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Monday, February 10, 2014

Duke Comes Back From 3-0 Deficit to Claim ITA Women's Team Indoor Title

©Colette Lewis 2014--
Charlottesville, VA--

After dropping the doubles point and five first sets in singles to the UCLA Bruins, it appeared Duke's second ITA Team Indoor title would not be won Monday at the Boar's Head Sports Club.  But led by freshman Alyssa Smith's comeback and capped by senior Hanna Mar's clutch play in two tiebreakers, the seventh-seeded Blue Devils turned a 3-0 deficit into an improbable 4-3 victory.

"An hour and a half into the match, it didn't look good at all," said Duke head coach Jamie Ashworth. "Somehow we found a way. We found a way to battle back in every second set and make it competitive. It easily could have been 4-0,  but we competed and scrapped and believed."

UCLA freshman Jennifer Brady was serving for the match against Mar at No. 3, with UCLA up 3-1, just four points from the title.  Brady had taken the first set 6-3, and had broken Mar in a seven-deuce game to claim a 5-4 lead, but she won only one point in that game, with Mar staying positive and defending admirably while nerves began to be an issue for Brady.

While Brady was losing that match and championship game, Duke pulled even, with Trice Capra taking a match tiebreaker from Robin Anderson at line 1 for a 1-6, 6-3, 10-7 victory, and Ester Goldfeld succeeding in her second opportunity to serve for the match, beating Chanelle Van Nguyen 6-4, 7-5.

So all the attention went to court 3, just as it had last year, when North Carolina freshman Whitney Kay defeated UCLA senior Pam Montez 6-2, 4-6, 7-6(5) to clinch a 4-3 win for the Tar Heels.

Mar held to go up 6-5, and Brady served well in the next game to hold at love and send the match into a tiebreaker, which Mar had to win. Brady's serve, an important part of her big game, deserted her at this stage, and she failed to get a first serve in play in her five attempts. Brady began to miss wildly, while Mar continued to get as many balls back as she could, and leading 4-3 in the tiebreaker, Mar somehow snuck a forehand volley winner past Brady at the net. That was all that was necessary to rattle Brady, who hit a forehand approach way long and then double faulted to give Mar the tiebreaker seven points to three.

The two-minute set break didn't stall Mar's momentum, with the diminutive Illinois native taking the first three points of the match tiebreaker that would decide the championship.  Brady continued to struggle, making errors she had mostly avoided in the first two sets, while Mar scrambled and made first serves, seemingly oblivious to the pressure.  Even when she found herself down 7-2 in the match tiebreaker, Brady was unable to loosen up and swing freely, and when Mar hit a bold backhand volley winner and then a short slice that led to a Brady netted forehand, she had a 9-2 lead and seven championship points.  Brady won the next point, getting a rare first serve in and outlasting Mar in a long rally, but it was a short reprieve.  On the next point, Brady hit a forehand long, and the Duke celebration began.

"The tougher player won and the tougher team won," said UCLA head coach Stella Sampras Webster, whose team was seeded fourth in the tournament. "We didn't handle the pressure as well as we needed to today. But it's all about getting better, improving, and learning from it."

Mar was able to do what every tennis player hopes to in that moment, with their opponent serving for the match.

"I tried to keep it simple," Mar said. "One point at a time. Not one game, one point. It was just little steps, step by step."

After losing the doubles point in 34 minutes, with UCLA's Anderson and Brady beating Capra and Mar 6-2 at 1 and Catherine Harrison and Kyle McPhillips defeating Goldfeld and Smith 6-1 at 2, Duke needed someone to take not a little step, but a big one, and that came from Smith at 4.

Just as Kaitlin Ray completed her 6-1, 6-1 victory over Duke's Marianne Jodoin at line 6 to make it 2-0 UCLA, Smith earned a match tiebreaker with Kyle McPhillips at 4, winning the second set 6-1 after losing the first 6-3.

