Schedule a training visit to the prestigious Junior Tennis Champions Center in College Park, MD by clicking on the banner above

Saturday, May 31, 2008

NCAA Slideshow: Part II

Here's the second slideshow installment of the recently completed NCAA Division I Individual Tennis Championships. There are photos of all quarterfinalists in singles and all semifinalists in doubles. My wrapup of the individual tournament for the Tennis Recruiting Network can be found here. For the team championship slideshow, see Friday's post below.

The YouTube export isn't working, but if you'd like to see the Animoto version, click here and press the forward button on the green screen.

Friday, May 30, 2008

NCAA Slideshow: Part I

I have so many photos from the past two weeks that I decided to break it up into team and individual. This is the team portion; I promise more action shots of all the quarterfinalists in the next installment. The Tulsa World also created this slideshow; it's heavy on the local players and contains player identification errors, but the photos are good.

The shorter Animoto/YouTube video with music is here.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

French Open Junior Qualifying Underway, Only One Possible Qualifier From U.S.

A big merci to Pierrick, our correspondent from France who did such an excellent job of reporting on Les Petits As in February, for keeping us dialed in on the French Open junior qualifying taking place at Montrouge Tennis Club in Paris.

Although both tournaments start on the middle Sunday, the U.S. Open juniors qualifying is on Friday and Saturday; in Paris, it is Thursday and Friday, so the first round was completed today. The sparse number of American players who took a chance on qualifying--one girl and three boys--is now down to one, as Alexa Guarachi, Harry Fowler and Ty Trombetta dropped their opening matches. Tennys Sandgren won his, and if he defeats Yannick Reuter of Belgium tomorrow, he will join Ryan Harrison, Bradley Klahn, Chase Buchanan and Jarmere Jenkins in the main draw. There are three U.S. girls: Melanie Oudin, Madison Brengle and Mallory Burdette. For the qualifying draws, see the French Federation website. All the above mentioned boys played this week's Grade 1 in Belgium, the Astrid Bowl. Fowler and Trombetta lost in the first round, Harrison and Sandgren in the second and Jenkins and Klahn in the quarterfinals. Buchanan plays unseeded Ilija Vucic of Serbia in the semifinals Friday. The ITF junior website is not being updated regularly, but the draws are available on the astrid-bowl.com under the heading Tableaux.

The ITF junior site published this preview, which I think is a good one. After his five-set loss to Andy Murray, France's Jonathan Eysseric is definitely one to watch; he recently won a 10K in Turkey on clay, and his ATP ranking, now inside 400, will assure that he's seeded in the top eight. The article mentions Guido Pella of Argentina, the Italian Open winner, but not Serbian Filip Krajinovic, who is waltzing through the draw at the Astrid Bowl despite not being seeded, and has earned a special exemption into the main draw with his performance, as has Milos Raonic, the big-serving Canadian.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Catching Up on Junior News

The past two weeks have, as always, been dominated by college tennis, but there have been some notable junior stories, too.

The University of Georgia's prize recruit, Chelsey Gullickson, won the $25,000 Women's Pro Circuit event in Raleigh, NC defeating No. 7 seed Audra Cohen, No. 3 seed Maria-Fernanda Alves and, in the final, No. 4 seed Lauren Albanese. Gullickson is now 407 in the WTA computer rankings.

Fifteen-year-old USTA Spring National champion Kristie Ahn (she turns 16 next month), won the first professional event she entered, the $10,000 Pro Circuit event in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Ahn defeated Rebecca Marino, Georgia Tech's prize recruit, who has decided to take a year off before joining the Yellow Jackets, in a three-set final. En route, Ahn beat two seeded players with WTA rankings in the 370s, losing only four games. This story from the Intelligencer Journal, reports on that final and does explain that both players retain their amateur status.

Melanie Oudin, who is playing the French Open Juniors, and will likely be the No. 1 seed there, is the subject of this ESPN The Magazine feature NEXT.

And the Sun-Sentinel's Charlie Bricker, who is covering the French Open, recently filed this look at young black junior hopes in the U.S. I appreciate that he called me to ask if he may have overlooked anyone, although all of the players we discussed did not make his story. I'm puzzled, however, as to where he got Asia Muhammad's ITF junior ranking. It is actually in the 500s, lower than her WTA ranking, which is 374.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Looking Back on NCAA Predictions; Looking Ahead: Men's Recruiting Class Rankings

It's been another long, ugly travel day, with the convergence of thunderstorms and the subsequent power outage with holiday weekend travelers making the Tulsa airport a very chaotic place this morning. One of my fellow travelers (one of the few good-natured ones) didn't care for that adjective. "That implies movement," he said, viewing the static check-in and security lines. "Doesn't seem to be much of that." We settled on "directionless" and tried to be optimistic.

Anyway, I'm back in Kalamazoo, and it's time to look back on the predictions some of you made for the NCAAs. Two of zootennis's most frequent and insightful commenters, Andrew D and Austin (anyone else disappointed Man in the Moon didn't join in the contest?) distinguished themselves, with Austin correctly forecasting the men's doubles winners, the women's team champions and the men's singles. He also placed Georgia in the men's final. Andrew D got the men's singles right (as did Scott, Virginia, Bruddahc, and me [my only correct pick]) but gets all sorts of extra credit for tabbing JP Smith to go deep. Many people have asked if I know who Austin is. I do not, but I certainly appreciate his acumen and hope he continues to post in the same passionate and civilized manner as he's done for the past several years.

Picking the Kalamazoo winners is the next scheduled contest. If all the eligible contenders play, it will be an outstanding field; every time I think I've tabbed all possible winners, someone else springs to mind. And, as a reminder for those who think that picking the top seeds is somehow unworthy, last year only one person had both the 16s and 18s winners, who were, in fact, both No. 1 seeds. This year we'll have the tiebreaker be the dark horse who goes farthest, defining dark horse as someone not among the top eight seeds.

The Tennis Recruiting Network's spring men's recruiting class rankings were released yesterday, and Stanford remains on top, although they were not the unanimous choice. (I was one of the 11 who did put them at No. 1).

Once I get some rest and finish my assignments from the NCAAs, I'll start working on a slide show from Tulsa.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Devvarman Repeats as Men's Champion; McDowell Earns Women's Title at NCAAs

©Colette Lewis 2008--
Tulsa, OK--

The NCAA singles finals may have been short on drama, but they were long on history, as Virginia's Somdev Devvarman and Georgia Tech's Amanda McDowell earned championships with straight set victories Monday at the Michael Case Tennis Center on the campus of the University of Tulsa.

With her 6-2, 6-3 win over 2005 NCAA champion Zuzana Zemenova of Baylor, McDowell became the first Georgia Tech player to capture an NCAA title, but the sophomore from Atlanta was oh-so-close to losing in the first round against Vanderbilt's Amanda Taylor.

"When I was down those (four) match points, I was thinking to myself, if I don't lose this point, I'm not out of the tournament," McDowell said. "I wasn't really thinking about anything else except surviving that match. She put a lot of pressure on me, and I had to step up my game, and in the end, I think that helped me a lot to win the championship."

By the time she had reached the final, McDowell's game had risen several levels, and Zemenova was at a loss for ways to counter McDowell's depth and consistency.

"She played really good today," said Zemenova, a senior from Slovakia. "I was thinking about it, and I can't find anything that I could do. The most important times, she just hit unbelievable shots. I have to give her credit, she just played amazing tennis today."

Zemenova didn't help her cause by serving poorly--she was broken the first seven times she served--and often McDowell stepped into a second serve and took control of the point from there.

"It was one of the best I've ever played," McDowell admitted. "Mainly I just stepped up at the right time."

"She plays an aggressive style, but high percentage," said her coach, Bryan Shelton, who sat on the court throughout the match. "I liken her to like an Andre Agassi, who can take your legs within one set. I think that's what she was able to do in the last three or four matches, she's taken and broken other girls' wills after that first set by working them so hard."

McDowell, the No. 7 seed, who coincidentally wears that number on her back, also displayed some mental strength in the second set. Serving at 4-2, she and Zemenova engaged in several lengthy rallies in the midafternoon heat and humidity. McDowell finally earned a game point, and had an easy put away at the net. She missed the swinging volley, badly, but there was no anguish, and no doubts crept into her game. Instead she painted lines with forehand winners on the next two points, securing a 5-2 lead.

"I thought from the beginning if I was playing good tennis and my footwork was where it needed to be that I could do it," McDowell said. "I definitely believed in myself from the beginning; I never really doubted myself."

