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Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Kuzuhara Defeats Cuenin at Roland Garros; Xu, Fonseca Post Upsets; Three US Boys Reach Doubles Quarterfinals; Gauff Makes First Slam Semifinal; Cassone Beats Mmoh at Little Rock Challenger; Bryan Returns to LSU as Head Coach

Tuesday's second round Roland Garros boys match between top seed Bruno Kuzuhara and Sean Cuenin of France was one of the most intriguing on paper, particularly with Cuenin's recent form. A semifinalist at the 2021 Roland Garros Junior Championships, Cuenin had won his first ITF $15K title earlier this month and advanced to the final round of men's qualifying with the wild card he received from the French Tennis Federation.

But the 18-year-old right-hander wasn't at his best today, and Kuzuhara advanced to the third round with a 6-3, 7-5 victory. Kuzuhara certainly helped his own cause by getting 84% of his first serves in, and he was broken just once in the match at 1-2 in the second set. Cuenin occasionally hit a big forehand winner, but Kuzuhara was definitely more consistent, while also closing the net when the opportunity arose. Next up for the 2022 Australian Open boys champion is unseeded Gilles Bailly of Belgium, the younger brother of the University of Texas's rising sophomore Pierre Yves Bailly.

Ozan Colak, the only other American in singles action today, lost to No. 14 seed Gabriel Debru of France, the younger brother of the University of Georgia's rising sophomore Mathis Debru 6-3, 6-2. 

Debru was expected to face No. 2 seed Daniel Vallejo of Paraguay, but Joao Fonseca of Brazil took out the Orange Bowl champion 6-3, 6-4. Fonseca, 15, received a wild card into the main draw in an arrangement between the federations of Brazil and France.

Only six seeds have advanced to the Round of 16: Kuzuhara, Debru, No. 9 Edas Butvilas of Lithuania, No. 7 Kilian Feldbausch of Switzerland, No. 10 Dino Prizmic of Croatia and No. 3 Jakub Mensik of the Czech Republic. 

Michael Zheng, who eliminated No. 4 seed Mili Poljicak of Croatia in the second round yesterday, will play unseeded Martyn Pawelski of Poland Wednesday.

No. 6 seed Liv Hovde, the only US girl remaining, will play No. 11 seed Victoria Mboko of Canada. Hovde defeated Mboko  6-2, 6-4 in the semifinals of the ITF JB1 in Nicholasville Kentucky last fall.

The shock of the day in the girls draw was the loss of Victoria Jimenez Kasintseva of Andorra, who was beaten by Canadian Annabelle Xu 6-2, 6-4. The 16-year-old Jimenez Kasintseva, the 2020 Australian Open girls champion, was the No. 3 seed in the junior tournament based on her WTA ranking of 156, but in the five junior slams she's played since that AO title, her best result is the semifinals of Wimbledon last year. The 18-year-old Xu, who has verbally committed to Virginia, will play unseeded Johanne Svendsen of Denmark Wednesday.

In girls doubles, Hovde and Qavia Lopez, the No. 3 seeds, saved two match points at 9-7 in the deciding tiebreaker to win their first round contest with Xu and her partner Ekaterina Khayrutdinova of Russia 6-2, 4-6, 11-9.

In the second round, Sonya Macavei and Alexis Blokhina lost to Chelsea Fontenel of Switzerland and Solana Sierra of Argentina 4-6, 6-3, 10-7. Macavei and Blokhina trailed 4-0 in the opening set, but couldn't sustain the momentum of that six-game run into the second set.

In boys doubles, Aidan Kim and his partner Hynek Barton of the Czech Republic won their first round match over Erik Arutiunian of Belarus and Kalin Ivanovski of Macedonia 7-6(5), 7-6(1).

Colak and his partner Jaden Weekes of Canada reached the quarterfinals with a 6-4, 2-6, 10-5 win over Sebastian Eriksson of Sweden and Connor Henry Van Schalkwyk of Namibia.

Zheng and Alex Michelsen also advanced to the quarterfinals with a 6-2, 1-6, 10-7 win over Florida recruit Tanapatt Nirundorn of Thailand and Borys Zgola of Poland.

Wednesday's schedule is here.

Given all the success she's had since she won the Roland Garros girls title in 2018, it's jarring to remember that Coco Gauff, at age 18, would still be eligible to compete in the Junior Championships this year. After reaching the quarterfinals in Paris last June, Gauff has improved on that showing, advancing to the semifinals with a 7-5, 6-2 win over Sloane Stephens today. Gauff will face surprise semifinalist Martina Trevisan of Italy, who beat 2021 US Open finalist Leylah Fernandez of Canada 6-2, 6-7(3), 6-3. Gauff has also made the quarterfinals of doubles with Jessica Pegula, who will play her quarterfinal singles match against top seed Iga Swiatek of Poland Wednesday. For more on Gauff's run this year at Roland Garros, see this article from ESPN.