Smith led 7-5 at the second change of ends and maintained her lead, although she needed a bold and difficult overhead winner to go up 9-7. McPhillips saved the first match point with a forehand return winner, but Smith prevailed in a long rally on the next one, with McPhillips eventually netting a forehand to give Smith the 3-6, 6-1, 10-8 victory.

"I knew that every point was going to count," said Smith, from Laguna Niguel, California. "UCLA is a really deep team. But I trusted all the girls on my team. I knew everyone was fighting so I just had to keep doing the same. You start with one and you build from that, so I was really happy to get that first one under my belt."

Just a few minutes after Smith put Duke on the board, UCLA's Harrison completed her 6-3, 6-4 win over Rachel Kahan at line 5 to make it 3-1 UCLA. Duke needed to win all three matches still on the court, and they did with Goldfeld making it 3-2 and Capra tying it at 3.

Mar's match tiebreaker win was her third in three matches (she also split sets in her first match but didn't finish the tiebreaker), while Duke won 6 of its 8 match tiebreakers and all three played on Monday.

"We played really well when pressure was on us, which was good to see," said Ashworth, who coached Duke to the title in 2003. "Hanna's been doing that for us for four years. She's one of the most improved players in the country. When she came in her freshman year, she wasn't in our top six in the lineup, but she worked her butt off to be able to win matches like this for us."

After a 2012-13 season in which injuries and Capra's academic suspension kept Duke from fielding a full lineup during conference play and the NCAA tournament, Ashworth was not expecting a National Championship just nine months later.

"It's a tribute to the girls we have," said Ashworth. "I wouldn't wish what we went through on anybody, but it's such a learning experience for myself and for our team and it's made us better. It's made us tougher and it's made us not take anything for granted. And we've played like that all weekend."

Mar, who was one of the few Duke players to remain healthy and play all last season, acknowledged that the adversity had its benefits.

"It was tough," Mar said. "I think we learned a lot about what it means to be a team. And I'm really glad we can be here this year and be a really strong team together and achieve this. It feels amazing."

For complete results, see the ITA tournament page.

Duke University 4, UCLA 3

Feb 10, 2014 at Charlottesville, Va. (Boar's Head Sports Club)
1. #3 Beatrice Capra (DU) def. #1 Robin Anderson (UCLA) 1-6, 6-3, 10-7
2. #45 Ester Goldfeld (DU) def. #9 Chanelle Van Nguyen (UCLA) 6-4, 7-5
3. #49 Hanna Mar (DU) def. #24 Jennifer Brady (UCLA) 3-6, 7-6 (7-3), 10-3
4. Alyssa Smith (DU) def. #36 Kyle McPhillips (UCLA) 3-6, 6-1, 10-8
5. Catherine Harrison (UCLA) def. Rachel Kahan (DU) 6-3, 6-4
6. Kaitlin Ray (UCLA) def. Marianne Jodoin (DU) 6-1, 6-1

1. #1 Robin Anderson/Jennifer Brady (UCLA) def. Beatrice Capra/Hanna Mar (DU) 6-2
2. Catherine Harrison/Kyle McPhillips (UCLA) def. Ester Goldfeld/Alyssa Smith (DU) 6-1
3. Courtney Dolehide/Chanelle Van Nguyen (UCLA) vs. Annie Mulholland/Chalena Scholl (DU) 4-4, unfinished

Match Notes
Order of finish: Doubles (2,1); Singles (6,5,4,2,1,3)


College Tennis said...

Duke won all the match tiebreakers which is a big equalizer to the weaker team. This format needs to stop and play out a real third set.

Even worse is when the best team, Stanford does not even bother to show up for this event. Terrific for match play but a national team title that means nothing.

marcoforehand said...

