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Friday, May 31, 2013

NCAA Individual Recap; My Notes and Observations from Twelve Days in Urbana

My recap of the NCAA Division I individual tournament is available today at the Tennis Recruiting Network, and if you missed it last week, my recap of the team tournament is here.

The slideshow and videos will come in the next week, but I thought I'd pass along some of my thoughts about this year's tournament before it recedes from memory.

During the tournament, some prominent former college tennis players engaged in a spirited back-and-forth on twitter about the relative merits of Illinois vs. Athens as a host site.  I take a backseat to no one in my appreciation for Athens, with its tradition, facility, efficiency and attendance. But Athens is not perfect--the outdoor court setup makes it difficult, if not impossible, to track two matches at once--and with only four indoor courts available, the always traumatic rain event becomes  even more so.

As a veteran of the last nine NCAAs, I feel qualified to call Illinois' hosting an unqualified success, and I hesitate to even mention that it was their first time, lest that sound like there were issues more experience could have prevented.

I didn't see anything like that, with the attention to detail and willingness to accommodate exemplary. Now to the specifics of what I liked:

Derrick Burson, Illinois associate SID

The media staff was terrific and I would like to personally thank Derrick Burson, Nicole Mechling and Joshua Bates and staff for all their help. They were dedicated, their work was timely and accurate, and when the rain caused the standard operating procedures to go out the window, they were resourceful and cheerful, despite severe sleep deprivation.

Even tournament director Holly Stalcup manned the squeegees.

The rain crew was fast and efficient, no doubt aided by the constant wind, which, if I recall correctly, was a factor in 10 of the 12 days of play.

Being able to watch two dual matches by taking just a few steps, or being able to really track all 12 matches on court in the individual tournament probably spoiled me for other venues.

The hospitality was exceptional, the parking free, the concessions reasonably priced, and considering the lack of an Illinois team the first six days and the lack of good weather the next six, attendance was good.

What I didn't like:

The facility was beautiful, the fences were not

The chain link fence through which everyone (except a few with specific credentials, including media) had to watch the matches.  I grew up watching tennis in Kalamazoo, and for my money, the sunken courts/elevated seating is the way to go, making fences to protect spectators unnecessary.

No permanent tennis press box. I love spending time watching matches from the one in Athens, especially on that rough first day of individual matches which follows the team event.

The Atkins indoor facility was beastly hot, but I imagine that much more attention is paid to the heating side of the system, given the Midwest climate during the normal dual match season.

The smell.  How you feel about the odor of cow manure accompanying your tennis viewing may depend on your familiarity with it, or a personal preference, but for me, it's on the negative side of the ledger.

Whether the University of Illinois becomes a regular part of the rotation or not, they should be proud of their performance as host this year.

Now, on to other thoughts.

Tiley, former assistant Bruce Berque, and 2003 NCAA champion Amer Delic

It was fantastic to see Craig Tiley back for the reunion of Illinois' 2003 NCAA National Championship team. What he built there is one of the great accomplishments in college tennis history, and his decision to leave for Tennis Australia was college tennis' loss and pro tennis' gain.

The Virginia men had tremendous fan support in the final

Virginia never fails to impress with the number of fans they have traveling to their men's matches. Once I saw how many travelled to Stanford in 2011, I knew Champaign-Urbana would pose no problem, and their dedication over the past five or six years has been instrumental in the Cavaliers' position at the top of the college tennis world. That they finally got their NCAA team title is heartwarming to any loyal sports fans, regardless of their affiliation.

Format changes are again rumored to be under discussion, again with the aim of getting college tennis on television. While it's puzzling why coverage has deteriorated over the past few years, with so many new channels and networks in need of content, I don't think television coverage will necessarily provide the benefits some expect. And even if the team format is too unwieldy, why isn't there televised coverage of the individual tournament, which is simply a standard tennis production, virtually guaranteed to fit into a three-hour time frame?  The fact that the Big Ten Network was nowhere to be seen at Illinois is disgraceful, especially considering two of their student-athletes were in the finals (kudos to the Longhorn Network, who did come for the Texas women's semifinalist and men's doubles finalists).

As for the past-midnight matches that perennially plague the team tournament's first two days, even when rain is not involved, I don't have a solution. The Division II and Division III team tournaments have only eight teams at the finals site, and I would like to hear more on the pros and cons of that; wouldn't it halve the chances of a 2 a.m. finish like the one we had on the women's opening day?  Would it put more facilities into the hosting mix? Would that third (round of 16) match be added to the regionals? Or would there be a separate site for those eight matches?

Another solution I've heard mentioned to shorten the tournament involves separating the team from the individual competition. I am not in favor of this, and there's little evidence to suggest a player is substantially handicapped by playing in the team final, nor am I in favor of splitting the men and women's tournaments, as was done prior to 2006, for the selfish reason that I would have to choose which one I would cover.

All of these possibilities may be why the NCAA has not announced bids past next year's tournament in Athens, but I hope we do not have another fiasco like the one that surfaced last August awaiting us.

There was much criticism of the ITA's introduction of a point penalty for a medical timeout for the men, a rule that was not in force during the NCAAs.  And it didn't take long to see why such a rule was deemed necessary, with way too many instances of MTOs when an opponent was preparing to serve for the match. And, I hasten to add, women were just as likely to do this as the men, although they did not adopt the trial rule for this dual match season.

Transfer rumors and college coaching changes were a major topic of conversation at the tournament, although, as far as I know, there are only two major head coaching positions open at BCS conference schools: the Wisconsin women and Arkansas men.  Tim Siegel at Texas Tech has reconsidered his decision to retire and will be back as men's head coach.  Mark Merklein has left Michigan after two years as men's assistant to return to his alma mater Florida, with Amer Delic leaving is post as assistant after one year to return to private coaching in Austin.  Some of the high-profile men's assistants' jobs I heard are now open include Michigan, Pepperdine and Notre Dame, and more dominoes will fall when the Arkansas position is filled.

As for transfers, the Tennessee women are losing both Sarah Toti, who is going to Texas Tech, and Brynn Boren, who is joining USC for her final year.  Mackenzie Craft is leaving Georgia and heading to Baylor.

And although nothing is official, don't be surprised to see ITA Rookie of the Year Romain Bogaerts of Mississippi State on another roster next year.

Lauren Embree

And finally, I didn't have a chance to properly note the end of Lauren Embree's amazing career at Florida. The grit and determination of the SEC's three-time Player of the Year propelled the Gators to back-to-back NCAA titles, and her comeback from 4-0 down in the final set against Stanford's Mallory Burdette in the 2011 NCAA team final cemented her place among college tennis legends.  Alabama head coach Jenny Mainz recognized the bar Embree set for the SEC, and for all of college tennis.

"I told her, you've made all of us better," Mainz said. "You pushed us, you challenged us, it required our best to play against you."

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Former USTA President, Longtime Kalamazoo Boys Nationals Referee David Markin Dies

David Markin, right, with 2005-06 USTA President Franklin Johnson
Photo courtesy YourGameFace.com
David Markin, former tournament referee of the Kalamazoo Boys 16s and 18s Nationals and past president of the USTA, has died in Florida at age 81 after complications from surgery two weeks ago.

It's difficult to overstate Markin's impact on the sport both here in Kalamazoo and at the national level.  As the tournament referee from 1976 to 2007, Markin, along with tournament director Rolla Anderson, provided the leadership that made Kalamazoo what it is today--the most revered junior tournament in the country.

Markin, who supported the tournament financially in ways great and small, never seeking credit for doing so, was committed to improving the tournament every year. He never balked at trying new ideas, knowing that complacency was the biggest threat to the tournament's stature.  Although he infuriated not a few players when he deemed it necessary to call foot faults the tournament's famous Tower, Markin was a respected official who handled a variety of difficult refereeing decisions with authority and sound judgment.

While president of the USTA from 1989-90, Markin was instrumental in the expansion of the National Tennis Center, including the building of Arthur Ashe Stadium.

His impact on the sport of tennis here in Kalamazoo, as well as nationally and internationally, will continue to be an inspiration to his family, community, friends and colleagues.

