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Sunday, May 31, 2009

Opening Day of French Juniors, Part II

Late this afternoon, I received a surprise email from Guy McCrea, who you may remember from the outstanding Wimbledon Junior coverage he provided for ZooTennis last year. He is in Paris working on the TV World feed at Roland Garros, and his interest in junior tennis is still keen. He looked in on several U.S. juniors and provided photographs of Evan King, Christina McHale and Alex Domijan. He said that the quality of the King - Gaio match was very high, and that he likes King's game for Wimbledon. He said McHale was playing well in all aspects of her game and also had positive words on Domijan's performance, singling out his serve in particular.

Greg Garber of espn.com somehow found time to check in on the juniors as well, and even with the crisis of the Nadal loss surfacing later in the day, he managed a fine notebook piece on several of the U.S. players, including Tennys Sandgren, who twice hit with Rafael Nadal last week. Please click here for that piece, which is located in the lower right sidebar.

Top Boys Seed Joins Rafa on French Sidelines; Mixed Results for U.S. Juniors

Rafael Nadal isn't the only No. 1 to, as the British say, "crash out" of the French Open Sunday, although the Spaniard was certainly the more surprising one. Boys No. 1 seed Liang-Chi Huang of Chinese Taipei lost to Richard Becker of Germany in three sets in the opening round of the French Open Junior Championships. It was deja vu for Huang, who also drew Becker in the opening round of the Australian Juniors in January, and also won the first set before dropping the final two. Most of Huang's points, which have earned him the No. 4 position in the junior world rankings, have been accumulated in Asia, so unlike Nadal, he was not a favorite to win in Paris, especially since he is still looking for his first single victory in a junior Grand Slam.

Another top junior still seeking a Slam victory is seventh seed Lauren Embree, who lost to 14-year-old Nastja Kolar of Slovenia 6-3, 7-6(5). The other two seeded U.S. junior girls won; qualifier Sloane Stephens (15) the Italian Open girls champion who has yet to lose a junior match in 2009, convincingly beat Quirine Lemoine of the Netherlands 6-1, 6-1 and Christina McHale (14) defeated qualifier Martina Trevisan of Italy 7-6(4), 6-2. Unseeded Beatrice Capra earned her first junior slam win with a 7-6(2), 6-3 decision over wild card Charlotte Rodier of France. Qualifier Mallory Burdette lost to Daria Gavrilova of Russia 6-3, 6-4.

Of the six U.S. boys seeing action today, four lost: NCAA champion Devin Britton to No. 11 seed Gianni Mina of France 6-0, 6-4, Evan King to Frederico Gaio of Italy 6-4, 6-4, qualifier Jordan Cox to Renzo Olivo of Argentina 6-3, 6-3, and Mitchell Frank to Filip Horansky of Slovakia 6-7(5), 6-4, 8-6. No. 13 seed Tennys Sandgren, who has been practicing with Rafael Nadal in Paris, defeated Stanislav Poplavskyy of Ukraine 6-0, 6-3 and Alex Domijan came back to take a 6-7(1), 6-1, 6-1 win over wild card Mick Lescure of France. Domijan will now take on No. 2 seed Bernard Tomic of Australia in a second round match on Monday. Tomic is the subject of this story from the ITF junior website. No. 7 seed Denis Kudla and Harry Fowler will play their first round matches on Monday. For complete draws, see RolandGarros.com.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

NCAA Division I Team Slideshow

As I did last year, I've divided the NCAA slideshow in half. The first one is the team event; the second will consist of the quarterfinalists in singles and semifinalists in doubles.

French Junior Draws Out: UCLA Forfeits 2008 Pac-10 Title

The French Open Junior Championship draws are out, and when play starts on Sunday, there will be eight U.S. boys and five U.S. girls vying for the championship. The seeded U.S. boys are Denis Kudla (7) and Tennys Sandgren (13). The other six boys are NCAA men's singles champion Devin Britton, Alex Domijan, Evan King, Mitchell Frank, Harry Fowler and qualifier Jordan Cox.

In the girls's draw, three of five U.S. girls in the main are seeded: No. 7 Lauren Embree, No. 14 Christina McHale and No. 15 Sloane Stephens, who had to qualify. (The acceptance cutoff and the seeding cutoff are different, and only the latter included her Italian Open results.) Beatrice Capra and qualifier Mallory Burdette are the other two U.S. girls in the field.

Set your alarms if you want to follow via the live scoring Sunday morning with Britton, Cox, Embree and Stephens all first matches on at 5 a.m. Eastern. The rest, except for Kudla and Fowler, who are not scheduled to play Sunday, are up later in the day.

As I reported earlier this morning on Twitter, the 2008 Pac-10 men's tennis title won by UCLA has been forfeited due to the use of an ineligible player. With two conference wins being reversed, the title has now been award to USC. The Pac-10 website's explanation is here.

I'm working on the NCAA slideshows; one of them should be up later this evening.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Coaches Q and A: What Do I Need To Consider When Playing in High Altitude?

Players from Colorado and Utah may take it for granted, but playing tennis in high altitudes can be difficult for those who usually live and train closer to sea level. Harold Solomon of the Harold Solomon Tennis Institute in Fort Lauderdale, Florida provides these tips for coping with the change:

Playing in altitude can be a very challenging experience. At some tournaments high altitude balls are used, which helps negate the effects of the light air, but most tournaments use regular sea level balls and it is imperative that players make the necessary adjustments to be effective.

  • Arrive at the tournament site at least 3 days and if possible 5 days before the event. This helps the player not only get used to the ball "flying," but also helps the player adjust to breathing the lighter air. When playing Davis Cup matches in Mexico City, we would arrive at least 10 days before the match to get adjusted to the conditions.
  • The first day at the site, players should not try to do too much. It should be an easy day of getting the feel for the ball and allowing their bodies to get used to the lack of oxygen.
  • I always used to string my racket 3 to 7 pounds tighter in the altitude to give me more control of the ball. Of course playing in Denver is not as challenging as playing in Mexico City or Bogota, Columbia, so string tension should be adjusted tighter the higher the altitude.
  • It's important to hit the ball with more spin in high altitude situations. The top spin and tighter strings will allow you to still hit the ball and will help stop the ball from flying off your strings.
  • Serving in altitude can be a challenge. It is difficult to sometimes bring the ball down depending on how high the altitude is where you are playing. Generally I suggest taking a little something off the ball at first and hitting with more top spin to increase your chances to getting serves in the court. At very high altitudes, hitting kick second serves for first serves is a way to increase your first serve percentages and also take some pressure off your second serve. especially on big points.
  • Finally high heavy balls and low biting slices are good shots in high altitude. It's hard to get the ball back down after someone hits a high heavy shot up to your backhand and it's not easy to lift the ball on your forehand and bring it back down off of a well-hit slice.
  • Remember, the player who's more consistent and makes fewer unforced errors in altitude is usually the player who comes out on top. Going for winners that work at sea level will not be as effective in high altitude situations.
Do you have a question for Andy Brandi or Harold Solomon? If so, please send it to clewis[at]zootennis[dot]com with the phrase Coaches Q and A in the subject line.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

NCAA Individual Championship Wrap; Men's Recruiting Class Rankings; French Jr. Qualifying Underway

My entry this week for the Tennis Recruiting Network is a review of Monday's NCAA Division I Individual Championships. Although men's champion Devin Britton is in Paris preparing for the French Juniors, women's champion Mallory Cecil is back in Bradenton, taking some time off. The Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy, where she has trained for many years, now has an official blog, and they did this Q and A session with Cecil. Whether she'll return to Duke next year is obviously still an open question.

On Monday, the Tennis Recruiting Network released its spring men's recruiting class rankings, and I was a bit surprised to see that Stanford retained its top spot. I had thought Virginia would move past them with the three spring signings they announced recently, and they did get the most first place votes (including mine), but must not have gotten as many second or third place votes as Stanford. It's interesting to note that the NCAA Champion USC Trojans finished second in last year's spring rankings, behind Stanford. The women's spring recruiting class rankings will be revealed on Monday; last year's top ranking went to Princeton.