McDowell lost eight matches this year, but Devvarman, who became the fourth back-to-back NCAA champion in the past fifty years, and the first since Georgia's Matias Boeker in '01-02, had lost only one. Since dropping a three-setter to Georgia's Travis Helgeson in the semifinals of the All-American tournament here in Tulsa, the 23-year-old from Chennai, India had not tasted defeat.

Throughout the week, and in spite of the disappointment of losing the team championship when Virginia fell to Georgia 4-3 in the semifinals, Devvarman kept his focus, and in Monday's late afternoon final defeated JP Smith of Tennessee 6-3, 6-2.

"This is the way pretty much anyone would like to end their college career," said Devvarman, who needed only an hour to dismiss Smith. "But before I take any credit, I have to give credit to the people behind the scenes who work with me all the time--my coaches, my parents, my professors, my best friends who always support me--it just goes on and on...I'm really grateful for what they've given me the last four years."

Virginia head coach Brian Boland was quick to return the compliments.

"He's a special guy. He has incredible perspective, and he's mature beyond his years...he has a certain calmness to him and a level of consistency that allows him to continue to move forward each match and play at a high level. Nobody prepares better than Somdev. He has great intelligence for how to play the game....a great ability to do the things he does best over and over....his ability to anticipate off the ground is incredible and that goes with some of the fastest wheels on the planet."

Against Smith, the freshman from Australia, Devvarman took control and never relinquished it. With Smith serving at 3-4 30-30 in the first set, Devvarman hit a tremendous return to reach break point, and when Smith double faulted, had the break he needed to finish it.

"He didn't let me into the match very often," said Smith. "I really couldn't come forward as much as I would like to. I only made like thirty percent of first serves. I couldn't get my teeth into the match, that's the main thing and once he got on top of me it was hard to come back."

Serving the first game of the second set, Smith battled through five deuces, and saved three break points, but he lost it, and his next service game too, giving Devvarman a 4-0 lead.

"For JP to find a way to beat me, he had to serve unbelievable and play some really good return games," said Devvarman, who outlasted one of college tennis's best-ever servers, Georgia's John Isner, in last year's final. "I focused really hard on my serve, JP played a loose game in the first set, and I just rolled with the momentum in the second. Before I knew it, I was up two breaks, serving for the match."

Last year in Athens, it was a third set tiebreaker that decided the final, and Devvarman managed the win despite being surrounded by rabid Bulldog fans. This year, on a neutral court, he proved himself as the best college player again, but with his college career closing, there was a different perspective.

"As much fun as that was, this was just as much fun for me, because I knew this was going to be my last college tennis match ever. I got a few emotions on the court, I was pretty emotional last night before I went to bed. Both championships were special, but this one, maybe a little bit more, because I know it's my last match with my coaches."

As quick as the singles matches were, the doubles finals were the opposite. The No. 2 seeded team of Robert Farah and Kaes Van't Hof of Southern Cal won their fourth tiebreaker in the past two days, and defeated the No. 4 seeded team of Jonas Berg and Erling Tveit of Ole Miss 7-6(10), 7-6(5).

After surviving the unseeded Ole Miss team of Bram ten Berge and Matthias Wellermann 6-7(5), 7-6(5), 7-6(10) in Sunday's semifinals, Farah and Van't Hof were ready for another tense battle.

"I was a lot more calm in breakers today," said Van't Hof, a senior, whose father Robert won the NCAA singles title in 1980. "If those were our first breakers of the tournament today, then I would have been a little tighter than I was after playing three gut-wrenching, almost heart-breaking breakers yesterday."

There were no breaks in the opening set, which took an hour to complete, with Van't Hof and Farah fighting off two set points before finally converting on their sixth set point, when Farah kicked in a first serve and Van't Hof put away the return.

The Trojans found themselves down a break in a hurry in the second, with Farah dropping serve at love, but they pulled even in the fourth game, when Tveit served poorly for one of the only times in the match. In the second set tiebreaker, the Rebels had a set point at 6-5, but Van't Hof slammed an ace, then gave his team a match point with another excellent first serve. Tveit's second serve was adequate, but the return was better and the Ole Miss reply was wide, giving USC the national title.

The UCLA Bruins took home their second national championship of the fortnight, with No. 1 seeds Riza Zalameda and Tracy Lin defeating No. 2 seeds Melanie Gloria and Tinesta Rowe of Fresno State 6-2, 4-6, 6-3.

"They were a good team," said Lin. "Rowe is extremely aggressive at the net. In the third set, we were fortunate enough to get an early break and stayed on top of them."

After winning the team championship, Zalameda admitted that there weredifferent emotions at work in the individual event.

"It's a great feeling just to win a title like this, but I feel like last week was a little more intense. The team was incredible with winning not just for us, but also for other people."

For additional coverage of the NCAA championships, see collegeandjuniortennis.com.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Devvarman and Smith Reach Men's Final; McDowell and Zemenova Will Decide Women's Champion Monday at NCAAs

©Colette Lewis 2008--
Tulsa, OK--

Monday's NCAA singles finals will pit newcomers against experienced champions in both the men's and women's divisions, with the heat and humidity of the Oklahoma summer providing a challenging backdrop. Virginia's Somdev Devvarman and Baylor's Zuzana Zemenova will be attempting to win their second championships, with Tennessee freshman JP Smith and Georgia Tech sophomore Amanda McDowell providing the opposition at the Michael Case Tennis Center.

Devvarman is the most familiar face, as the just-graduated senior has now reached the NCAA finals for a record three straight times (records date to 1977, when the current format was introduced). In his 6-4, 7-6(3) semifinal victory over Stanford's Alex Clayton, Devvarman trailed 3-1 in the first set after he was broken at love, but won the next four games to take a 5-4 lead. Serving for the set, Devvarman was down 30-40, but some clutch serving, including a second serve winner, earned him the first set.

Clayton was broken in the opening game of the second set, but did not appear discouraged, and his forehand, which he over-hit several times on key points in the first set, began to find the court more often. He broke Devvarman in the fourth game, saved two break points with aces serving at 5-5, and even took a 3-1 lead in the tiebreaker. But Devvarman's serve, one of the most underrated aspects of his game, reached top form at the late stages of the tiebreaker, when he hit three aces on his last three serves to finish it.

"To be honest, he had a lot of chances in that match," Devvarman said. "He came out really well and I've got to give him a lot of credit for a great match. At the same time, I thought I dug really deep, fought really hard, and that's the main reason i came out on top. Of course, I served really well."

As the No. 1 ranked player in college tennis, Devvarman is hardly an unexpected finalist, but few saw the unseeded Smith, who defeated Pepperdine's Andre Begemann, a 9-16 seed, 6-2, 6-4, making such a splash, including Smith himself.

"If you would have told before the start of the week that I'd be in the final, I would've have thought, don't think I would have," said the 6-foot-2 Australian. "I've got one more match to go; it's going to be a tough match...he won it last year and was in the final the year before, so he knows the situation and the expectation that comes with the final. I'm looking forward to it. I'm playing my best tennis right now, which is good, and hopefully I can get one more done."

Against Begemann, Smith did not drop serve throughout the match, and when he did face break points, his big lefty serve proved too much for the senior from Germany. The key point in the second set saw Smith down 30-40 serving at 3-4, with Begemann just that point away from serving to even the match.

"I played a great point there," said Smith. "I took it to him, served and volleyed on a second serve, which was a pretty bold move, considering his really good returns. I was lucky enough to hit a really good volley and put the match away, I guess. I ended up breaking in the next game, and that was a momentum swing."

The women's semifinal between No. 7 seed McDowell and Auburn's Fani Chifchieva, a 9-16 seed, didn't feature any such swings, as McDowell took early leads in both sets. McDowell, who is the first Georgia Tech player to reach the national finals, did drop her serve at 3-1 in second set, allowing the sophomore from Bulgaria to get back on serve. But the 5-foot-5 righthander from Atlanta immediately broke back and finished it with her sixth break of Chifchieva, whom she had also beaten in straight sets in a January dual match.

"Going in I knew she really liked her backhand, it was her better side...I knew her backhand was such a strong weapon that I was going to have to be careful when I went to that side,"said McDowell, who closed out Chifchieva with two winners from deep behind the baseline. "I served really, really well today....my first percentage was pretty high."

Although McDowell is a sophomore, this is her first appearance in the individual tournament, although she is hardly a stranger to big match occasions, as a member of the 2007 national championship team. Asked if she felt Zemenova, the 2005 NCAA champion had an advantage, McDowell didn't concede it.

"I think we've both had opportunities to play in matches where there's a lot riding on it. I've had a lot of experience, playing in the finals with my team....I don't really feel that I'm at a disadvantage going into tomorrow."

