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Monday, May 31, 2021

North Carolina State and Florida State Top 2021 Men's Recruiting Class Rankings; Ten More Americans Advance to French Open Second Round; Little Rock Challenger Underway

The spring version of the men's Tennis Recruiting Network recruiting class rankings were revealed today, with North Carolina State and Florida State sharing the top spot, the first time in 16 years of these rankings that a tie has occurred at No. 1. Florida State got more first place votes--10, than North Carolina State, which received six--but they both totaled 470. In third place was UCLA, followed by Columbia, Alabama, Illinois, Tennessee, Cornell, Michigan and Georgia. I am one of the 20 panelists who voted, which I've done twice a year, for men and for women, for 16 years now.

The full Top 25 list, plus more details on the players from North Carolina State and Florida State who make up these stellar classes is here.

Ten Americans joined the four who advanced on Sunday in the second round of the French Open with wins today. Nine more US players are on the schedule for Tuesday, when the first round concludes.


Tommy Paul went into extra innings to win his match with wild card Christopher O'Connell, after he looked to be well in control after the first two sets.

Nineteen-year-old qualifier Hailey Baptiste won her first match a slam, defeating Anna Blinkova of Russia 6-1, 6-4. Sebastian Korda defeated Pedro Martinez of Spain in his run to the fourth round at last fall's French Open, but this year, Martinez got the win beating last week's ATP Parma 250 champion 6-4, 6-2, 6-2.

Monday's French Open first round results featuring Americans:

Serena Williams[7] v Irina-Camelia Begu(ROU) 7-6(6), 6-2
Sofia Kenin[4] d. Jelena Ostapenko(LAT) 6-4, 4-6, 6-3
Hailey Baptiste[Q] d. Anna Blinkova(RUS) 6-1, 6-4
Rebecca Peterson(SWE) d. Shelby Rogers 6-7(3), 7-6(8), 6-2
Madison Brengle d. Maria Osorio Serrano[Q](COL) 7-5, 6-4
Jessica Pegula[28] d. Lin Zhu(CHN) 6-4, 4-6, 6-4
Pedro Martinez(ESP) d. Sebastian Korda 6-4, 6-2, 6-2
Tommy Paul d. Christopher O’Connell[WC](AUS) 6-2, 6-4, 4-6, 4-6, 10-8
Cameron Norrie(GBR) d. Bjorn Fratangelo[Q] 7-5, 7-5(5), 6-2
Steve Johnson d. Frances Tiafoe 6-7(5), 3-6, 6-4, 6-2, 6-1
Taylor Fritz[30] d. Joao Sousa(POR) 6-4, 6-2, 6-4
Reilly Opelka[32] d. Andrej Martin(SVK) 6-3, 6-2, 6-4
John Isner[31] d. Sam Querrey 7-6(2), 6-3, 6-4

Tuesday's first round French Open matches featuring Americans:

Tennys Sandgren v Novak Djokovic[1](SRB)
Jenson Brooksby[Q] v Aslan Karatsev[24](RUS)
Bernard Pera v Ashleigh Barty[1](AUS)
Coco Gauff[24] v Aleksandra Krunic[Q](SRB)
Jennifer Brady[13] v Anastasia Sevastova(LAT)
Sloane Stephens v Carla Suarez Navarro(ESP)
Venus Williams v Ekaterina Alexandrova[32](RUS)
Ann Li v Margarita Gasparyan(RUS)
Varvara Lepchenko[Q] v Shuai Zhang(CHN)

Men's doubles begins on Tuesday, with 11 US men competing in that draw. Rajeev Ram(Illinois) is the only one seeded, with he and Joe Salisbury(Memphis) of Great Britain No. 3.

The ATP Challenger circuit resumes this week in the US, with a Challenger 80 in Little Rock Arkansas. Jason Jung(Michigan) of Taiwan is the top seed, while Michael Mmoh, who was in the draw as the second seed, withdrew. Americans qualifying for the main draw were 2019 Kalamazoo 18s champion Zachary Svajda and Stefan Kozlov. Canadian Alexis Galarneau(North Carolina State), who played the NCAAs last week in Lake Nona, reaching the round of 16, also qualified for the main draw.

Wild cards went to Ryan Harrison, Zane Khan and Oliver Crawford(Florida). Crawford plays Peter Polansky of Canada on Tuesday, while Harrison lost to Goncalo Oliveira of Portugal and Khan lost to No. 5 seed Mitchell Krueger. Jung also played his first round match today, beating Christian Harrison 6-1, 6-2. 

Here is a preview of the tournament from the Arkansas Democrat Gazette. Note that there is a mistake in Jung's first name.

Free live streaming, with Mike Cation providing commentary, is available here.

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Coleman Wins J3 Title in Portugal; Three Former NCAA Champions Earn First Round Victories at French Open; Williams Freshman Ekstrand Takes D-III Women's Singles Title, Carleton's Vithoontien is Men's Singles Champion



Duke signee Ellie Coleman won the girls singles title today at the J3 in Portugal, earning the third ITF Junior Circuit singles title of her career. The top-seeded Coleman, who hadn't played since the South American Grade A Banana Bowl in early March, defeated unseeded Nina Vargova of Slovakia 6-0, 7-6(5) in today's final. Coleman is scheduled to play the Roland Garros Junior Championships, which begin a week from today. 

It was a good first day at the French Open for three former NCAA singles champions, with Virginia's Danielle Collins (2014 & 2016) and UCLA's Marcos Giron(2014) and Mackenzie McDonald(2016) picking up victories today.

Giron was trailing No. 16 seed Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria by two sets to one when Dimitrov retired. Giron was down 2-6, 4-6, 1-5, 0-40 before he rebounded for a 2-6, 4-6, 7-5, 3-0, retired, victory. 

There are 31 Americans total in the singles draws: 13 men and 18 women. Seven Americans played their first round matches today, 15 are on Monday's schedule, leaving the last nine for Tuesday.

Sunday's French Open first round results of Americans:

Madison Keys[23] d. Oceane Dodin[WC](FRA) 6-3, 3-6, 6-1
Paula Badosa[33](ESP) d. Lauren Davis 62, 76(3)
Veronika Kudermetova[29](RUS) d. Amanda Anisimova 76(5), 61
Danielle Collins d. Xiyu Wang[Q](CHN) 62, 46, 64
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova[31](RUS) d. Christina McHale 64, 61

Marcos Giron d. Grigor Dimitrov[16](BUL) 26, 46, 75, 3-0 ret.
Mackenzie McDonald[Q] d. Emil Ruusuvuori(FIN) 46, 63, 76(4), 63

Monday's French Open first round matches featuring Americans:

Serena Williams[7] v Irina-Camelia Begu(ROU)
Sofia Kenin[4] v Jelena Ostapenko(LAT)
Hailey Baptiste[Q] v Anna Blinkova(RUS)
Shelby Rogers v Rebecca Peterson(SWE)
Madison Brengle v Maria Osorio Serrano[Q](COL)
Jessica Pegula[28] v Lin Zhu(CHN)

Sebastian Korda v Pedro Martinez(ESP)
Tommy Paul v Christopher O’Connell[WC](AUS)
Bjorn Fratangelo[Q] v Cameron Norrie(GBR)
Steve Johnson v Frances Tiafoe
Taylor Fritz[30] v Joao Sousa(POR)
Reilly Opelka[32] v Andrej Martin(SVK)
Sam Querrey v John Isner[31]

The singles champions were decided today at the NCAA Division III Championships in Chattanooga Tennessee, with Erica Ekstrand of Williams winning the women's title and Leo Vithoontien of Carleton claiming the men's title to make history for their programs.
Vithoontien, a senior from Thailand, reached the men's singles final in 2019, losing to Jonathan Jemison of Emory. This year Vithoontien, the No. 4 seed, defeated No. 5 seed Boris Sorkin of Tufts 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 in the final to become the first NCAA champion in Carleton athletics. Sorkin had defeated top seed Ethan Hillis of Washington-St. Louis in the semifinals. 

Ekstrand, a freshman from Santa Monica, defeated Emory's Christina Watson 6-2, 6-3 in the final to become the first woman from Williams to win an NCAA Division III singles title. Ekstrand took out top seed and defending champion Ysabel Gonzalez-Rico of Emory 6-1, 6-3 in the semifinals. 
Vithoontien added a second NCAA title to his resume later in the day in men's doubles. After the singles final, he and partner Xander Zuczek won two doubles matches, beating a team from George Fox in the semifinals to reach the finals. In the final, Vithoontien and Zuczek, who were unseeded, defeated unseeded Jeffrey Chen and Adam Tzeng from Brandeis University 6-3, 6-2. A thorough recap, with quotes, is available at the Carleton website.