Although the French Junior championships don't start until Sunday, qualifying began today. The ITF Junior website does have the qualifying draws up, but no results have been entered. Message boards are reporting that Sloane Stephens, who is the top seed in girls' qualifying, and Mallory Burdette, who is No. 4, won, but I don't have any other information. Results from the Grade 1 Astrid Bowl in Belgium are updated on the tournament's website, with Evan King having advanced to the semifinals. Mitchell Frank's score from his quarterfinal match has not been updated.

Many of the junior girls who did not go to Paris are in the $50,000 Carson Challenger this week. Nicole Gibbs, Kristie Ahn and Stacey Tan, all unseeded, have reached the quarterfinals. Julia Cohen of Miami, who lost in the semifinals of the NCAAs on Sunday, must have gone straight to California from College Station. She too has reached the quarterfinals. See the Pro Circuit results page at usta.com for complete draws.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Wimbledon Acceptances; Larcher de Brito Advances In Paris; Lauren Embree's Blog

The Wimbledon Junior Championships acceptance list was posted today, with four U.S. girls and seven U.S. boys receiving entry into the main draw.

The boys, in order of their ranking at the time of the cutoff, are: Denis Kudla, Tennys Sandgren, Evan King, Alex Domijan, Devin Britton, Harry Fowler and Mitchell Frank. Bob van Overbeek and Jordan Cox are in the qualifying, and JT Sundling is the first alternate, so he is likely to also make the qualifying field.

The girls accepted are Lauren Embree, Beatrice Capra, Christina McHale and Madison Keys. In the qualifying are Sloane Stephens, Nicole Gibbs, Mallory Burdette and Alex Cercone. Gibbs, by the way, is playing the $50,000 Pro Circuit event at Carson this week, and Steve Pratt, who is doing publicity for the tournament, reports that she beat No. 1 seed and 190th-ranked Lindsay Lee-Waters 7-5, 6-4 in a first round match today.

For the complete Wimbledon acceptance list, see the ITF junior website.

Qualifier Michelle Larcher de Brito of Portugal has reached the third round of the French Open, upsetting No. 15 seed Jie Zheng of China 6-4, 6-3. Despite her win, most of the talk surrounding her performances centers on the noise she makes when she's striking the ball. Christopher Clarey writes about that, and her game style, in this story for the New York Times.

Lauren Embree, who is a regular blogger for the USTA, is posting daily on her experience in Paris. Embree, who lost 6-1, 6-2 to No. 11 seed Nadia Petrova of Russia in the first round, is now sightseeing and preparing for the Junior Championships, which begin on Sunday. See usta.com for her blog.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

More on NCAA Champions; Stephens Wins Italian Open

Today is a travel day for me, and after 13 days in Texas, I'm happy to be heading home. After lunch in Houston with with Aaress Lawless, the editor of one of the best tennis sites on the web, On The Baseline, I'll be boarding a plane to Detroit, so I'm setting this to automatically post while I'm in the air.

The AP story on the individual championships can be found here and the College Station-Bryan paper The Eagle gave the tournament great coverage all week, with placement on the front page of the sports section for yesterday's championships.

The men's champion, Devin Britton, got a hero's welcome when he arrived at the Jackson, Miss. airport last night, and the Clarion-Ledger spoke to him and to Ole Miss coach Billy Chadwick for this story.

As I tweeted on Sunday, unseeded Sloane Stephens of the U.S. won the Grade A Italian Open in Milan. The ITF junior website has this story, as well as photos of the event. Stephens is still listed as in qualifying for the French Juniors, but she is only three spots out of the main draw. It goes without saying that she'll be one of the more dangerous unseeded players in the draw.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Freshmen Britton and Cecil Earn NCAA Singles Titles

©Colette Lewis 2009--
College Station, TX--

On a hot and humid Memorial Day, two American teenagers with less than five months of college tennis experience stayed cool under pressure, leaving the George Mitchell Tennis Center on the Texas A & M campus with three NCAA championship trophies between them.

Duke's Mallory Cecil defeated University of Miami junior Laura Vallverdu 7-5, 6-4 to add a women's singles title to the team title she helped Duke win last Tuesday, while Devin Britton of Ole Miss posted a 3-6, 6-2, 6-3 victory over Ohio State senior Steven Moneke, becoming the youngest men's NCAA champion since the current format was adopted in 1977.

Britton, who turned 18 in March, was ranked 30th in the country coming into the individual tournament, but his serve and volley game proved too strong for his six opponents, three of whom were seniors seeded 9-16, including finalist Moneke.

"I definitely surprised myself," Britton said, chuckling. "I definitely didn't see this coming, but I took one match at a time, didn't have any mental lapses really, so that helped out a lot."

After dropping the first set to Moneke, who was returning well and holding serve with little difficulty, Britton regrouped.

"I took a deep breath and said let's try to figure out a way to make him work to hold serve," said the Jackson, Miss. native. "Eventually I started hitting some better forehands, started mixing up the slice a little bit--I don't think he liked that much--and I just got better and better as the match went on."

Moneke had opportunities in the second and third sets, but Britton either came up with a big serve, a deft drop shot or a groundstroke winner to deny them all.

"At 2-all in the second set, I had a couple of break chances," said Moneke. "I had a forehand return and missed it into the net, and when I walked over to my side to sit down, the coach (Mississippi's Billy Chadwick) said, 'this is a momentum change' and I heard it, and thought about it a little bit. It's tough to play against him, because you don't get a lot of rhythm. He misses a lot, but he also goes for his shots. He has great volleys, great anticipation at the net. He's streaky, but he makes a lot of balls too."

Moneke saw evidence of that in the third set, when Britton seized his break point chance with the German serving at 2-3, 30-40. Britton then held easily to take a 5-2 lead, with one big first serve after another, and virtually conceded Moneke's next service game.

"It was hot out there, and I was more tired than nervous," Britton said of the match's final two games. "When he was serving at 5-2, I didn't really want to get into a long game; if I didn't win the first couple of points, I really wasn't going after it. Coach was saying 'make him work for this game,' but I couldn't breathe, so I'm thinking let's not work too hard."

Serving for the championship, Britton was down 15-30, but as it had done all tournament, his serve rescued him. A big second serve got him even and two first serves ended the match, with Moneke more a bystander than a participant in the final three points.

Britton, only the third freshman to win the men's NCAA title since 1977, joining Stanford's John McEnroe and USC's Cecil Mamiit, boards a plane on Tuesday for Europe, where he'll play the French Open and Wimbledon junior tournaments.

"I'm not that worried about the surface," Britton said of the abrupt change to red clay. "I'm more worried about getting some rest before then. I've never played the French Open--it's more like an experience thing," Britton said, then quickly amended that statement. "It's not just experience--I want to win--and I haven't played on clay for a while so I want to see how it goes."

While Britton takes his game to the terre battue of Roland Garros, Cecil will be hitting the silver sands of Siesta Key, Florida for a well-deserved rest.

Monday's match was her ninth singles match in nine days, the first three coming in the team event, with Duke taking out California-Berkeley 4-0 in Tuesday evening's final. With the Blue Devils' first NCAA title in hand, Cecil said all week that she was playing with no pressure, and the freshman from Spartanburg, SC, didn't lose a set in capturing the title, Duke's first since Vanessa Webb's championship in 1998.

In the final, the unseeded Vallverdu stayed with Cecil point for point, breaking the No. 5 seed when she was serving for the opening set at 5-4. But Cecil converted on her second opportunity, breaking Vallverdu to take a 6-5 lead and avoiding a tiebreaker by holding the next game.

Cecil ran out to a 5-1 lead in the second set, but she was unable to serve it out at 5-2. Cecil had multiple match points with Vallverdu serving at 3-5, but Vallverdu, a junior from Venezuela, showed why she has a well-established reputation for fighting back. She made virtually no unforced errors in that long game, served well, and although there were signs that both women were battling fatigue, neither gave into it.

"I knew she just wasn't going to roll over," said Cecil, who defeated Miami's No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 players in the individual tournament. "I wasn't swinging really, I wasn't moving my feet. I definitely tightened up. The fact that I was actually so close, it just hit me. But in that last game, the sun was really in my eyes, so I was just trying to get that serve in, keep going for my shots, and not even think about the score in games, because we still could have had a lot more tennis to go."