Arizona State rising sophomore Murphy Cassone had not been able to earn an ATP point in his previous appearances on the Pro Circuit, but this week has taken full advantage of the wild card he received into the qualifying at the ATP 100 Challenger in Little Rock. After picking up two wins over seeds in qualifying Sunday and Monday, the 19-year-old from Kansas had earned 5 ATP points and today he collected nine more, defeating No. 5 seed Michael Mmoh 2-6, 6-3, 6-2. Cassone looked to be down and out serving at 1-2 in the second set, but he saved two break points in the five-deuce game and got a second wind from there.

Last night former Illinois star Aleks Kovacevic took out top seed JJ Wolf(Ohio State) 6-2, 5-7, 6-4; wild card Brandon Holt(USC), another college All-American, won his first round match today, beating Andrew Harris(Oklahoma) of Australia 6-1, 6-4. NCAA singles champion Ben Shelton is the late match tonight. 

In other college news, one of the open Power Five coaching jobs was filled today, with Danny Bryan returning to his alma mater LSU as the men's head coach, replacing Andy Brandi, who retired earlier this month. Bryan, who was the assistant at LSU for eight years under Jeff Brown, took the head coaching position at Wichita State, leading the program for the last six years.  For more, see this article from the LSU website.

Monday, May 30, 2022

Zheng Ousts No. 4 Seed Poljicak, Hovde Thorough to Roland Garros Juniors Third Round; Fruhvirtova, Shnaider and Basavareddy Lose; Cassone Qualifies at Little Rock Challenger; Stanford Tops Men's Spring Recruiting Class Rankings; Introducing New Sponsor

Seeds and favorites went by the wayside on the second day of the Roland Garros Junior Championships, with both No. 4 seeds and both No. 5 seeds eliminated.

Michael Zheng defeated No. 4 seed Mili Poljicak of Croatia 4-6, 6-1, 6-3 in a second round match, breaking the big serving right-hander five times. Poljicak was one of the favorites coming into the tournament after reaching the final of an ATP Challenger 80 just two weeks ago in his home country as a wild card.

Solana Sierra of Argentina defeated No. 4 seed Brenda Fruhvirtova of the Czech Republic 5-7, 6-3, 6-4 in a first round match. The 15-year-old Fruhvirtova has now played three junior slams, but has yet to win a match, losing in the first round at 2020 Roland Garros as a wild card and in the first round of qualifying at the US Open last year. 

Another one of the pre-tournament favorites was No. 5 seed Diana Shnaider of Russia, who won an ITF Women's World Tennis Tour $60K early this month in Turkey. The 18-year-old left-hander lost today in the second round to Germany's Joelle Steur 6-3, 6-4.

And No. 5 seed Nishesh Basavareddy, who won the Grade A in Milan two weeks ago, lost his first round match to Mika Brunold of Switzerland 7-6(4), 6-3.

Ozan Colak won his first round match today over qualifier Borys Zgola of Poland 7-6(10), 6-2 and will face No. 14 seed Gabriel Debru of France Tuesday.

Bruno Kuzuhara, who did not play singles today, faces Sean Cuenin of France Tuesday. Cuenin made the semifinals at Roland Garros last year, but hasn't played a junior tournament since the US Open last September. He won his first ITF WTT Men's title at a $15K early this month and reached the final round of men's qualifying in Paris. For more from both players on that marquee match, see this article from the ITF Juniors website.

Liv Hovde, the No. 6 seed, is through to the third round, beating Carolina Kuhl of Germany 6-3, 6-0. Unlike Sunday, Hovde didn't play particularly well, but she found her form at the end to advance.

There are now four Americans remaining in singles: Kuzuhara, Colak, Zheng and Hovde.

Top seed Petra Marcinko of Croatia defeated Angella Okutoyi of Kenya 6-2, 6-4 to advance to the third round, with her opponent yet to be determined.

Roland Garros juniors singles results of Americans on Monday:

First round:
Ozan Colak(USA) d. Borys Zgola[Q](POL) 7-6(10), 6-2
Mika Brunold(SUI) d. Nishesh Basavareddy[5](USA) 7-6(4), 6-3
Hanne Vandewinkel(BEL) d. Ahmani Guichard[SE](USA) 6-4, 6-1

Second round:
Michael Zheng(USA) d. Mili Poljicak[4](CRO) 4-6, 6-1, 6-3
Liv Hovde[6](USA) d. Carolina Kuhl(GER) 6-3, 6-0

Doubles began today, with five boys teams with at least one American advancing to the second round. Nicholas Godsick and Portugal's Henrique Rocha defeated No. 3 seeds Basavareddy and Victor Lilov 7-5, 3-6, 10-8; Colak and Canada's Jaden Weekes defeated No. 7 seeds Peter Privara of Slovakia and Dino Prizmic of Croatia 6-2, 6-3; Zheng and Alex Michelsen beat No. 6 seeds Kilian Feldbausch of Switzerland and Paul Inchauspe of France 6-4, 6-4 and Cooper Williams and Mexico's Rodrigo Pacheco Mendez defeated Juan Manuel La Serna and Lautaro Midon of Argentina 6-3, 6-4. Australian Open champions Kuzuhara and Coleman Wong of Hong Kong advanced to the second round with a 7-6(3), 6-1 victory over Leanid Boika and Australia's Jeremy Jin. 

