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Friday, March 17, 2017

My Interview with USTA Collegiate Director Stephen Amritraj; Georgia Ends Florida's 163-match Home Winning Streak; McDonald, Collins Win $100K Oracle Grants; Smith Advances to Bakersfield Futures Semifinals; Sock into BNP Paribas Semifinals

I had an opportunity to sit down with Stephen Amritraj, the USTA's Director of Collegiate Tennis last month, when I visited the National Campus in Lake Nona. We talked about the new collegiate facility there, the summer team, the upcoming college combine and several other topics for this Tennis Recruiting Network article. It's always fun to get insight on the the current college season from someone who follows it closely, and Amritraj provided several dark horse picks for Division I.  He also said, "I find the parity to be challenging for all the favorites and I think anyone who assumes that the best teams are just going to waltz through, well, I don't think the coaches think that way."

He was proven right tonight, when the sixth-seeded Georgia women defeated No. 1 and National Indoor Team Champions Florida 4-1 in Gainesville, ending the Gators home winning streak at 163.  That streak, which extends back to 2005, was the longest current home winning streak in any NCAA sport.

Georgia won the doubles point and took four first sets in singles, putting all the pressure on Florida. Two quick wins by Ellen Perez at line 1 over Belinda Woolcock and Elena Christofi at line 2 over Ingrid Neel (Christofi had also beaten Neel in the first round of the Orange Bowl back in 2015), made it 3-0.  Josie Kuhlman got Florida on the board with a win over Caroline Brinson at line 4, and Florida's Anna Danilina forced a third set in her line 3 match with Kennedy Shaffer, but Brooke Austin was unable to close out Georgia's Marta Gonzalez at line 5, losing a second set tiebreaker, and Florida's Kourtney Keegan was down a set and a break to Mariana Gould at line 6.

Keegan came back to make it 4-4 against Gould and actually served for the set, but couldn't hold and she was forced to save a match point on a deciding point serving at 5-6. Keegan trailed 4-2 in the tiebreaker, but got it back to 5-5, only to miss an overhead to give Gould another match point.  A tense rally ensued, with Gould playing aggressively and Keegan defending, but eventually Gould forced an error from Keegan to set off a joyous celebration by the Bulldogs. For more on the match, see Georgia's website.

Even with the parity that no-ad has brought, I will admit to being surprised that the streak ended with this team, one of the strongest in the dozen years since their last home loss.

While the Georgia women had a great win, the men lost a tough one at home to No. 1 Wake Forest 4-3. Borna Gojo of Wake Forest came from 4-2 down in the third set against a cramping Emil Reinberg at line 2 to get the win for the Demon Deacons over the 12th-ranked Bulldogs.

In more college news, Oracle CEO Mark Hurd and tennis great Chris Evert today announced the winners of the newly established Oracle US Tennis Awards, with NCAA singles champions Mackenzie McDonald of UCLA and Danielle Collins of Virginia the first recipients of the $100,000 grants.  For more on the awards, see the ITA website.

Qualifier Keegan Smith continued his impressive run at the $25,000 Bakersfield Futures, beating wild card Bradley Klahn, who has been as high as 63 in the ATP rankings, 6-2, 6-3 in today's quarterfinals. The 18-year-old UCLA recruit, who is competing in just his fourth Futures event, has yet to drop a set in his six victories.  He will play top seed Kimmer Coppejans of Belgium, currently 200 in the ATP rankings, Saturday.

Jack Sock picked up his first ATP Top 5 victory today in the quarterfinals of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, defeating Kei Nishikori of Japan 6-3, 2-6, 6-2 to advance to this first Masters semifinal.  Sock will next face Roger Federer, who advanced via walkover when Nick Kyrgios could not play due to illness. Federer is 2-0 against Sock with straight-sets wins in Basel in 2016 and Indian Wells in 2015.  For more on Sock's win over Nishikori, see the ATP website.