Emory claimed the women's doubles championship, a result that was guaranteed after the semifinals, with two pairs from the NCAA team champions advancing to the final.  Gonzalez-Rico and Katie Chang defeated teammates Watson and Stephanie Taylor 6-2, 5-7, 6-3 for the title. For more on the impressive results for Emory at the tournament, see this article from their website.

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Quinn Wins J3 in Croatia; Coleman Reaches J3 Final in Portugal; Korda Earns First ATP Title; Seven Americans in Action at French Open Sunday

Three Americans won ITF Junior Circuit titles this weekend, with another playing for a title Sunday, as the focus of the top American juniors shifts to European clay.

Ethan Quinn(left) with ITF J3 Croatia trophy
(contributed photo)

Seventeen-year-old Ethan Quinn, who won the J1 IOSC in San Diego in March and reached the Easter Bowl final the following week, added his third singles title of the spring at the J3 in Croatia. The top-seeded Quinn, who won the J4 in Coral Gables at the beginning of the month, defeated Aleksa Pesaric of Serbia 6-2, 6-2 in Friday's final.

Ellie Coleman has reached Sunday's final at the J3 in Portugal, with the Duke recruit, who is the top seed, facing unseeded Nina Vargova of Slovakia for the title. Elise Wagle won the doubles title today, with partner Mei Hasegawa of Japan. The No. 2 seeds defeated Coleman and her partner Matilde Jorge of Portugal, the top seeds, 4-6, 6-3, 10-7 in the final.

Maximilian Wuelfing won his second straight J5 in Kyrgyzstan, with the No. 4 seed defeating No. 2 seed Nikita Sidorov of Kazakhstan 6-1, 6-2 in the final. Wuelfing, a high school junior from California, didn't drop a set in claiming his second career singles title. Wuelfing also won the doubles title this week, his second on the ITF junior circuit, with Pavel Petrov of Russia. The unseeded pair defeated No. 4 seeds Arslanbek Aitkulov and Alexander Chernomaz of Kazakhstan 6-1, 6-2 in the final.

Sebastian Korda won his first ATP title today in Parma Italy, with the  unseeded 20-year-old American defeating wild card Marco Cecchinato of Italy 6-2, 6-4 in the final. Korda, who didn't drop a set all week, is the first American man to win a title on European clay since Sam Querrey won Belgarde in 2010. For more on Korda's run to the title in Parma, see this article from the ATP website, and this interview with the ATP on what winning his first title meant to him.

At the WTA 250 in Strasbourg France, top seeds Alexa Guarachi(Alabama) of Chile and Desirae Krawczyk(Arizona State) won their second title of the year and their fourth as a team, with the top seeds defeating unseeded Makoto Ninomiya of Japan and Zhaoxuan Yang of China 6-2, 6-3 in the final.

The first round of the French Open gets underway on Sunday, with seven Americans in action. Alison Riske, who was seeded 27, withdrew, so her match with Lauren Davis will not happen. Instead, Davis will play Paula Badosa of Spain, who was given the 33 seeding due to Riske's withdrawal.

Sunday's first round French Open matches featuring Americans:

Madison Keys[23] v Oceane Dodin[WC](FRA)
Lauren Davis v Paula Badosa[33](ESP)
Amanda Anisimova v Veronika Kudermetova[29](RUS)
Danielle Collins v Xiyu Wang[Q](CHN)
Christina McHale v Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova[31](RUS)
Marcos Giron v Grigor Dimitrov[16](BUL)
Mackenzie McDonald[Q] v Emil Ruusuvuori(FIN)

Friday, May 28, 2021

Emma Navarro and Sam Riffice Claim NCAA Division I Singles Titles; UNC's Jones Follows in Father's Footsteps in Doubles; Tennessee Captures Men's Doubles Crown; Brooksby, McDonald and Baptiste Through to French Open Main Draw

Emma Navarro is new to the college scene, but the University of Virginia freshman proved herself in late stages of the NCAA Division I singles championships, defeating top seed Sara Daavettila of North Carolina in the semifinals, then ending the 11-match winning streak of No. 2 seed and defending champion Estela Perez-Somarriba of Miami convincingly, with a 6-3, 6-1 decision in this afternoon's final.

Navarro, seeded third, started slowly, falling behind 2-0, which she chalked up to losing two deciding points and some early jitters. But once she found the patterns she wanted, the 20-year-old from Charleston was able to force errors that Perez-Somarriba does not usually make. Aware that Perez-Somarriba had fashioned many comebacks, including in Navarro's only loss in ACC competition this spring, she knew that keeping her foot on the gas was important.

"I was up 6-1, 2-0 and she ended up coming back, winning in the third set," Navarro said. "So I knew she was going to fight, and she definitely did today. I think I was able to dictate points with my forehand and finish a lot of points with my backhand, and I was able to execute better than last time. It's always a good feeling, when you have a game plan and you can follow through with it."

Navarro ended the first set with a powerful cross court backhand that forced an error from Perez-Somarriba, and aside from dropping her serve in the second game of the second set, it was smooth sailing for Navarro, who won the next five games.

Perez-Somarriba, one of the most decorated players in University of Miami history, credited Navarro for her strategy.

"She was using different paces, especially with her forehand, throughout the whole match and that kind of threw me off," said the 22-year-old from Madrid, who earned her graduate degree in sports administration in her fifth year on campus. "I tried to change the tactics a little bit, but it didn't work, obviously. She, I think, played very solid, barely made unforced errors. Credit to her, she played a great match and had a great run and a great season."

An American who wins the NCAA singles title is traditionally offered a US Open main draw wild card, and Navarro is looking forward to competing in New York this summer.

"I would say the US Open is my favorite tournament that I've ever played in," said Navarro, who played the Junior Championships there in 2018 and 2019 and the women's qualifying in 2019. "It's really special for me; I was born there and my parents lived there for a long time, so playing in New York City is pretty awesome. I would be ecstatic about that opportunity."

That does not mean that Navarro has chosen to forego her remaining college eligibility however. 

"I'm planning to go back to school," said Navarro, who is currently 384 in the WTA rankings. "Just because I've had such a great time at school this past semester. I'll really just take it one semester at a time; I'm not sure what the future will hold, we'll see."

Navarro's plans for the summer include women's pro circuit events in Europe, but not before she takes some time off after a hectic spring that saw her win two matches in WTA tournaments in Charleston while competing at the top of the lineup for the Cavaliers throughout the season in the nation's top conference.

"I'm going home, relax for a few weeks, see my family and friends," said Navarro, who had the support of her family in Lake Nona this week, as well as her dog, Major Tom. "I have some tournaments in Europe, some at home. I'm just going to train hard, play hard at tournaments and we'll see."

Sam Riffice had already experienced the elation of Florida's first NCAA team title in program history on Saturday, but the letdown he suffered was confined to the first set of his first match the next day. After eight straight days of competing against the nation's top players, a letdown in the final wasn't unexpected, but after trailing No. 2 seed Daniel Rodrigues of South Carolina 5-0 in the first set, Riffice found the burst of adrenaline he needed to earn a 3-6, 6-1, 6-4 victory.

Riffice found his way back into the match by winning three straight games in the first set before Rodrigues closed it out.

"Even though I lost that set, I felt I had a lot of momentum going into the second," said the 22-year-old junior. "I won those three games in a row and I felt I was right there on his serve to maybe get another break...I knew I was getting into the match, I knew I was starting to play my tennis. Two other times this week I lost the first set, so I knew it wasn't over. I knew it was going to be a physical match, I thought I might get some energy, play good tennis early in the second, thinking I was maybe able to run away with it, and that's what I was able to do."

After the 10-minute heat break, Riffice again jumped into the lead in the third set, going up 3-1 and 4-2. Rodrigues got that break back however, breaking Riffice quickly to make it 4-4. Riffice won the first two points with Rodrigues serving at 4-all, and then the junior from Portugal was given a point penalty for taking too much time. Facing four break points, Rodrigues saved the first two, but Riffice chipped and charged on a second serve return, with Rodrigues putting the passing shot well long to give Riffice the chance to serve for the match.

With Rodrigues struggling with his return, Riffice was able to close it out on his first match point, adding a singles title to his team championship.

Rodrigues was not pleased with the time violation point, although he was careful not to blame his loss on it.

"The conditions were very tough, it was very hot out there, very humid and it's 4-all in the third set," Rodrigues said. "In the second set I took way more time between points than the third set. It's way too important a point to take it. The first warning I had wasn't even me, it was my coach passing in front of the court, I was ready to return the serve, and he (the chair umpire) gave me a warning. For me, I didn't agree....I was already struggling so much, and every point, it's important to me, you know. But I'm not going to talk about that anymore, because it was a situation that doesn't matter, it wasn't the reason why I lost."