First, congratulations to Duke on a National title. I was impressed last spring when they made it to the round of 16 in the NCAA's with just 5 players and only 4 of those were players with scholarships.
Complaints about the format sound like sour grapes to me.Stanford is the current NCAA champion, Duke is the current ITA National Indoor Champion. These are facts. Who the "best" team is, is an opinion.
College tennis is a collection of pressure points, different pressure points then those you see in a ATP or WTA match. Watching momentum swings is a lot of what makes college tennis special. While I don't endorse all the format changes that were tried over the past few weeks,the 10 point tie breaker in lieu of a 3rd set made for the feeling that anything was possible even in matches that eventually finished 4 2.For me,part of what makes watching college tennis great is trying to stay on top of what is happening on multiple courts. Seeing how one courts change in course affects other courts. I was at this event and I found the new final set format heightened that aspect of the game.
To say the result is a national team title that means nothing strikes me as a rude pronouncement. 64 teams entered the event, knowing what the rules were.One team finished undefeated.

College Tennis said...

I was at the match as well.

I really enjoy the doubles aspect of the format. One set is a perfect amount and makes it more exciting. Not playing the third set in singles takes away the physical nature of the game, favors the weaker and more conservative player.

The College MatchDay format needs to be erased immediately. Not playing doubles is a crime to player's development and what majority of fans play. Also bring back a warmup, make it 3 minutes but needs to be something for players safety with injuries, shoulders, etc.

Duke has a great team and one of the elite teams in the country. Winning the Indoor title does not hold any merit as far as a National Title is concerned, that National Team title occurs in May. Stanford doesn't play National Indoors, UCLA and USC does not ever practice indoors although I applaud their efforts in competing.

RH said...

I don't think it's sour grapes to say that the 10-point tiebreak is an equalizer for the weaker team -- that's more or less a fact. For instance, if the French Open were played 2 out of 3, with a 10-point tiebreak instead of a 3rd set, it's a given that Rafa would be a lot more vulnerable to an upset by an opponent who is able to put together a string of good points, as opposed to a sustained string of good games and sets.

However, this final wasn't an example of an upset by a weaker team -- I think the 2 teams are fairly evenly matched. Duke was able to navigate the new format better and they deserve huge props for winning the title against such a talented field. Though, the tennis fan in me would have loved to have seen those third sets played out, which I really do think is a better showcase of skill and physical endurance.

Martini said...

As far as I can tell, the lower ranked team won 22/37 match tiebreakers this weekend (roughly 60%). The lower ranked player won 12/30 (40%).

The format is fine from a competitive/excitement standpoint, but there is a psychological aspect of this format that is a bit suspect as a way to decide a match. The lower ranked team/player may look at the match tiebreaker as an opportunity to “steal” a win by playing better in a short 10 minute span (during the breaker), in an otherwise level match.

A similar thing happens with two big servers like Isner and Raonic, who lack top return skills. You get the sense quite often that these guys just try to get the set into a tiebreaker, where they take their chances with getting a mini-break or two. These guys often look like the more incomplete player on court, but they win matches by just taking care of their serve. That’s fair enough because they have to win at least 12 games to win the match; they have to work harder to earn the right to “steal” a set/match through a tiebreak.

At the end of the day, you want to identify the best overall player in terms of technical, physical, tactical, and psychological skills. I feel the match tiebreaker doesn’t do that, as it seems to identify first and foremost the player/team who can handle the psychological side of the game over the other aspects. That’s not wrong, but it’s not right either.

Monkeying with the scoring is not the answer to decreasing match time or increasing viewership or increasing ad revenue. In my opinion, the quality of the game needs to improve for those things to happen. There are other measures that could be taken for college tennis to thrive, and not just survive.

Lovethegame said...

College Tennis is basically one of the only NCAA sports where only 3-5 teams could actually win the NCAA title. The match tiebreak for a 3rd set definitely changes that to some degree. There will be more upsets. That is exciting as a fan and as a spectator. As a former player, it would be frustrating sometimes, because you will probably lose more. The fitness element is neutralized a bit, but I cannot tell you how many matches I have seen that were lost because someone was cramping or throwing up. That was not fun to watch. Sometimes a good player/team won a brutal match in the tournament and had nothing left in the tank the next match. Again, not great as a spectator. NCAA baseball, basketball, football, golf, etc. have multiple teams that can win NCAA because of the format. This is better in the long run because it will provide more competition. The big name programs may not dominate as much as they did in the past. But parody is good for the fans.