The unseeded Zemenova's semifinal win over top seed Aurelija Miseviciute of Arkansas could hardly be classified as huge upset given the Baylor senior's pedigree. Having lost to the eventual champion in both 2006 and 2007, Zemenova is a tough out, and Misevicuite learned that when Zemenova hit a forehand winner and a backhand winner down two set points at 4-5 in the opening set of her 7-6(2), 6-2 victory.

"In the first set, when I was up 4-2, I felt like I was slowly pushing the ball," said Zemenova, who also threw in some untimely double faults late in first set. "My serve the last couple of days has been a little bit off. I just can't find the feeling."

Up 5-1 in the second set, Zemenova couldn't convert on her two opportunities to serve it out, but Miseviciute also had difficulty holding.

"When it was 5-4 and I was up 40-0, she hit another good shot to make it 40-30," Zemenova said. "The last point I hit really short, and I thought she was going to hit a winner, but she just missed it. That was a good feeling."

Both Devvarman and Zemenova commented that they now know for certain that on Monday they will play their final college match, and they are determined to enjoy it, before heading out to the professional ranks.

The doubles semifinals were highlighted by an epic battle between the unseeded Ole Miss pair of Bram ten Berge and Mattias Wellermann and No. 2 seeds Robert Farah and Kaes Van't Hof of Southern Cal. For Farah and Van't Hof, down 5-3, 30-0 with the 6-foot-7 Wellermann serving in the third set, it was difficult to envision the Trojans reaching the match's third tiebreaker, but they did, and saved one match point in their 6-7(5), 7-6(5), 7-6(10) victory.

"It was an amazing match to play," said Farah. "I'm glad I was a part of it....that breaker, a lot of emotions, but thank god we could stay calm and close that match."

It took six match points, which would try any team's patience, but the serves of the Ole Miss team bailed them out often.

"We had to focus on doing the simplest things off their serves, because it makes you feel like an amateur out there," said Van't Hof. "It makes you feel like you're just starting the game. There's a lot of nerve-racking shots, especially knowing how big the guys are serving on the other side."

Van't Hof came up with a clutch serve of his own, down match point at 8-9 in the tiebreaker, with a second serve winner. "It was an absolute miracle we pulled it out," Van't Hof said.

Up next for the Southern Cal pair is No. 4 seed Erling Tveit and Jonas Berg, also of Ole Miss, who ended the run of the unseeded team of Austin Krajicek and Conor Pollock of Texas A&M 6-4, 6-4.

"I'm not looking forward to playing Ole Miss again," Van't Hof joked. "That was their number two team...."Imagine their number one," Farah interjected.

The women's doubles final will feature the top two teams, with UCLA's Riza Zalameda and Tracy Lin taking on the No. 2 seeds Melanie Gloria and Tinesta Rowe of Fresno State.

Gloria and Rowe ended the run of the No. 3 seeded Oklahomans Brook Buck and Kelcy Tefft of Notre Dame, 6-1, 7-5, while Zalameda and Lin cruised past Renata Kucerkova and Anastasia Petukhova of Fresno State 6-2, 6-1.

For more coverage of the final weekend of the NCAA tournament, visit Tulsa World and collegeandjuniortennis.com.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Second Set Tiebreakers Extend Men's Quarterfinal Matches; Women's Semifinalists Have Easier Route at NCAAs

©Colette Lewis 2008--
Tulsa, OK--

At one stage on another hot and humid afternoon at the Michael Case Tennis Center, three of the four men's quarterfinals were in second set tiebreakers. Defying the odds, the three players who had to win the tiebreakers did, but only one, Pepperdine's Andre Begemann, went on to the victory.

Begemann, a 9-16 seed, defeated unseeded Justin Kronauge 4-6, 7-6(3), 6-4, breaking the Ohio State sophomore when he was serving for the match at 5-4 in the second set. For inspiration, the Wave senior harkened back to when he clinched Pepperdine's national championship with a win over Georgia's Matic Omerzel at No. 4 singles.

"I remembered Georgia two years ago, when I clinched the national final...I was down 2-6, 2-4, and for some reason I couldn't put the ball in the court. (Today) I just had to make him play, come up with some shots; I made him really work for that last game (in the second set) and I was able to break."

While Begemann was winning his tiebreaker, Tennessee freshman JP Smith, another serve and volleyer, was losing his to Ohio State's Steven Moneke on the adjacent court. After winning the first set 6-2, Smith had an opportunity to close out the junior from Germany, but couldn't capitalize on 4-1 and 5-3 leads in the tiebreaker. The lanky left-hander refocused in the third set, however, got an early break and finished the victory.

"I thought I served very well throughout the whole match. I came to the net when I needed to, played agressively. Steven's a great player from the baseline, and I knew I had to take it to him," Smith said.

The Townsville, Australia native was instantly recognizable in the juniors, as he always played wearing sunglasses. But he forgot to pack them when he left Knoxville, and given his performance in Tulsa, Smith joked that he might not put them back on.

As for his semifinal encounter against the vastly more experienced Begemann, Smith is looking forward to playing an opponent with a similar style.

"It's going to be an interesting matchup tomorrow," he said. "I haven't played a serve and volleyer for quite a long time now."

The other men's semifinal will also feature a freshman and a senior, with defending champion Somdev Devvarman of Virginia taking on Alex Clayton of Stanford. Devvarman cruised through the first set of his match with 9-16 seed Denes Lukacs of Baylor 6-0, but there were no more easy games after that. With the Baylor sophomore serving at 5-5 in the second set, Devvarman earned a break, but immediately got down 0-40 on his serve, and despite three service winners to get it back to deuce, Lukacs won the next two points. Lukacs, dictating with his forehand and pushing Devvarman way behind the baseline, jumped out to a quick lead in the tiebreaker, and won it with a service winner seven points to two.

But Devvarman detected an advantage for himself as they entered the third set.

"Going into the third set, I knew he was going to be a little tired, a little bit more tired than I was," said Devvarman, who showed no signs of sweat or fatigue despite playing for two-and-a-half hours. "I could see that, took advantage of that, broke him once and served out the match."

With the 6-0, 6-7(2), 6-3 victory, Devvarman earned his 16th NCAA championship win and a spot against the eighth seeded Clayton, who defeated unseeded Bassam Beidas of Pepperdine 6-2, 6-4.

Clayton, who dropped the first set he played in Tulsa, but none since, credits his serve as a major factor in his success.

"I've been broken once or twice in the tournament," Clayton said. "Last two matches I haven't lost serve, and I feel really confident on my serve, even when I'm down. Today I was down 15-30, break points a few times, and I take my time and I'm able to come up with a big serve, or a big serve and then a big forehand...I think that's going to help me tomorrow."

Clayton fell 6-4, 6-4 to Devvarman in the National Indoors last November, also in the semifinals, and he knows what he is facing.

"Obviously, Somdev is No. 1 in the nation, defending champion, and the only match he's lost was basically nine months ago here...I feel I'm really going to have to be on my game, make a lot of first serves," Clayton said. "When he gives you an opportunity, you really have to take advantage of it, because you're not going to get very many."

Although the women's semifinals don't feature any freshmen, Amanda McDowell, the seventh seed from Georgia Tech, is a rookie at the NCAAs. After her 6-3, 6-2 win over Lenka Broosova, who set a Baylor record of 52 wins this season, McDowell was delighted to find herself in the semifinals.

"I'm just so excited. I actually wasn't in the tournament last year," said McDowell, who played No. 4 as a freshman on Georgia Tech's NCAA championship team. "This is my first NCAA tournament, and I'm just estactic. It's been such a cool journey, because I was down four match points in my first match (against Vanderbilt's Amanda Taylor), down and out in that match, so it's just incredible I'm in the semis."

McDowell and Broosova have similar, hard-hitting styles, although McDowell favors her forehand, while Broosova relies on the backhand.

"I was targeting more of her forehand today," McDowell said. "I like that match-up for me a lot. Her backhand is so big that I really had to focus and stay down on my shots, because it is such a weapon for her."

McDowell faces Auburn's Fani Chifchieva, a 9-16 seed, who downed No. 6 seed Amanda Fink of Southern California 7-6 (2), 3-6, 6-0. Fink had two set points in the first set, but didn't capitalize on them, and the sophomore from Bulgaria played a solid tiebreaker. Although she dropped the second set, Chifchieva came out strong and focused in the third to earn another shot at McDowell, who beat her 6-4, 6-1 in a dual match in January.