Riffice had noticed that Rodrigues was taking all his allotted time between points.

"He was playing incredible tennis, and that takes a lot out of you," Riffice said. "I think early in second, when I got the first break, my energy started to go up and his went down a little bit, and just from there, when the momentum switches and it's that hot out there, this deep in the tournament, I feel it's hard to get back. I feel like I did a good job of keeping my foot on the gas from the second set on, and I didn't give him a chance to breathe."

Riffice acknowledged that he was aware that a US Open main wild card was at stake, although he has had experience in contemplating that prize from his years as a top American junior.

"I had a lot of great times at Kalamazoo, where there's the same sort of pressure," Riffice said. "I was going in as one of the top seeds and I never got it, never made it to the finals even. I tried not to think about it too much, because I didn't want the weight of it to get on me, but it's an incredible honor, one of the highlights of college tennis from an individual standpoint, being able to play for a US Open wild card. They're so coveted, so few people get them, so many people try for them."

Although a substantial first round paycheck would await him should he opt to turn pro at that event, Riffice is not ready to make that decision now. 

"This week is one good tournament," Riffice said. "I didn't get pro points for this, didn't improve my pro ranking. Hopefully I get some great opportunities this summer, in terms of wild cards into Challengers and things, and I think I'm going to wait to see how I do at the end of the summer. There's so many great US tournaments in the summertime. Maybe if I keep this streak going and I keep playing high level tennis and am able to help my pro ranking, then I'll start considering that in the fall. But right now, I just view it as a really good week, a really good tournament and I don't think anyone can base anything off one week. I'll wait to see what I do throughout the summer and then in the fall, to determine what my next step is."

In the women's doubles final, North Carolina's Makenna Jones and Elizabeth Scotty earned the program's second NCAA doubles title, beating unseeded Lulu Sun and Kylie Collins of Texas 7-6(3), 4-6, 10-8. The No. 4 seeds saved four match points in their first two matches of the tournament, which they said allowed them to play more freely in subsequent matches.

"I kept telling my mom, 'we're playing with free money here,'" said Scotty, a sophomore from Maryland. "We shouldn't even be here right now, we're getting past these matches, so build from each match and play with confidence.

When the Tar Heels went up 9-8, with Sun serving, Jones decided that being aggressive was their best option.

"I just glanced up at the scoreboard and saw that it was match point, so I said, be brave," Jones said. "I just poached on match point. Our coaches were telling us, be brave, be bold, those are the people that come out with the win, so that's what I tried to do, even though I didn't know until the last second that it was match point."

Jones now has joined her father Kelly, who won men's doubles titles at Pepperdine in 1984 and 1985, on the list of NCAA champions.

"A couple of days ago I was just looking through my camera roll and I happened on a picture that I took when I was visiting Pepperdine of him when he won the title," said Jones, a graduate student who will be staying in Chapel Hill for her internship next year. "I told him I tried to look at and be like, how cool would that be if I could do what my dad did. Sure enough, I did, so it was a really special moment."

The first North Carolina team to win an NCAA doubles title was Jenna Long and Sara Anundsen, who blazed that trail in 2007. Anundsen, now O'Leary, is now leading the University of Virginia women's program.

The men's doubles championship went to Tennessee's Adam Walton and Pat Harper, the No. 3 seeds, who saved two match points to defeat the unseeded Auburn team of Finn Murgett and Tad Maclean 7-6(5), 2-6, 13-11.

After saving match points at 9-8 and 10-9 in the match tiebreaker, Tennessee earned one of its own at 11-10, but Auburn saved that one. Tennessee earned its second match point at 12-11, and converted it, although what appeared to be a miracle reflex volley by Harper that caught the sideline was hotly contested by Auburn, who thought the ball was not legally struck.

Asked about it at the press conference, Murgett and Maclean were reluctant to reveal what they thought had happened on that last shot.

"I thought at the time that it didn't come off right, a legal shot," said Maclean. "But I can't say until I've seen it."

"It's not really fair to talk about it until we've seen it back," said Murgett. "It's not the right time to talk about it until we've fully seen it I guess."

Walton and Harper did not address the long discussion at the end of the match, but acknowledged their good fortune in winning such a close match.

"There was just a few points difference," Walton said. "We honestly didn't play our best match today, I thought we played better earlier in the week....we knew we had to get as much energy as we could into the tiebreaker, because it's a coin flip, and we just happened to be on the right side on the coin today."

"Credit to Auburn," said Harper. "Great pair. We sort of dropped off the board in the second and when that second set finished, we just said balls to the wall, let's take this, and we got it."

Walton and Harper, both from Australia, are planning to return next year, with another doubles championship one of their goals. They are the third pair from Tennessee to win the men's doubles title, joining Rodney Harmon and Mel Purcell in 1980 and Hunter Reese and Mikelis Libietis in 2014.

Go to ncaa.com for women's singles, women's doubles, men's singles and men's doubles draws.

Three more Americans earned entry into the French Open with wins today, with Jenson Brooksby, Mackenzie McDonald and Hailey Baptiste joining Bjorn Fratangelo and Varvara Lepchenko, who qualified yesterday.

Brooksby saved three match points in his three-hour-plus 6-7(5), 7-6(2), 6-4 win over wild card Evan Furness of France to qualify for his first slam outside the US Open. He will play No. 24 seed Aslan Karatsev of Russia in the main draw. McDonald defeated Marco Trungelliti of Argentina 6-4, 6-4 and has been placed against Emil Ruusuvuori of Finland. Baptiste, who beat Julia Grabher of Austria 3-6, 7-5, 6-3, will play Anna Blinkova of Russia in the opening round.

Fratangelo will play Cameron Norrie of Great Britain, and Lepchenko's first round opponent is Shuai Zhang of China.

Play begins on Sunday in Paris.

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Navarro Faces Defending Champion Perez-Somarriba, Riffice Meets Rodrigues in Friday's NCAA D-I Singles Finals; Doubles Finals Set; Fratangelo and Lepchenko Advance to French Open Main Draw, which Features 27 Other Americans; Division III Individual Championships Begin Friday

Virginia's Emma Navarro and Florida's Sam Riffice came through with wins over tenacious top seeds today in the NCAA Division I singles semifinals today at the USTA's National Campus in Lake Nona Florida, and will face the No. 2 seeds for the championship Friday.

Navarro won't be facing just any No. 2 seed however, as the freshman will take on defending champion Estela Perez-Somarriba of Miami, the only college player to defeat her this season.

Navarro's 6-4, 2-6, 6-2 win over North Carolina's Sara Daavettila was tight all the way, until Navarro took the last three games of the match to earn the victory.

Navarro won all three of the deciding points in the first set, with Daavettila taking all four of the deciding points in the second set. After the players left the court for a 10-minute heat break, Navarro served first and promptly lost it on a deciding point. But with the back-and-forth of the first two sets, she wasn't discouraged, taking the second game of the set on a deciding point, and she was able to close out Daavettila, who spent five years at North Carolina building a reputation for comebacks.

"I was pretty confident in my game plan, it was just if I could execute it well enough," said Navarro, whose match with Daavettila earlier in the conference season went unfinished. "In the second set, I lost four deuce points, which was pretty tough, then I was able to win a big one in the third set that kind of helped me to run away with it a little. But yeah, I was pretty calm and confident."

Perez-Somarriba had mounted a stirring comeback in the quarterfinals against Abbey Forbes of UCLA, coming from 5-0 in the second set and saving a match point before claiming a 6-7(5), 7-5, 6-3 victory in a match that was over three hours in duration. In today's 7-6(4), 6-0 win over unseeded Janice Tjen of Oregon, Perez-Somarriba got stronger as the match went on, and the fifth-year senior, said she felt no effects from the previous day's exertions, despite the midday heat and humidity of central Florida.

"I've been living in Miami for almost five years and I think I've got used to the heat, the humidity, playing under the sun," Perez-Somarriba said. "My fitness is one of my strengths, so when I make matches physical, that's good for me....I'm ready for tomorrow, I'm ready to battle, ready to stay on the court, basically whatever it takes to get a W tomorrow, that's what going to happen and that's what I'm going to do."

While Perez-Somarriba saved a match point, Draxl had made a habit of coming from behind, and he saved match points in both the first round and the round of 16. Riffice was determined not to give Draxl any second chances, although he didn't really turn on the afterburners until the third set in his 7-6(5), 2-6, 6-1 victory.