Aidan Kim, who got into doubles despite falling in the final round of qualifying, is playing with qualifier Hynek Barton of the Czech Republic, and they are on Tuesday's schedule for their first round match. Colak and Weekes and Zheng and Michelsen play their second round doubles matches Tuesday.

In girls doubles, Alexis Blokhina and Sonya Macavei won their first round match 6-2, 7-5 over the French wild card team of Ophelie Boullay and Thessy Ntondele Zinga. Kaitlin Quevedo and her partner from Morocco, Aya El Aouni, lost to Mia Kupres of Canada and Ranah Stoiber of Great Britain 6-3, 6-2.  

Mia Slama and her partner Lucia Peyre of Argentina play their first round match Tuesday, as do No. 3 seeds Hovde and Qavia Lopez. Blokhina and Macavei play their second round match Tuesday.

Wild card Murphy Cassone, a freshman at Arizona State, qualified for the ATP Challenger 100 in Little Rock Arkansas today, defeating former UCLA star Evan Zhu, the No. 7 seed in qualifying, 3-6, 6-1, 6-2. The Pac-12 Freshman of the Year (and frontrunner for the ITA National Rookie of the Year award) beat Bulgaria's Adrian Andreev, the No. 2 seed in qualifying, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 in the first round.

The 19-year-old Cassone, who lost in the first round of the NCAA singles championships last week to Matej Vocel of Ohio State, plays No. 5 seed Michael Mmoh at 11 am CDT Tuesday.

NCAA champion Ben Shelton(Florida), who received a main draw wild card, will face Christian Harrison in the night match Tuesday. Brandon Holt(USC) and Donald Young received the other wild cards. JJ Wolf(Ohio State) is the top seed.

Two-time Kalamazoo champion Zachary Svajda qualified and will play Nicolas Mejia of Colombia in the first round. 

Tennis Recruiting Network's spring recruiting class rankings for men were released today, with Stanford remaining at the top. The Cardinal, who also were No. 1 in the January rankings, have Basavareddy and Samir Banerjee joining them this fall.

The Ivy League has the next three top classes: Columbia,  Princeton and Harvard, with San Diego's incoming class ranked No. 5.

I've been voting of these classes ever since TRN introduced the concept, and while these ranking don't always have predictive value, it is a good overview of who is going where, at least as of now.

I'm excited to announce that I have a new sponsor in the Southern California Tennis Association Foundation in San Diego. The SCTA Foundation is an integral part of the tennis community throughout the section, providing funding for all levels of junior tennis, from after-school programs to the USTA Girls 16s and 18s Nationals, which is featured in the current banner ad to the left. It's just over two months until that exciting event begins, so mark your calendars, and if you are in the area, make plans to attend.

Sunday, May 29, 2022

Kuzuhara, Hovde and Zheng Advance at Roland Garros Junior Championships, Second Seed Costoulas Falls; Anderson Wins Orlando $60K; Dutta Sweeps J5 Titles in El Salvador; Christensen of Tufts and Morris of Middlebury Claim Division III Titles

Less than six hours after I posted my NCAA Division I individual championships article last night, the Roland Garros Junior Championships began, with 12 of the 15 Americans competing in Sunday's first round of singles.

Just three recorded victories: top seed Bruno Kuzuhara, Michael Zheng and No. 6 seed Liv Hovde.

Kuzuhara defeated qualifier Topan Tokac of Turkey without much difficulty, although he did trail briefly in the second set of his 6-1 6-3 victory. Hovde had to work for her 6-3, 6-2 win over Kristyna Tomajkova of the Czech Republic, while Michael Zheng earned his second win over Korea's Gerard Campana Lee in the past six months coming back for 4-6, 6-1, 6-4 victory.

Qualifier Sonya Macavei had a match point on No. 13 seed Nikola Bartunkova of the Czech Republic with Bartunkova serving at 3-6, 4-5, but the 16-year-old, who has an WTA ranking of 350, saved it and took the second set in a tiebreaker. Macavei led 4-2 in the third set, but that set also went to a tiebreaker, this one the new standard of first to 10, with Bartunkova taking it 10 point to 8 for a 3-6, 7-6(1), 7-6(8) win.