Current USTA president Dave Haggerty sent out this email today:

It is with great sadness that I share the news that former USTA President David Markin has died.  David, who served as USTA President from 1989-90, was a successful and astute businessman who utilized his remarkable business acumen and his lifelong passion for tennis in leading this association through an important time of growth and change.  David further employed his remarkable talent and keen vision in chairing the US Open site committee in the mid 1990’s, which planned and executed the revitalization of the National Tennis Center, including the construction of Arthur Ashe Stadium, the centerpiece of the US Open and one of the finest sports facilities in the world.  David was currently serving as a member of the USTA Major Construction Oversight Committee.

An avid player and supporter of our sport, David was devoted to giving back to the game he loved so much.  Prior to becoming USTA President, David was President of USTA Midwest, and is enshrined in both the USTA Midwest and USTA Eastern Halls of Fame.  He also served as Chairman of the Davis Cup Committee, the Junior Tennis Council, and was, for many years, the official referee of the National 16-18 Boys’ Championships in Kalamazoo, Mich.  He was awarded the Samuel Hardy Award for long and outstanding service to the sport in 1991, and in 2010, was presented a USTA Volunteer Service Award for 40 years of devotion to tennis.

There is a plaque on the outside wall of Arthur Ashe Stadium bearing David’s likeness with an inscription that reads, “His inspiration and hard work made Arthur Ashe Stadium a reality.”  That is a fact.  And it also is true that his vision and dedication to tennis made our sport better and richer for all. 

David will be sorely missed, and our deepest sympathies go out to David’s family and his many friends.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Roland Garros Junior Championships Qualifying Begins Thursday; US Open National Playoffs Update

The qualifying draws are out for the junior championships at Roland Garros, which start Thursday and will finish Friday, leaving a day off between for the qualifiers before the start of play in the main draw Sunday.

The only US player in qualifying is Martin Redlicki, who is the No. 4 seed. He will play Jay Andrijic of Australia in the opening round.

The Thursday start for qualifying makes it difficult for juniors who are playing in the Grade 1 warmup tournament in Belgium this week, with a bunch of walkovers and odd scores from those who deemed French qualifying more important.  Katrine Steffensen of the US was in the acceptance list in qualifying, but she advanced to the quarterfinals in Belgium today, and is not in the qualifying draw, so she must have elected to forego Paris.  Louisa Chirico of the US is also not in the qualifying draw, but she may have received one of the two special exemptions into the French main draw based on her ranking, as she also has reached the quarterfinals in Belgium. Anhelina Kalinina of Ukraine should be the other player in the Belgium quarters who received a special exemption into the French main draw. To follow the results from the Astrid Bowl, the Grade 1 in Belgium, see the tournament website.

Ken Onishi of Japan is likely receiving one of the two boys special exemptions, as he is in the Astrid Bowl quarterfinals and not in the French qualifying. Evan Hoyt of Great Britain may also receive one if he moved into the qualifying after the freeze deadline; he is currently still showing as an alternate (as is Onishi), but Luke Bambridge and Lucas Miedler appear to have moved into the main draw, leaving Redlicki, with a ranking of 48, outside the cutoff, which is an extraordinary number.  Last year the cutoff was 76.

The US Open National Playoffs are underway, with the Southwest Section and Florida Section the first to determine their entrants for the National Playoff, to be held at the Yale Open August 16-19.  Sixteen-year-old Robert Seby won the men's tournament in the Southwest, while former Arizona State All-American and current New Mexico assistant women's coach Kelcy McKenna won the women's tournament and the mixed tournament, with former Boise State Bronco Stephen Robertson.  The usta.com article on the Southwest finals is here.

The Florida section playoffs were completed last week, with former Texas A&M All-American Jeff Dadamo taking the men's singles tournament and Florida State senior Amy Sargeant taking the women's singles tournament. Jesse and Sarah Witten, both former Kentucky Wildcats, won the mixed doubles. USTA's coverage of the Florida tournament is here.

The Southern section's tournament is nearing its conclusion, with the Middle Atlantic section's tournament beginning Saturday.  Entries are still open for the remaining nine tournaments, with applications closing Thursday for the Eastern section's always  popular tournament, due to its location at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, and Friday for the Southern California section's tournament at the Claremont Club.

For more information on the upcoming dates and locations, as well as links to register, click here.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Wimbledon Junior Acceptances; Final Division I Team Rankings; Men's Recruiting Class Rankings

While I was busy with the NCAAs last week, the Wimbledon Junior acceptances were announced by the International Tennis Federation, and the girls field is notably weaker than the field in the upcoming French Open juniors, which begin on Sunday.

The boys from the United States accepted into the main draw are: Thai Kwiatkowski, Stefan Kozlov, Noah Rubin, Luca Corinteli and Spencer Papa. Martin Redlicki is in the qualifying draw, six places out. US girls in the main draw are Taylor Townsend, Jamie Loeb, Johnnise Renaud and Vicky Duval.  Duval received entry based on her WTA ranking of 287.
Louisa Chirico is in qualifying, three place out of the main draw.

The only boy in the top 45 not entered in the main is No. 40 Roman Safiullin of Russia, so the cutoff ranking number is still very high at 45.  Nick Kyrgios of Australia, the ITF junior No. 1 and Australian boys champioin, is entered and will be the top seed if he stays in the draw. A wild card recipient into the men's main draw at Roland Garrps, Kyrgios won his first round match over ATP veteran Radek Stepanek, but this article about his win says he is still planning to play in the French junior tournament. That will undoubtedly change if he beats No. 10 seed Marin Cilic of Croatia Wednesday.

The girls field has ten top players missing: Recent Italian Open winner Belinda Bencic of Switzerland(4), Francoise Abanda of Canada(5), Christina Makarova of the US(12), Karin Kennel of Switzerland(19), Darya Kasatkina of Russia(22), Sachia Vickery of the US(30), Samantha Crawford of the US(32), Maria Marfutina of Russia(36), Ilka Csoregi of Romania(39) and Anna Danilina of Kazakhstan(48). The rankings in parentheses are at time of acceptance, not this week's.

Makarova is still on the acceptance list for the French; Vickery has withdrawn, as has Duval. Allie Kiick withdrew earlier.  Loeb is heading off to Europe with a tournament title at last week's $10,000 Pro Circuit event in Sumter, SC, where she defeated Brooke Austin 6-4, 6-3 in the final. It is Loeb's third $10K title.

The ITA released the final team rankings for 2013, with NCAA champions Virginia men and Stanford women finishing on top. Virginia moved up from No. 3, while Stanford surged from No. 12. The final individual rankings will be released next week.

The Top 10 men's teams:
1. Virginia
3. Georgia
4. Ohio State
5. Southern Cal
6. Tennessee
7. Duke
8. Pepperdine
9. Kentucky
10. Ole Miss

The Top 10 women's teams:
1. Stanford
2. Florida
3. Texas A&M
4. North Carolina
5. Georgia
6. Southern Cal
8. Miami
9. Cal
10. Michigan

The complete rankings can be found at the ITA website.

The Tennis Recruiting Network announced its men's spring recruiting class rankings for 2013, with NCAA champion Virginia taking the top spot, followed by UCLA, North Carolina, Florida and Stanford.  The women's recruiting class rankings will be announced next Monday.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Gibbs Defends NCAA Singles Title; Rola Ends Jenkins Bid for Triple Crown; Southern California and Virginia Win Doubles Titles

©Colette Lewis 2013--
Urbana, IL--

Stanford's Nicole Gibbs and Ohio State's Blaz Rola took the courts Monday at the Khan Outdoor Tennis Center at the University of Illinois knowing what it felt like to hold an NCAA champion's trophy. The No. 9 seeded juniors got to relive that moment one year later, with Gibbs defeating Mary Weatherholt of Nebraska 6-2, 6-4 in the women's final, and Rola outlasting Jarmere Jenkins of Virginia 7-6(8), 6-4 in the men's championship match.

Gibbs had swept the NCAA singles and doubles titles in 2012, adding a team title last week; Rola won the men's doubles title last year. Yet in spite of that experience, both were challenged in the finals, played outdoors in warm, humid and breezy conditions.

Gibbs got off to a quick start against Weatherholt, a No. 9 seed, who set new standards for her school with every win after the first round.

Up 4-0 before Weatherholt got on the board with a break, Gibbs was the steadier of the two players, although Weatherholt said her errors were not the result of nerves.  Gibbs continued to pressure Weatherholt on serve, stepping three feet inside the baseline when she had a look at a second serve. Gibbs closed out the first set with her fourth break of Weatherholt in the set, but Weatherholt was far from discouraged.