Cecil, who turns 19 in July, did finish it, although it took her more than two hours to overcome Vallverdu, who wasn't happy with her own level of play.

"I didn't play my best. I know I didn't play to my potential," Vallverdu said. "I'm happy with the tournament, but I'm certainly not happy that I didn't get the win today. I was struggling a lot with playing the important points...with having my teeth in the match and just finishing the games that I had to finish."

Neither Britton nor Cecil are ruling out a return to college in the fall, and both are hoping for a wild card into the U.S. Open main draw in three months' time.

"Hopefully I can play some Futures this summer and get some results there, and I know in the fall, we're planning to play a bunch of pro stuff," Britton said. "I'd like to build up some points for when I come out of school next year. If it goes well next year, who knows after that? I still have a lot to work on, I still need to get bigger and stronger."

"We'll see how the summer goes," Cecil said. "I've set everything up as if I'm coming back next year. I've got all my classes, my roommate. I'm going to play, set a goal that I'd like to have by the end of this summer, and we'll go from there. I'm really enjoying college and college tennis, so why not look at another year?"

The University of Virginia earned its first NCAA doubles title to go with the two singles titles won by Cavalier Somdev Devvarman in 2007 and 2008 when unseeded Dominic Inglot and Michael Shabaz came back to defeat the No. 2 seeds Davey Sandgren and JP Smith of Tennessee 3-6, 7-6(4), 6-4.

"We’ve been here (in College Station) for 16 days now," said Shabaz, a sophomore from Virginia. "We discussed that if we were going to stay here, we might as well go for it. It heals things a little easier, because we were the top seed in the team tournament and that didn’t go through. It means a lot, it's kind of its own meaning, but we're really happy with it.”

Inglot, a senior from England, was pleased to close his college career with a win.

"I've had a great career, we've won two National Indoors, three ACC titles, and just to top it off with a national championship, finish without a loss, that really means a lot to me."

The women's doubles champions were new to college tennis, but California-Berkeley's Mari Andersson of Sweden and Jana Jurikova of Slovakia, both first-year players, now have a national title on their resume, although they are still one short of coach Amanda Augustus who won back-to-back championships with Amy Jensen in 1998 and 1999.

Although their 6-3, 6-4 win over Stanford's Hilary Barte and Lindsay Burdette may sound routine, it was a lengthy struggle between 5-8 seeded Pac-10 rivals that lasted nearly as long as the men's three-setter on the adjacent court.

"They didn't want to go home with two silver trophies," said Augustus, referring to the Bears loss to Duke in the team championships. "We've been working really hard all season with these guys on their doubles and to see it culminate in this is really great for our school, and I know everyone back at Cal is going to be so proud."

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Cecil and Vallverdu Will Decide Women's NCAA Individual Championship on Monday

©Colette Lewis 2009—
College Station, TX--

The history between ACC rivals Miami and Duke will have a new chapter written on Monday, when the Blue Devils' Mallory Cecil and Hurricanes' Laura Vallverdu meet in the NCAA women's individual championship.

Cecil helped Duke eliminate Miami in the quarterfinals of the team event on their way to the school's first national championship, and she continued her recent dominance of the Hurricanes' No. 1 player on Sunday, defeating No. 2 seed Julia Cohen 6-1, 6-0.

But waiting in the wings for the fifth seed is Miami's No. 2, Laura Vallverdu, who withstood both the powerful game of No. 8 seed Chelsey Gullickson and a nearly two-hour rain delay to take a 6-4, 5-7, 6-4 decision from the Georgia freshman.

Vallverdu, a junior from Venezuela, served for the match twice in the second set, and had a match point at 5-4, but she didn't convert it, and Gullickson won five straight games to even the match. In the final game of that second set, Vallverdu double faulted twice, and momentum was definitely in Gullickson's favor when she took the first game of the third set.

But Vallverdu is nothing if not feisty, and she came back to even the match at 3 when lightning caused play to be suspended. Approximately 30 minutes later, a light rain began to fall, producing a delay that Vallverdu viewed as an advantage.

"I honestly think it was good for me," Vallverdu said. "I came back from 3-1 down, but I caught myself saying 'yes' when they said stop the match because I knew I needed time to settle down. I knew I needed to get my thoughts back from that second set. I was talking to my dad, talking to friends and I just kind of relaxed for a little bit. I was visualizing a lot."

When play resumed, Gullickson won her serve to take a 4-3 lead and Vallverdu probably wasn't envisioning going down 0-40 in her service game. But she won the next five points in that game, and four of the next five on Gullickson's serve.

"I was not aware of what was happening really," Vallverdu said of her play in those two games. "I told myself to be in just a little bubble I call it, and not even think about what's happening. I just told myself to keep my emotions in and focus on the little yellow thing."

Gullickson credited Vallverdu with raising her level during that stretch.

"I feel like she definitely stepped up her game from that 40-love game on," Gullickson said. "She was making more balls, being more aggressive."

In her quarterfinal win against Marrit Boonstra of Florida, Vallverdu also squandered a second set match point and was extended to three sets, but the woman who calls herself a "little running machine" preferred recalling her third round victory over LSU's Megan Falcon. In that match she was down a set and 5-2 before winning the final 11 games.

"I came back from 5-2 down and I saw that that could happen," Vallverdu said. "It's just too exciting."

In her third attempt to serve out the match, at 5-4 in the third set, Vallverdu, who can be volatile on the court, finished it off without much drama, although she gave a loud scream along with a two-handed skyward fist pump at the end of the match.

Cecil, her opponent in the final, has scouting reports, of course, from her teammate Ellah Nze, who has played Vallverdu in the previous team matches, but the two have never played before.

"I've only seen her a little, and I don't really know that much about her," said Cecil, who joined the Blue Devils in January. "At this point right now, it's another player. I'm not really thinking about what school they're from or where they played on their team. If she's in the finals of the NCAAs, she's a good player."

Cecil was able to dominate Cohen in their last three meetings by using her swinging volleys to finish points.

"She's got that game style where she'll just hang in there with you and if you get agitated or anything like that, she can run with it," Cecil said.

Playing a match for the eighth straight day, Cecil is a veteran of the ice bath, but feels it's her mind that's the key to staying sharp through the fatigue.

"It's all mental for me," said Cecil. "It's all mental for all of us. I feel really match tough, and I'm just kind of using the momentum I have right now. Now I know it's one more match, so I'm leaving everything out on that court tomorrow."

The doubles finalists were determined Sunday afternoon, and in the men's championship it will be Virginia's Dominic Inglot and Michael Shabaz against Tennessee's Davey Sandgren and JP Smith. The unseeded Inglot and Shabaz defeated unseeded Clay Donato and Taylor Fogleman of North Carolina 4-6, 6-4, 6-4, while No. 2 seeds Sandgren and Smith earned their spot in the final with an efficient 6-4, 6-2 victory over unseeded Tim Puetz and Alexey Tsyrenov of Auburn.

The women's doubles championship will feature two Pac-10 teams with 5-8 seeding.

Mari Andersson and Jana Juricova of Cal got past unseeded Csilla Borsanyi and Lenka Broosova of Baylor 6-4, 6-3 in one semifinal, and Hilary Barte and Lindsay Burdette of Stanford squeeked past unseeded Natalie Pluskota and Caitlin Whoriskey of Tennessee 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (4), finishing just as another round of severe weather was descending on College Station.

The doubles finals are schedule for 10 a.m. Monday, with the singles finals slated for an 11 a.m. start.

For complete results, see aggieathletics.com

Britton and Moneke Play for NCAA Men's Title Monday

©Colette Lewis 2009--
College Station, TX--

Ole Miss freshman Devin Britton and Ohio State senior Steven Moneke will meet Monday for the NCAA Men's Individual Championships, new territory for a competitor from those two schools.

Britton downed 9-16 seed Blake Strode of Arkansas 7-6 (9), 6-4, while Moneke, a 9-16 seed, defeated Sanam Singh of Virginia 6-1, 4-6, 6-3 Sunday, under threatening skies at the George Mitchell Tennis Center.

The first few games of the two men's semifinals were played with intermittent raindrops dotting the court, but by the third game, they had stopped falling.