Cooper Williams had three break points at 5-all in the third set against No. 3 seed and 2022 Australian Open boys finalist Jakub Mensik of the Czech Republic, but he wasn't able to convert them, and Mensik took his first opportunity in the next game to earn a 6-3, 3-6, 7-5 win. 

The girls Australian Open finalist was able to pull out her first match on the red clay in Paris, with No. 2 Sofia Costoulas of Belgium falling to Dominika Salkova of the Czech Republic 6-7(5), 6-1, 6-3. No. 8 seed Ksenia Zaytseva of Russia lost to French wild card Sarah Ilev 2-6, 6-4, 6-4.  Top seed and Australian Open girls champion Petra Marcinko of Croatia defeated Canada's Kayla Cross 6-1, 6-4.

For more on Salkova's upset victory, see this article from the ITF website.

US junior results in Roland Garros round 1:

Taylah Preston(AUS) d. Mia Slama(USA) 7-5, 6-4
Nina Vargova(SVK) d. Kaitlin Quevedo[Q](USA)
Tiantsoa Sarah Rakotomanga Rajaonah[WC](FRA) d. Alexis Blokhina(USA) 3-6, 6-3, 7-6(5)
Liv Hovde[6](USA) d. Kristyna Tomajkova(CZE) 6-3, 6-2
Nikola Bartunkova[13](CZE) d. Sonya Macavei[Q](USA) 3-6, 7-6(1), 7-6(8)
Lucia Peyre(ARG) d. Qavia Lopez[15](USA) 6-7(4), 6-2, 6-3

Bruno Kuzuhara[1](USA) d. Togan Tokac[Q](TUR) 6-1, 6-3
Michael Zheng(USA) d. Gerard Campana Lee(KOR) 4-6, 6-1, 6-4
Edas Butvilas(LTU) d. Alex Michelsen(USA) 6-2, 6-4
Hynek Barton(CZE)[Q] d. Nicholas Godsick(USA) 6-2, 6-4
Rodrigo Pacheco Mendez(MEX) d. Victor Lilov[12](USA) 2-6, 6-4, 6-4
Jakub Mensik[3](CZE) d. Cooper Williams(USA) 6-3, 3-6, 7-5

The three Americans who didn't play today are on Monday's schedule: Nishesh Basavareddy[5], Ozan Colak and Ahmani Guichard.

Colak and Guichard reached the semifinals of the ITF Grade 1 Astrid Bowl, a traditional warm-up event prior to Roland Garros, last week. By advancing that deep, Guichard received a special exemption into the main draw, avoiding qualifying. Alina Korneeva of Russia, the No. 11 seed, and Arthur Gea of France, the No. 14 seed, won the singles titles. 

Monday's schedule also includes second round singles matches for Hovde and Zheng, and 18 of the 32 first round doubles matches.

Hovde and Qavia Lopez are the No. 3 seeds, as are Nishesh Basavareddy and Victory Lilov. Australian Open doubles champions Kuzuhara and Hong Kong's Coleman Wong are seeded No. 4; Wong is attempting to win his third consecutive junior slam doubles title, having won the US Open last September with Columbia freshman Max Westphal.

Draws can be found here.

Former UCLA All-American Robin Anderson won the title at the $60,000 USTA Women's Pro Circuit tournament in Orlando today, with the top seed defeating Sachia Vickery, seeded No. 6, 7-5, 6-4. Anderson, 29, will reach a new career high in the WTA rankings, with the title moving up to 137 in the live rankings.

Top seeds Sophie Chang and Angela Kulikov(USC) won the doubles title, beating unseeded Hanna Chang and Elli Mandlik 6-3, 2-6, 10-6. It's their fourth title of the year as a team, all of them at the $60K or higher level.

Martin Damm reached the final of a $25K in the Czech Republic, and former Pac-12 rivals Gage Brymer(UCLA) and Brandon Holt(USC) won $15K titles in Tunisia and Cancun, respectively.

Sixteen-year-old Maya Dutta won her first ITF Junior Circuit singles title this week at the Grade 5 in El Salvador. The No. 1 seed defeated No. 8 seed Maria Paula Ramos Garcia of Guatemala 6-3, 6-3 in the final.  Dutta and Mia Garber won the doubles title as the No. 1 seeds, defeating No. 2 seeds Ramos Garcia and her partner Mariela Fotuny of Guatemala 6-3, 6-4 in the final.

I don't believe I mentioned Calvin Baierl's ITF junior circuit title from the previous week when I did my wrap-up, but his results this month certainly deserve recognition. The 15-year-old from Florida is now 14-1 in May, winning two Grade 5s in Colombia with a final sandwiched in between. Seeded No. 7 in the May 16-21 tournament, Baierl defeated Samuel Heredia of Colombia 6-4, 7-5 in the final, with Heredia the opponent who had handed Baierl his only loss of the month.