Zuzana Zemenova, the 2005 champion from Baylor, is also seeking revenge, although it was two years ago when she last faced Aurelija Miseviciute of Arkansas, losing 6-0, 6-3. In her 6-4, 6-4 quarterfinal win over No. 4 seed Maria Mosolova of Northwestern, Zemenova took control midway through the first set, winning three straight games to close the set, and then racing out to a 4-1 lead in the second.

But Mosolova continued to fight, and was within a few points of evening the second set at 5, when the unseeded Zemenova collected herself to reach her third NCAA semifinal.

Miseviciute, the No. 1 seed, downed No. 8 seed Riza Zalameda of UCLA 6-2, 6-3, but she stressed that the score was misleading.

"The match was harder than the score actually reflects," said Miseviciute, who defeated Zalameda 7-5 in the third at the Team Indoor in February. "Riza is a really good player...she has a really good slice, which was a problem for me the previous matches. But today I figured out a way to deal with the slice backhand...I felt like I had maybe a little better discipline, playing every point, placement and being patient."

The doubles semifinalists were also determined on Saturday, and Fresno State women and Mississippi men make up half of the participants.

Unseeded Renata Kucerkova and Anastasia Petukhova of Fresno State upset No. 4 seeds Ani Mijacika and Carol Salge 2-6, 7-6(3), 6-4 and will meet top seeds Tracy Lin and Zalameda of UCLA. Second seeds Melanie Gloria and Tinesta Rowe, the other Fresno State entry, will take on local favorites Brook Buck and Kelcy Tefft of Notre Dame, who live in Oklahoma. For the third match in a row, Buck and Tefft, the No. 3 seeds, dropped the first set but came back, this time defeating Fink and Gabriela Niculescu of Southern Cal, 4-6, 6-3, 6-0.

The Tulsa team of Ross Cunningham and Andy Connelly weren't so fortunate, dropping a 6-3, 6-3 decision to No. 2 seeds Robert Farah and Kaes Van't Hof of Southern Cal. Farah and Van't Hof take on unseeded Bram ten Berge and Matthias Wellermann of Ole Miss, who saved two match points serving at 5-6 in the third set to ease past No. 5-8 seeds Cory Parr and Steve Forman of Wake Forest 3-6, 6-4, 7-6(3).

Unseeded Austin Krajicek and Conor Pollock of Texas A&M continued their run. After upsetting top seeds Devvarman and Huey of Virginia on Friday, Krajicek and Pollock defeated unseeded Drew Eberly and Kronauge of Ohio State 4-6, 6-1, 6-3. They will meet No. 4 seeds Jonas Berg and Erling Tveit of Ole Miss, who won their third consecutive three-setter, 3-6, 7-5, 6-3 over Taylor Fogleman and Chris Kearney, the 5-8 seeds from North Carolina.

For complete results, see the Tulsa website.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Buckeyes and Waves Place Two in Men's Quarterfinals; Chifchieva Ousts No. 2 Seed Mijacika in Women's Action; Devvarman and Huey Upset in Doubles Play

©Colette Lewis 2008--
Tulsa, OK

The brief morning shower in Tulsa didn't dampen the spirits of any underdogs Friday in the third round of the NCAA Individual Championships. Five unseeded men advanced to the quarterfinals, while two unseeded Baylor women earned their way into the Elite Eight on a humid, warm and cloudy day at the Michael Case Tennis Center.

The tone was set early when 9-16 seed Fani Chifchieva of Auburn thoroughly dominated No. 2 seed Ani Mijacika of Clemson 6-2, 6-4. The two had never played before, and that was just fine with Chifchieva.

"The thing about me, I don't like to know who I play, I don't like to know the person, because I'm a little nervous if I know them," said the sophomore from Bulgaria, who admitted she did know that Mijacika was the No. 2 seed. "I just tried to keep the ball in play and really work my points, make her work hard so I can prepare for the short ball and finish the point. I think I did a good job with my serve. I think I had a pretty good plan for this match."

There were no surprises in the match between No. 3 seed Oleksandr Nedovyesov of Oklahoma State and Pepperdine's Andre Begemann, a 9-16 seed, because they had played in Tulsa last October at the All-American. Nedovyesov had won that encounter in straight sets, but Begemann wasn't about to change his serve-and-volley game. The senior from Germany, who did not play in the team event due to the funeral of his mother, returned for the individual championships and has looked stronger with each win. Begemann outserved the Ukrainian sophomore and the relentless pressure to pass was too much for Nedovyesov, who had difficulty with his own serve, especially as the match drew to its 6-3, 7-5 conclusion.

Begemann is joined in the quarterfinals by unseeded Wave teammate Bassam Beidas, who dropped No. 4 seed Travis Helgeson of Georgia 6-1, 6-4, for the second time in a week. Beidas had beaten Helgeson in straight sets in the team event, when the sophomore from Egypt stepped up to the No. 1 spot in Begemann's absence.

The Ohio State Buckeyes also placed two men in the quarterfinals, with unseeded sophomore Justin Kronauge getting past No. 7 seed Lars Poerschke of Baylor 6-3, 7-6(4). Poerschke seemed to struggle more in the gusty winds than Kronauge, especially on the service toss, catching it time after time, and Kronauge seemed the more assured player on the big points. Joining Kronauge in the bottom half quarterfinals is unseeded teammate Steven Moneke, who disappointed the approximately 800 Tulsa fans by defeating Golden Hurricane Arnau Brugues 7-5, 3-6, 6-4.

Moneke will meet unseeded Tennessee freshman JP Smith of Australia who has breezed through his first three matches, losing only 11 games. The top half features defending champion Somdev Devvarman of Virginia, a 6-3, 6-1 winner over Erling Tveit of Ole Miss, against Baylor Denes Lukacs, a 9-16 seed, who dropped No. 6 seed Robert Farah of Southern Cal 7-5, 6-3. Stanford's Alex Clayton, the No. 8 seed, earned a spot against Beidas with a 6-2, 7-6(5) win over unseeded Bryan Koniecko of Ohio State in the day's only match featuring two Americans. Clayton was down a break point late in the second set, but three service winners later, Koniecko's chance was gone.

The women's draw has gone more to form, with only two unseeded players--2005 NCAA champion Zuzana Zemenova and Lenka Broosova, both of Baylor--reaching the quarterfinals. Neither had it easy, as Zemenova had to hold off a spirited comeback from Fresno State's Melanie Gloria, who trailed 4-0 in the third set only to fall 6-2, 2-6, 6-3. Broosova, a sophmore, was down 4-2 in the third set to Duke's Reka Zsilinszka, before an overrule on the baseline caused the freshman to lose her focus and Broosova took advantage of the distraction to earn a 6-4, 2-6, 7-5 victory.

Broosova will meet No. 7 seed Amanda McDowell of Georgia Tech, who was down 4-0 in the first set before gaining control in her 6-4, 6-2 win over UCLA's Tracy Lin. In the other bottom half quarterfinal, USC's Amanda Fink, the No. 6 seed, will take on Chifchieva. Fink, a junior, has rolled through the opposition all week, and today took down William and Mary's Megan Moulton-Levy, a 9-16 seed, 6-2, 6-1.

The top half features No. 1 seed Aurelija Miseviciute of Arkansas against No. 8 Riza Zalameda of UCLA, the team tournament's Most Outstanding Player. For the second straight day, Zalameda dropped the first set, but advanced, today with a 4-6, 6-2, 6-4 win over Claire Ilcinkas of Cal.

Zemenova's opposition on Saturday will be No. 4 seed Maria Mosolova of Northwestern, who downed Katrina Zheltova of Sacramento State 6-4, 6-2.

Although local interest in singles is gone with the losses of Brugues and Nedovyesov, the doubles competition is making up for it. Tulsa's team of Andy Connelly and Ross Cunningham, both of whom are from Oklahoma, reached the quarterfinals by ousting No. 5-8 seed Boris Fetbroyt and Andy Orban of Maryland. And the No. 3 seeded Notre Dame team of Brook Buck and Kelcy Tefft, who also call Oklahoma home, overcame a horrendous opening set to defeat TCU's Macall Harkins and Anna Sydorska 0-6, 7-5, 6-3.

For those outside the state, the big doubles news of the day was Texas A&M's Austin Krajicek and Conor Pollock's 6-3, 6-4 defeat of Virginia's Devvarman and Treat Huey, the top seeds. The Virginia pair were aiming for the doubles "Triple Crown", having won the All-American and the Indoors, but Krajicek and Pollock played flawlessly after the first few games.

Down a break early, the Aggies got it back, and from then on showed no signs of nerves. Both got in a high percentage of first serves and gave the Cavaliers no openings to work their way back into the match.

