Sunday, November 8, 2009

Pac-10 Sweeps Championships at ITA Indoor Sunday

©Colette Lewis 2009--
West Haven, CT--

Tennis in the Pac-10 doesn't normally involve much indoor tennis, but the conference produced every ITA Indoor champion crowned Sunday at the Cullman-Heyman Tennis Center at Yale University, the first time that has happened since 1995.

Steve Johnson of the University of Southern California won a three-hour, 6-4, 6-7(2), 7-6(3) classic from Guillermo Gomez of Georgia Tech for the men's singles title, and Jana Juricova of California-Berkeley became the first Bear to win the women's Indoor title with her 6-4, 7-6(6) victory over Irina Falconi of Georgia Tech.

In the doubles, Stanford made Indoor history when Bradley Klahn and Ryan Thacher won the men's doubles, and Hilary Barte and Lindsay Burdette took the women's doubles, making it the first time one school had swept the doubles titles in the same year.

Johnson, the fifth seed, was able to squeeze past the unseeded Gomez despite converting only one of 17 break points. In the second set alone, he had 13, with Gomez going down 0-40 on his serve three consecutive times, but winning each of those games. After Gomez won the second set tiebreaker by winning seven straight points, Johnson got his only break point of the third set in the second game. When he didn't convert that one either, he raised his hands in the air, with a cry of "please just give me one."

"I was getting frustrated," said Johnson, a sophomore from Orange, California. "I hit a really good slice backhand and he just hit an awesome angle cross court drop volley. I was just hoping he would miss one, but he didn't give me any."

Gomez played composed and consistent tennis throughout the third set, but he had no opportunity to break Johnson. The junior from Spain showed no anxiety serving at 4-5 and 5-6, and when he held to force a tiebreaker, he had only to look back at the second set tiebreaker for encouragement.

This time, however, Johnson was ready. He hit winner after winner, his only hiccup a double fault when leading 3-1. A great kick serve and a forehand putaway brought him three match points, and he converted on the first, when Gomez's lob went just long.

"I just played really solid, I gave him nothing in the breaker," Johnson said. "I didn't have any unforced errors or anything. I just really used my head out there. I wouldn't let myself go away in the third set breaker."

Gomez was disappointed in the result, but far from crushed by the loss.

"The difference between us, it wasn't much," said Gomez. "But it isn't really tough, because I did everything I could. Of course I'm a little bit upset, but I did everything I could, I fought hard, and I'm proud of myself. The difference was maybe one good serving point in the tiebreaker, one better serve. I did my best, and I just have to congratulate him."

Johnson becomes only the second USC Trojan to win a men's Indoor singles title, joining ESPN commentator and Syracuse women's head coach Luke Jensen on the champions list.

Juricova, a sophomore from the Slovak Republic, is the only Bear with a women's Indoor singles championship after her win over All-American champion Falconi.

After trading breaks to open the match, both players held until Falconi, the second seed, was broken at 3-3. Juricova, the fourth seed, held on, and although it took her four set points, the tall right-hander finally stroked a forehand winner to grab the opening set. Falconi was broken to open the second set, but although the sophomore from Florida was making more errors than usual, she didn't let the match get away from her there. Falconi held on to her serve, kept pressuring Juricova's and pulled even at 4. Juricova held at love serving the difficult 4-5 and 5-6 games, but any momentum she may have had didn't last long. Falconi seemed ready to take the match to a third set when taking a 6-4 lead in the tiebreaker but Juricova brushed away one set point with a forehand winner, and on the second, an unfriendly net cord kept Falconi's shot from clearing the net. At 6-6, Falconi double faulted, and the match ended when her return of Juricova's second serve went long.

"I was up 4-2 in the second, so I was hoping to finish it in an easier way for me," said Juricova. "But it's great. I don't think I fully realize it, but it's awesome so far."

Juricova, who also played a doubles match on all four days, admitted to being tired, but although the fall season is over now, she can't take it easy quite yet.

"I have an exam on Tuesday, a pretty big one, so I have to study, but after Tuesday, I'm going to relax a little bit," Juricova said.

Falconi, who was attempting to become the first woman since 1985 to win both the All-American and the Indoor, had dominated her opponents throughout the tournament, but in the final, Juricova kept her errors to a minimum and didn't give Falconi much time to construct her points.