The NCAA Division III singles and doubles champions were crowned today at the USTA National Campus in Lake Nona. 

Elle Christensen of Tufts defeated Angie Zhou of Pomona-Pitzer 6-4, 7-5 in the women's singles final. Because Christensen was in the singles final, which is played before the doubles semifinals and finals, the women's doubles final is just starting, with Christensen and Tilly Rigby facing Erica Ekstrand and Yuu Ishikawa of Williams.

For more on the women's singles final, see this article from the Tufts website.

The women's results can be found here.

Stan Morris of Middlebury won the men's singles title, beating  Vishnu Joshi of Johns Hopkins 5-7, 7-5, 6-2. James Hopper and Jonathan Powell of Case Western defeated Andrew Esses and Nolan Shah of Emory 6-4, 6-1 for the men's doubles title.

For more on the men's singles final, see this article from the Middlebury website. For more on the men's doubles, see the Case Western website.

The men's results can be found here.

Saturday, May 28, 2022

Champaign Dreams Become Reality for Peyton Stearns of Texas and Ben Shelton of Florida in NCAA Division I Singles Championships; Roland Garros Junior Championships Begin Sunday with 12 Americans in Action

©Colette Lewis 2022--
Champaign IL--

Neither of them are old enough to drink any of the bubbly beverage associated with celebrations, but Peyton Stearns of Texas and Ben Shelton of Florida forever toast the city of Champaign, the site of their triumphs in the NCAA Division I Championships.

Stearns leaves the University of Illinois campus with two trophies; the 20-year-old sophomore from Mason Ohio had no hangover after leading her team to the NCAA Team title last Sunday, and after nine straight days of competition emerged with the singles championship trophy, defeating Stanford's Connie Ma 6-3, 6-2.

After a challenging ten days of rain and strong winds, Saturday's finals were played in ideal condition: sunny skies, temperatures in the 70s, and light winds.

Four of the first five games went to deciding points in the no-ad format used in Division I tennis, and Stearns won three of them. She couldn't shake Ma however until she powered a forehand return winner for 5-3 lead. Stearns then closed out the set, fittingly, with a good first serve on a deciding point.

"In my mind, I know this one point can change the whole match," said Stearns, the No. 2 seed. "I had to win or lose it, but not give her any free points on the massive deuce points. I said, Peyton, this one point gives you one less game you'll need to win. Save your body, you're going to need it."

Stearns admitted that she was nervous to start the match, and sensed that the unseeded Ma, a freshman, was also feeling uncomfortable. 

"She makes a lot of balls, and today she wasn't," Stearns said. "I'm a big hitter, and I wasn't hitting as many big shots to get her on defense as I would have liked. I think it was very stress-y tennis from both of us and what got me through today was that I was able to flip the switch on a couple of points, the big points, and it gave me a little bit of leeway to go after it."

Ma struggled with her serve throughout, with uncharacteristic double faults keeping her from building any momentum, while Stearns took advantage of the opportunities she was given.

"I need to be a little more aggressive," said Ma, who returns to Palo Alto for the final few days of classes before final exams. "If my average ball can do a little more damage, and I can get some short balls, that will make a big difference. Today I didn't hit the most clean, gave her a couple of short balls, and her forehand is obviously lethal when it comes to short balls. But props to her."

Ma had come from 4-1 down in the second set in her 6-4, 6-4 semifinal win over North Carolina's Fiona Crawley Friday, so the 4-1 deficit she faced in the second set wasn't as daunting as it may have seemed. But when Stearns held on a deciding point for a 5-1 lead, any thoughts of a turnaround evaporated.

Serving for the match at 5-2, Stearns ramped up her power game, hitting three winners, including a backhand pass that delivered the first NCAA Division I women's singles championship in Texas's history.

"It's pretty cool making history," said Stearns, who is the first woman since Stanford's Nicole Gibbs to win both the singles and team titles in the same year, with Gibbs' double also coming in Champaign, in 2013. "Hopefully it's setting the standard for more to come at Texas, doing the same thing with more team and individual titles."

Stearns, who won the team title last year playing No. 1 as a freshman, said she will make her decision about returning to Texas or turning pro in the next week or two, long before she'll be playing in the US Open as a wild card recipient.

"I'm so excited to be playing in the main draw of a slam," said Stearns, currently 384 in the WTA rankings. "That's a dream come true. Last year, I was fortunate to play in my home town Cincy with a wild card in qualies and I got a wild card into the qualies at the Open, and now, making main draw is just insane to think about. If you would have told me last September, October, when I was in a boot, that I was going to win this, I would have been like pfft, no way, I can't even hit a tennis ball. So I'm just super happy, super proud of myself for pushing through last fall and this spring."

