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Saturday, May 28, 2016

Butts Overcomes Crowd, Metzler to Take Men's D-III Singles Title; Chong Repeats as Women's Champion; D-I Semis Set; French Open Junior Championships Begin Sunday

©Colette Lewis 2016--
Kalamazoo, MI

Claremont-Mudd-Scripps senior Skyler Butts had to deal with hundreds of his opponent's fans and classmates roaring on every point. Wesleyan sophomore Eudice Chong had to face the only player who had beaten her in Division III competition. But both made their experience in the big moment work for them, with Butts defeating Kalamazoo College's Branden Metzler 6-2, 6-7(0), 6-2 and Chong downing Juli Raventos of Williams 6-2, 7-5 to claim the 2016 NCAA Division III singles titles Saturday at Stowe Stadium.

Metzler's run to the final had drawn large crowds of students and local tennis fans and despite the holiday weekend, more than 400 showed up to clap, chant and encourage the No. 7 seed.  Butts, who had reached the final in 2015, losing to teammate Warren Wood, was able to tune them out, even after failing to convert two match points at 6-2, 5-3.

The fourth-seeded Butts played a nearly flawless first set, while Metzler admitted his emotions were scattered.

"It was a little bit of nerves, being out here, never playing in an NCAA finals, and I think Skyler had a little advantage there," said the junior from Rockford, Illinois. "That's not an excuse. Good players come out and play when they need to, and Skyler played a great first set."

Metzler steadied himself in the second set, with three straight holds, but a rare missed overhead from Metzler gave Butts a 4-3 lead. Butts held for 5-3 and four points into his own serve, Metzler found himself down two match points. Butts missed a volley on the first, and Metzler cracked a service winner on the second, with the crowd finding a new decibel level when he closed out the game.

Butts made a couple of errors attempting to serve out the match, with Metzler also pressuring him. Butts saved two break points, but double faulted to give Metzler another one and an unforced error on the forehand sent the crowd into a frenzy.

Metzler was broken in the next game, but again he came out firing with Butts serving for the match. Two forehand winners by Metzler sandwiched around a netted Butts backhand and Metzler had two break points, converting the second to send the match to a tiebreaker.  The tiebreaker was no contest, with winners coming in bunches off Metzler's racquet, and he had evened the match.

Butts said it wasn't nerves that kept him from serving out the match.

"He kind of took it to me, I felt," Butts said. "I dropped the ball short a little more, and I maybe had a lapse in energy. I wasn't moving quite as well. But he played well. He took his chances when he had them and then hit a bunch of winners, so credit to him. He was amped up from the crowd, and saving match points, that gets everyone excited. I played a good match, it was just his time right there."

Butts said his strategy to regain the momentum was a simple one.

"I just tried to focus on getting ahead in each game," said the 22-year-old, who grew up in Hong Kong before moving to California at age 16. "Until 5-3, I'd been giving myself great looks by winning the first point, he gets a little tighter, so I tried to keep my focus on that, rather than the match points I had."

Butts won his first two service games in the third set at love, and his game plan began to again pay dividends when he broke Metzler for a 4-2 lead.

"I kind of felt like his backhand was a bit of a liability," said Butts. "Not that he missed it a lot, but he would roll it and wouldn't really be able to hurt me. He moves great to the forehand though, so I just tried to limit that."

Metzler, who had made a habit of coming from 4-2 down in sets during his four previous victories, was unable to do it in the finals, in spite of someone in the crowd yelling, 'you've got him right where you want him,' after Metzler was broken. Butts held for 5-2 and Metzler final game was a poor one, giving Butts the title that had eluded him last year.

"He's a good player and he made less mistakes than me in the third," Metzler said. "I gave him too many free points. I just ran out of gas."

After the final point, the crowd gave Metzler a standing ovation lasting more than a minute.

"I won't ever forget that," said Metzler, who vowed to work on his fitness for next year. "Playing in front of my home crowd, I just can't put it into words. My mom was able to come, so many people here, I can't even process it now."

Butts said he was happy to add the NCAA singles title to the team title CMS won last year, but said there was no comparison for him.

"Team is better," said Butts. "It means so much more. You come together as one unit really. You strive for that goal, for us it was three years, and it was a major breakthrough. And it's a lot more fun to share it with people."

Chong now has an impressive ten-match winning streak in NCAA singles play, after collecting her second straight title with the win over top seed Raventos.

Despite her status as defending champion, Chong was seeded second due to her loss to Raventos in April. Neither had lost a set in reaching the final, and after the semifinals, Chong had predicted a long battle for the title.

But Chong was the sharper of the two in the first set, getting the only two holds of serve in the eight games,  Raventos, who was playing her fifth singles matches in three days, didn’t look as sharp as she had during the team tournament as the week wore on, and Chong was able to dictate many of the points.

With their previous meeting indoors, the recently resurfaced Stowe Stadium courts and the warm and humid conditions provided a contrast.

"The courts were a little faster, so it was slightly different the last time we played,” said the 20-year-old from Hong Kong. “But generally, not much changed. We both played well, I was just lucky enough to do well and get the important points. I did well today to stay aggressive, stay on top of it. But she made me work very hard at this and I’m really happy I came through today.”

Chong was behind 3-1 in the second set, but won the next four games and served for the match at 5-3. She didn’t get to match point however, and Raventos held to make it 5-5.

“She played a really good game,” Chong said, explaining her inability to serve out the match. “I think she hit like two winners off the forehand. I did well to just come back in the next game, fighting, and not giving up.”