Moneke had rolled past Singh in the first set and had two points to take a 5-2 lead in the second, but the Cavalier sophomore extricated himself from that predicament, sweeping the next four games and ending the set with a dazzling crosscourt angle forehand winner.

"All the momentum is with me after that set point," Singh said, "but I just played a really bad first game, made three or four unforced errors, and didn't really make him work for the first three games at all. I just gave the first two games to him, then starting playing again, but sometimes it's just too late."

Moneke, who has played at least one match and often two the past eight days, was happy to get the early third-set lead after Singh's change of tactics were successful in the second set.

"He's very dangerous to play, he can mix it up very good, drop shot, come into the net, slice a lot, it's very tough to play," said Moneke, a 22-year-old from Germany. "He changed his strategy and I had trouble getting used to that, but kept fighting. I knew if I got an early break in the third set, I had a good chance to close it out.

Moneke kept his lead throughout the third set, and was fully prepared to face the nerves of serving out the match when Singh took a 30-0 lead serving at 5-3. But four points later, Moneke had earned a spot in the final.

"He missed an easy forehand volley, and all of a sudden it was 30-all," Moneke said. "I hit a great forehand down the line passing shot, and on match point, I knew I was going to go for my return. I don't want to play too defensive, I just want to go for it, no regrets. He served to my forehand and I hit a pretty hard return. He served and volleyed, and missed the volley."

In Britton's quarterfinal win over Alex Clayton, it was his service return that proved the difference, but against Strode, the 18-year-old Mississippi resident's serve came through when he needed it.

"I definitely served very well today," Britton said. "He was serving pretty well also, but played a couple of games where he missed a bunch of first serves. I was lucky to get out of the first set when he was serving at 5-3."

Strode never got to set point in that game, but with Britton serving at 5-6, the senior from St. Louis had the freshman down 0-40. Britton saved the first two set points with a service winner and an ace, got another first serve in on the third set point and Strode's floating return resulted in an easy putaway. Two more first serves and Britton had gotten the set to a tiebreaker.

"Three set points and I didn't play bad points, it was just three good serves," Strode said. "When he serves that big, there's not really much I can do about that."

Britton had a 2-0 lead in the tiebreaker, but after that neither player led by more than one point. Strode saved three set points at 6-5, 7-6 and 8-7, then earned his fourth chance to end the set at 9-8. But Britton hit a service winner on that point and had a volley clip the net and fall in--his second net cord-aided winner of the tiebreaker--on the next. At 10-9, Britton finally closed it out with a forehand winner.

In the second set, Strode was broken at 3-4, giving Britton a chance to serve it out, but Strode made two winning passes at 30-30 to get back on serve. He couldn't buy a first serve in the next game however, and Britton eventually took advantage, converting his second match point when Strode came to the net and failed to finish the point.

"He probably could have made more first serves in that game and I was lucky to get a look at some second serves and take advantage of it," Britton said.

Although the NCAAs are new to Britton, who began school in Oxford in January, he is hardly unaccustomed to the big occasion. Last September he reached the U.S. Open Junior finals as a qualifier, a run that has parallels to this week's.

"It definitely helps a lot," said Britton. "It feels like a similar thing here, just kind of building the confidence round by round. I learned a lot from the U.S. Open and I'm trying to carry it over through here as well."

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Top Seeds Leave Quietly in Men's and Women's Individual Quarterfinals

©Colette Lewis 2009--
College Station, TX--

The top seeds in the NCAA individual tournament were eliminated Saturday morning at the George Mitchell Tennis Center on the campus of Texas A&M University.

First to fall was Northwestern's Maria Mosolova, who had lost the opening set in her previous two matches and had gone three sets in all three wins. No. 8 seed Chelsey Gullickson of Georgia, down 4-1 in the second set against Mosolova, won the last five games of the match, using her considerable power to regain the momentum.

"She stepped her game up a little more and I had some silly points here and there," Gullickson said of Mosolova's start in the second set. "But when I went down 4-1, I went back to my game plan in the first set, picking on her forehand a little bit more, staying consistent and keeping balls in the court, staying positive. I got a little agitated when I went down 4-1, but I tried to stay positive and talk to Jeff (Wallace, head coach) and have Jeff help me through it."

Gullickson, who has not lost a set in College Station and has a 16-match winning streak, also beat Mosolova at the Team Indoor in February. With the Bulldogs reaching the semifinals in the team event, Gullickson is happy she has not spent long hours on the court since.

"We're all tired out here from the team (event)," Gullickson said. "I try to keep that out of my mind. My main thing is just being focused, keep my matches as short as possible--this is like my tenth day playing a match. My focus has done really well the past couple days, and I feel like each day it's getting better and better and better. But I'm just taking one day at a time. I feel like I've been here for the past month."

Virginia's Sanam Singh has also been in College Station since the start of the team event, although with the Cavaliers' loss in the quarterfinals to eventual champion USC, he did have a bit more rest than Gullickson. The unseeded Singh, who has played No. 2 singles for Virginia most of the year, has, like Gullickson, been rolling in the individual tournament. He had not lost a set against Rice's Christopher Muller, Texas's Dimitar Kutrovsky, and Tennessee's JP Smith, the No. 6 seed. And that streak didn't end against No. 1 Arnau Brugues of Tulsa, with Singh taking a 6-2, 6-4 victory.

A key point in the match came at 3-4 in the second set, when Singh was down 0-40 on his serve. Keeping his composure, he won five straight points, broke Brugues in the next game, and just like that, he was serving for the match.

"I felt that was the match right there," Singh said. "The love-40 game was huge. I played really well today. I came into the match thinking, ‘I’m just going to play freely. I have nothing to lose.'"

Asked about filling the shoes of two-time NCAA champion Somdev Devvarman, his countryman, who played in three straight NCAA singles finals, the first as a sophomore in 2006, Singh deflected any comparison.

"Somdev actually texted me yesterday and said good match," Singh said. "He's at the French right now; we're good friends. I'm not thinking that I'm going to win two NCAA titles. I'm just taking it match by match, and hopefully I can play the same way tomorrow and keep it going."

Singh's opponent will be another senior, Ohio State's Steven Moneke, who has been on the court playing singles and/or doubles for seven consecutive days. The 9-16 seed, who has reached the semifinals for the first time after two straight years as a quarterfinalist, defeated Kentucky's Bruno Agostinelli, the No. 5 seed 6-3, 2-6, 6-2 Saturday, becoming the first Buckeye to reach that round in the NCAAs.

The other semifinal will feature two players on opposite ends of SEC collegiate careers: Ole Miss freshman Devin Britton and Arkansas senior Blake Strode. Britton came back to defeat Stanford's Alex Clayton, a semifinalist in 2008, 4-6, 7-6 (3), 6-4, while Strode sent the several hundred Aggie fans home disappointed by ousting Conor Pollock of Texas A&M 6-3, 4-6, 6-4.

Britton lost his serve in the match's opening game, but wasn't broken the rest of the way. In the tiebreaker that he had to win to keep the match going, Britton hit three return winners on second serves by Clayton, putting the Cardinal sophomore on notice that first serves were necessary in the third set.

Both held until 3-3, when a Clayton double fault on break point put Britton in the lead. With Britton serving at 15-15 in the next game, Clayton was overruled for the third time in the match on a Britton volley near the baseline and the unsportsmanlike conduct penalty point made it 40-15. Britton held for 5-3, and Clayton held to force the freshman to serve it out. Nerves did appear to lead to a double fault at 15-15, but Britton played fearlessly on the following 15-30 point, serving and volley on a second serve, hitting a short inside out volley winner off an excellent return to make it 30-all. An ace and a service winner later, and the match was over.

On the No. 1 court on the Stadium side, Strode was down an early break in the third set to Pollock, but he immediately got it back to make it 2-2.

"He had a lot of momentum coming into the third set, and when he got that early break it was definitely an important point in the match for me to get that break back," said Strode, who like Pollock, is a 9-16 seed.

Neither player surrendered a break the rest of the way until Pollock was serving at 4-5. At 30-all, Pollock hit a wild forehand to give Strode his first match point. Pollock took his time, going to his towel as the crowd yelled encouragement. But a good return on an excellent first serve handcuffed Pollock, and his response didn't make it over the net, ending the two-and-a-half hour contest. Moments later, the dark clouds moved over the stadium, and the rain began.