While Stearns was playing for a main draw US Open wild card for the first time, Shelton had already been in that situation last summer, when he reached the final of the USTA National 18s championships in Kalamazoo, falling to Zachary Svajda in straight sets. So his 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 victory over No. 6 seed August Holmgren of San Diego was especially significant as he assessed the growth in his game since.

"I think when you see great players who are breaking through and making it as professionals, they're not making semis or finals of tournaments, but they're winning them, week after week," said the 19-year-old left-hander from Gainesville. "It's one of the toughest things to do after having a great week, finishing it off with a victory. I'm really happy I was able to close here, get past whatever physical and mental things that I was feeling and being able to come up with what I needed."

Shelton started off the match slowly, but he didn't attribute his discomfort to nerves, but rather to Holmgren's play.

"He surprised me; he did some things I didn't expect him to do," said Shelton, who had beaten Holmgren 6-3, 6-4 for the ITA All-American Championships title last October. "His ball was coming a little bit more through and faster than I expected and it took a little bit of time to adjust. But once I got some emotion behind it, and my coaches gave me a kick in the butt and got me releasing some of my energy, moving my feet more, that's what helped me a lot."

Shelton came back from 0-40 down at 3-all in the first, but lost a deciding point when he hit a forehand wide, and Holmgren hit several excellent first serves to close out the set.

Shelton had to win a deciding point to hold in the opening game of the second set, but his level began to increase with each game, and with his serve more damaging, he closed out the second set with little drama.

Holmgren came out for the third set determined, telling his coach Ryan Keckley "I refuse to lose this match," in his opening service game, but a great return from Shelton put the Gator in front to stay, with the depth on his ground strokes keeping Holmgren from setting up for his forehand. A second break made it 5-2, and Shelton closed out the fourth Florida men's NCAA singles title and the second in a row, as last year's champion Sam Riffice watched and supported his teammate from the bleachers next to the court.

"Ben played lights out," said Holmgren, a 24-year-old from Denmark, who will graduate from San Diego Sunday with a degree in theatre. "He was hitting his spots, his forehand was massive, his serve was huge and he did a really good job of when I was attacking him of neutralizing it, especially in the third set, when he gave me very few unforced errors."

Keckley said the San Diego program will miss Holmgren, who has completed his fifth year of eligibility and will begin playing professional events this summer.

"He certainly left our program better than he found it," Keckley said. "From his daily efforts, to how professional he was with the guys and how much he enjoyed the team concept, which is really undervalued in this day and age. It's going to be a huge hit to the program, but we'll get back to work."

Shelton, currently 548 in the ATP rankings, has a wild card into the ATP Challenger 100 in Little Rock, which begins Monday, but his participation in that tournament and in the US Open this August does not preclude a return to Florida for his junior year.

"My plans are to come back," said Shelton, who returned to Gainesville Saturday afternoon on the University of Florida's private jet to repack his bags before heading to Little Rock. "I hope to play a lot of pro tournaments this summer, and we'll see what happens, but right now I have no plans to leave, I'm still a Gator. I've got time."

Florida head coach Bryan Shelton also expects his son to return for the 2022-23 season.

"He's having an amazing experience at Florida," said Shelton, who reached 55 in the ATP rankings in 1992. "It's more than just the tennis, it's the academics, the social part, which he loves, the balance of all that. Professional tennis is awesome and it's amazing, but there's a lot things that go along with that as well. We value education, we value teamwork, we value the things he's receiving at the University of Florida. To see his progression from a year ago to this year, the jump he's made, we won't look too far into the future, but he's committed to coming back to school and continuing to be a big part of college tennis."

The ten-day tournament concluded Saturday afternoon with the North Carolina State women and the Texas men claiming the doubles championships.

Top seeds Jaeda Daniel and Nell Miller had already made history by reaching the final as the first team in program history to do so; after a 6-2, 7-5 victory over the unseeded Miami team of Daevenia Achong and Eden Richardson, the 2018 NCAA doubles champion playing for LSU, they are now the program's first NCAA champions.

Daniel, a graduate student from Pennsylvania, and Miller, a senior from England, had their share of tough matches during the week, but came through them all.

"All the tough matches we've had to get to the final have really prepared us for that time when we knew, ok, everything's on the line here," Daniel said. "We handled it the way we know how and it's really about being together in that moment."

Miller, who joined the Wolfpack in January after transferring from Texas Tech, said the path to the title was occasionally a rocky one.

"It's just been phenomenal, no matter what happens, we've always been there, ups and downs, and we've had a few downs," Miller said. "We've had some rough matches, but no matter what, we got back on that court and everything we've done leading up to this has really helped."

"It's hard to put into words," Daniel said of their historic first for the NC State program. "It's so exciting and it's nice to see the work and the time and the struggle pay off at some point, and I feel like that's how this tournament has been for us."

Miller plans to return to NC State for her fifth year, while Daniel will begin playing on the professional circuit.