"It probably wasn't their best tennis, " said Pollock, a junior from San Antonio. "But I think we took them out of their game a little bit. I'm sure they've had better days, but I think we did a great job of keeping them off balance, playing smart doubles."

Krajicek, a freshman, is setting his sights high now that they've knocked off the nation's top-ranked team.

"It was probably some of the best doubles we've played this year," said the 17-year-old Floridian. "But I think there's better to come."

For complete draws and scores, see the Tulsa website.

Rain Delays Start of Round of 16 Friday

Match times have been pushed back an hour due to light rain in the Tulsa area, to noon central time.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Fifteen Players Earn All-American Honors on the Courts in NCAA Championships

©Colette Lewis 2008--
Tulsa, OK--

The winds of Oklahoma have made their presence felt during the first two rounds of the individual championships, with heat and humidity ramping up today at the Michael Case Tennis Center.

Eleven hours of tennis made for an exciting day, and it is especially so for those unseeded players who have an opportunity to earn the All-American honors already awarded to the top 16 seeds.

Lenka Broosova. a sophomore from Baylor, was the first to add her name to that honor roll, with a surprisingly straightforward 6-3, 6-2 win over No. 3 seed Hilary Barte of Stanford. I saw only a few games of the match, but Barte wasn't playing well, and when she approached the net, Broosova, who hasn't lost a match in Tulsa all week, had no trouble passing her. Back in February, when Barte was playing in the No. 3 spot for Stanford, she and Broosova played at the Team Indoor, with Broosova taking that encounter as well.

Next up for Broosova is Reka Zsilinszka, who admitted that late in the second set in her 6-2, 7-6(3) victory over two-time NCAA finalist Lindsey Nelson of Southern Cal, the Duke freshman thought about the All-American designation.

"That was in my mind just a little bit," Zsilinszka said, when she was trailing 5-4 in the second set. "But I said, just chill, relax, and I got those two games to go up 6-5. She played a really good game, then it went to a tiebreaker."

Zsilinszka and Nelson had never played, and in that scenario, the moonballs, the slices, and the defense of Zsilinszka usually triumph. Nelson thrives on the rhythm of her two-handed ground strokes, and she could never find it amidst all the windblown lobs and her own unforced errors.

Some of the best tennis I saw on Thursday was the third set of the match between Illinois's Ryan Rowe and USC's Robert Farah, the No. 6 seed. Rowe had defeated Farah in the first round of the ITA Indoor last November, in two close sets, but this match was even closer: 2-6, 6-0, 7-6(5).

Rowe led 4-1 in the tiebreaker, after some absolutely scintillating points throughout the third set. Big serves, great overheads, perfect volleys, rare errors--it was high quality throughout.

Farah looked to be suffering more from the heat and humidity than Rowe, bending over and grabbing his shorts like a basketball player late in the third overtime. College rules allow a medical timeout at any time and Farah took one serving at 3-4, 30-40 in the third, but he came back to hold, with some good serving and touch volleys.

The Trojan sophomore really picked up his game down 1-4 in the tiebreaker, winning five straight points and no longer showing any signs of fatigue. The only errors made were forced by great shotmaking, and it was an exceptionally entertaining match until the final point.

Another one of the newly named All-Americans was Arnau Brugues of Tulsa, who defeated No. 5 seed Daniel Vallverdu of Miami 6-4, 6-4. It sounds fairly routine, but the match was notable for a) the loud and appreciative lunchtime crowd supporting their player, and b) the time it took to play. I looked at my watch when it was 3-3 in the first set, and 55 minutes had elapsed, and it took over two hours to complete. The Tulsa doubles team of Andy Connelly and Ross Cunningham also drew a large and vocal audience and they too advanced, defeating Nick Cavaday and Jay Weinacker of North Carolina State 3-6, 7-6(5), 6-3. The Notre Dame doubles team of Brook Buck and Kelcy Tefft, who are from Oklahoma, also drew a very demonstrative group of supporters Thursday evening, and they went home happy when the No. 3 seeds and National Indoor Champions posted a 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 win over Pepperdine's Bianca Dulgheru and Sylvia Kosakowski.

The unseeded players who earned All-American status today in singles are:
Erling Tveit--Ole Miss
Bassam Beidas--Pepperdine
Bryan Koniecko--Ohio State
Justin Kronauge--Ohio State
Steven Moneke--Ohio State
Arnau Brugues--Tulsa
Enrique Olivares--East Tennessee State
JP Smith--Tennessee
Laura Vallverdu--Miami
Claire Ilcinkas--Cal
Katrina Zheltova--Sacramento State
Zuzana Zemenova--Baylor
Tracy Lin--UCLA
Reka Zsilinszka--Duke
Lenka Broosova--Baylor

For complete results, visit the Tulsa website. For additional coverage, see the Tulsa World and collegeandjuniortennis.com

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Second Seed Ouellette Loses as NCAA Individual Competition Gets Underway

©Colette Lewis 2008--
Tulsa, OK--

There's always a mixed bag of emotions the day after the team championships finish. Gone are the costume-wearing, face-painted super fans, the TV trucks, the incessant scoreboard watching in an often vain attempt to select the key match.

For those not competing in the team championships, it's a new beginning, with all the excitement and dreams of the opening day of a tournament. But for those who less than 24 hours earlier were giving their all in reaching for the team title, it's a dangerous time.

The champion Georgia Bulldogs definitely showed signs of the championship hangover, as Nate Schnugg, Jamie Hunt and Luis Flores all lost in Wednesday's opening round. Travis Helgeson is now the only Georgia player remaining in the singles draw. Finalist Texas didn't fare any better, as Dimitar Kutrovsky, Kellen Damico and Ed Corrie were also eliminated. Schnugg and Kutrovsky were joined on the sidelines by another 9-16 seed, Dom Inglot of Virginia, who fell to Ohio State's Justin Kronauge in a third set tiebreaker.

The women's champions from UCLA fared better, with Tracy Lin taking out 9-16 seed Georgia Rose of Northwestern; Riza Zalameda, the eighth seed, advanced, along with Andrea Remynse. Yasmin Schnack was the only Bruin to lose. Runnerup Cal suffered several losses in singles, with No. 5 seed Marina Cossou and Christy Visico losing. I didn't see the Susie Babos - Lauren Lui match because I was due at the ITA Hall of Fame induction ceremony which started at the same time, so I can't be sure that Lui won in a third set tiebreaker, but I think she did according to the pdf and an email I received. Babos is showing as the winner on the html version of the results on the Tulsa website. If that's an error, Claire Ilcinkas is the only Bear still alive in the singles.

No. 1 seed Aurelija Miseviciute had a difficult first round match with Jenni Heinser of San Francisco, dropping the first set and needing nearly three hours to complete the 2-6, 6-3, 6-2 win. At 5-2 in the second set, I went to the restroom, stopped to watch a couple of games of the Reka Zsilinszka-Venise Chan match and checked back on the Miseviciute match, only to see it was still 5-2 and deuce. Heinser injured her hand late in the third set, and down 4-2 was unable to play effectively, despite a visit from the trainer.

With Miseviciute surviving, the upset of the day was Kaes Van't Hof's 6-4, 6-2 victory over No. 2 seed Greg Ouellette of Florida. I arrived at court 4 with Van't Hof up 5-0 in the second, so I only saw three games, and I guess the only service game he lost, but there was no doubt the USC senior was playing well, and hanging with Ouellette from the backcourt. I asked Van't Hof after the match if he had been doing that throughout the match.

"I was aggressive the whole match," said Van't Hof, who is playing with a new Prince prototype racquet. "I really swung out on my shots; I really didn't think about the consequences of missing, but rather the positives that were going to come from hitting the ball big.

"I had a tough loss here in the quarters of the team (to Holden Seguso), but I've been winning like twenty matches in a row, so I'm feeling good. It's tough when you play a seed, but you know you have nothing to lose, the pressure's on the seed, so that helps a little bit."

I'm not certain if it was pressure that Georgia Tech's Amanda McDowell was feeling, but the No. 7 seed finally managed to get by Amanda Taylor of Vanderbilt 1-6, 7-6 (2), 6-1. Taylor, who beat McDowell in Vanderbilt's dual win over Georgia Tech in March, had four match points late in the second set, but couldn't finish off the Yellow Jacket sophomore.

I missed some matches this evening, but I'll be at the Michael Case Tennis Center all day on Thursday, until the last match is over.

For complete results, visit the Tulsa website.