"I wasn't trying to hit winners," said Riffice, who came forward and put away every third-set volley against Draxl, which is difficult to do. "I was just really committed to my game plan of taking the ball early and hitting, not through the court, but off the court. Not give him pace to work with, and trying to close at the net. I just feel like I struck first, and it's so hard to come back from that when it's 100 plus degrees out there. When we're this deep in the tournament, he's had a lot of physical matches, and I was focused on those first three, four games, and from there, I played probably my best of the whole tournament."

Riffice's opponent in the final is South Carolina's Daniel Rodrigues, who moved into the championship match when unseeded Adrian Boitan retired with injury trailing 7-6(1), 3-1.

Rodrigues, who has yet to drop a set this tournament, credits 2019 NCAA champion Paul Jubb, his former teammate, with guiding him through the process.

"We talked a lot before the tournament," said Rodrigues, a junior from Portugal. "I called him myself to ask how did he approach the beginning of the tournament and each round...we keep talking every day and he keeps telling me to keep going. The main thing [he said] was to focus on each match, not the final trophy or anything like that. He told me that each win would be a great win; everybody in the draw is very good, everybody can beat anybody, so I approached every match and was happy with every single win and that was very important."

Rodrigues was candid in revealing that he hoped to play Draxl, who had beaten him in April, with getting another chance at the top-seeded Canadian providing the motivation. Rodrigues defeated Riffice in three sets at the SEC Shootout last fall in their only recent meeting.

The SEC will claim both men's singles and doubles titles, after this evening's doubles semifinals saw two teams from the conference advance to the finals. Unseeded Finn Murgett and Tad Maclean of Auburn defeated unseeded Guy Den Ouden and Adrian Oetzbach of Pepperdine 6-4, 6-1 to advance to the final. They will face No. 3 seeds Adam Walton and Pat Harper of Tennessee, who defeated Sven Lah and Constantin Frantzen of Baylor, 5-8 seeds, 7-5, 6-3. Murgett and Maclean are aiming to be the first Auburn team to win a men's doubles title since Mark Kovacs and Andrew Colombo captured it in 2002.

Navarro fell just short of a spot in both the singles and doubles final Friday, when she and partner Rosie Johanson lost to Kylie Collins and Lulu Sun of Texas 4-6, 7-5, 10-8. The unseeded pairing of Collins and Sun are looking to win the first women's doubles title in program history when they meet No. 4 seeds Makenna Jones and Elizabeth Scotty of North Carolina. The Tar Heels defeated unseeded Alana Smith and Anna Rogers of North Carolina State 6-3, 6-4 in the top half semifinal.

Both the men's and women's singles finals are scheduled for noon, with the doubles finals to follow. Live streaming is available for all four finals through the TennisONE app.

The draw for the French Open was revealed today, although qualifying will not be completed until Friday. Bjorn Fratangelo, the 2011 French Open boys champion, qualified for the main draw today, beating Aleks Vukic(Illinois) of Australia 6-2, 7-6(3). Also qualifying was Varvara Lepchenko, who defeated Anna-Lena Friedsam of Germany 6-1, 6-3. Hailey Baptiste, Jenson Brooksby(Baylor) and Mackenzie McDonald(UCLA) play their final round qualifying matches on Friday.

The matchups of the 27 Americans who were selected for the main draw, not including Fratangelo and Lepchenko and the three other possible US qualifiers, are below. It's bad luck for American men that with only 10 players in the draw, four are scheduled to face off in two first round matches. Only one such all-American contest came up in the women's draw, despite the 17 US women who received direct entry.

MEN
Top half
Tennys Sandgren v Novak Djokovic[1](SRB)
Taylor Fritz[30] v Joao Sousa(POR)

Bottom Half
Sebastian Korda v Pedro Martinez(ESP)
Sam Querrey v John Isner[31]
Steve Johnson v Frances Tiafoe
Marcos Giron v Grigor Dimitrov[16](BUL)
Reilly Opelka[32] v Andrej Martin(SVK)
Tommy Paul v Christopher O’Connell[WC](AUS)

WOMEN
Top half
Bernard Pera v Ashleigh Barty[1](AUS)
Coco Gauff[24] v qualifier
Jennifer Brady[13] v Anastasia Sevastova(LAT)
Sloane Stephens v Carla Suarez Navarro(ESP)
Venus Williams v Ekaterina Alexandrova[32](RUS)
Ann Li v Margarita Gasparyan(RUS)
Sofia Kenin[4] v Jelena Ostapenko(LAT)
Jessica Pegula[28] v Lin Zhu(CHN)
Shelby Rogers v Rebecca Peterson(SWE)

Bottom half
Serena Williams[7] v Irina-Camelia Begu(ROU)
Danielle Collins v qualifier
Madison Keys[23] v Oceane Dodin[WC](FRA)
Christina McHale v Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova[31](RUS)
Madison Brengle v qualifier
Amanda Anisimova v Veronika Kudermetova[29](RUS)
Alison Riske[27] v Lauren Davis

After a day off between the team event and the individual championships, Division III competition resumes Friday with two rounds of singles, followed by the first round of doubles. Ethan Hillis of Washington-St. Louis is the top men's seed, with defending champion Ysabel Gonzalez-Rico of Emory the top women's seed.

Links to the women's brackets are here; the men's brackets are here.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Navarro and Daavettila Meet in NCAA Semifinals, Defending Champion Perez-Somarriba Rallies; Riffice Faces Top Seed Draxl; Emory Sweeps Division III Titles; Five Americans Advance to Final Round of French Open Qualifying

The top two seeds in both the NCAA Division I men's and women's singles draws advanced to Thursday's semifinals, with defending champion Estela Perez-Somarriba's stunning comeback highlighting the eight matches played today at the USTA National Campus in Lake Nona Florida.

Perez-Somarribes trailed No. 7 seed Abbey Forbes of UCLA 7-6(5), 5-0, saved a match point, then fought all the way back to post an improbable 6-7(5), 7-5, 6-3 victory. The fifth-year senior will face unseeded Janice Tjen of Oregon in Thursday's semifinals. For more on the match today, see this article from the Sun-Sentinel.

In the top half, No. 1 seed Sara Daavettila will face No. 3 seed Emma Navarro, after both recorded straight-sets victories today. Daavettila defeated unseeded Christina Rosca of Vanderbilt 6-2, 6-4 and Navarro beat unseeded Paris Corley 6-2, 6-1.

All four of the men's quarterfinals were decided in straight sets. Adrian Boitan of Baylor defeated Will Blumberg of North Carolina 6-4, 6-1 to set up a meeting with No. 2 seed Daniel Rodrigues of South Carolina. Rodrigues continued his march through the draw, defeating unseeded Aleks Kovacevic, a semifinalist in 2019, 6-1, 6-3. 

Top seed Liam Draxl of Kentucky won in straight sets for the first time this tournament, beating No. 8 seed Gabriel Decamps of Central Florida 7-6(6), 6-1. Draxl will face the lone American remaining in the men's draw, No. 6 seed Sam Riffice of Florida. Riffice took out No. 4 seed Valentin Vacherot of Texas A&M 6-3, 6-0.

Thursday's doubles semifinals will feature just three seeded teams, two in the men's draw and one in the women's draw.

Sven Lah and Constantin Frantzen of Baylor, seeded 5-8, defeated No. 2 seeds Blumberg and Brian Cernoch 6-4, 0-6, 10-7 and will face No. 3 seeds Adam Walton and Pat Harper of Tennessee. Walton and Harper downed Loic Cloes and Clement Marzol of South Alabama 6-4, 6-2.

In the top half, Guy Den Ouden and Adrian Oetzbach of Pepperdine defeated Siim Troost and Vlad Lobak of Minnesota 6-3, 3-6, 10-7 and will play Auburn's Finn Murgett and Tad Maclean, who beat Riley Smith and Daniel Cukierman of Southern California 7-7(2), 3-6, 10-3.

Navarro is the only player still remaining in both singles and doubles, with the Virginia freshman and her partner Rosie Johanson defeating Jayci Goldsmith and Tatiana Makarova of Texas A&M 6-3, 6-1 to advance to the semifinals against Kylie Collins and Lulu Sun of Texas. Collins and Sun defeated Andrea Garcia and Nandini Das of Florida State 6-3, 6-7(2). 10-5. 

The only women's seeds remaining are No. 4 Elizabeth Scotty and Makenna Jones of North Carolina. They beat Sofia Munera and Natasha Subhash of Virginia 6-3, 6-3 and will pay Alana Smith and Anna Rogers of North Carolina State, who defeated Elysia Bolton and Jada Hart of UCLA 7-6(4), 6-3.

The women's singles semifinals are scheduled for noon, followed by the men's singles semifinals at 2 p.m., the women's doubles semifinals at 4 p.m. and the men's doubles finals at 6 p.m.