The senior from Prairie Village, Kansas started the second set with a break and held her own serve for the first time in the match to take a 2-0 lead, beginning to eliminate her errors and attack the short balls Gibbs gave her.  Gibbs used her slice to counteract Weatherholt's flat power, and continued to aggressively hit out as much as the wind allowed, especially on her returns.  At 3-3 in the second set, Weatherholt was moving forward for a short ball from Gibbs and her knee buckled, the same knee she had had surgery on three times, most recently last September.

After treatment on the changeover, Weatherholt continued to play, but was not as confident in her movement. Gibbs however, couldn't maintain her focus, allowing Weatherholt to win the next game without actually hitting any winners.

"I let myself get a little carried away," Gibbs admitted. "It looked like she got really hurt when she first went down and I was a little concerned about her, to be honest. She's a really nice girl and a good competitor. So that next game, I was just hoping she would throw me some errors, and I wasn't really sticking to the game plan that I had been adhering to, and I got really tight that game."

Gibbs managed to regain her concentration, holding in the next game for a 5-4 lead, and after more taping of the knee at that changeover, Weatherholt served to stay in the match.  Overcoming Gibbs is a difficult task in the best of conditions, and although she was able to save one match point, Weatherholt couldn't save the second and Gibbs had her second singles and fourth overall NCAA title.

"I just tried to fight through it," Weatherholt said of the knee injury. "I don't know what I did, it might be hyper-extended, I'm not really sure. It didn't make a difference in the match, she played really well. I didn't play my personal best, but part of that is she's a good player and was putting some pressure on me. I was trying to adjust, but I missed a few too many balls, and she came up with some good shots and good returns."

Hayden Perez, Nebraska's associate head coach, said he is optimistic about Weatherholt's knee.

"I don't think it's anything significant," said Perez, who is hoping to play mixed doubles with Weatherholt in an upcoming USTA National Open Playoffs event. "The trainer took a good look at it and there was a lot of stability there. It's one of those things were if you've had a knee that's broken down before, I think it's a little sensitive. I think she's going to be fine, and we're going to do some treatment here in a minute."

Although Perez admitted to a few tears after Weatherholt's last match as a Cornhusker, he recognized that sadness should be secondary.

"It's just been such an awesome experience, such a fun ride with her," said Perez, in his eighth year under coach Scott Jacobson. "I just have happy thoughts, and I know life's got great things in store for her."

While Weatherholt contemplates her future plans--she doesn't know if she'll try her hand at the Pro Circuit--Gibbs has also played her last match for her school, seeing no further mountains to scale in college tennis.

"I'm leaving the day after finals to go to Wimbledon qualies," said Gibbs, whose WTA ranking is 177. "I should only have to come back to finish my degree for one to two quarters. I'll play a pretty similar schedule as last year. The WTAs I'm planning to play, wild cards pending, are US Open, Stanford, Wimbledon and then probably a lot of challengers, just getting my feet wet and trying to get some wins out there on tour this summer.  But it will really be dependent on my results and whether or not I get wild cards when I want them."

Rola knows his NCAA title will not provide him a US Open wild card, with the 6-foot-4 left-hander from Slovenia joking that he wished he was from the United States after he denied Jenkins both the triple crown (singles, doubles and team championships) and the US Open main draw wild card that has gone to the American NCAA champion the past four years.

"Unfortunately, I am not an American," Rola said with a laugh. "Right now I would like to be. No, I'm proud to be from the small country of Slovenia, I wouldn't change that.  I knew what Jenkins had in mind going into this final, and I bet there was some more pressure on him than me. I'm just getting home with this title, and that's enough for me."

The first set between Rola and the third-seeded Jenkins was as close as the score would suggest, and although both players had break points, none were converted, with a good serve, a big forehand or a deft volley keeping the match on serve.

In the tiebreaker, Rola took a 6-2 lead, only to see Jenkins save one set point after another until at 8-7, it was Jenkins who had a set point. Rola's serve clipped the net cord, and threw off Jenkins, who sent his return a bit long. Rola then hit another good first serve, this one clean, followed by a difficult touch volley winner to get his sixth set point, which he converted when Jenkins double faulted.

"[Rola] got a little bit nervous at 6-2," said Ohio State head coach Ty Tucker. "He's up and he has an easy middle forehand and he tried to hit it a hundred miles an hour, and all of a sudden, the next thing you know, he's down a set point. But he rebounded. The guy's got guts for sure."

The 70-minute first set looked like it could be replicated, with both players holding for 3-3.  Serving, Jenkins had four game points to take a 4-3 lead, but Rola needed only one break point, crushing a forehand putaway for the match's only break.

Two more holds of serve and Rola stepped to the line to serve out the match.  He continued his aggressive and varied play, hitting a forehand winner and a volley winner for 30-0. Jenkins countered with a forehand winner of his own for 30-15.  Another big forehand by Rola forced an error from Jenkins and Rola had two match points.  He chose a spin serve for his first and got the short ball he wanted from the changeup, but hit a tight-looking forehand into the net for 40-30.

On his second match point, Rola swung his first serve out wide, and hearing no call, celebrated with raised arms. Jenkins was stunned, saying no, no, no, and strode to a place an inch or two outside the far sideline pointing to a mark, which he offered to show the chair umpire.  The line umpire's call stood however, and Rola had earned Ohio State's first NCAA singles title.

"I couldn't see it," said Rola, who is tentatively planning on returning to Ohio State for his senior year. "If that's the mark, unfortunately the ball was out, but that's tennis. I feel sorry for him, but there's nothing you can do."

Jenkins, who spoke about the call after his doubles match later in the day, said he understood that bad calls were going to happen.

"It's tennis," said Jenkins. "You see it on even the highest levels, missed calls. Well, actually not if they have Hawkeye. But yeah, the serve was definitely out. There was a mark I went to as soon as Blaz hit the serve, but I don't know if it was too fast for the umpire to see. It's sports, and it happens all the time in college.  Credit to him, he played a really good match, and I'll look forward to playing him later on the Pro Circuit."

Virginia coach Brian Boland was also philosophical about the point that ended the match.

"That's just part of sports," said Boland. "You get some calls that go your way and then others don't. We certainly had a call go our way [in the team final against UCLA].  It was one of those things, and he was able to move on."

With the chance to become only the fourth triple crown winner in college tennis and with a certain US Open wild card gone, Jenkins' state of mind for the doubles final was a concern, and that wasn't alleviated by the first few games of the men's championship match.

Jenkins and partner Mac Styslinger trailed Chris Camillone and David Holiner of Texas 3-0 in the opening set,  but the rain, an ever-present threat the past week, arrived again, and the match was continued indoors with Texas leading 4-1.  The unseeded Longhorn team managed to win that set, but Styslinger and Jenkins, the No. 4 seeds, found their form to post a 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 victory.

In the third set, Styslinger lost his serve, giving the Texas team a momentary 3-2 lead, but Camillone was broken at love in the next game. Three more holds and Camillone was serving again, and he and Holiner fought off two match points before Styslinger's lethal returns eventually proved too much.

"This was my last match of the year in college and I might as well leave it all out on the court," said Styslinger, 19-year-old freshman from Birmingham, Alabama. "I started to feel it, not in the last game, but the game before that. I really started to feel both forehand and backhand returns, so I just trusted my shots."

Styslinger wasn't known as an especially adept doubles player in the juniors, but he credits the Virginia coaches and alumni for his improvement this year.

"It's just a tribute to the work the coaches do with me," said Styslinger, who helped Virginia earn its third NCAA men's doubles title in the past five years. "Andres (Pedroso), Scott (Brown) and of course Brian. There are a bunch of good doubles players that train in Charlottesville--Treat Huey, Dom Inglot--so they help out a ton, and that makes a huge difference."

Jenkins admitted disappointment over losing the singles, but was consoled by leaving Virginia with a team and doubles titles.

"Obviously I really wanted that singles title today," said Jenkins, from College Park, Georgia. "But to come back and get the doubles, that definitely makes me feel a lot better. But at this stage, it's more than just me. When I step on the court, especially in finals, that's really when you're representing your school. And not just my school, but my family, who are here, and friends watching online. So I just told myself to go out and do the right thing and represent my school well, because even though I'm done today, I'm setting an example for incoming recruits."