Six championships were on the line during the 10-day tournament, and the University of Texas collected half of them, with the women's team and singles and finally, the men's doubles, won by Cleeve Harper and Richard Ciamarra.

Harper and Ciamarra, the No. 3 seeds, defeated No. 2 seeds Robert Cash and Matej Vocel 5-7, 6-4, 10-7 to spoil the Buckeyes attempt to collect all three collegiate majors in a season.

Harper, a redshirt sophomore, and Ciamarra, a graduate student, said that Stearns and the women's team inspired them during their run to the title.

"We just tried to do our part on the men's side," said Harper, from Alberta Canada. "Luckily we were able to get it done today."

"Peyton's unbelievable, what a player," said Ciamarra, a Connecticut resident who transferred from Notre Dame for this season. "I'm so happy for her, for the women to get the championship back-to-back. All around a good year for Texas tennis."

Harper and Ciamarra started slowly in the match tiebreaker, going down 3-0 before taking six of the next seven points. Ohio State, down a mini-break, got it back for 7-7, but Harper and Ciamarra won the final three points to claim the title. The point that ended it was a long tense one, concluding with Ciamarra's blistering forehand winner up the middle.

"In a 10-point breaker, it's anyone's game, so you have to bring the energy," Harper said. "We do that well and we were able to come out on top. All year he's just been cracking forehands and I knew it was going to be a good one. I was just trying to scrap out some balls to get him a good shot there and luckily I was able to."

Harper and Ciamarra are the first men's doubles champions at Texas since Lloyd Glasspool and Søren Hess-Olesen won the title in 2015.

Links to the draws can be found at the University of Illinois tournament page.

The junior championships at Roland Garros begin Sunday in Paris, with eight US boys and seven US girls in the draw. Twelve play their first round matches Sunday:  Bruno Kuzuhara[1], Alex Michelsen, Michael Zheng, Victor Lilov[12], Cooper Williams, Nicholas Godsick, Sonya Macavei[Q], Mia Slama, Liv Hovde[6], Qavia Lopez[15], Alexis Blokhina and Kaitlin Quevedo[Q].   

Nishesh Basavareddy[5], Ozan Colak and Ahmani Guichard[SE] are not on Sunday's schedule.

Australian Open girls champion Petra Marcinko is the No. 1 seed in the girls draw. Australian Open boys champion Kuzuhara is the No. 1 seed in the boys draw.

The order of play is for Sunday is here.  The ITF preview article is here.

Friday, May 27, 2022

Shelton's Good Fortune Sends Him to NCAA D-I Singles Final Against Holmgren; Ma and Stearns Meet for Women's Title Saturday; Macavei and Quevedo Qualify for Roland Garros Junior Championships

©Colette Lewis 2022--
Champaign IL--

Florida head coach Bryan Shelton suggested it might be divine intervention, and those inside the Atkins tennis center who saw the shot in question would confirm the accuracy of that description. Shelton's son, Ben, the top seed in the NCAA Division I singles championships, was serving at 5-all in the third set in his 6-7(3), 6-3, 7-5 semifinal victory over Tennessee's Adam Walton, the No. 3 seed.

After Walton had hit a perfect lob to earn the deciding point, Shelton, determined to be aggressive with the game on the line, slipped as he approached the net. With Walton's return coming at him, Shelton managed to get his racquet on it as he sat on the court, and an improbable drop shot winner was the result.

"One thing my coaches wanted me to do, when it came down to a deuce point, was to be the first guy to the net, be aggressive," said the 19-year-old sophomore. "I saw his chip was going to be too low to get the ball out of the air, so I tried to put on the brakes, so I could hit a forehand. I completely slipped, my feet came out from under me and as I'm sitting on the ground, and the ball's coming in slow motion to me, I thought there was only one chance of me winning this point, if I hit a drop shot winner. So for the first time in the match, I tried a drop shot and it goes in. My dad gave me a look, like what are you doing?, but somehow I was able to pull it out."

Shelton had trailed 4-2 in the final set, but got the break back on a deciding point to make it 4-4. After two easy holds, Shelton's shot gave him the advantage, and although he showed no signs of losing his composure, Walton was obviously shaken as he served to get into a tiebreaker. The fifth-year graduate student from Australia, who had given Shelton virtually no free points throughout the match, hit a backhand long to go down 0-30 and double faulted for 0-40, giving Shelton four match points. Walton saved two, both with winners, but he was the victim of bad luck on the third, when Shelton's forehand caught the tape and went over the net, giving Walton no chance to return it.

"I saw the opening there, with my forehand down the line, and I thought I had it," Shelton said. "I just didn't get all of it and it ended up touching the net cord. Adam's such a class act, he's such a good guy, so I was sad it went down like that. It was a great battle all the way through and he's an amazing competitor."