Coverage will be available through the TennisONE app.

After Barry swept the Division II team titles last week, Emory did the same in Division III, with the men defending their 2019 title and the women avenging their 2019 semifinal loss to champion Wesleyan.

The Emory men, who have now won six national titles, defeated Case Western Reserve 5-2 in today's final in Chattanooga Tennessee. The Emory women, who have now won eight national titles, beat Wesleyan 5-0 to claim their first national team championship since 2016. 

Five Americans have advanced to the final round of qualifying for the French Open, with Hailey Baptiste, Varvara Lepchenko, Mackenzie McDonald(UCLA), Bjorn Fratangelo and Jenson Brooksby(Baylor) winning their second round matches today.  Baptiste, who defeated Claire Liu 6-3, 6-3 today, will play Julia Grabher of Austria for a place in the main draw, and Lepchenko faces No. 7 seed Anna-Lena Friedsam of Germany.

McDonald, the No. 9 seed, plays Marco Trungelliti of Argentina, Fratangelo faces Aleks Vukic(Illinois) of Australia and Brooksby meets wild card Evan Furness of France.

Grace Min, who finished her first round match today, is scheduled to play her second round match against No. 22 seed Stefanie Voegele of Switzerland Thursday.

Thursday's order of play is here.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Six US Women, Three US Men Advance to NCAA Division I Singles Quarterfinals; Seven More Americans Move on at Roland Garros Qualifying; Defending Champions Wesleyan and Emory Reach D-III Finals Wednesday

After a host of seeds were eliminated in the first two rounds, Tuesday's third round of the NCAA Division I singles championships saw just one beaten, and the top half of the men's draw featuring the matchups the seedings had predicted.

Will Blumberg of North Carolina continued his march through the draw, defeating Gabriel Diallo of Kentucky, a 9-16 seed, 6-3, 6-1.  Blumberg will play Baylor's Adrian Boitan in Wednesday's quarterfinals, after Boitan defeated unseeded August Holmgren of San Diego 6-3, 5-7, 6-4. 

Aside from Blumberg, the player posting the most impressive results is probably No. 2 seed Daniel Rodrigues of South Carolina, who had yet to drop a set in his three wins. Today he defeated unseeded Daniel Cukierman of Southern California, like Rodrigues a former No. 1 in the national rankings, 6-4, 7-6(5). He takes on Illinois's Aleks Kovacevic, who rebounded to beat Alexis Galarneau of North Carolina State 4-6, 6-4, 6-0.

For the third consecutive day, top seed Liam Draxl of Kentucky dropped the first set, and for the second time this week saved match points, as he moved into the quarterfinals with a 3-6, 6-4, 7-5 win over Adam Walton of Tennessee, a 9-16 seed. Draxl will play hometown favorite Gabriel Descamps of Central Florida, who saved match points in his first round contest against Micah Braswell of Texas. Descamps, seeded No. 8, defeated Luc Fomba of TCU, a 9-16 seed, 5-7, 6-3, 6-4. 

No. 4 seed Valentin Vacherot of Texas A&M will take on No. 6 seed Sam Riffice of Florida, after Vacherot defeated unseeded Rinky Hijakata of North Carolina 6-2, 3-6, 6-1 and Riffice earned his first straight-sets win of the tournament, a 6-2, 6-0 decision over Siphosothando Montsi of Illinois.

All five of the remaining women's seeds won today, with only one, No. 6 seed Anna Rogers of North Carolina State, pushed to three sets. Rogers came back to beat Bunyawi Thamchaiwat of Oklahoma State 5-7, 6-4, 6-1. Rogers will face unseeded Janice Tjen of Oregon, who followed up her second round win over 2019 finalist Katarina Jokic of Georgia with a 6-2, 6-4 win over Georgia Drummy of Duke.

No. 7 seed Abbey Forbes of UCLA will try to end the win streak of defending champion Estela Perez-Somarriba of Miami, the No. 2 seed, who has now won nine straight matches in NCAA singles competition. Forbes defeated Emma Antonaki of Mississippi State 6-3, 6-3, while Perez-Somarriba downed ITA Fall National Champion Alexa Graham of North Carolina by the same score.

Top seed Sara Daavettila defeated unseeded Jessica Failla of Pepperdine 6-3, 6-2 and will face Vanderbilt's Christina Rosca in the quarterfinals. The unseeded Rosca took out Duke's Kelly Chen 4-6, 6-4, 6-2. No. 3 seed Emma Navarro defeated Meg Kowalski of Georgia 6-1, 6-1 and will face another unseeded player in the quarterfinals. LSU's Paris Corley defeated unseeded Selin Ovunc of Auburn 6-4, 6-0.

The only school with two players remaining in singles is North Carolina, with Daavettila and Blumberg. Boitan and Riffice are the only quarterfinalists who competed in the Team finals on Saturday.

Both of the top seeds in doubles fell in second round action Tuesday night, with Elysia Bolton and Jada Hart of UCLA defeating top seeds Akvilฤ— Paraลพinskaitฤ— and Fiona Arrese of  Kentucky 6-3, 6-2 and Siim Troost and Vlad Lobak of Minnesota ousting Tim Sandkaulen and Finn Reynolds of Mississippi 6-4, 3-6, 10-4. 

All eight singles quarterfinals matches are scheduled for noon on Wednesday, and can be live streamed at the TennisONE app. The eight doubles quarterfinal matches are scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday.

The first round of qualifying at the French Open was almost completed today, with just a couple of matches unfinished. Advancing to the second round today were Thai Kwiatkowski(Virginia), Mackenzie McDonald(UCLA), Denis Kudla, Jenson Brooksby(Baylor), Claire Liu, Asia Muhammad, Francesca Di Lorenzo and Coco Vandeweghe. Grace Min was leading her first round match with Pemra Ozgen of Turkey 6-3, 4-2 when play was suspended for the day.

Claire Liu, who celebrated her 21st birthday today with a three-set win over Rebecca Marino of Canada, will face Hailey Baptiste Wednesday in a battle of young Americans. In addition to those mentioned above, Bjorn Fratangelo, Ernesto Escobedo and Varvara Lepchenko will also be in action Wednesday.

The Division III women's team final Wednesday in Chattanooga will feature defending champion Wesleyan against perennial contender Emory. Wesleyan defeated Kenyon 5-1, while Emory took down Tufts 5-2. In 2019, Wesleyan and Emory met in the semifinals and the Cardinals came through with a thrilling 5-4 victory. 

The men's semifinals produced an upset, with Case Western Reserve defeating Washington-St. Louis in a match that came down to No. 5 singles, with Jonathan Powell defeating Abhi Ramirreddy 7-6(0), 4-7(5), 6-4 to give the Spartans a 5-4 victory over the pre-tournament favorites. 

Case Western, which will be playing for the first NCAA title in the school's athletic history Wednesday, will face Emory, the defending champions, who have won five NCAA Division III titles. Emory defeated previously undefeated Johns Hopkins 5-1.

Monday, May 24, 2021

Seeds Scarce in NCAA Division I Singles after Second Round; Defending Champions Advance to Division III Team Semifinals; Twenty-one Americans in Action Tuesday in French Open Qualifying

With the second round of the Division I NCAA singles completed today at the USTA's National Campus in Lake Nona, just five women's and eight men's seeds remain in the running for the title.

There were many upsets if seeding is the only method of determining that, but given the suspect rankings and seeding this year, several results shouldn't be put in the upset category. 

For example, North Carolina's Alexa Graham, who won the ITA Fall National Championships in Lake Nona last November, is unseeded this week, but her 6-7(6), 6-0, 6-1 win over Virginia's Natasha Subhash, a No. 9 seed, shouldn't be considered an upset. Duke's Kelly Chen, a semifinalist at the 2019 NCAA singles championships, defeated No. 8 seed McCartney Kessler of Florida 6-4, 6-4 and again, nothing is shocking about that.

On the other hand, Oregon's Janice Tjen's 6-1, 6-4 victory over 2019 NCAA singles semifinalist Katarina Jokic of Georgia, who played so well during the team championships, was certainly unexpected. On the men's side, 2017 singles finalist Will Blumberg defeated No. 3 seed Hady Habib of Texas A&M 7-5, 6-2, just one day after taking out Cannon Kingsley of Ohio State in straight sets, and no one would be surprised if Blumberg found himself in an NCAA final again. 

The five women's seeds remaining are 1,2,3,6,7, with Sara Daavettila of North Carolina getting a straight-sets victory today over Georgia Lea Ma. No. 2 seed and defending champion Estela Perez-Somarriba of Miami defeated team champion Peyton Stearns of Texas 6-2, 6-4.