The two-hour delay disrupted only one singles quarterfinal, with No. 2 seed Julia Cohen of Miami needing to come back out nearly two hours later to complete her 7-5, 5-7, 6-1 win over unseeded Sanaz Marand of North Carolina. Cohen was up 4-0 and two break points on Marand's serve when the brief shower started.

Cohen's teammate, unseeded Laura Vallverdu, had already reached the semifinals, with a 6-1, 6-7(9), 6-3 win over Marrit Boonstra of Florida. At 6-1, 5-3, Vallverdu had a match point, but she admitted that she got ahead of herself.

“I don’t know why, but when I was up 5-3 in the second I just got so nervous," said the junior. "I don’t think I’ve ever felt that feeling in my life. My arms started feeling heavy, my legs, everything. I guess I just got a little overwhelmed with the fact that I was going to get to the semis."

Vallverdu will face Gullickson in Sunday's semifinal, while Cohen will hope to avenge her team championship loss to Duke freshman Mallory Cecil, who defeated No. 3 seed Aurelija Miseviciute of Arkansas 6-3, 6-3. The fifth-seeded Cecil, who has also played matches in seven consecutive days, has beaten Cohen the last two times they have played, with Cohen winning their first encounter back in March.

The seeded doubles teams have mostly departed, with only one Top 4 seeded team still in the running for either the men's or women's titles.

Tennessee's Davey Sandgren and JP Smith, the No. 2 seeds, are that one team, after they defeated the 5-8 seeds from Wake Forest, Steve Forman and Cory Parr, 6-3, 6-7(4), 6-3. Sandgren and Smith will face unseeded Tim Puetz and Alexey Tsyrenov of Auburn in one semifinal. Puetz and Tsyrenov came back to defeat No. 4 seeds Jamie Hunt and Nate Schnugg of Georgia 3-6, 6-2, 6-3. The other men's doubles semifinal features two unseeded teams. Virginia's Dominic Inglot and Michael Shabaz, who defeated 5-8 seeds Omar Altmann and Basam Beidas of Pepperdine 6-4, 6-2, and North Carolina's Clay Donato and Taylor Fogleman, who beat 5-8 seeds Austin Krajicek and Pollock 6-4, 6-4 Saturday afternoon, much to the dismay of the Aggie fans who returned after the rain delay to cheer them on.

The top-seeded women's team from Fresno State, Renata Kucerkova and Anastasia Petukhova, lost to 5-8 seeds Mari Andersson and Jana Juricova of Cal 7-6(1), 6-3 in a match interrupted by the rain. The Bear team will face another Bear team, but not from Cal, rather the unseeded Baylor team of Csilla Borsanyi and Lenka Broosova. Borsanyi and Broosova downed Arizona State's Micaela Hein and Kelcy McKenna 6-3, 6-0. Tennessee has a women's team joining their men in making a semifinal appearance, with Natalie Pluskota and Caitlin Whoriskey earning their spot with a 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 victory over Josipa Bek and Ina Hadziselimovic of Clemson. Pluskota and Whoriskey will meet Stanford's Hilary Barte and Lindsay Burdette, a 5-8 seeded team, who defeated Northwestern's Lauren Lui and Georgia Rose 6-2, 3-6, 6-4.

For complete results, see the aggieathletics website. For additional coverage, see College Tennis Examiner and the Bryan-College Station daily paper, The Eagle

Stephens Beats Robson in Italy; UC-Santa Cruz and Williams are D-III Champions

Before matches start this morning in College Station, I wanted to note yesterday's results in the ITF Junior Grade A in Milan, where Sloane Stephens and Christina McHale will meet for a spot in the final. The unseeded Stephens cruised past No. 1 seed Laura Robson on Friday, defeating the 2008 Wimbledon Junior Champion 6-4, 6-0. McHale, seeded 15th, beat Camila Silva of Chile, the sixth seed 6-1 6-4 to set up a rematch of last year's Orange Bowl semifinal, which McHale won 5-7, 6-1, 7-5. McHale is actually the only seed remaining, with the other semifinal featuring Aleksandra Krunic of Serbia and Ksenia Kirillova of Russia. The ITF junior website's rather awkward (translated?) story can be found here.

Thursday's Division III Championships went to UC-Santa Cruz and Williams, two programs that are no strangers to national titles. Santa Cruz, the 2007 champions, did it again this year, blanking Amherst 5-0 in the final. The women's title went to Williams for the second straight year, and it was also at the expense of Amherst, who fell 5-2 in the championship match.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Strode Ousts No. 2 Seed Nedovyesov; Singh Takes Out Smith in NCAA Men's Third Round Action Friday

©Colette Lewis 2009--
College Station, TX--

The wind picked up Friday at the George Mitchell Tennis Center at Texas A & M University giving the 32 competitors left in the NCAA Singles National Championships another challenge to address.

Blake Strode of Arkansas, a 9-16 seed, served for the first set against No. 2 seed Oleksandr Nedovyesov of Oklahoma State, but couldn't finish it, losing a tiebreaker 7-6(4). But the 21-year-old senior found the key in the second set and picked up steam in the third winning those two sets 6-4, 6-2.

"I had opportunities in the first set, so I told myself I couldn't check out, I had to stay tough, keep playing," said Strode, the ITA Arthur Ashe Sportsmanship Award winner. "It's easy after that disappointment to go away, and I didn't want to do that."

After getting down a second break in the third set, Nedovyesov, a junior who was ranked No. 1 in the Campbell/ITA preseason rankings, didn't look as if he believed he could come back. Strode's forehand was finding the corners and Nedovyesov was doing a lot of running from side to side.

"He made a lot of errors at the end," Strode said. "I don't know if it was out of frustration or fatigue, I don't know what it was, but he certainly did make a lot of errors there at the end. It never comes easy, so I'll take them how I can get them."

The second Top 8 seed to exit in Friday's round of 16 was 2008 NCAA finalist JP Smith of Tennessee, seeded sixth. Last year, it was Cavalier senior Somdev Devvarman who put an end to his NCAA title hopes; this year it was Virginia's Sanam Singh, who defeated his fellow sophomore 6-4, 7-5.

Singh's opponent in Saturday's quarterfinal is top seed Arnau Brugues of Tulsa, who had had a 80-minute first set tussle with unseeded Omar Altmann of Pepperdine before wearing him down 7-6(3), 6-3.

The other quarterfinal in that half features Ohio State's Steven Moneke, a 9-16 seed, who came back to defeat Jay Weinacker of North Carolina State. Moneke, a quarterfinalist in last year's NCAA individual tournament, will face No. 5 seed Bruno Agostinelli of Kentucky, a 6-4, 6-1 winner over USC's Steve Johnson.

While the upper half features an all-international quartet, the bottom half has four Americans contending for the semifinals.

The last freshman remaining, Devin Britton of Mississippi, continued his excellent play in College Station, defeating unseeded Bruno Rosa of Rice 6-3, 6-4. Britton trailed Rosa 3-0 in the second set, but got that break back and another at 4-4, and although he needed three match points, Britton did finish off the sophomore from Brazil, who had saved five match points in a comeback win on Thursday.

"He came out just firing, and I didn't make many first serves in my first service game," said Britton of Rosa's hot start. "He played a very good couple of games, then at 3-0 I played a good service game, and from then on, it was the best I'd played in a while. I was hitting my ground strokes well, was returning well and serving very well too."

Britton will face unseeded Alex Clayton of Stanford, who defeated 9-16 seed Nate Schnugg of Georgia 6-4, 7-6(4). Despite their time together as juniors at Bollettieri's, where they occasionally trained together, the two have never played. Clayton reached the NCAA semifinals last year, losing to eventual champion Devvarman.

And the Aggie fans will have the place rocking Saturday, with Texas A & M's Conor Pollock reaching the quarterfinals, where he'll play Strode. Pollock, a 9-16 seed, ended the run of Dean Jackson of San Diego 4-6, 6-3, 6-4. His contest with Strode will also be the first time those two Americans have encountered each other in a competitive match.