"She played very well today," Falconi said. "She has a big serve, hits a big ball, so I knew I was going to be on defense, but when I could be on offense, it would be good. It was a matter of getting to offense as much as possible, but she made it very difficult for me today."

Given the storied history of Stanford tennis, it is a bit surprising that the Cardinal had not claimed both men's and women's Indoor championships in the same year, and when the second-seeded team of Barte and Burdette were down match point against top seeds Caitlin Whoriskey and Natalie Pluskota of Tennessee, it looked as if 2009 wasn't going to the first.

Pluskota and Whoriskey, the All-American champions, won the first set 6-4, with Barte and Burdette taking the second 6-3. In the third set, Barte and Burdette had their first match point with Pluskota serving at 3-5, but Burdette netted a volley and the Tennessee pair won the next two points. Burdette was serving for the match in the next game, but two double faults led to a break for 5-5. Whoriskey held for 6-5, and in the next game, with Barte serving at 30-40, Tennessee had their match point. Whoriskey missed a return however, and a tiebreaker would decide the championship after nearly three hours of tennis.

Unlike the bulk of the match, the tiebreaker points went to the serving team every time with the exception of the first one, when Pluskota was broken. With Burdette serving at 6-4, the Tennessee pair rushed the net and Barte hit a lob that had everyone holding their breath before it settled just inside the baseline to give Stanford the title.

"We were pretty confident considering we had won the tiebreaker for the third at the NCAAs when we played them in the semifinals," said Burdette, whose sister Erin was a finalist in doubles for Stanford at the Indoor in 2004. "I had completely forgotten up until the tiebreaker started that the exact same thing had happened. That gave me a boost of confidence, like here we go again."

Klahn and Thacher's 6-1, 3-6, 6-2 win over Duke's unseeded team of Reid Carleton and Henrique Cunha couldn't match the women's final for drama, but once the Blue Devils found their form in the second set, the tennis was excellent. Klahn was broken in the sole break of the second set, and in the third Carleton, the only right-hander on the court, failed to hold serving at 2-1, and that was all the third seeds needed, finishing the match with a second break of Carleton.

"They hung in there; we saw that yesterday when they were down a set and a break," Klahn said. "We knew it was going to be tough. We stuck with the game plan in the third set."

Klahn and Thacher, both sophomores, have been playing together less than a year, and although they had an inauspicious debut as a team, starting out 1-2 last March, they are now comfortable together.

"In doubles, there's a lot to be said for chemistry," Thacher said. "We've just been getting better with each match," Klahn added.

As for helping put Stanford in the record books again, both were surprised that it hadn't been done before.

"There's obviously been a lot of great Stanford teams, both men and women, dating back a long time," Klahn said. "It means a lot, it's great for the program."

In the consolation finals played on Sunday, Kristie Boxx and Karen Nijssen of Ole Miss won the doubles 8-2 over Mari Andersson and Juricova of Cal. Laura Vallverdu of Miami defeated Reka Zsilinszka of Duke 6-4, 6-4 to take the women's consolation singles. Alex Lacroix of Florida defeated Texas's Ed Corrie 6-3, 6-1 in the men's consolation final. On Saturday, Marek Czerwinski and Dennis Nevolo of Illinois won the men's doubles consolation final 8-3 over Moritz Baumann and Marek Michalicka of Wisconsin.

For complete results, see the ITA tournament home page.


tennisfan said...

Johnson just established himself as one of the nations best college player.He is my pick to win the NCAA.

Man in the Moon said...

congrats to Steve Johnson

great job

Austin said...

Pete Sampras speaks about Agassi's admission:

iluvtennis said...

Wow, impressive effort by Johnson, Trojans are going to be tough to beat this year considering either Johnson or Farah are going to play 2. Even more impressive is that Johnson never plays indoors and won the indoor title.
However, I still think Singh is the best player in college tennis right now. I know Johnson beat him at NCAA's last year but his recent results are special. I heard he played All-American with a broken finger and still won 2 matches and now made quarters of the recent Challenger in Charlottesville.
I would love to see the rematch....I'm taking Singh in a 3 setter.

TennisStringman said...

Congrats on an impressive win to Steve Johnson. Steve plays with PolyStar Energy strings.