Of the eight men's seeds remaining, six are in the top half of the draw. Top seed Liam Draxl of Kentucky again had to come from behind against Notre Dame's Axel Nefve, who led 3-1 in the third before Draxl recovered for a 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory, a day after saving a match point in his win over John McNally of Ohio State. No. 2 seed Daniel Rodrigues of South Carolina posted a second routine win, beating Jacob Wojcik of South Florida 6-3, 6-0.

Today has always been known as All-American day at the NCAA Singles Championships, with the unseeded players who advance in the draw receiving that honor for making the round of 16. Those seeded are automatically All-Americans, and those who finish in the top 20 in the final ITA rankings are also accorded that status. This year, there is apparently some confusion about whether that criteria is still in effect, with the ITA telling me, when I inquired about all the tweets I saw from individual schools announcing their All-Americans that they "have not communicated that information as we are awaiting a committee decision."

The possibility that previous criteria may not apply this year should have been communicated prior to the start of the tournament, and when it was not, the schools can't be faulted for assuming the status quo would prevail. 

The reason this was immediately brought to the forefront is Blumberg, who, with his win today in singles (he is seeded in doubles so already an All-American there) is now a 10-time All-American, a record that is unlikely to be broken, given this year's unique pandemic circumstances.

So, assuming that the committee doesn't deny today's winners All-American status, those newly minted are:

Meg Kowalski, Georgia
Kelly Chen, Duke
Emma Antonaki, Mississipi State
Janice Tjen, Oregon
Alexa Graham, North Carolina
Jessica Failla, Pepperdine
Paris Corley, LSU
Georgia Drummy, Duke
Selin Ovunc, Auburn
Christina Rosca, Vanderbilt
Bunyawi Thamchaiwat, Oklahoma State

Siphosothando Montsi, Illinois
Will Blumberg, North Carolina
Alexis Galarneau, North Carolina State
Daniel Cukierman, Southern California
Rinky Hijakata, North Carolina
Adrian Boitan, Baylor
August Holmgren, San Diego
Aleks Kovacevic, Illinois

The first round of doubles took place today, with three seeded teams losing, including women's No. 3 seeds Victoria Flores and Kenya Jones of Georgia Tech, who were beaten by Carmen Corley and Ivana Corley of Oklahoma 7-6(3), 6-3.

The third round of singles is scheduled to begin at noon tomorrow, with the second round of doubles beginning at 6 p.m.

The semifinalists in the NCAA Division III Team Championships were decided today in Chattanooga Tennessee, with the women's defending champions Wesleyan advancing with a 5-0 win over Washington and Lee. Wesleyan will face Kenyon, a 5-2 winner over Mary Washington. The other women's semifinal will feature Emory, who beat Southwestern 5-0, and Tufts, a 5-1 winner over Sewanee.

The men's semifinals also feature the defending champions, with Emory defeating Brandeis 5-0 to move closer to another title. Emory will play Johns Hopkins, who trailed Williams 4-0 before winning the final five points of the match. The other men's semifinal has Washington-St. Louis playing Case Western Reserve after Washington-St. Louis defeated George Fox 5-0, while Case Western beat Trinity(Tex) 5-1. 

A cold and wet day in Paris greeted those competing Monday in the Roland Garros qualifying, with seven Americans in action. Picking up wins today were Ernesto Escobedo, Bjorn Fratangelo and Varvara Lepchenko. The other 20 Americans are scheduled to play their first round matches Tuesday.

2020 Orange Bowl champion Arthur Fils of France made headlines in Paris with his 6-7(5), 7-6(1) 6-3 first round victory over Australian Bernard Tomic.

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Top Seeds Survive as Division I Singles Play Begins in Lake Nona; 27 Americans in French Open Qualifying; Two American Champions on ITF Junior Circuit

The top seeds in the Division I men's and women's singles were slow off the mark in their quest for an NCAA individual title, but both Sara Daavettila of North Carolina and Liam Draxl of Kentucky survived in three sets.

Draxl was expected to be challenged by Ohio State's John McNally, and the sophomore from Canada had to save a match point in order to post a 2-6, 6-1, 7-6(4) victory.  Draxl netted a forehand serving at 5-6, 40-30, giving McNally his opportunity, but a good first serve that McNally sent long put the match into a deciding tiebreaker. McNally held on to an early mini-break lead until serving at 4-3. Suddenly the Ohio State senior's forehand went missing, and three errors later Draxl had two match points, converting the first. Draxl, who had gotten the benefit of an overrule by the chair on a ball near the baseline serving at 1-4, fell on the court near the baseline in celebration of McNally's forehand going long.

Daavettila also dropped the first set, but the fifth-year senior was able to recover with less drama than Draxl, defeating Solymar Colling of San Diego 3-6, 6-1, 6-3.

The No. 2 seeds also advanced, with defending champion Estela Perez-Somarriba of Miami defeating Salma Ewing of Southern California 6-2, 6-3 and Daniel Rodrigues of South Carolina beat Dimitri Badra of East Tennessee State 6-3, 6-4.

Eliot Spizzirri of Texas
photo credit: USTA/Manuela Davies

Most of the first round seeding casualties were in the 9-16 seeding groups, with just one player from the top eight seeds falling in both men's and women's play.

No. 5 seed Kenya Jones of Georgia Tech lost to Selin Ovunc of Auburn 7-5, 6-3 and No. 7 seed Johannus Monday went out to Eliot Spizzirri of Texas 6-4, 7-5.

Other men's seeds to lose today were Georgia's Trent Bryde, TCU's Alastair Gray, Baylor's Matias Soto, and Wake Forest's Henri Squire. All but Soto were in the bottom half.

The women's 9-16 seeds falling today were Wake Forest's Carolyn Campana, Georgia Tech's Victoria Flores, Syracuse's Viktoriya Kanapatskaya and Florida State's Giulia Pairone.

Resetting after playing in the team championship match the night before is always a challenge, but most of those on the courts last night for Pepperdine, Texas, Baylor and Florida came away with wins today. Florida's Duarte Vale, Sam Riffice and Andy Andrade all won, as did Baylor's Adrian Boitan, Pepperdine's Jessica Failla and Texas's Peyton Stearns. Baylor's Matias Soto and Pepperdine's Ashley Lahey lost their first round matches today.

The second round of singles and the first round of doubles are scheduled for tomorrow. Tim Sandkaulen and Finn Reynolds of Mississippi are the men's top seeds, with Kentucky's Akvile Parazinskaite and Fiona Arrese the top women's doubles seeds.

The draws haven't been updated as of yet, so the best way to see the results from all the day's action is to go to the completed section on the Tennis Ticker live scoring. Men's is here, women's is here.

TennisONE has the coverage of all courts during the individual tournament and they are also providing a Match of the Day with commentary by Alex Gruskin and Andy Katz. Streams are available here.

Qualifying begins Monday at Roland Garros with seven Americans in action. 

The 11 US men in qualifying are Brandon Nakashima[24], Christopher Eubanks, Thai Kwiatkowski, Mackenzie McDonald[9], Denis Kudla[10], Jenson Brooksby, Michael Mmoh, Mitchell Krueger, Bjorn Fratangelo, Maxime Cressy and Ernesto Escobedo. Cressy and Escobedo are playing each other in the first round. 

The 16 US women in qualifying are Hailey Baptiste, Claire Liu[20], Robin Anderson, Sachia Vickery, Caty McNally[6], Asia Muhammad, Whitney Osuigwe, Varvara Lepchenko, Usue Arconada, Francesca Di Lorenzo, Caroline Dolehide, Louisa Chirico, Danielle Lao, Kristie Ahn, Coco Vandeweghe and Grace Min. It's surprising to see Chirico in the draw, as the 25-year-old has not played since July of 2019.

Today at the USTA Women's $25,000 Pro Circuit event in Pelham Alabama, Panna Udvardy won her second title of the month, with the unseeded Hungarian beating No. 2 seed Jamie Loeb(North Carolina) 6-7(5), 6-4, 6-3 in just under three hours.

At the USTA Men's $25,000 Pro Circuit tournament in Pensacola Florida, qualifier Nicolas Kicker of Argentina defeated No. 8 seed Adrian Andreev of Bulgaria 6-7(4), 6-3, 6-2 in another final that took just short of three hours to decide.

There were no ITF Junior Circuit events this week in North or Central America, but two Americans did pick up titles in locations far from home. Sixteen-year-old Maximilian Wuelfing won his first career singles title at the J5 in Kyrgyzstan, with the No. 4 seed defeating unseeded Goran Zgola of Poland 6-3, 6-7(4), 6-2 in the final. 