Camillone and Holiner, who were ranked 41st and had beaten the No. 1, 5 and 8 seeds en route to the final, couldn't help but appreciate their appearance in the final.

"If you told us from January up until today would you take this, or would you expect this, there's just no way," said Camillone, a senior from Austin, Texas. "It's not a lack of confidence, it's just how can you expect to make this sort of run given our positioning, given our ranking, given the fact we really didn't play together in the spring except for four matches. But it sucks to lose 4 in the third."

"We put it all out there and came up a little short today," said Holiner, a junior from Dallas.

While Jenkins didn't succeed in his quest for the triple crown, Southern Cal's Sabrina Santamaria and Kaitlyn Christian got theirs, becoming the first team in Division I women's collegiate tennis to sweep the ITA Riviera All-American, the ITA Indoor Intercollegiate and the NCAA tournament in the same academic year.

The No. 2 seeds, who lost only one match all year, to Stanford in the first round of the team tournament's Sweet 16, beat UCLA's Robin Anderson and Skylar Morton 6-4, 6-3 in a match played entirely outdoors.

Their unconventional style, with Santamaria glued to the baseline and Christian roaming the net, evolved naturally.

"It just flowed," said Santamaria, a sophomore from Los Angeles. "We just started playing doubles with each other my freshman year."

"We started the other way," said Christian, a junior from Orange. "But she has amazing groundstrokes and I'm good at the net, so it's just how things worked itself out."

When Santamaria served out the final point, she ran to Christian and jumped in her arms to celebrate the first NCAA women's doubles title in school history.

"I have a lot of respect for Skylar and Robin," said USC coach Richard Gallien. "They thumped us before, so it's not like it was any huge advantage. It was just who could control their nerves the best and get through some rough spots the best. We did that well today."

Christian and Santamaria are looking forward to competing in New York at the US Open, with the wild card into the main draw that traditionally goes to a team of two Americans.

And with their record, now the best ever in women's Division I, with four major titles (Gabriela Lastra of Stanford won four, but with different partners) the next level beckons.

"It feels great to be here with her and have the opportunity to keep playing at the US Open," said Christian. "We're really excited."

"I just feel blessed to have the best doubles partner in the world, the best doubles player in the country, by my side," said Santamaria. "She's amazing, and I'm blessed to be right next to her and to go to the US Open."

For complete results from the individual and team events, see the championship central page.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Jenkins Aims for Triple Crown, Gibbs Goes for Second Singles Title at NCAA Individual Championships Monday

©Colette Lewis 2013--
Urbana, IL--

Since the NCAA Division I tournament moved to its current format, only three players, all of them men, have won the Triple Crown, which consists of the team, singles and doubles titles. The University of Virginia's Jarmere Jenkins can join Alex O'Brien (1992) and Bob Bryan (1998) of Stanford and Georgia's Matias Boeker (2001) on that elite list with two more victories Monday.

Jenkins, the No. 3 seed, will play Ohio State's Blaz Rola, a No. 9 seed who is also looking to make history by becoming the Buckeyes' first NCAA singles champion.  Rola had the easier of the two semifinal matches, which were moved indoors after just 20 minutes of outdoor play due to rain, defeating unseeded Japie De Klerk of Tulsa 6-2, 6-3.

Rola, a semifinalist who lost in a third set tiebreaker to Kentucky's Eric Quigley last year, felt his experience was a factor in his win over De Klerk.

"I got a little unlucky last year going down 7-6 in the third," said the junior from Slovenia. "But I was a little lucky this year with the draw. He was an unseeded player in the semifinals, he had a great tournament, but I was the favorite in that one.  First year quarterfinals, second year semifinals and I hope I can skip a year, and get a title this year."

Rola had a scare leading 3-1 in the second set, when he ran wide to his left and rolled his ankle a little bit.

"I'm going to check with the doctor in the training room and see if anything is wrong, but thank god it's not hurting me right now. I got really scared, thought no way, that's not happening, but thank god the pain went away after a couple of points."

Jenkins and his opponent, Sebastian Fanselow of Pepperdine, had barely completed their first set when Rola was wrapping up his victory, with Jenkins taking the first set tiebreaker 7-1.  When Fanselow and Jenkins met in the final of the USTA/ITA Intercollegiate Indoor in November, Fanselow couldn't quite find Jenkins' level, losing 6-2, 6-1, but he had no trouble reaching it Sunday afternoon, with only a couple of loose volleys in the tiebreaker the primary difference.

In the second set, Jenkins went up a break at 4-3, but was uncharacteristically unable to consolidate it, dropping serve when a couple of close calls went against him, making it 4-4.

Serving at 5-6, Jenkins faced a set point at 30-40, but he aimed a forehand at the sideline and got it, then won the next two points, sending the match into a second tiebreak with an ace.

"There were a couple of calls that didn't go my way," said Jenkins, a senior from College Park, Georgia. "So I kind of thought I deserved that one. It was all will on that one."

Although Jenkins and Fanselow had played well throughout the match, Jenkins found another gear in the second tiebreaker. He served well taking a 4-2 lead with an ace, then showed off his touch with a drop volley winner for 5-2. Fanselow kept close by taking the next point, but a momentary lapse, which resulted in a netted forehand gave Jenkins three match points. Jenkins didn't get his first serve in, but it didn't cost him, with Fanselow, a senior from Germany, hitting a forehand long to end the 7-6(1), 7-6(3) match.

"I think we both played well today," said Jenkins. "It's unfortunate we couldn't continue it outside, but when we went inside things started to go my way. That match was fun. Two tiebreakers, and I was just able to step up and play really well in both of them."

Jenkins lost to Rola 6-4, 6-2 at the National Team Indoor this year, and in addition to any motivation that may add, Jenkins also knows a US Open main draw wild card likely awaits him if he wins.

"Blaz, I have a tremendous amount of respect for him and am excited to play him tomorrow," said Jenkins. "I think it's pretty cool that a foreigner makes it to the finals, because obviously what I have going for me if I win the tournament, he doesn't have."

That's not the case in the women's final, which will feature two Americans: defending champion Nicole Gibbs of Stanford and Mary Weatherholt of Nebraska, both No. 9 seeds.

Gibbs breezed past unseeded Breaunna Addison of Texas 6-1, 6-1 in 54 minutes, and Weatherholt defeated unseeded Alexa Guarachi of Alabama 6-0, 6-3, also in less than an hour.

Gibbs, who has said all week she is playing much more relaxed after winning the team title, but she admits ambivalence about defending her title.

"I haven't decided yet whether I think that's an advantage or a disadvantage going into the finals," said the junior from Santa Monica, California. "Obviously there's some weight on my shoulder, with a championship to defend from last year, but at the same time, I have late-in-the-tournament experience that my opponent won't have. I think just taking it one step at a time and doing all the things I do to prepare, and then playing every point the way I know how is the only way to really focus on getting to my ultimate goal."

Unlike Gibbs, who has not only two NCAA titles to her credit but also a long and illustrious tennis tradition at Stanford behind her, Weatherholt is the trailblazer for Nebraska, with her every win beyond the first round a new standard for Cornhusker tennis.

"I know I can get it done, but I don't go into a match thinking about the end result one way or the other," said the senior from Prairie Village, Kansas. "So when I finished, it was like, oh my gosh, I'm in the finals. It kind of takes me off guard."

While Gibbs has already enjoyed the perks of a US Open main draw wild card with by virtue of her singles title last year, Weatherholt, who has lost only one match all year, is not even thinking about that possibility.

"I have not considered that," said Weatherholt, who prides herself on her one-point-at-a-time mentality. "I'm not looking past that, because Gibbs is obviously a very strong opponent.  I just love good competition, so I'm looking forward to hopefully a great match tomorrow."

Weatherholt's ability to stay positive was tested in the second game, after she had broken Guarachi to take a 1-0 lead. Down 0-40, Weatherholt saved all three of those break points, and four deuces later she had a 2-0 lead.

"I just try to treat each point the same," said Weatherholt. "I don't really think if I'm down love-40 that the game is over, or up 40-love the game's over. I don't even remember how I got the points back, but I was glad to hold there."

Gibbs and Weatherholt have not played before, but immediately following her win over Addison, Gibbs was back on the practice court with coach Lele Forood.