The women's draw was more according to form on Friday, although No. 7 seed Hilary Barte of Stanford was a casualty, losing to Marrit Boonstra of Florida, a 9-16 seed, 7-5, 6-1. Boonstra will face unseeded Laura Vallverdu of Miami, who came back from a set and at least one break down to roll past Megan Falcon of LSU, a 9-16 seed, 3-6, 7-5, 6-0.

The top half of the draw saw No. 1 seed Maria Mosolova of Northwestern survive yet another grueling three-setter, this time against Team tournament MVP Reka Zsilinszka of Duke. Zsilinszka was up a break in the final set, but Mosolova remained patient, and eked out a 4-6, 6-2, 6-4 win. The sophomore from Moscow will face Georgia freshman Chelsey Gullickson, who got by 9-16 seed Jana Juricova of Cal 6-3, 7-6(5).

Another freshman, Duke's Mallory Cecil, the fifth seed, also reached the quarterfinals, taking out unseeded Bianca Eichkorn of Miami 6-2, 7-5. Her opponent will be third-seeded Arkansas senior Aurelija Miseviciute, the two-time ITA Indoor champion, who beat Josipa Bek of Clemson 6-4, 6-4. Unseeded Sanaz Marand from North Carolina, who grew up in Katy, Texas, has been rolling through opponents this week, and today she overwhelmed unseeded Laura Gioia of Furman 6-1, 6-1. She will play No. 2 seed Julia Cohen, who eliminated Duke's Ellah Nze 6-4, 6-4.

The doubles second round was completed Friday evening, and women's No. 2 seeds Kristy Frilling and Kelcy Tefft of Notre Dame were beaten by Natalie Pluskota and Caitlin Whoriskey of Tennessee 7-6(4), 6-3. Top women's seeds and ITA Indoor champions Renata Kucerkova and Anastasia Pethukhova of Fresno State survived in three sets against Nadine Fahoum and Charleen Haarhoff of Old Dominion.

The defending NCAA doubles champion Robert Farah of USC will not win a second, as he and partner Johnson, seeded 5-8, lost to the Auburn team of Tim Puetz and Zlexey Tsyrenov 6-3, 6-4. Texas A&M's Pollock is the only player to make the quarterfinals in singles and doubles, and the Aggie faithful are hoping that he and partner Austin Krajicek can improve on last year's NCAA performance, when the pair reached the semifinals in Tulsa.

Due to forecasts of inclement weather, i.e. thunderstorms, the quarterfinal matches, originally scheduled for noon, have been moved up to 10:00 a.m.

For complete scores, see the aggieathletics website.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Top Seeds Struggle but Advance, Defending Champion Falls in NCAA Second Round

©Colette Lewis 2009--
College Station, TX

Top seeds Arnau Brugues of Tulsa and Maria Mosolova of Northwestern were side by side on Stadium Courts 1 and 2 at the George Mitchell Tennis Center Thursday morning, and both had dropped the opening set. Brugues turned his match with Roy Kalmanovich of Illinois around in the second set, and the left-handed senior's physical strength eventually wore down Kalmanovich 4-6, 6-1, 6-3.

Mosolova, playing in her second straight three-setter, had an even tougher time putting away Noemi Scharle of Florida State, taking their contest 3-6, 6-4, 7-5. Scharle, a freshman from Luxembourg, began experiencing cramps in her foot late in the third set, and it definitely inhibited her movement in the final three games.

Clemson's Ani Mijacika, seeded fourth, did not escape Thursday as she did in Wednesday's first round, when down a set and a break, she came back to defeat Marta Lesniak of SMU 6-7(3), 6-4, 7-5. Today she was facing the tough veteran Laura Vallverdu of Miami, who capitalized on her opportunities for a 7-6(0), 7-6(3) win.

Vallverdu is one of three Miami players to reach the round of 16. Bianca Eichkorn and No. 2 seed Julia Cohen also advanced today. Eichkorn took out UCLA's Yasmin Schnack, a 9-16 seed, who was up 3-0 in the second set and lost the last six games of the match.

Duke also placed three players in the final 16, especially surprising given the usual team championship letdown. Playing for the fifth day in a row, Reka Zsilinszka, Ellah Nze and Mallory Cecil all advanced in straight sets on a seasonably warm day in College Station; Cecil's win was notable for being over defending NCAA champion Amanda McDowell of Georgia Tech. It was the freshman Cecil who was seeded, however, and although the No. 5 seed doesn't feel she is playing brilliant tennis, she managed a 6-4, 6-4 victory.

"I feel like I'm fighting really well," said Cecil, who joined the Blue Devils in January. "I can definitely tell that all of us are a little fatigued right now, but I think that's pretty normal. We're resting as much as we can. But I just feel that all of us are just so match tough, that that's what is keeping us out there, keeping us ahead in some of these matches. We've been in so many situations in our singles matches, nothing's really getting to us right now."

As unseeded players reaching the round of 16, Vallverdu, Eichkorn, Nze and Zsilinszka all earned All-American honors today. (Those seeded already were assured of that designation prior to the competition). Sanaz Marand of North Carolina and Laura Gioia of Furman, who play each other on Friday, also achieved that coveted status.

On the men's side, two freshman who faced each other last year in Kalamazoo's fourth round, Steve Johnson of USC and Devin Britton of Ole Miss (Johnson won 6-3, 6-3), have claimed All-American honors. Johnson gutted out a 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 win over Guillermo Gomez of Georgia Tech and is actually the only player remaining who still has an opportunity to win the rare triple crown of team, singles and doubles championships.

Britton defeated Dom Inglot of Virginia 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 in a match of big servers that I'm told had only one rally that reached eight shots. It was either a serve winner, a return error, a first volley winner, first volley error--you get the idea. Britton plays Bruno Rosa of Rice who had the comeback of the day, saving five match points and digging out of a 7-5, 5-1 hole against Clint Bowles of Florida State, and going on to win the final 12 games of the match.

The unseeded Rosa joins Stanford's Alex Clayton, who beat No. 3 seed Bryan Koniecko of Ohio State 6-3, 6-7(5), 6-1, Pepperdine's Omar Altmann, Virginia's Sanam Singh, North Carolina State's Jay Weinacker and San Diego's Dean Jackson as All-Americans.

Jackson had the biggest win, taking out No. 7 seed and 2008 D'Novo All-American champion Michael Venus of LSU 7-6(7), 6-3. Venus can blast some people off the court, but Jackson, a sophomore from Germany, is not one of them. I saw Jackson take Baylor's Lars Poerschke to three sets in last year's first round, and his lefty forehand can be absolutely lethal.

Doubles got underway today, and there were the usual array of exciting matches. I watched most of No. 4 seeds Nate Schnugg and Jamie Hunt of Georgia's 4-6, 6-3, 7-6(4) win over Virginia's Houston Barrick and Singh. This was a rematch of the ITA Team Indoor finals' No. 1 doubles matchup, which Barrick and Singh won in a tiebreaker to give Virginia the doubles point. The Cavaliers were serving for today's match at 5-4 in the third, but couldn't finish it, and this time Hunt and Schnugg played a better tiebreaker to take the win.

Barrick and Singh's teammates fared better, with Inglot and Michael Shabaz eliminating the top-seeded team of Jonas Berg and Bram ten Berge of Ole Miss 6-7(5), 6-3, 6-4. Berg and ten Berge have not been playing well the past two weeks, so although it looks like a big upset, it really isn't that surprising.

For complete results, see the aggieathletics website.

Marcia Frost returned to Illinois today, but her coverage will continue at College Tennis Examiner.

NCAA Division I Team Recap; D III Finals Thursday; ITA Men's Collegiate Hall of Fame Dinner

My weekly article for the Tennis Recruiting Network is a recap of the USC men's and Duke women's NCAA Division I team championship wins. Those of you who followed my tournament coverage on this site over the past week have seen it; those of you who just want to review the tournament's last matches can click here.

The Division III mens finals are today at Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, with the Amherst men taking on UC-Santa Cruz, the 2008 champions. Ken Thomas is providing a webcast of the final at radiotennis.com Thursday at 10:00 a.m. PDT. The women's D III final also features Amherst; they play Williams in the final in Lawrenceville, Georgia.