For additional coverage of the NCAAs, visit collegeandjuniortennis.com

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

UCLA Wins First Women's Tennis Title; Georgia Refuses to Relinquish Their Men's Crown in Tulsa

©Colette Lewis 2008--
Tulsa, OK--

Two teams that had endured prolonged bouts of illness and injury during the season found their form at just the right time, with the UCLA Bruins taking their first women's championship with a 4-0 win over Cal-Berkeley Tuesday afternoon and the Georgia Bulldogs successfully defending their 2007 title with a 4-2 victory over Texas Tuesday night at the Michael Case Tennis Center on the campus of the University of Tulsa.

Cal coach Amanda Augustus commented that the Pac 10 clash between her team, seeded eighth, and No. 7 seed UCLA may have been the longest 4-0 match in history, and there's no doubt the final score was deceiving. It took nearly an hour and a half for UCLA to take the doubles point with a win at No. 3, after Cal had won at No. 2 and UCLA at No. 1. Fortunately, weather conditions were ideal, with temperatures in the upper 70s and little humidity or wind, so the four-hour competition was more emotionally than physically draining.

In singles, the first sets were 3-2 in favor of UCLA, with the match at No. 2 between Tracy Lin and Marina Cossou at 5-5 in the first. But by the time Cossou had taken it in a tiebreaker, UCLA had posted its second win, with senior Alex McGoodwin taking out Bojana Bobusic 6-4, 6-1 at No. 6. With UCLA leading 2-0, it looked as if Bruin senior Liz Lumpkin would give her team a comfortable 3-0 lead when she was serving up 6-2, 5-2 at No. 5, but Cal's Stephanie Kusano won the next five games to earn an split, a big psychological boost for her team.

At No. 1, Bruin senior Riza Zalameda had fought back to even her match with Susie Babos after dropping the first set 6-3, taking the second by the same score. At No. 4, Andrea Remynse had managed to take the first set in a tiebreaker from Claire Ilcinkas, and then quickly went up 4-0 in the second set. Again, there was no sense the contest was over, and it wasn't, as Ilcinkas took a medical timeout when down 5-0 and came back to win the next two games.

But Zalameda had taken control of her match with Babos, and in the blink of an eye, both she and Remynse had reached match point.

"At my first match point, I heard everyone in an uproar," said Zalameda, who was separated from the finish on Remynse's court by two other matches still in progress. "And I double faulted, I just got so scared. But the next point, I just knew this was my time. Time for UCLA, time for history."

As McGoodwin, Remynse and other team members and coaches rushed toward Court 1 to celebrate their first title in six trips to the final, including last year's 4-2 loss to Georgia Tech, Zalameda savored it all.

"It was just a dream come true," said Zalameda, the tournament's Most Outstanding Player. "I went down to my knees, and I looked at my teammates and they were running towards me. That's the moment I've been dreaming of. My teammates, my family, it was so fun, it was great. I couldn't ask for more."

With Yasmin Schnack out for a substantial portion of the dual season with a hamstring injury and McGoodwin also injured during the season, coach Stella Sampras Webster's team, at one point ranked No. 2 in the country, suffered five losses. But she never believed they were anything but the best team in country.

"This was just our year to win it," said Sampras Webster, who received a text message of congratulations from her brother Pete. "Even with the most talent, it's still difficult to win the national championship. This team dealt with the pressure and the high expectations, the adversity, in such a great way, and that's why they won this championship, because of the maturity and experience I have on this team. With four seniors, they led this team."

First-year Cal coach Augustus admitted that the defeat stung, but having reached the semifinals last year and the finals this year, likes the progression the Bears are making.

"It's not going to be a tough sell," she said of reaching the ultimate goal of a title. "We have a good portion of the team coming back, and they are a very motivated group of young women. I think this team, when they get over being upset that they lost this match, is going to be proud that they are going to go down in history as the first Cal women's team to make the NCAA finals."

The Georgia Bulldogs could certainly sympathize with UCLA's injury problems, as Christian Vitulli, Travis Helgeson, Luis Flores and Javier Garrapiz all were out for chunks of the season due to injury and illness. In Flores' case, it was not one, but two stress fractures this winter, but both healed in time for the senior to return to competition in late March.

With three losses on their record this year, there were no comparisons made to the 2007 National Championship team, which went undefeated and dominated opponents throughout their run to the title, claimed at home in Athens. Without Flores in the lineup, Georgia surrendered their National Indoor crown to Virginia in February, but the Bulldogs refused to surrender their NCAA crown, roaring back from the doubles point loss to both Virginia in the semifinals and Texas in the final to take 4-2 victories from each and capture the program's sixth NCAA team championship.

"I was out of words for what these guys accomplished tonight," said coach Manny Diaz, who has coached four of the six NCAA championship teams. "I probably did less coaching today than I've ever done. I saw it in their eyes yesterday. They competed like true champions."

After dropping the doubles point with losses at the No. 2 and No. 3 positions, Georgia took only three first sets in the singles. Had the match ended there, Texas would be returning to Austin with the trophy. But at No. 1 singles, Travis Helgeson, playing against the team he competed for in 2005 and 2006 before transferring to Georgia, fought back against Dimitar Kutrovsky, taking the second set.

Texas had taken a 2-0 lead when Miguel Reyes Varela dropped Vitulli 6-4, 6-3 at No. 6, but Nate Schnugg had countered for the Bulldogs with a 6-4, 6-2 win over good friend Kellen Damico at No. 2, avenging his loss to the freshman at the Team Indoor. Jamie Hunt pulled Georgia even with a 6-1, 6-4 victory over Luis Diaz Barriga at No. 4, and Garrapiz had just earned a split with Longhorn Milan Mihailovic at No. 5.

Flores had dropped his second set to Ed Corrie at No. 3, but had an early break in the third. Helgeson, however, was down 3-1 to Kutrovsky in their third set, so it appeared the deciding match might be Garrapiz and Mihailovic, which was just beginning the final set.

That was before Helgeson reeled off five straight games.

"I was just focusing on trying to get some rhythm, some momentum back," said Helgeson of his performance early in the final set. "I was struggling with my serve, I wasn't holding very easily, wasn't getting a high percentage of first serves and was forcing the issue too much. He's got an unbelievable return and the ball stays so flat and so low, that it's very tough to handle. I just wanted to get that break back and get a good solid hold, and that's what I did. Once I got up in the set, I felt I had a chance to close it out."

Helgeson closed out not just his match, by a 4-6, 6-2, 6-3 score, but also the season and the title, as moments before, Flores had completed his 6-3, 1-6, 6-1 win over Corrie. Flores barely had time to join his teammates on the sidelines of court one before the celebration began.

"For Luis and I to lead them through this match is just an unbelievable moment for us," said Helgeson. "Last year it was kind of who could get done first. Now it's much different circumstances. This year is special because of all the issues, the adversity we've had to overcome and the challenges."

Flores agreed.

"It was a terrific journey this year. I don't want to compare, but I think this year tastes a little bit sweeter because of all the ups and downs, and the big shoes that we had to fill. But in the end we pulled it through and it was great the way we competed."

Texas coach Michael Center credited Georgia for the late surge that ended the match.

"They made more plays down the stretch. We lost to a great team, so there's nothing to hang our head over. I'm disappointed, I thought we had a chance, but I have to give Georgia the credit."

Consecutive national titles are rare, with only five other teams accomplishing it, but for Georgia there was something even more special about the 2008 championship. It is the first time they have taken the title away from Athens.

"They can't say we can only win it in Athens anymore," Diaz told the crowd after accepting the trophy on behalf of his team and the university.

Singles and Doubles Draws Released for Individual Championships

I've just come from the ITA National Awards Luncheon and I'll list the winners below but first, I know many of you are eager to review the draws for singles and doubles. They are available at the Tulsa website (viewable only via pdf at the moment).

The ITA NCAA National Awards:
Wilson ITA Coach of the Year:
Men: Brian Boland, Virginia
Women: Claire Pollard, Northwestern

Assistant Coach of the Year:
Men: Ricardo Rubio, Texas
Women: Dave Mullins, Northwestern

Farnsworth Senior Player of the Year:
Men: Somdev Devvarman, Virigina
Women: Riza Zalameda, UCLA

Rookie Player of the Year:
Men: Alex Clayton, Stanford
Women: Hilary Barte, Stanford

Player to Watch:
Men: Oleksandr Nedovyesov, Oklahoma State
Women: Maria Mosolova, Northwestern

Arthur Ashe Award for Leadership & Sportsmanship
Men: Lars Poerschke, Baylor
Women: Kristi Miller, Georgia Tech

Cissie Leary Award for Sportsmanship (women only):
Olya Batsula, Eastern Tennessee State
Dunja Antunoviv, DePaul

Rafael Osuna Award for Sportsmanship (men):
Kaes Van't Hof, Southern California

John Van Nostrand Memorial Award (men):
Greg Ouellette, Florida

Monday, May 19, 2008

Georgia Deals Virginia Its First Loss; Texas Joins Bulldogs in NCAA Men's Final Tuesday

©Colette Lewis 2008--
Tulsa, OK--

The silence was deafening.