"I was just trying to get in a groove," said Gibbs. "And I think the girl I'm playing tomorrow is going to have a flatter ball, so I was just trying to transition to that, assuming that Weatherholt continues in the fashion she started."

By the time Gibbs completed her match, the rain had ended, allowing the doubles semifinals to be played outside.  The first men's semifinal, between the No. 3 seeds Jonas Lutjen and Nik Scholtz of Ole Miss and unseeded Chris Camillone and David Holiner of Texas was the first to go on, and the Longhorns had a 6-2, 3-1 lead before the rain, and the Rebels came back.  After a rain delay that stretched past an hour, Lutjen and Scholtz took the second set and a 3-1 lead in the third, only to see Camillone and Holiner win the final five games of the match to take a 6-2, 5-7, 6-3 decision.

Jenkins' quest for the Triple Crown looked to be dying with the daylight at the Khan Outdoor Tennis Center when he and Mac Styslinger, the No. 3 seeds, trailed No. 2 seeds Henrique Cunha and Raphael Hemmeler of Duke 5-2 in the first set.  Styslinger held serve to make it 5-3, and then the rains came, which appeared to work in the Cavaliers' favor, as the came back to win the first set 7-5 and take a 4-1 lead in the second set.

This was not the stage of the match where Jenkins and Styslinger wanted a break, but Styslinger's nosebleed forced a lengthy delay, amounting to more than 10 minutes.  When they returned to the court, Virginia promptly lost two games, to put Duke back on serve at 4-3, but Hemmeler was broken again, and Styslinger served out the match at love to give Virginia a 7-5, 6-3 win and its third pair of NCAA finalists in the past five years.

Last year, the men's NCAA champions Rola and Chase Buchanan of Ohio State completed the first collegiate Triple Crown in doubles, winning the two ITA fall majors and the NCAA title.

This year, Southern Cal's Sabrina Santamaria and Kaitlyn Christian are aiming for their place in history as the only women's team to accomplish that feat after their 7-5, 7-5 win over No. 4 seeds Kata Szekely and Brynn Boren of Tennessee.

Christian and Santamaria didn't make it easy on themselves, losing a 4-0 first set lead, but on serve with Tennessee serving at 5-6 when the rain came, Christian and Santamaria got the break and the first set when play resumed. The Indoor and All-American champions, seeded No. 2 this week, saved three set points down 5-4 in the second set before escaping with a straight set win.

"They're a really good doubles team," said Santamaria. "Maybe the best team we've come across in the entire season and the fall. They did a really great job and we just fought hard those three set points, played for each other and came out on top."

With three major titles already on their resumes, Christian and Santamaria have always been upfront about their desire to add the NCAA title.

"This has been a goal of ours for the entire season, and we've really worked at this," said Christian. "We're really excited to be here and happy to play in the finals tomorrow."

Their opponents will be from Pac-12 rival UCLA, with unseeded Skylar Morton and Robin Anderson advancing to the final with a 7-5, 6-3 win over No. 5 seeds Alexa Guarachi and Mary Anne Macfarlane of Alabama. Santamaria and Christian did not play together against Anderson and Morton in either of the crosstown rival's two dual matches this year.

The singles finals are scheduled for noon, with the women's doubles at 1 p.m. and the men's doubles not before 2 p.m. CDT, depending on the length of Jenkins' singles match.   Rain is again in the forecast, but if outdoors, there will be live streaming with commentary by Harry Cicma and Joe Gentry at ncaa.com.

Check the tournament site for updates on weather Monday.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

NCAA Division I Final Four Decided Indoors; Three of Eight Semifinalists Unseeded

©Colette Lewis 2013--
Urbana, IL--

The NCAA individual championships are outdoor championships, but when weather forced play indoors again on Saturday, there were no complaints from Texas freshman Breaunna Addison.

Addison was down 6-1, 2-0 in her first round match with Danielle Lao, a No. 9 seed from USC, when the rain came.

"That was a big break for me," said Addison, an 18-year-old freshman, who joined the Longhorns in January. "She was playing into the wind very well, she has a really great slice and she was dipping the lob over my head. It was kind of discouraging, but when I heard we could move inside, it kind of gave me a little confidence, because I felt I was a better indoor player maybe than her. I knew I could really go for my shots, because the wind wasn't a factor, and it was just a blessing, honestly. I don't know if I'd be here if we didn't move inside."

On Saturday, Addison was barely into her match with No. 7 seed Gina Suarez-Malaguti of North Carolina, leading 3-2 when the rain settled in for the day less than 30 minutes after the noon start time.

Addison dropped the first set to the Tar Heel senior, but came back in the second, and in a tense final two games, broke and held for a 5-7, 6-1, 6-4 victory.

At 4-4 in the third, Addison broke Suarez-Malaguti, but given the numerous breaks in the match, the result was hardly settled. Serving for the match, Addison needed to save three break points, while Suarez-Malaguti saved two match points before Addison finally crushed a forehand winner for the victory.

"I knew I really had to step in," said Addison, of Boca Raton, Florida. "When I was giving her the opportunity, she was really pulling the trigger and it was paying off, because I couldn't close it out. I felt like, sure, I missed a few, but in the end it would pay off if I just kept going for my shots, trying to get in and put pressure on her."

Addison, only the third woman in Texas history to reach the semifinals, and the first since Kelly Pace in 1995, said she wasn't surprised by her performance this week.

"I didn't really have an expectations coming into this tournament," Addison said. "I'm a good player and if I believe in myself, I feel I can play with the better players in the country."

She will see how she stacks up against another top player on Sunday, when she meets Nicole Gibbs of Stanford, the defending champion.

Gibbs showed no mercy on Clemson sophomore Yana Koroleva, beating her fellow No. 9 seed 6-1, 6-1 to claim her fourth straight-set win this week.

"I had a lot of adversity through my season this year," said Gibbs, who lost to both Pac-12 rivals Sabrina Santamaria of USC and Robin Anderson of UCLA this year. "I didn't have quite as dominant of a regular season performance as I did last year, so I think coming into this tournament, I didn't have any higher expectations for myself. I just really wanted to do everything I could to get us a team title, and we accomplished that. That took a lot of weight off my shoulders and now I'm just playing good tennis, out there competing, not really thinking about defending a title right now, just thinking about whatever is up next."

The second unseeded woman in the semifinals is Alabama's Alexa Guarachi, who defeated unseeded Natalie Beazant of Rice 6-4, 1-6, 6-1 to earn her school's first appearance in the final four.

"It is amazing," said Guarachi, whose father, uncle and great grandfather were all Crimson Tide athletes. "I'm trying not to get too ahead of myself, but I'm going to celebrate the win, then get ready for doubles this afternoon."

Guarachi will be playing No. 9 seed Mary Weatherholt of Nebraska, who is also blazing a trail for her school with each win, after the senior from Kansas defeated No. 6 seed Lauren Herring of Georgia 6-2, 6-2.

"Each [win] comes as a surprise to me," said Weatherholt, who didn't play the fall season due to injury, but lost only one match this season. "There's so many good players here. I think this is probably the best match I've played so far. Personally, I felt like from the beginning I decided to stay with my plan and hit through my shots, pick the smart balls to really go for, and it worked well."

Another player who has lost only one match all season, Ohio State's Blaz Rola, was returning to the site of that loss. Last month, the junior from Slovenia lost to Illinois freshman Jared Hiltzik 6-4, 7-5, but on Saturday he replaced that Atkins Tennis Center memory with a better one, defeating No. 8 seed Henrique Cunha of Duke 4-6, 6-4, 6-1.

"After we moved inside, I had a little trouble getting my rhythm," said Rola, who was up a break in the first set when the rain arrived. "We played here, our Big Ten match, and every time I play here, I wasn't feeling 100 percent, I don't know why."

The quarterfinal match with Cunha hung in the balance in the second set, when Rola, an NCAA semifinalist in 2012 and the doubles champion with Chase Buchanan, dug out from a 0-40 hole to go up 5-4, then broke Cunha for the set.

"Even though I was down 0-40 in that service game, I felt good," Rola said. "Luckily I could turn that game around and got the momentum back. Then in the third set, I got lucky on a couple of points, got the momentum and he got down on himself, and I'm really happy that I came out on top."

Rola will play the third unseeded player in the semifinals, Tulsa's Japie De Klerk, who defeated No. 9 seed Evan King of Michigan 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 and may be spending the evening before his semifinal match with Rola washing clothes.