The ITA Men's Collegiate Hall of Fame banquet last night was a special one for me, with Brian Garman, one the USTA Boys 18s and 16s National Championships' most valuable contributors, being inducted. Brian's contribution, not to just junior and college tennis, but tennis period, is the match scheduling system that minimizes tournament delays and allows players to know, with great accuracy, what time they will take the court. This NCAA tournament at College Station is his 30th. Congratulations Brian, you've earned this honor many times over!

For the complete list of this year's inductees, see the ITA website.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Tennis Today, Speeches Tonight

©Colette Lewis 2009--
College Station, TX--

The first day of individual singles is always a strange one at the NCAA tournament. There's excitement, of course, especially for those who weren't involved in the team tournament, but those of us who watched the team finals are understandably a bit groggy.

Tonight I'm attending the ITA Collegiate Hall of Fame ceremony, to witness Nats at the Zoo colleague and friend Brian Garman's induction, so I won't be able to stay for the late matches this evening, to see how the Duke women handle the challenge of getting right back on the courts less than 24 hours after collecting their National Championship trophy, and how the Cal women deal with the disappointment of losing in the final again. So far the Ohio State men have done well today, with Buckeye Steven Moneke (9-16) defeating ITA Freshman of the Year Bradley Klahn of Stanford in two tiebreak sets and OSU's Bryan Koniecko (3) beating freshman Carlos Cueto of Florida 6-3, 6-2, although Justin Kronauge fell to Dean Jackson of San Diego 6-4, 4-6, 6-4.
USC split their singles matches Wednesday with Trojan Steve Johnson defeating Kalle Norberg of Ole Miss 6-3, 7-6 and tournament MVP Robert Farah losing to Rice's Bruno Rosa 7-5, 7-6(6).

There have been a couple of Top Eight seeds falling today, with Arizona's Natasha Marks taking out No. 6 seed Fani Chifchieva of Auburn 6-4, 6-4. Marks, a freshman from England, was surprised to learn that her opponent had reached the semifinals in last year's individual tournament.

"Because I'm a freshman, I didn't really know many of these girls, so I'm just going in playing tennis and seeing where it gets me, just going out and playing," said Marks, who reached the final of the PAC-10 individual tournament in Ojai unseeded, and drew confidence from that.

"I think I beat two girls from Cal who were very good, and I played a good match against (USC's Amanda) Fink in the final, she's a great player."

Another surprise today was the loss by No. 4 seed Denes Lukacs of Baylor to Diego Cubas of South Carolina 2-6, 6-4, 6-4. I saw only points here and there, but Lukacs had trouble ending points against Cubas, who played defense well and hit out when he had the opportunity.

For complete scores, see the aggieathletics website.

And if you're not watching the Twitter feed, you are missing some scoops. John Isner has mono and is out of the French Open; USC men's assistant Brett Masi has accepted the head coaching job at University of San Diego.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Duke Claims Its First NCAA Women's Tennis Title with 4-0 Victory Over Cal

©Colette Lewis 2009--
College Station, TX--

When you're seeking your first NCAA team tennis championship, you look for omens everywhere and Duke coach Jamie Ashworth found one in the soundtrack playing as his team warmed up for the women's final against California-Berkeley Tuesday evening on the grandstand courts.

"It was a good sign when we were warming up, everyone was a little bit nervous, and a Jimmy Buffett song came on," Ashworth said. "I'm a huge Jimmy Buffett fan and they hate Jimmy Buffett music. I play it at practice sometimes. And right before we were starting the doubles, a Jimmy Buffett song came on and they all started laughing. It was unbelievable timing, and it relaxed us, took away our nervous energy."

Whatever it was that allowed the third-seed Duke team to play fearless tennis, there's no denying they did, blanking Cal-Berkeley 4-0 to secure their first NCAA tennis title in front of a sparse crowd at the George Mitchell Tennis Center.

The Bears suffered a serious blow when senior Claire Ilcinkas, playing on the No. 2 doubles court, went down late in the match. With her right calf taped, Ilcinkas finished the doubles contest, which clinched the point for Duke, but she was unable to walk unassisted and had to be scratched from the singles lineup.

Duke's Reka Zsilinszka and Ellah Nze took No. 3 doubles, beating Bojana Bobusic and Stephany Chang 8-4. Mallory Cecil and Jessi Robinson were 8-5 winners over Ilcinkas and Marina Cossou, leaving Cal the task of overcoming the loss of the doubles point, which they had done against Notre Dame in Monday's semifinals.

But the way the Duke women took charge, putting up 6-0 or 6-1 first sets on three separate courts, made that challenge insurmountable for the Bears.

"The start we got off to in singles was unbelievable," said Ashworth. "I was in awe watching them play, just looking down and seeing the scores, all the way down, it was unbelievable to see, a couple of 6-1s, a 6-0--we just gave them absolutely no breathing room, which was an amazing thing."

With her counterpunching style of play, Zsilinszka is rarely the first match finished, but Cal's Mari Andersson was completely baffled by the lack of pace, and committed a slew of errors attempting to force the action. It was over quickly, with Zsilinszka winning 6-1, 6-2 to give Duke a 2-0 lead.

At No. 6, Duke's Robinson had taken the first set 6-2 from Marion Ravelojaona, who was unexpectedly called on to compete when Ilcinkas couldn't take the court. Ravelojaona got a 4-1 lead in the second set, but dropped five straight games, earning Robinson the match and Duke its third point. Blue Devil Amanda Granson was also on the brink of a win over Bobusic at No. 4, having won the first set 6-0, and serving for the second at 5-4, but when Bobusic, playing one spot higher than usual due to the Ilcinkas injury, took the second set to a tiebreaker, the focus switched to No. 5. Duke senior Melissa Mang was up 6-1, 5-3 over Chang and only seconds after Robinson got point three, Mang earned the coveted fourth.

"It was such a special moment," said Mang. "I actually did not know, I don't really like to look at the scores or what's going on. I had a general idea that we were winning, but when it was down to the end of my match, I didn't know Jess was doing the same thing, and so when they all came running onto my court it was kind of a shock, but it was the best moment of my life."

"I was watching kind of awkwardly from the middle area," said Zsilinszka, who was named the tournament's most valuable player, "and I saw Jess with match point, and Melissa, and I said, oh my gosh, seniors clinching, no way, this is like perfect, it could not be more perfect. I wanted it for them so badly, because they've been unbelievable leaders for us, and the best people you could ask for. It's the most amazing experience."

For Cal coach Amanda Augustus it was a disappointing end to another stellar season.

"I'm really proud of my girls," Augustus said. "I think they gave everything that they had and they were fighting back on a lot of courts, and trying to keep us out there as long as possible, but you could tell Duke just wanted it today and my hat's off to them. They played great."

For complete results, visit the aggieathletics website.

Southern California Downs Ohio State to Claim NCAA Division I Men's Tennis Championship

©Colette Lewis 2009--
College Station, Texas

There's something about the George Mitchell Tennis Center at Texas A & M University that agrees with the University of Southern California men's tennis team. The site of their last title, in 2002, the eighth-seeded Trojans claimed their fifth championship Tuesday afternoon, defeating No. 3 Ohio State 4-1.

"Prakash Amritraj facebooked me this morning and said, 'let's do it, let's do it,'" USC coach Peter Smith said of the player who had clinched the Trojans' title in 2002, coach Dick Leach's last year. "The last time USC won it, I was being offered the job...to be back here seven years later on the court, it's surreal."

The Trojans captured the doubles point at No. 3 when Matt Kecki and Jaak Poldma defeated Steven Moneke and Chase Buchanan, breaking Moneke at 7-8. Ohio State had taken the No. 2 doubles position with Bryan Koniecko and Shuhei Uzawa downing Abdullah Magdas and Daniel Nguyen 8-4, while Robert Farah and Steve Johnson had claimed the No. 1 singles over Buckeyes Justin Kronauge and Matt Allare 8-3.

