 2007--
Athens, GA--

The match everyone in the Peach State was hoping for--No. 2 Georgia against No. 3 Georgia Tech--is off. The Yellow Jackets did their part Sunday afternoon with a 4-2 victory over a Notre Dame team that proved very tough to take down, but the Cal-Berkeley Bears spoiled the party with a 4-1 upset of the Bulldogs late Sunday evening.

By the time the last ball was struck around 11 p.m on Sunday, when Cal's Cristina Visico put away an overhead to defeat Darya Ivanov 7-5, 6-4, only a few hundred of the nearly 1800 Georgia faithful remained. Although the Bulldogs had lost the doubles point to the tenth-seeded Bears, they were up a set in four of five matches, and Natalie Frazier pulled them even with a decisive 6-2, 6-2 victory over Susie Babos at No. 1.

But the tide turned when Nina Henkel came back to force a third set against Yvette Hyndman at No. 3, after Zsuzsanna Fodor had earned the Bears' second point with a straight set win over Monica Dancevic at No. 2.

Henkel finished strongly, taking the third set 6-4, meaning that Georgia needed to win all the three matches remaining at 4, 5, and 6. It was possible, with No. 4 early in the third set, and with a lead in the third at No. 6, but the problem was No. 5, where Visico had won the first set. Ivanov desperately needed the second set to give the Bulldogs any chance, but she couldn't capitalize on her opportunities, sending what remained of the crowd home subdued and disappointed.

In the afternoon match, Georgia Tech held a 1-0 lead after taking the doubles point, but it didn't last long, as Cosmina Ciobanu brought the sixth-seeded Irish even with a speedy 6-0, 6-1 victory over Christy Striplin at No. 5. Tech's Amanda Craddock won the battle of the freshmen at No. 3 with a 6-4, 6-1 win over Colleen Rielley, but the day's most notable battle was taking place on court 6.

I was sitting with West Nott of Underground Tennis in the stands between the two banks of courts, and I thought the scoreboard must have been malfunctioning. While most of our attention was on Craddock and Rielley, we were checking out the action on the other four courts still in play, and Tech's Tarryn Rudman and Brook Buck of Notre Dame were at 5-6 in the first set for what seemed like a very long time. Deuce after deuce, ad in and then ad out, the game went on, as it turned out, for over forty minutes. I later asked the chair umpire for the details and he counted up the deuces for me--18--,and the points--38-- probably more than were played in the entire first set of the Ciobanu - Striplin match. He said it was the longest game he has ever officiated at any level. Eventually it had to end, and when it did, Buck took it, and with the momentum generated from surviving that ordeal, went on to take the ensuing tiebreak in seven quick points. She then won the second set 6-2 to pull the Irish to within one point of Tech at 3-2. (In the meantime, Tech's Alison Silverio had defeated Christian Thompson at No. 2).

Christian's twin sister Catrina had forced Kristi Miller to a third set at No. 1, but another Tech freshman, Amanda McDowell, regrouped in the third set of her No. 4 singles contest with Kelcey Tefft and lifted her team to the semifinals for the first time in the program's history. McDowell, who took the third set 6-1 after a 6-3, 4-6 split, said afterward that she and coach Bryan Shelton had spoken about playing with no fear.

"Everyone wants to have the match on their racquet," said the Atlanta resident. "I wasn't going to let fear get in the way."

Shelton was hoping to face Georgia so his team could have a chance to experience the atmosphere of a packed house in Athens, but Cal didn't cooperate, giving the Pac-10 three teams in the semifinals, and assuring that at least one will be in Tuesday's final.

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