"To be honest, I only packed enough clothes for three matches," said the junior from South Africa, who is the first Tulsa player to ever reach the NCAA semifinals.  "I was never expecting this, and I still don't know how I won that match. I played a really solid second and third set and just got lucky on some points."

De Klerk, who at 41 was the lowest ranked player in the quarterfinals, credits his improved attitude, and his stamina, for his success this week.

"I think it's more mental for me," said De Klerk, who will be playing his second left-hander in a row on Sunday. "My game's okay, I've been improving a lot this semester, and I'm getting older, so that's helped me. And my body has been holding up quite well, so I think that's a big factor. And I've just been playing good tennis."

So has Virginia senior Jarmere Jenkins, who ended the run of Texas's Soren Hess-Olesen 6-3, 6-2 in the only two set men's quarterfinal match.  Jenkins, despite being the reigning USTA/ITA National Indoor tournament, wasn't pleased when the match was forced indoors.

"I actually prefer playing outside," said Jenkins, who is still alive for the rare NCAA triple crown of singles, doubles and team championships. "Obviously, I'm very comfortable playing indoors, but I guess I'm just used to playing outdoors after these past couple of days outside."

Like Gibbs, Jenkins feels he is playing with less pressure now that he has a team title in hand, but is trying to maintain his edge.

"My family's here and my brother keeps telling me to stay hungry," said Jenkins, the No. 3 seed. "I'm really motivated and I really want to do well and take the title." And referring to the US Open main draw wild card traditionally given to the NCAA champion if American, Jenkins added, "I have a lot of incentive to do so."

Standing in Jenkins' way is No. 9 seed Sebastian Fanselow of Pepperdine, whom Jenkins defeated in the final of the National Indoor. Fanselow, down 3-1 in the final set, came back to defeat unseeded Andreas Mies of Auburn 7-5, 3-6, 6-4 to set up the rematch with Jenkins.

"He's a great competitor," said Fanselow. "Even though last time the score (6-2, 6-1) looked pretty easy, I felt like we still had a tough match. I've got to rest up now, get fresh for tomorrow, because I'm sure it will be a long and physical match."

The doubles quarterfinals were played indoors Saturday evening, as a cold rain continued to fall outside Atkins Tennis Center.

Two players, Guarachi and Jenkins, still have hopes of sweeping the titles, as they advanced to the semifinals with close straight set wins.

Guarachi and Mary Anne Macfarlane, a No. 5 seed, defeated top seeds Kate Fuller and Silvia Garcia of Georgia 7-6(4), 7-5 and will play unseeded Robin Anderson and Skylar Morton of UCLA, who defeated No. 3 seeds Weatherholt and Patricia Veresova of Nebraska 6-4, 6-7(5), 7-6(3).

No. 2 seeds Kaitlyn Christian and Sabrina Santamaria of USC, are still alive for the collegiate doubles Triple crown after a 6-2, 6-0 win over unseeded Melissa Kopinski and Rachel White of Illinois. The All-American and Indoor champions quieted the large partisan crowd packed into the Atkins Center bleachers by winning the last ten games of the match. Christian and Santamaria will play No. 4 seeds Brynn Boren and Kata Szekely of Tennessee, who defeated unseeded Jacqueline Cako and Nicole Smith of Arizona State 6-2, 6-2.

Jenkins and his partner Mac Styslinger, the No. 3 seeds, meet No. 2 seeds Henrique Cunha and Raphael Hemmeler of Duke in their fourth meeting of the year.

Jenkins hit one of the shots of the tournament at 4-4 in the second set against Florida's Bob van Overbeek and Stephane Piro.  At 30-all, Jenkins ran into the adjacent, empty courts, nearly to the doubles alley and hit a shot between the umpire's chair and player bench, around the net post, no more than two feet off the ground, for a winner. They won the next point, got the break, and finished the ultra-competitive encounter 7-6(5), 6-4.

Cunha and Hemmeler, the USTA/ITA Indoor champions, beat All-American champions Mies and Daniel Cochrane of Auburn 6-2, 6-3, and have beaten Jenkins and Styslinger two of the three times they have played this year.

Unseeded Chris Camillone and David Holiner of Texas proved their win over the top seeded Tennessee team Friday was no fluke, downing Hernus Pieters and Ben Wagland of Georgia, a 5 seed, 3-6, 6-4, 7-6(3).  They will play No. 3 seeds Jonas Lutjen and Nik Scholtz of Ole Miss, who beat unseeded Vikram Hundal and Juan Spir of Georgia Tech 6-2, 6-4.

Play begins at noon on Sunday, with the men's singles semifinals, followed by the women's singles semifinals, men's doubles and women's doubles.  Rain is in the forecast for the remaining two days of the tournament.

For complete results, see the tournament page.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Perfect Conditions Make For Great Tennis in NCAA Division I Singles Round of 16

©Colette Lewis 2013--
Urbana, IL--

Thursday's miserable weather, with cold, wind and rain forcing matches indoors, gave way to a glorious spring day at the Khan Outdoor Tennis Center at the University of Illinois, with conditions the best seen in the nine days of the tournament.

A cloudless blue sky, light winds and temperatures in the 60s made for some pretty tennis on Friday, with the match between Southern California's Raymond Sarmiento, a No. 9 seed, and Virginia's Jarmere Jenkins, the No. 3 seed, at the top of the list of the best matches on the tournament.

Jenkins prevailed 7-6(8), 2-6, 6-4 in a seesaw battle that was played at a pace and level that left the coaches, players and fans who witnessed it marveling throughout the afternoon.

Jenkins saved two break points serving at 4-4 in the third set, then quickly went up 0-30 with Sarmiento serving to stay in the match.  Both players showed a willingness to finish points at the net and both have the volleying skills to do so, as Sarmiento demonstrated by winning the next point on a perfect forehand volley.  At 15-30, a long rally ended when Sarmiento's forehand flew past the baseline, and Jenkins had two match points.

Jenkins came to the net on a good approach shot, but Sarmiento's passing shot had a bit too much for him to handle and he couldn't quite coax his forehand volley over the net.  At 30-40, Jenkins again worked his way into the net, and Sarmiento again rifled several passing shots which Jenkins sent back with equal force. As the ball rocketed back and forth across the net with incomprehensible speed, it was Jenkins who ended the rally and the match with a backhand volley out of Sarmiento's reach.

"I knew it was hard to pass on that side," said Jenkins, a senior from College Park, Georgia. "Raymond had been hitting his forehand a lot and hitting it well throughout the end of the match there. When I came in the first time, he hit a pretty good passing shot, but I still got a look at the volley. So I just told myself, I'll do it again, and if he can hit a similar shot or a better shot, too good on his part."

When Jenkins' volley ended the match, just short of the three-hour mark, the fans behind Court 1 immediately began applauding giving Jenkins and Sarmiento an unusually long and enthusiastic ovation.

"He played a really, really good match," said Jenkins, the 2012 USTA/ITA Indoor Intercollegiate champion. "We've always had really high quality matches. I think I played him in NCAAs (team event) at Stanford, and we had a similar match there. It was really high quality, I saw Raymond hit some drop shot volleys, where I was like, wow.  But that's credit to the way college tennis is headed. I feel it used to be where people were talking down on it, but when you get two great players playing like that. For us to get that applause at the end, it was pretty special. I think college tennis is headed in a perfect direction right now."

Jenkins will play one of the three unseeded men who have reached the quarterfinals, Texas's Soren Hess-Olesen, who came back to defeat unseeded Marcos Giron of UCLA 3-6, 6-3, 6-2.  Andreas Mies of Auburn, another unseeded player, earned a 6-3, 6-2 win over Yannick Hanfmann of Southern Cal and will meet Pepperdine's Sebastian Fanselow, a 9 seed, who had a much less dramatic  6-4, 6-2 victory over No. 7 seed Peter Kobelt of Ohio State Friday, compared to his Thursday win over Guillermo Alcorta of Oklahoma, where he saved two match points in a 5-7, 6-3, 7-6(8) decision.

The third unseeded player in the quarterfinals is Japie DeKlerk of Tulsa, who defeated unseeded Alex Sarkissian of Pepperdine 7-6(0), 6-7(3), 6-2.  De Klerk will play Evan King of Michigan, a No. 9 seed, who defeated unseeded Andre Dome of Cal Poly 6-3, 6-4.