Allare, who had turned his ankle in the last game of his match against UCLA in Monday's semifinal, wasn't obviously hobbled, but Magdas led all the way in their match at No. 4, recording a 6-2, 6-3 victory and giving USC a 2-0 lead. Daniel Nguyen of USC easily won the battle of the freshmen at No. 6, taking out Chase Buchanan 6-0, 6-2 to make it 3-0 USC, but Ohio State had won first sets at No. 1, No. 3 and No. 5 to give the Buckeye faithful some hope. Trojan Steve Johnson had taken the first set from Steven Moneke in a tiebreaker at No. 2, and was up a break on a couple of occasions in the second set, but couldn't hold that advantage.

Meanwhile, Robert Farah had recovered from the loss of the first set to Bryan Koniecko of Ohio State, taking the second set quickly 6-1. Justin Kronauge, who had clinched in the last match on in the Buckeyes semifinal win over UCLA, showed no effects from Monday's grueling contest, and he finished off Jaak Poldma at No. 3 7-6(1), 6-4.

Around that same time, Farah had broken Koniecko at 3-3 in the third set, and suddenly that match became the focus.

Farah held serving a 4-3, producing inspired tennis, while Koniecko hung with him on every point, even though he won none of them. There were no errors, just great shot after great shot, and the same held true for Koniecko's next service game, which he won to make it 5-4.

"I went and sat down at 5-4 and I just tried to keep my cool, take as much time as I could, close my eyes and believe I could do it," said Farah, a junior from Columbia. "To watch all these great players in the ATP winning great matches, how they take their time, how they control those moments, which I think is the hardest moment in a tennis match--closing the match. That's what I did, and I did it well. I did it against Texas, I did it against Stanford, and I think I'm getting better at that moment."

Farah, who was named the tournament's most valuable player, made it easy on his coach, going up 40-0 with aggressive yet error-free play, and finishing with a service winner. Moneke had just taken the second set from Johnson and Ohio State's Balazs Novak had a one-set lead over Matt Kecki at No. 5, but there would be no repeat of Monday's comeback from 3-1 down against UCLA.

"It was a tough day for us. I feel bad for them," said Ohio State coach Ty Tucker, referring to seniors Moneke and Koniecko. "We wouldn't be anywhere without them; their play on the court has been absolutely unbelievable, above and beyond. They put it all out there on the line, and it's got to be disappointing for Bryan to have the season end on his court."

Koniecko regretted a couple of forehands he missed in the long game at 3-3, but gave credit to Farah.

"He served well the last three games and there was not much I could do. Hats off to him, but it was a tough match."

With three freshmen in the lineup, even coach Smith seemed surprised at how everything had fallen into place in the final month of the season.

"I never get anything right the first time," Smith said with disbelief. "Trust me. I'm in the finals for the first time with my team and we win? My life doesn't work like that."

But as he left the media center, coach Smith was asking for advice on how to text message everyone in his address book that USC had won its fifth national championship since the dual match format was introduced in 1977.

For complete scores see the aggieathletics website.

Farah Clinches Southern Cal's National Championship

Story to follow later this evening.

ITA Award Winners

At the ITA/NCAA Individual Tournament luncheon today at Kyle Field's Zone, the following yearly awards were announced:

ITA Coach of the Year:
Men: Ty Tucker, Ohio State
Women: Jeff Wallace, Georgia

ITA Senior Player of the Year:
Arnau Brugues, Tulsa
Kelcy Tefft, Notre Dame

ITA Rookie of the Year:
Bradley Klahn, Stanford
Chelsey Gullickson, Georgia

ITA Player to Watch:
Oleksandr Nedovyesov, Oklahoma State
Kristy Frilling, Notre Dame

ITA Assistant Coach of the Year:
Kyle Spencer, Baylor
Oliver Foreman, Florida State, and Damon Coupe, Washington

ITA Cissie Leary Award for Sportsmanship:
Kerstin Pahl, Western Michigan

ITA Osuna Award for Sportsmanship:
Clancy Shields, Boise State

John Van Nostrand Award:
Conor Pollock, Texas A & M

Arthur Ashe Leadership and Sportsmanship Award:
Dunja Antunovic, DePaul
Blake Strode, Arkansas

Monday, May 18, 2009

Cal Returns to Women's Division I Final, Will Meet Duke for Championship Tuesday Evening

©Colette Lewis 2009--
College Station, TX--

The Bears of California-Berkeley are hoping that their progression in the NCAAs the past three years results in their first national championship Sunday evening, when they meet a Duke Blue Devil team also looking for its first title.

A semifinalist in 2007, Cal reached the final last year, where they fell 4-0 to a UCLA team that had been a runner-up at the NCAAs the previous year.

On Saturday, eighth-seeded Cal defeated No. 5 Notre Dame 4-2 to give the three players who tasted the disappointment of last year's final match another shot at it.

Cal coach Amanda Augustus, who has now reached the final in both of her years at Berkeley, sees a different mindset this year.

"Getting back here has been our singular focus," she said. "We felt we had enough talent to do it if we worked really hard and things went our way. Whereas last year, we were just so excited just to be in the finals. I don't know if as a team, we believed we could win last year, Whereas UCLA had had the experience of being in the finals and falling short, and they really believed it was their time. I am hopeful that this year, given that half of our starters had that experience last year, that they'll really believe tomorrow is their time."

Notre Dame coach Jay Louderback said that his team knew they had to win the doubles point to have a chance against the Bears.

"Their singles are so good. We did it, gave ourselves a shot, and we competed well," Louderback said. "We were hoping to get into a tight situation, because if you get into this far, and a lot of times its more about pressure than it is tennis."

Cal didn't cooperate however, taking five first sets in singles. Irish freshman Kristy Frilling gave her team a 2-0 lead with a 6-1, 6-1 win over Marina Cossou, but it didn't last long. Jana Juricova took out Notre Dame's Kelcy Tefft at No. 1 by the same 6-1, 6-1 score and Bojana Bobusic got Cal even with a 6-4, 6-1 win over Kali Krisik at No. 5. Claire Ilcinkas brought the Bears to the verge with a 6-3, 7-6 (3) win over Shannon Mathews at No. 4, and it was Mari Andersson at No. 3 who earned the fourth point with a 7-5, 6-3 victory against Cosmina Ciobanu.

No. 3 Duke's 5-2 win over No. 2 Georgia followed a similar pattern in singles, but the Blue Devils had the luxury of having won the doubles point. Taking the first sets in four matches, Georgia needed to turn around a couple of those, but they weren't able to do it, and although they pulled even when Cameron Ellis beat Jessi Robinson 6-3, 6-1 at No. 6, there was no comeback brewing like the one the Bulldogs mounted in their quarterfinal win over South Carolina Sunday. Amanda Granson put Duke up 2-1 with a 6-3, 6-2 win over Monica Danevic at No. 4, and Melissa Mang followed with a 6-2, 6-2 decision over Naoko Ueshima of Georgia at No. 5 to make it 3-1. Chelsey Gullickson got the Bulldogs' second point with a 6-4, 7-5 win over Mallory Cecil at No. 1, but with Duke's Ellah Nze and Reka Zsilinszka holding breaks in their second sets, the question was who would clinch. It turned out to be Nze, who beat Yvette Hyndman 6-4, 6-3 at No. 2, but since Zsilinszka was also playing a match point against Nadja Gilchrist at No. 3, she too was given credit for a win, by a 6-4, 6-2 score.

"Georgia's a great team, but I thought we matched up really well with Georgia," said Duke coach Jamie Ashworth. "Just down the line, I was really confident with our singles. We've been tough to beat in four singles matches all year, but I thought to get some good matchups that we wanted was a good thing."

Ashworth brought Duke to the finals in 1998, his first year as head coach, but he hasn't been back since, something he did not anticipate.

"It's my thirteenth year I think, and the last time I was in the finals was my first year. I thought oh, this is easy stuff, we should be able to do this every year, but it's tough. It means a lot to them. We're happy to be one of two teams playing another day. We're really excited about that."

Georgia coach Jeff Wallace, who has won two national titles while in Athens, didn't feel that his team's five hour contest against South Carolina on Sunday played much of a role in their defeat.

"I just felt like Duke played a great match," Wallace said. "They beat us today, they were the better team today. I think they just came out in the singles spots and just outplayed us."

The women's final is scheduled for 6 p.m. EDT on Sunday, and can be viewed live on ESPNU.

For complete results, see the aggieathletics website.