At the J4 in Montenegro, Illinois recruit Gabrielius Guzauskas and Rashed Nwaf of Qatar won the doubles title. The No. 2 seeds defeated top seeds Berk Bugarikj of Macedonia and Maxim Dontsov of Russia 6-3, 7-6(5) in the final.

In a programming note, I will follow the NCAA individual tournament and the French Open qualifying next week, but have other personal commitments that will be taking priority.

Saturday, May 22, 2021

Texas Women Defeat Pepperdine 4-3 to Claim NCAA Team Title; Sheltons Secure Florida's First Men's Team Championship with 4-1 Win over Baylor

Lulu Sun surrounded by Texas teammates and trophy
photo credit: USTA/Manuela Davies

The doubles point takes on outsize significance in any match that ends up 4-3, and in the NCAA Division I women's team final Saturday night at the USTA National Campus in Lake Nona it set the tone for a riveting match that ended with the Texas Longhorns defeating the Pepperdine Waves to claim the 2021 National Championship.

Texas head coach Howard Joffe called the doubles match an odyssey, and for an hour momentum shifted back and forth on two of three courts that would decide it.

Pepperdine dominated on court 2, with Shiori Fukuda and Taisiya Pachkaleva rolling past Fernanda Labrana and Anna Turati 6-1 to put all the pressure on Texas the rest of the way. Longhorns Kylie Collins and Lulu Sun saw their 4-2 lead over Ashley Lahey and Lisa Zaar vanish at line 1, losing a deciding point serving at 4-3. Lahey and Zaar saved a deciding point in the next game to go up 5-4, and when the 40-15 lead Sun had serving disappeared into a deciding point, Pepperdine had it first opportunity to put the double point on its side of the ledger. But Texas held for 5-all.

It was also 5-5 at line 3, with Texas's Peyton Stearns and Charlotte Chavatipon holding on a deciding point to go up 6-5.

Back at court 1, Zaar had held on a deciding point to give Pepperdine a 6-5 lead, and with Collins serving to stay in the match, she went down 30-40. But some good serving and net play saved those two match points, and that vaulted them into the tiebreaker, which they led by 5-0 before closing it out 6-3.

In the tiebreaker on court 3, Pepperdine led 5-3, but Texas blitzed through the next four points, with Stearns crushing a forehand winner at 6-5 to give the Longhorns the doubles point.

If Pepperdine was deflated from failing to capitalize on their chances in doubles, it didn't show in the singles, with the Waves taking first sets on four courts, while Texas could manage just two. But freshman Stearns pumped new life into the Longhorns chances at line 1 against Lahey, jumping out to a 3-0 lead in the second set after losing the first 6-2. 

Chavatipon made it 2-0 Texas with a 6-3, 6-2 win over Shiori Fukuda at line 4.  That win was particularly satisfying for the freshman, who had been on the losing end of the last match on in the only loss the Longhorns had suffered this year: the final of the ITA Team Indoor against North Carolina.

"At the National Indoors, Charlotte had some problems and unraveled a little bit, and another player or two, it certainly wasn't all on Charlotte, but our team met after that and discussed what was the failing, if you want to call it that. Each lady spoke and the consensus was nothing to do with the tennis. All just to do with whatever the cheap word is, poise."

Now halfway to the title, the Texas fans were heartened by Stearns' turnaround, which included eight straight games to give herself a 2-0 lead in the third set.

Failla got Pepperdine a much needed early point with a 6-2, 6-3 win over Anna Turati at line 2, and Pepperdine tied it when Zaar defeated Collins 6-3, 7-6(3) at line 5. At line 3, Sun had taken the first set from Pachkaleva 6-4 and was up a break in the second set, but she couldn't hold it, and Pachkaleva took the subsequent tiebreaker 7-6(3) to send it to a third.

With the vocal assistance of the Texas men's team, which had lost in the semifinals last night, Stearns closed out Lahey 2-6, 6-0, 6-2 to give Texas the 3-2 lead. Pepperdine's Nikki Redelijk saved six break points in her final two service games of the second set against Malaika Rapolu and broke her fellow freshman for a 6-4, 7-5 win at line 6, making it 3-3.

All eyes then turned to court 3, with Sun and Pachkaleva at 1-1 in the third, with the two freshman set to decide who would take home the championship. Each won a deciding point to stay on serve, with Sun up 4-3, but Pachkaleva put herself in danger again in the next game, and she lost the 30-40 point when Sun's backhand forced an error.

Serving for the match at 5-3, Sun won the first point, but that was it, as Pachkaleva dug in to break, then held at love for 5-all. Sun saw her 40-0 lead in the next game slip to 40-30, but she crushed a backhand winner to avoid a deciding point and go up 6-5. 

Both players were hitting out on their shots and keeping the ball deep, but in the next game, with Pachkaleva again serving to stay in the match, Sun changed it up a bit. At 30-all, Sun hit a short ball that brought Pachkaleva in, and she couldn't control her response, sending a backhand long. On match point, Sun again used her left-handed advantage for another short angle, forcing an error from Pachkaleva that gave Texas its first National Team title since 1995, and third overall.

Sun said she barely heard the raucous crowd, swelled by the Florida fans who had come two hours earlier for the men's final, but were now fully engaged in the women's dramatic finish.

"Honestly I wasn't thinking about that (being the deciding point)," said the 20-year-old from Switzerland. "I didn't hear the crowd; it was just me and Howard and the girl. That was my focus, and I think it really helped me win the match."

"I know we were both tired at the end, but I knew if I kept being aggressive I would have the upper hand, especially if I used my forehand. So I just kept thinking, do your game, focus on this moment."

Head coach Howard Joffe pronounced himself speechless after the match.

"When Lulu won the final point, it was a little bit of disbelief," Joffe said. "Elation and disbelief. You can throw together six of the best players out there in the country, and you are guaranteed nothing. Certainly North Carolina were probably the favorite, they had a 48 match winning streak going into yesterday, so you're just never guaranteed anything. I just had a good sense, and this isn't a scientific word, that the juju of this team was very good and I felt like one way or the other, we'd get over the line today. But the idea that we'd actually get to the final, with the obstacles and the difficulty and the inexperience, it really is a pretty remarkable dream really."

For Pepperdine coach Per Nilsson, taking his team to the program's first final was some consolation, as was the way his team competed in the final.

"It was our theme for this week, to put on a show for the crowd," Nilsson said. "I told the girls, yes, we want to win, but at the same time we want to show the people what Pepperdine tennis is all about, that they would enjoy what was going on out there. I think we did. We have to grow college tennis, and it has to be fun for people to come and watch...that was the theme, to show these crowds a good time."

Florida celebrates its first men's team title
photo credit: USTA/Manuela Davies

The Florida fans certainly enjoyed their Saturday night, with the top-seeded Gators rebounding from the loss of the doubles point to claim the program's first National Team title with a convincing and historic 4-1 victory over No. 2 seed Baylor. 

In contrast to the women's doubles point, the men's was devoid of any twists and turns, with Florida's Ben Shelton and Sam Riffice taking the set at line 2 with a 6-0 decision over Nick Stachowiak and Matias Soto. Line 3 then went to Baylor, with Charlie Broom and Finn Bass beating Will Grant and Brian Berdusco 6-1. By that time Baylor's Constantin Frantzen and Sven Lah had gotten a break at line 1, and they went on to close out Johannes Ingildsen and Duarte Vale 6-2.

It took over an hour for all the first sets to be completed, with each team getting three, meaning that Florida had to force a third set somewhere. That split came at line 5, with freshman  Shelton rebounding from a 6-3 first set loss to Broom with a 6-1 second set, and Blaise Bicknell up a break in the second in his match with Stachowiak. 

In contrast, Baylor could not get another point on the board, nor could they turn around any of the three matches in which they had lost the first set, so when the dominoes started falling for Florida the end came quickly.

Andy Andrade tied it with a 7-6(6), 6-0 win over Sven Lah at line 3, quickly followed by Sam Riffice's 7-5, 6-3 victory over Matias Soto at line 2. Josh Goodger had saved a set point serving at 4-5 in the second set at line 6, then broke Spencer Furman and held for a 6-3, 7-5 victory and Florida's third point.

And then, in a ending that would be considered too unrealistic for Hollywood, it came down to Shelton, the son of head coach Bryan Shelton, who would have the opportunity to clinch the championship. 

Serving at 4-2, Shelton fell behind 15-40, but he ignored any doubt he had or pressure he might have felt, hitting out on those three break points and getting to 5-2 with a massive forehand winner. A discouraged Broom was no match for Shelton and the animated Gator supporters, with Shelton storming through the final game to earn a 3-6, 6-1, 6-2 victory and a national title.