The fourth quarterfinal will feature two perennial participants in the late stages of the NCAA individual tournament. No. 8 seed Henrique Cunha, who has reached at least the quarterfinals in his four years at Duke, and Blaz Rola, who has been to the final eight all three of his years at Ohio State. Cunha rolled past Kyle McMorrow, a 9 seed from Washington, and Rola, the 2012 NCAA doubles champion, claimed his third straight-set victory with a 6-3, 6-2 win over unseeded Tsvetan Mihov of South Carolina.

The strangest scoreline of the day saw Mary Weatherholt of Nebraska, a No. 9 seed, beat No. 3 seed Robin Anderson of UCLA 6-7(4), 6-0, 6-0."I think I was playing a little bit tight the first set," said Weatherholt, who had two set points before dropping the tiebreaker. "Not noticeable, but enough so that I let a few points get away from me. So in the second and third, I really committed to playing smart tennis and hitting through my shots, going for them, and not being tentative at all."

Weatherholt, a senior from Kansas who has a record of 28-1 this year, is the first Nebraska Cornhusker to reach the NCAA quarterfinals.

"It's crazy," said the always positive Weatherholt. "I didn't expect it, it's nice."

Weatherholt will play No. 6 seed Lauren Herring of Georgia, who defeated Krista Hardebeck of Stanford, a 9 seed, 6-0, 6-2. Herring said she was well aware of Hardebeck's ability to come back--the freshman had dropped the first set in her opening two matches--and was especially vigilant when Hardebeck finally won a game to make it 3-1 in the second set.

An unseeded semifinalist is guaranteed, with Rice's Natalie Beazant and Alabama's Alexa Guarachi facing each other in the Saturday's quarterfinals.

Beazant, the first woman to reach in the NCAA quartefinals in the history of the Rice program, defeated Caroline Price of North Carolina 6-1, 6-2, while Guarachi, also the first quarterfinalist in Alabama program history had a much longer battle with TCU's Stefanie Tan before posting a 6-3, 2-6, 6-4 victory.

Unseeded Breaunna Addison of Texas is the only freshman in the quarterfinals, after her 6-2, 6-4 win over Jacqueline Cako of Arizona State. Addison will play North Carolina's Gina Suarez-Malaguti, who made short work of No. 9 seed Petra Niedermayerova of Kansas State, 6-1, 6-1.
Defending champion Nicole Gibbs, seeded 9, in the only player from 2012 to again reach the quarterfinals, after she defeated No. 4 seed Christina Sanchez-Quintanar of Texas A&M 6-4, 6-4. Gibbs will play Yana Koroleva, also a 9 seed, after the Clemson sophomore eliminated 2012 semifinalist Zsofi Susanyi of Cal, 7-5, 7-6(6).

The top seeded doubles team of Mikelis Libietis and Hunter Reese of Tennessee lost to unseeded Chris Camillone and David Holiner of Texas 7-6(5), 7-5, while the No. 2 seeded Duke team of Cunha and Raphael Hemmeler saved two match points in their 5-7, 6-4, 7-5 win over Florida State's Dominic Cotrone and Blake Davis.

Complete doubles results can be found on the tournament central page.

Play begins with all at singles matches Saturday at noon CDT.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Rain, Cold and Wind Fail to Dampen All-American Day at NCAA Division I Individual Tournament

©Colette Lewis 2013--
Urbana, IL--

In the career of a college tennis player, few honors are as coveted as that of All-American status, and on a damp and chilly day on the University of Illinois campus 14 players earned that designation by advancing Friday's round of 16.

Players seeded in the NCAA individual tournament already are entitled to that award, but unseeded players can earn it on the court with two wins over the nation's best college tennis players.

For Natalie Beazant of Rice and Aeriel Ellis of Texas, both unseeded, that honor came down to one point.  In a match moved indoors after mist and then actual rain descended on the Khan Outdoor Tennis Center, Beazant saved a match point down 5-2 in the third set against the Longhorn senior, then reeled off five straight games to earn a 6-3, 4-6, 7-5 victory, becoming the first Rice women's All-American since 1986.

For Cal Poly's Andre Dome, whose 6-2, 6-7(5), 6-3 victory over No. 4 seed Anthony Rossi of Kentucky also began outdoors and finished inside, the honor was even more special. The senior from Arroyo Grande, California is the first All-American in the program's Division I history.

"Being an All-American has been my goal all year," said Dome, who hasn't lost a match since late January. "I felt it toward the end of the match, closing it out was pretty tough.  I was so closing to doing it, I just got a little tight, but I served out of it, which was good for me."

Dome doesn't play much indoors, but felt the switch was an advantage for him.

"Having a big serve and big forehand, it's good indoors," said Dome, who lost his serve only once in the match, early in the opening set. "I practiced indoors last night, to get used to the courts--I didn't know it was going to rain--but luckily I had that. I don't play indoors much, but when I do I feel pretty confident."

Cal Poly head coach Nick Carless was excited for his player.

"He deserves everything he's gotten this year," said Carless, a former player himself at Cal Poly. "He's great kid on and off the court, a super hard worker. He's been through a lot in his four years of college tennis. Having to sit out a year injured, a coaching change, it's just great to see him make it in his senior year. For a kid who loves tennis and has grown up in the Central Coast, a little bit overlooked, he just really deserves it. Hopefully he'll have something more to celebrate tomorrow."

Dome will play Michigan's Evan King, a No. 9 seed, who has managed to complete both his 8 a.m. matches quickly, outside, before the rains came Wednesday and Thursday.

Other men to earn All-American status are Japie De Klerk of Tulsa, who beat Jarryd Botha of Alabama 6-3, 6-2; Alex Sarkissian of Pepperdine, a  6-3, 6-0 winner over Vanderbilt's Ryan Lipman, a No. 9 seed; Tsvetan Mihov  of South Carolina, who followed up his win over No. 2 seed Alex Domijan yesterday with a 6-3, 6-3 victory over Roberto Quiroz of Southern California Thursday; UCLA's Marcos Giron, who beat Duke's Michael Redlicki 7-5, 6-3; Southern Cal's Yannick Hanfmann, a 6-4, 6-1 winner over Matija Pecotic of Princeton, a 9 seed; Soren Hess-Olesen of Texas, who beat Clifford Marsland of Tulsa 6-3, 7-5; and Andreas Mies of Auburn, who found the swirling winds and chilly temperatures to his liking against Virginia's Mitchell Frank, taking a 4-6, 6-0, 6-2 decision in a match played entirely outdoors.

Although Dome's win was impressive, Alexa Guarachi's performance against No. 2 seed Sabrina Santamaria of Southern Cal was even more so, with the Alabama senior taking All-American honors in singles with a 6-1, 6-3 victory over the USC sophomore that started and finished outdoors.

"I actually kind of wanted to play indoors," said Guarachi. "But I guess it helped me to play outdoors.  Obviously the conditions are tough to play in, but the biggest thing is moving your feet, and I felt that I did that pretty well, was able to neutralize her pretty well and attack. It's my senior year, so I'm going out there with no regrets, just one more match, one more match. I don't want my career to be over."

Guarachi, who is also an All-American in doubles due to her No. 5 seeding in this tournament, is looking forward the raising of her All-American banner at Alabama.

"It's an incredible accomplishment and an honor to represent Alabama as an All-American," said Guarachi, from Destin, Fla.  "For the women's side, we don't have that many, so it's an honor."

In addition to Beazant and Guarachi, four other women earned All-American honors.

Freshman Breaunna Addison of Texas is the youngest member of that group, beating Stephanie Wagner of Miami 6-2, 6-2; Jacqueline Cako, who beat top seed Lauren Embree of Florida on Wednesday, downed Kata Szekely of Tennessee 6-0, 4-6, 6-1, and will play Addison on Friday.  TCU sophomore Stefanie Tan beat Samantha Vickers of Tulsa 6-2, 6-2 and will face Guarachi next.  Caroline Price was the only player of the four to defeat a seed. The North Carolina sophomore was on top of her game today, downing Julia Elbaba of Virginia, a 9 seed, 6-2, 6-1. She takes on Beazant Friday in the round of 16.