In the raucous atmosphere of college team tennis, the final set of the deciding match determining who will play for a national title is not usually played noiselessly.

But Virginia's Sanam Singh was cramping, and the crowd gathered around the back court was subdued in deference to his obvious discomfort.

After winning the first set from Georgia's Jamie Hunt at No. 4 singles, Singh, a freshman from India, began to experience problems in the late stages of the second set, which Hunt won 6-3. A ten-minute heat break, given due to the high temperatures when the match started at around 6:30 p.m., allowed him an opportunity to rest, and a medical timeout also was taken when the heat break was over, but it was to no avail. Singh could not move, and in mere minutes the 6-0 final set was over. Fourth ranked Georgia had upset the undefeated Virginia Cavaliers, ending their perfect season. And more importantly, the Bulldogs now have a chance to defend their 2007 title Tuesday evening against the Texas Longhorns, 4-2 winners over UCLA.

It started well for Virginia, as a lively doubles point went to the Cavaliers with wins at No. 1 and No. 2, with Georgia taking No. 3 doubles before the first two were decided. Virginia's No. 1 team of Somdev Devvarman and Treat Huey needed five match points before they eventually subdued Hunt and partner Nate Schnugg, and Dom Inglot and Michael Shabaz had to overcome an early break and then a failure to seal it with Inglot serving for it at 7-4. Inglot and Shabaz finally took it 9-7 from Luis Flores and Javier Garrapiz, giving the Cavaliers that precious first point.

Fourth seeded Georgia was undaunted however, and came out blazing in the singles, taking five first sets, including at No. 1 and No. 6, where the Cavaliers had been undefeated all season. Before Singh had completed his first set win over Hunt for Virginia, the Bulldogs had already tied the score with Flores' 6-2, 6-1 rout of Inglot at No. 3.
Schnugg was next off the court, taking out Huey in a clinical 6-4, 6-2, and the Bulldogs made it 3-1 with Garrapiz's 7-5, 6-3 win over Shabaz at No. 5. But Devvarman had taken the second set at No. 1 and Ted Angelinos had also forced a third set at No. 6, so it looked as if Hunt and Singh could decide it.

Angelinos completed his comeback against Christian Vitulli by a 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 score, and Devvarman beat back Travis Helgeson 2-6, 6-3, 6-4, but by the time the Virginia players had lined up on the court to cheer on Singh, there was nothing to shout about.

"It didn't end in the way we ever expected it to," said Virginia coach Brian Boland. "It's been several years I think, since we've won the doubles point and lost a match. To say I'm surprised is an understatement, but at the same time you have to give Georgia credit. They wanted to win, clearly, but as competitive a match as we all expected it to be, I don't think anyone thought it would end that way. I think it was disappointing in some sense for everybody, even though I'm sure they're happy to be playing for a national championship tomorrow, I thought they handled it with total class."

Georgia coach Manny Diaz knows the pain of having a streak stopped short of a national championship, when his 2006 Bulldogs were surprised by Pepperdine in the finals, their only loss of the year.

"We're just very humbled for this opportunity. I really feel for the Virginia squad right now, only because we've been there not so long ago. People can quickly forget what a great year they've had and what a great bunch of competitors they have, and what they've done is outstanding."

Although Hunt was happy with the outcome, the finish wasn't what he was envisioning either.

"It takes a little bit away from it," said Hunt, a sophomore from Texas. "I really wanted to play it when we were both a hundred percent, because that would have been an unbelievable match. You know three-all, it would have been so much fun. It's tough playing when he's cramping like that, but I'm just so proud of every one of our guys for stepping up. I'm looking forward to it tomorrow."

Hunt mentioned that he and his good friend Kellen Damico, who plays No. 2 for Texas, had exchanged text messages when the Selection Show on ESPNews had revealed the draw, hoping for a Texas - Georgia final. Their wish is now reality, as the No. 7 seeded Longhorns handled the third seeded UCLA Bruins, with sophomore Ditimar Kutrovsky once again clinching at No. 1 singles after dropping the first set. This time it was Harel Srugo, who had clinched the Bruins win over USC in the quarterfinals, who fell to the two-handed shots of the Bulgarian 3-6, 6-2, 6-3.

"I played aggressive throughout the second and third set and he got a little tired and I took advantage of my chances," Kutrovsky said. "I stayed out there and fought as hard as I could.”

After taking the doubles point with wins at No. 2 and No. 3, Texas won only two of the six first sets. UCLA tied the score with a win at No. 3--Mathieu Dehaine over Ed Corrie 6-4, 6-2--but the match began tilting the Longhorns way when Kutrovsky won his second set and Miguel Reyes Varela also earned a split against Nick Meister at No. 6. Jeremy Drean defeated Milan Mihailovic 7-6(3), 6-2 at No. 5 to give UCLA their second, and last lead. Texas earned its second point with Luis Diaz Barriga taking down Michael Look 6-3, 1-6, 6-2 at No. 4, and Varela completed his comeback with a 3-6, 6-3, 6-0 victory over Meister at No. 6, giving Kutrovsky his chance to finish, and give Texas its first-ever berth in the men's finals.

Texas coach Michael Center is delighted to have the opportunity to compete for a national title.

“It’s exciting. Over the history of our program we are the winningest team in college tennis, but we haven’t really broken through to play for a national championship to give us the credibility that we’re trying to get," Center said. "Now we are in a position to break through. I hope we will be looking for the challenge and can take that next step tomorrow."

It's a step that Georgia has already taken, with the Bulldogs aiming for their sixth national championship Tuesday evening, against a team that they have already beaten this year, at the ITA National Team Indoor 4-2. But Diaz is taking nothing for granted.

"It was one heck of a match. It was a great battle," Diaz said. "They have a very deep and talented squad. They’re just playing outstanding tennis right now. I remember thinking to myself and discussing with my assistant after we lost to Ohio State, I actually told him that I think Texas is a better team than Ohio State. I’m not too surprised. They’re athletic. They’re deep and talented and worthy of being in the finals."

For complete results, see the Tulsa website.

For more coverage of the Georgia Bulldogs, see ajc.com. Atlanta Journal Constitution sportswriter Chip Towers has been onsite in Tulsa throughout the team championships, writing about the men's and women's team from Georgia and the women's Georgia Tech team.

Cal and UCLA Rivalry Continues in National Championship Match Tuesday

©Colette Lewis 2008--
Tulsa, OK--

They've split their previous two matches 4-3, but when UCLA and Cal-Berkeley play the rubber match on Tuesday, it will be for more than Pac 10 bragging rights, as the winner will have earned its first National Championship in women's tennis. Seventh seeded UCLA took down No. 6 Florida 4-2 and No. 8 Cal outlasted fifth ranked Baylor 4-3 to earn their spots in the finals Tuesday afternoon.

The weather in Tulsa, ideal over the tournament's first four days, was more of what was expected during the noon semifinals--low 90s and a hot, steady breeze. The conditions should have favored the teams from Waco, Texas and Gainesville, Florida, but in the deciding match at No. 2 singles, it was Cal freshman Marina Cossou who proved the cooler customer.

After dropping the first set 7-5 to the hard-hitting Ormond, Cossou, also a freshman, took the second set 6-1 and got an early break in the third. Ormond had taken a medical timeout for cramping, and, down 4-2 in the third, took an emergency bathroom break. It didn't bother Cossou, as the right-hander from France took it as a sign of Ormond's fatigue.

"I was very surprised because I didn't know we could go to the toilets at 4-2, but maybe she wanted to go to the bathroom because she's very tired," said Cossour. "So I think it's a big advantage for me. She'd asked for the trainer two games before. So I just tried to stay focused and move around, to jump, and when she came back, I was ready to play."

"I think we realized Ormond was really struggling physically," said Cal's first-year head coach Amanda Augustus, who won two NCAA doubles title as a player at Cal. "Neither one of us knew she could take a bathroom break, but I asked the chair and he said if it's an emergency, she can take one bathroom break. But Marina does a really good job of keeping her focus on what's she's doing. I just reminded her of what the game plan was, because every time Ormond took a break, she came back and blasted a few forehands. The girl has quite a forehand."