Chong held for 6-5 and played a really good game herself, connecting on three straight winners to close out the championship.

“Eudice played very well, she was very solid, made few mistakes,” said Raventos, a 20-year-old from Costa Rica. “She pressured me from the start, so it was really hard.”

Raventos had become a crowd favorite during the tournament, and when they weren’t roaring for Metzler, shouts of ‘Go Juli’ could be heard coming from the stands.

“They started cheering for me yesterday, and I really liked it, so they kept cheering for me,” said Raventos. “I hope they stick around for the doubles.”

Chong admitted that beating the only Division III player that she had lost to was particularly satisfying.

“I wouldn’t say it was extra special, but it gave me motivation to try harder,” said Chong. “I knew I’d lost to her a couple of times before. I used that as motivation to make myself work harder, keeping my feet moving.”

Raventos did capture a title Saturday however, or rather retained one, as she and Linda Shin defended their doubles title with a 6-2, 2-6, 6-2 win over top seeds Katie Kuosman and Caroline Ward of Claremont-Mudd-Scripps.

Raventos and Shin were unseeded last year when they beat Kuosman and Ward for the title; this year they were seeded second to the CMS pair due to a loss to them earlier in the season.

"They're a great team, very good doubles players," said Raventos, who played nine matches over the past three days. "It's a lot of fun to play them. They're awesome, we really like them."

"We look forward to playing them because they're very nice, they hit the ball very well," said Shin, a junior from Georgia. 

"In the individual tournament they go into looking to have a lot of fun," said Williams coach Alison Swain. "That's how they approached it last year and you can see on court that they're enjoying themselves out there. Today's match was a lot of fun for me to watch because it was just such good aggressive doubles all the way around."

With school out for the summer at Williams, Raventos and Shin can recover from the grueling six days they spent on the Stowe Stadium courts, playing two and three matches a day.

"Now they get to relax," said Swain. "Now it's actually summer," said Raventos.

The men’s doubles title went to unseeded Sam Geier and Tristan Kaye of Kenyon, who defeated No. 4 seed Palmer Campbell and Hamid Derbani of Middlebury.

Geier and Kaye opened the day’s doubles action with a 7-6(1), 6-1 win over unseeded Benjamin Forhan and Matthew Heinrich of Stevens in the semifinals, while Derbani and Campbell took out top seeds CJ Krimbill and Louis Stuerke of Case Western Reserve 6-1, 6-3.  

Geier, a senior from Indiana, and Kaye, a junior from Tampa, did not have any expectations coming into the tournament, but once they won their opening match, a national title started to come into focus.

“We had a lot of confidence after our first match and we knew we were playing really, really well,” said Geier. “To win the first match was a big thing,” said Kaye. “We just played free, and in two of the matches this tournament we didn’t get broken, so that was huge. Big serving, putting volleys away, bread and butter stuff really.”

“We knew we could do it after we won that first match,” said Geier, who was seeded No. 2 in the singles tournament, falling in the quarterfinals. “It was a bit disappointing in singles, but I think I bounced back well. I couldn’t have asked for better matches and Tristan played amazing.”

As for his last collegiate match resulting in a championship, Geier couldn’t have been more satisfied. 

“I really couldn’t ask for anything better, honestly,” he said. “It’s an unbelievable feeling, it really is.”

Complete draws can be found at the Kalamazoo College tournament central page.

At the Division I individual championships in Tulsa, the singles and doubles semifinals are set for Sunday.

Men's Singles:
[1] Mikael Torpegaard (Ohio St.) vs [5] Cameron Norrie (TCU)           [9-16] Joao Monteiro (Virginia Tech) vs [6] Mackenzie McDonald (UCLA)
Women's Singles:
[1] Hayley Carter (North Carolina) vs [8] Sinead Lohan (Miami)
[7] Luisa Stefani (Pepperdine) vs  [2] Danielle Collins (Virginia) 

Men's Doubles
David Biosca-Rogerio Ribeiro (ETSU) vs Arthur Rinderknech-Jackson Withrow (Texas A&M)
Alex Lawson-Quentin Monaghan (Notre Dame) vs [2] Mackenzie McDonald-Martin Redlicki (UCLA)

Women's Doubles
[1] Hayley Carter-Whitney Kay (North Carolina) vs [4] Maegan Manasse-Denise Starr (California)  
[3] Brooke Austin-Kourtney Keegan vs  [5-8] Catherine Harrison-Kyle McPhillips (UCLA) 

The French Open Junior Championships begin Sunday in Paris, with 18 US juniors in the draw. In the girls draw: Usue Arconada(9), Alexandra Sanford, Kayla Day(3), Morgan Coppoc, Claire Liu, Caty McNally, Maria Mateas, Sonya Kenin(10), Michaela Gordon, Amanda Anisimova(2). The first six are on Sunday's schedule.  

US juniors in the boys draw: Nathan Ponwith, Gianni Ross, Brandon Holt, JJ Wolf, Ulises Blanch(3), Vasil Kirkov, John McNally(15), Sam Riffice.  The first six on are Sunday's schedule. 

Top seed Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece won his second Futures title of the month and fourth of his career today in Italy. In between those two Futures titles, he won the Grade A in Milan, so if he's not exhausted, he's a definite favorite for the championship. Girls Milan winner Olesya Pervushina of Russia is the top girls seed at Roland Garros.  The Tennis Recruiting Network has published its probabilities for the tournament here.