UCLA freshman Kyle McPhillips fell one point short of All-American status. She led No. 9 seed Petra Niedermayerova of Kansas State 6-5 in the final set tiebreaker, but sent a forehand long, and Niedermayerova went on to take the breaker and the match 6-3, 3-6, 7-6(6).

Defending champion Nicole Gibbs of Stanford, a 9 seed, will face No. 4 seed Christina Sanchez-Quintanar of Texas A&M in a rematch of their contest just two days ago in the team championship final. Sanchez-Quintanar won the first eight games, then Gibbs took the next twelve for a 0-6, 6-2, 6-0 decision.

Gibbs is still in the hunt to defend her singles title, but she will not repeat as doubles champion, as she and Kristie Ahn, seeded No. 5, lost to Isaura Enrique and Vickers of Tulsa 6-2, 6-4.

The top seeds in both men's and women's doubles dropped their first sets of the tournament, but both rebounded for victories in this evening's opening round of doubles.

Kate Fuller and Silvia Garcia of Georgia defeated Beazant and Dominique Harmath of Rice 3-6, 6-4, 6-0, while Tennessee's Mikelis Libietis and Hunter Reese rebounded over Duke's Jason Tahir and Redlicki 2-6, 6-2, 6-3.

For complete results and draws, see the tournament central page.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Top Seeds Embree and Libietis Ousted in First Round of NCAA Singles Championships

©Colette Lewis 2013--
Urbana, IL

The Central Illinois weather gods answered the prayers of everyone involved in the NCAA Division I Team Tournament, with no rain delays in the six days of competition. But on the opening day of the singles competition Wednesday, the often-forecast rain finally emerged, with play stopped, and moved indoor on two separate occasions.

Top women's seed Lauren Embree of Florida and top men's seed Mikelis Libietis of Tennessee both saw their dreams of an NCAA singles title evaporate inside the Atkins Tennis Center, with Embree losing to Jacqueline Cako of Arizona State 6-3, 6-2 and Libietis falling to Mitchell Frank of Virginia 6-2, 6-1.

Embree and Cako, ranked 21st, began their match under cloudy skies at the Khan Outdoor Tennis Center, with Cako taking the first set 6-3. Embree, who had lost to Nicole Gibbs of Stanford 6-0, 6-1 in the Team Championship semifinals, was down a break at 3-2 in the second set, but was working her way back into the match, with the games getting much tougher for Cako to win as the match went on.  A shower, brief but heavy, interrupted the match around noon and because they were at 3-2 in the second set, Embree and Cako were one of the six matches sent indoors.

It proved the right move for the Cako, who won the next three games, and got her revenge for her 6-2, 6-3 loss to Embree in the first round of the ITA Riviera All-American last October.

"I definitely wanted to beat her after All-Americans," said Cako, a senior. "That's probably why I didn't get seeded this year, because I didn't do well at All-Americans. I don't play the fall season except for All-Americans, and I drew Lauren there. A tough draw."

Cako, who grew up in the Seattle area, said she is comfortable indoors, but hasn't played inside much during her career at Arizona State. Against Embree, Cako felt she could win if she stuck to her game plan.

"I felt like I played really well and I came out and executed my game plan really well. She wasn't doing much to hurt me, and I just attacked her," Cako said.

After her disappointing loss to Gibbs in the semifinals, ending the Gators run at a third consecutive championship, Embree was looking to close out her outstanding career at Florida with a good run in the individual tournament, which she can still do in the doubles championship, but there's no doubt her results the past three days stung the two-time Team Championship Most Outstanding Player.

"I thought Lauren played with a little bit of pressure, trying to win this tournament, while Jackie played freely and outplayed us," said Florida head coach Roland Thornqvist. "I feel bad for Lauren. She had hopes to win another team title and perhaps give it a run here in the individual championships, but it wasn't meant to be. She's greatly disappointed now, I'm sure, but when she gets away and thinks back on her career, I'm sure she'll be very proud, as we all are."

Thornqvist knows Embree's graduation leaves a huge hole in the Florida lineup.

"It goes way beyond the winning," said Thornqvist. "It's the way she prepares, practices, trains, it's lifted the whole boat for four years. People ask all the time how do you replace a player like that--you just don't. You have to, over time, hope that her footprint lives on, that everyone will continue to learn to train and act like she has. Hopefully we can get some good players next year that can pick up some of the slack, but you just can't replace a player like that."

Tennessee's Libietis was a question mark for the individual championships after he rolled his ankle in the quarterfinals against Tennessee last Saturday, but there was no structural damage, so the sophomore from Latvia took the court Wednesday afternoon against Virginia's title clincher Frank.

After the tense and emotionally draining 4-3 win over UCLA, Frank handled all the media interview requests, text messages and social media obligations, but didn't have time for much celebration.

"I was dealing most of the night with texts and Twitter and Facebook, making sure I responded to each person," said Frank, who won the two fall majors in 2011 as a freshman, but was injured throughout the 2012 fall season. "I've never had 70 text messages on my phone before. And Boland had like 700, so I can only imagine what he was going through."

Frank and Libietis also started outdoors, with Frank taking the first set easily, and Libietis showing few signs of hampered movement. Another brief shower, this one accompanied by a double rainbow, sent the match indoors, and while that would have appeared to be an advantage Libietis, who has a big serve, Frank continued to dominate despite the change in conditions.

"Deep down I was pretty upset that we had to go indoors," Frank admitted. "I felt like he was kind of losing it a little bit. But luckily I returned well indoors--he didn't serve his best today at all, I think he served a lot better against Jarmere (Jenkins), when he played him in the team match--so I was happy to get a couple of breaks indoors. I was nervous coming back in, because this guy has a huge game and you never know what's going to happen."

Despite his resume, which now includes an NCAA team title as well as the ITA All-American and the USTA/ITA Indoor Intercollegiate Championships, Frank, who was the No. 2 seed in last year's NCAA singles tournament, felt this was a big win for him.

"He's obviously earned his No. 1 ranking," said Frank. "This is a very good win for me. He's No. 1 for a reason. He's obviously done unbelievably this season. To be seeded No. 1 in the NCAAs is a tough thing to do, he's obviously been super consistent, so I'm happy to get the win."

Although Frank was able to overcome the well documented championship hangover, his teammate, No. 2 seed Alex Domijan, was not. Domijan fell to South Carolina's Tsvetan Mihov 6-4, 3-6, 6-2.

"I had nothing to lose," said Mihov, a junior from Bulgaria. "I was trusting my shots and my coach, and that helped me in the big moments in the match, especially in the third set."

Mihov made very few errors and handled Domijan's pace with little difficulty. Mihov acknowledged that his strength and concentration late in the match may have been partly due to Virginia's deep run in the team championships.

"Domijan played a lot of matches during this week," said Mihov. "They were tough matches. Congratulations to him and his team, it was a big time win, but I thought it would be easier for me because he had tough matches."

The only one of the two top seeds in the men's and women's draw to survive the first day was women's No. 2 Sabrina Santamaria of Southern Cal, who played under the lights on the north courts after the second rain delay and collected a 6-3, 6-2 win over Texas A&M's Nazari Urbina.

Defending champion Nicole Gibbs of Stanford, a 9-16 seed, was also still on the courts late into the evening, finishing her tough 7-5, 6-4 victory over the hard-hitting Yang Pang of Arkansas after 10 p.m.

In addition to Embree, three other seeds fell on the women's side, with Sofie Oyen of Florida, a 9 seed, losing to Stefanie Tan of TCU 6-3, 6-4,  Danielle Lao of Southern Cal, a 9 seed, falling to Breaunna Addison of Texas 1-6, 6-4, 6-3, and No. 8 seed and USTA/ITA Indoor Intercollegiate finalist Anett Schutting of Cal dropping a 7-5, 6-3 decision to Natalie Beazant of Rice.

The men lost even more seeded players than the women Wednesday, with half of the top eight seeds already eliminated.

No. 6 seed Emilo Gomez of Southern Cal lost to Jarryd Botha of Alabama 6-7(5), 6-3, 7-5 and No. 5 seed Romain Bogaerts of Mississippi State lost to UCLA's  Marcos Giron under the lights 6-4, 7-6(2), and Nik Scholtz of Ole Miss, a No. 9 seed, fell to Clifford Marsland of Tulsa 6-1, 6-4.

The second round of singles and first round of doubles is scheduled for Thursday.

The complete results and draws can be found at the tournament central page.