Cossou completed Cal's victory 6-2 in the third, seemingly oblivious to the pressure of being the deciding match, and also contributed to Cal domination of the doubles point, posting a win at No. 2 with Claire Ilcinkas, to go with the Bears victory at No. 1.

The singles started out very close with Baylor taking first sets at 1, 2, and 3, while Cal had taken the first sets at 4, 5, 6. Ilcinkas gave Cal point number two, with a 6-2, 6-4 victory over Jana Bielikova, but Baylor got on the board with a 7-5, 6-1 win by Zuznaa Zemenova at No. 1 over Susie Babos in a battle of two former NCAA champions. Baylor tied it when Lenka Broosova took down Christy Visico at No. 3 6-3, 6-2, and took the lead with Jelena Stanivuk's 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 victory over Stephanie Kusano. But Cal was in good position, up a break in the two remaining matches, and Bear Bojana Bobusic closed out Karolina Filipiak at 6-3, 6-4 at No. 6 to set the stage for Cossou's clinching win.

Only seconds before Cossou put the Bears in the final, UCLA had earned their finals berth, with Liz Lumpkin doing the honors for the Bruins at No. 5 singles. Just as in the case of Cal, the clincher had also contributed to the doubles point, as Lumpkin and Stephanie Wetmore had taken their match at No. 2 singles, to help hand Florida its first doubles loss of the season.

"When we had our team meeting, we knew they had never lost a doubles point, and that was our goal, to win this doubles point, because they've never been in a position being down 1-0," said UCLA coach Stella Sampras Webster. "To put them in a position to win 4 out of 6 singles from our team is tough."

Once Alex McGoodwin and Yasmin Schnack had completed the sweep with an 8-5 win at No. 2, Florida was forced to do just that. When Reza Zalameda quickly put the second Bruin point on the board with a dominating 6-2, 6-1 win over Julia Cohen at No. 1, it was looking more and more unlikely that the Gators would prevail.

But Megan Alexander dealt UCLA's Yasmin Schnack her first lost in ten NCAA matches at No. 3 with a 6-4, 6-3 win and Anastasia Revzina pulled them even with a win over McGoodwin at No. 6 by the same score. When freshman Andrea Remynse gave the Bruins a 3-2 lead with a 6-3, 6-4 victory over Whitney Benik, it was up to Gator Marrit Boonstra at No. 5 to keep the Gators alive, and hope that teammate Csilla Borsanyi could win the last two sets from UCLA's Tracy Lin at No. 2, with the second set in its early stages. Boonstra, a freshman from Holland, had taken the second set from Lumpkin 6-2, but got down 3-0, two breaks, in the third and could not find the court with her serve. After Lumpkin, who took every opportunity to close the net and finish the point, held for 5-1, Boonstra held, and the marathon final game with Lumpkin serving for it at 5-2 began.

"I knew she wasn't going to take any risk or chances," said Lumpkin, a senior from Illinois. "It wasn't a matter of trying to wait for her to miss--I had to make her miss. I had several match points, but the strategy was the right thing, and I knew I had to execute, so I just kept going at it, got one and got my part done."

The "several" match points were actually six, with Boonstra handcuffing Lumpkin at the net several times, but eventually the aggressive tactics paid off for Lumpkin, who spoke of the value of having reached the finals last year.

"We can't live off last year, although it helped set up the belief system that we can win a national championship," Lumpkin said. "Although the mentality is a little different, we feel like we're prepared, and we know we have to work as hard as we can to take this championship. They're not going to give it to us."

Cal coach Augustus is excited about the prospect of taking on the Bruins for a third time.

"It's great for our conference. I played in the Pac 10...and I'm honored to now be coaching in that conference," said Augustus, who took over from Jan Brogan, Cal's coac for 29 years prior to retiring last summer. "I've know Stella since I started playing tennis, so I have a lot of respect for Stella and her program at UCLA. It's exciting."

For complete results of the women's semifinals, see the Tulsa website.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Texas Surprises Ohio State; UCLA Surprises Their Coach by Reaching Men's Final Four

©Colette Lewis 2008--
Tulsa, OK--

Ohio State's Ty Tucker was searching for answers when he spoke to the press about the No.2 Buckeye's 4-2 loss at the hands of No. 7 seed Texas Sunday evening.

"We just didn't do what we needed to do at the start of the doubles match," Tucker said of his team's loss at the No. 1 and No. 3 positions. "We gave up 15 minutes of play that I just hadn't seen guys play like that in a while. I don't know if they were tight," he said trailing off, failing to complete the sentence. "Last year the day before the match I overpracticed them in the quarterfinals, we lost; this year I underpracticed them. I just haven't been able to find the right mix. I don't feel I had them ready to play doubles."

Once the singles began, Ohio State took the first set in three of four singles matches including at No. 1 and No. 2 singles. But the Longhorns earned point number two at No. 4 singles when Luis Diaz Barriga closed out Shuhei Uzawa, who did not play in the Buckeyes' tense 4-3 win over Illinois in the Round of 16, 6-1, 2-6, 6-1. About that time, Texas's Kellen Damico and Dimitar Kutrovsky had earned splits at 1 and 2 against Bryan Koniecko and Steven Moneke, and the Buckeyes were in deep trouble. Ohio State's Matt Allare lost 7-6(4), 6-4 to Milan Mihailovic to make it 3-0, meaning that Ohio State needed to win all four matches still on the courts.

Buckeye freshman Balazs Novak gave them hope, with a 6-2, 6-2 victory over Miguel Reyes Varela, and Moneke added a 6-4, 1-6, 6-2 win over Damico, but Kutrovsky was up a break, serving for the match at 5-3 against Koniecko. Koniecko took a medical time out at that juncture, but Kutrovsky was determined to keep his energy and focus.

"I was thinking I had to stay warm, I have to stay active, I can't let this throw me off," said the sophomore from Bulgaria. "I have to play solid points, but still be aggressive."

Koniecko did earn a break point at 30-40, but Kutrovsky confidently put away a short forehand, and a service winner on the next point had the Longhorn fans holding their breath. When Koniecko couldn't keep a forehand in the court, Kutrovsky's teammates leapt down from the stands behind court three, and hurdled the net to engulf him, shouting the Texas....Fight chant all the while.

Coach Michael Center thought his team matched up well against the Buckeyes.

"I felt like we had an edge in the doubles today, and we got that point, and I liked the fact that we had two seniors at 4 and 5 playing two freshmen, felt we had a little bit of an edge there. But I knew knocking out one of the other four guys was going to take a heck of an effort, and we produced it today, with the guy next to me (Kutrovsky) getting it done."

The Longhorns will meet the UCLA Bruins in the semifinals, and no one is more surprised by his team's performance than coach Billy Martin.

"I've said all year long in my 15 years as coach and 10 years as an assistant, that I thought this would be our worse year ever," Martin said of the team that would enter the semfinals 25-1. "We've never not gotten to the quarterfinals, and I thought our ultimate goal would be possibly getting here (round of 16), at the very, very best. I never in my wildest dreams imagined that this team would perform like they have."

Martin credited his two freshman as major factors in the Bruins 4-2 win over Southern California, the third time this season that the Trojans have lost to their crosstown rivals. Freshman Holden Seguso, who had fallen to USC's Kaes Van't Hof in their previous two meetings, took a huge point, the Bruin's third, with a 7-5 7-6(5) win at No. 2 singles, and freshman Nick Meister earned UCLA's second point with a 6-4 6-4 win over Andrew Piotrowski at No. 6.

After taking the doubles point with wins at Nos. 2 and 3, UCLA took the first set in four of the six singles, but USC's Abdullah Magdas evened it with a 6-4, 6-3 decision over Jeremy Drean at No. 5, before Meister and Seguso made their contributions. It was up to USC's Robert Farah at No. 1 to keep his team in it, but he had dropped a tiebreaker to Harel Srugo in the first set, and couldn't fight back when down a break late in the second, with Srugo taking it 7-6(4), 6-3. Srugo was prepared for a physical match, and got it, so winning the first set was crucial.

"The first set was just so long," said Srugo, a senior transfer from Old Dominion. "So I thought whoever is going to win the breaker is going to win the match, because it was going to be so physical. And I'm happy I won it."

Monday's action begins at noon central with the women semifinals: No. 8 Cal versus No. 5 Baylor and No. 7 UCLA versus No. 6 Florida, the first time in women's final four history that none of the top four seeds are represented. The men are scheduled to play at 5 p.m., with No. 4 Georgia against No. 1 Virginia and No. 7 Texas against No. 3 UCLA.

For complete results of the men's quarterfinals, see the Tulsa website.