Bryan Shelton had nothing but praise for his son, who was not heading in the direction of tennis until late in his adolescence.

"Tennis wasn't going to be his sport," Shelton said. "Then something flipped and he started coming out and training, and I think God had a plan for him. To see him develop and get to this stage, to play on a team like this, a very, very special team, for him to be a major part of that, it's really, really cool. To see him shine on the biggest stage, under the lights tonight, here at the USTA National Campus, I'm just really proud of him, proud of our guys."

Bryan Shelton does not focus on his son's court during the matches, with Ben saying that isn't necessary.

"Me and my dad know each other pretty well," said the 18-year-old left-hander. "He could be six courts away and I get a little look from him and I know what I just did was probably something I shouldn't have done, or something's that's good and I should probably do again. We don't have to be in each other's face to know what the other is thinking or to move in the right direction in the match."

His father made NCAA tennis history tonight, becoming the first coach to win both a women's and a men's NCAA title, with Shelton getting his women's title with Georgia Tech back in 2007. 

Shelton said he has gotten the question about making history with a second title often in the past few years but was never motivated by it.

"I haven't thought about it too much," Shelton said. "A lot of people like to ask that question as we move through the tournament each year, and I always say, I'm not sure. Winning is great, don't get me wrong, I love winning and I'm super, super competitive. But seeing people develop and get better, that's what it's all about. The championships are great, and we have that, but the relationships are what really matter. And so I really focus on the relationships, rather than the number of wins and by doing that, you end up getting a lot more and you end up developing some champions along the way, whether they win on the court or not."

Texas 4, Pepperdine 3

Doubles

1. #19 Kylie Collins/Lulu Sun (UT) def. Ashley Lahey/Lisa Zaar (PEPP) 7-6(3)

2. Shiori Fukuda/Taisiya Pachkaleva (PEPP) d. Fernanda Labrana/Anna Turati (UT) 6-1

3. #47 Charlotte Chavatipon/Peyton Stearns (UT) d. Anastasia Iamachkine/Jessica Failla (PEPP) 7-6(5)


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



Singles

1. #37 Peyton Stearns (UT) def. #77 Ashley Lahey (PEPP) 2-6, 6-0, 6-2

2. #21 Jessica Failla (PEPP) def. #35 Anna Turati (UT) 6-2, 6-3

3. #62 Lulu Sun (UT) def. #89 Taisiya Pachkaleva (PEPP) 6-4, 6-7(3), 7-5 

4. #76 Charlotte Chavatipon (UT) def. #118 Shiori Fukuda (PEPP) 6-3, 6-2 

5. Lisa Zaar (PEPP) def. #72 Kylie Collins (UT) 6-3, 7-6(3)

6. Nikki Redelijk (PEPP) def. Malaika Rapolu (UT) 6-4, 7-5



Match Notes:

PEPP 25-4; National ranking #5

Texas 31-1; National ranking #2

Texas - #2 National Seed, Pepperdine - #5 National Seed 

T-4:01 

A-800


Florida 4, Baylor 1 


Doubles

1. #9 Sven Lah/Constantin Frantzen (BU) def. Johannes Ingildsen/Duarte Vale (UF) 6-2 

2. Ben Shelton/Sam Riffice (UF) def. #75 Nick Stachowiak/Matias Soto (BU) 6-0
3. Charlie Broom/Finn Bass (BU) def. Will Grant/Brian Berdusco (UF) 6-1 


Singles

1. #4 Duarte Vale (UF) vs. #21 Adrian Boitan (BU) 5-7, 3-4, unfinished
2. #6 Sam Riffice (UF) def. #11 Matias Soto (BU) 7-5, 6-3
3. #18 Andy Andrade (UF) def. Sven Lah (BU) 7-6(6), 6-0
4. #51 Blaise Bicknell (UF) vs. Nick Stachowiak (BU) 3-6, 6-4, 1-1, unfinished 

5. Ben Shelton (UF) def. Charlie Broom (BU) 3-6, 6-1, 6-2 

6. #79 Josh Goodger (UF) def. Spencer Furman (BU) 6-3, 7-5 


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


Match Notes:
Baylor 34-5; National ranking #1
Florida Gators 26-2; National ranking #2
Florida - #1 National Seed, Baylor - #2 National Seed

T-2:12 

A-800 

Gauff Sweeps Titles at WTA 250; Loeb Advances to Final at Pelham $25K; Doubles Success for Former Collegians; Women's Draws Released for Sunday's Start to Individual Tournament


Coco Gauff
 photo credit Chris Smith/Volvo Car Open

With the anticipation that this will be another late night with the finals of the NCAA Team Championships, this will be a rare two-post day, with this one focusing on the pro results I've missed this week.

Seventeen-year-old Coco Gauff, seeded No. 3, won her second career WTA singles title in Parma Italy, beating No. 6 seed Qiang Wang of China 6-1, 6-3 in today's final. Gauff then partnered with Caty McNally to take the pair's third WTA doubles title (McNally won a fourth with Hailey Baptiste last month in Charleston), with the No. 4 seeds defeating No. 2 seeds Darija Jurak of Croatia and Andreja Klepac of Slovenia 6-3, 6-2 in the championship match. Gauff and McNally didn't lose a set during the week, with their toughest match a 7-5, 7-6(4) win over top seed Alexa Guarachi(Alabama) of Chile and Desirae Krawczyk(Arizona State). With the title Gauff will move up to 25 in the WTA rankings and is assured of being seeded at the upcoming French Open.  

At the women's $25,000 USTA Pro Circuit event in Pelham Alabama, 2015 NCAA champion Jamie Loeb advanced to her first Pro Circuit final since 2019, with the former North Carolina Tar Heel posting a 6-3, 6-2 win over unseeded Sofia Shapatava of Georgia. Loeb, the No. 2 seed, will face unseeded Panna Udvardy of Hungary, who beat top seed Jia-Jing Lu of China in the second round. Udvardy won the $25,000 tournament in Naples Florida earlier this month. Unseeded Fernanda Contreras(Vanderbilt) and Marcela Zacarias of Mexico won the doubles title today, beating No. 4 seeds Erina Hayashi and Kanako Morisaki of Japan 6-0, 6-3 in the final. They didn't lose more than four games in any set all week.

At the men's $25,000 Pro Circuit tournament in Pensacola, Patrick Kypson(Texas A&M), the last American in the draw, lost 7-6(3), 6-0 in today's semifinals to fellow qualifier Nicolas Kicker of Argentina, who is back playing after a 2018 suspension for match-fixing. Kicker, who reached 78 in the ATP rankings in 2017, will face 20-year-old Adrian Andreev of Bulgaria, the No. 8 seed, in Sunday's final. Andreev beat unseeded Aidan McHugh of Great Britain 6-4, 6-3 in the semifinals.

Top seeds JC Aragone(Virginia) and Nicolas Barrientos of Colombia won the doubles title, beating No. 3 seeds Junior Ore(Texas A&M) and Alejandro Gomez(Kentucky) 6-2, 4-6, 10-6 in this afternoon's final.

At the ATP Challenger 125 in Portugal, Hunter Reese(Tennessee) and Sem Verbeek(Pacific) of the the Netherlands won the doubles title, with the unseeded pair defeating unseeded Sadio Doumbia(Georgia) and Fabien Reboul of France 4-6, 6-4, 10-7 in the final. Reese, the 2014 NCAA doubles champion (with Mikelis Libietis), has now won seven Challenger doubles titles, including one last week with Evan King(Michigan). 

King also won a doubles title this week, at the ATP Challenger 80 in Italy. King and former Baylor star Julien Lenz of Germany, the top seeds, defeated No. 2 seeds Karol Drzewiecki of Poland and Sergio Martos Gornes of Spain 3-6, 6-3, 11-9 in the final. 

And at the ATP level, Michael Venus(LSU) of New Zealand and John Peers(Baylor) of Australia won the Geneva 250 title. The No. 2 seeds won their fourth title as a team with a 6-2, 7-5 win over Simone Bolelli of Italy and Maximo Gonzalez of Argentina. The ATP website article has some interesting facts about their lengthy and productive doubles careers. 

The women's Division I singles and doubles draws were released today, with first round action beginning on Sunday. No alternates were used in the women's draw, so the seeds stayed as they were in the selection announcement. Sara Daavettila of North Carolina, the No. 1 seed, is scheduled to play Solymar Colling of San Diego at noon Sunday. TennisONE app will be providing the streaming for the individual championships. 

The men's doubles draw was also released today. Men's singles play begins tonight with one match, with Sean Hill of BYU versus Finn Reynolds[9] of Mississippi. BYU doesn't allow Sunday competition for religious reasons, so the match was moved up a day to accommodate Hill.