Shelton will face San Diego's August Holmgren, the No. 6 seed, who defeated defending champion and Shelton's teammate Sam Riffice 6-7(3), 6-4, 6-2.

Holmgren couldn't match Riffice's level in the tiebreaker, with a double fault and an unforced forehand error the difference in the first set, but he broke Riffice on a deciding point at 3-all in the second set and won his next two service games with ease to level the match at a set apiece.

Another early break in the third set gave Holmgren some breathing room, and when he won a net exchange on a deciding point with Riffice serving at 1-3, the likelihood of an all-Florida final dimmed.

Holmgren did show a few signs of nerves serving it out, missing two forehands to send the game to a deciding point, but he closed out the match with a putaway into the open court to become the first San Diego player to reach the men's NCAA singles final since Pierrick Ysern finished as runner-up in 2005.

Holmgren, although obviously not accustomed to indoor tennis, thought his serve was the key to his success against Riffice.

"I played very disciplined, served big," said the 24-year-old from Denmark. "Especially playing indoors, that's the most important shot to be able to be the first one to attack. I was hitting my spots really well. Sam's obviously an incredible player, but I knew if I could play the points the way I wanted to, control them with my forehand, take my chances when I see them, then I'd have a good shot at winning."

Riffice agreed that Holmgren benefitted from the move indoors due to rain Friday morning.

"I think he played a lot better than I did," Riffice said. "His game's pretty well suited for indoors and he played really good serve plus one tennis. Unfortunately, I didn't serve great, so he had a lot of looks on return and I didn't have as much on his, so he just kind of brought it to me today, played a little more aggressive than I did."

Riffice received his degree this spring, and is not planning to return for a fifth year; instead he will begin his professional career.

"I'll start this summer and see what I can do in the next couple of years," said the 23-year-old, who recently became engaged to former WTA professional Cici Bellis.

Holmgren and Shelton met in the final of last October's ITA All-American Championships, with Shelton taking a 6-3, 6-4 decision. 

"In Tulsa, he did a really good job of neutralizing my attacks," said Holmgren, who won the ITA National Fall Championships singles title the following month. "I made a little too many unforced errors and he served really well that day too. He was tough to break and made it difficult in my service games."

Shelton is planning to get a scouting report from Riffice before Saturday's match.

"I'm going to look at tomorrow as a whole new challenge," Shelton said. "I'm going to ask Sam for some pointers, and I'm sad it doesn't get to be two Gators in the finals, but I'm excited for another opportunity, and I'm taking it as a new day and a new match, not thinking too much about what happened last time."

As for the US Open main draw wild card that traditionally goes to an American winner of the NCAA singles title, Shelton is downplaying that aspect of Saturday's final.

"I'm not thinking about that too much," said Shelton, who also played for a US Open wild card last summer in the Kalamazoo 18s final. "I'm trying to compartmentalize, the college season is the college season and next week the pro season can start. I think the more you think about what you get, or don't get from winning or losing a match, the tighter you play, the more stress you put on yourself. The guy that I'm playing isn't American, so he's not thinking about that at all, so why should I?"

Unlike the men's final, the women's championship match will feature two players who know the other is thinking about the US Open wild card, with both Connie Ma of Stanford and Peyton Stearns of Texas from the United States.

Stearns, the No. 2 seed, earned her spot in the second final of her trip to Illinois, with the team championship already secured, defeating unseeded Paola Diaz-Delgado of Virginia Commonwealth 6-3, 6-4.

Stearns, a sophomore from Ohio, got the only break she needed early in the first set and closed it out comfortably. Diaz-Delgado settled herself in the second set, and was up 4-3, with Stearns serving at 15-40. But Stearns saved those three break points, then broke on a deciding point in the next game to give herself a chance to serve for the match. Again, she fell behind 15-40, but again she recovered, using three big forehands to take the game and the match.

"I took it point by point and I played smart," said Stearns, who is attempting to be the first woman from Texas to win an NCAA singles title. "I said, you know what, if I'm going to lose the point, she's going to have to earn it. I'm not going to give away the points for free and that's exactly what I did. In the end, I was like, how clutch are you here? please, just be smart, and I was, and I'm super happy about it."

Stearns admitted that she has given some thought to the US Open wild card.

"Earlier this week, in some of the other matches, it was definitely on my mind and made me play tight, knowing what was on the line, knowing how big it is to play at the Open," the 20-year-old right-hander said. "But I told myself to play it like I would any other match; if it goes your way, it goes your way, if it doesn't, it doesn't."

Stearns has lost just two matches all year, one to Emma Navarro in the team quarterfinals last week, and the other, back in February, to Ma, by a score of 7-6(7), 2-6, 6-2.

"We played early this season, at Stanford," Stearns said. "I lost in three. She's a good player, she's consistent, she's going to get a lot of balls back. I'll have to be very, very patient, wait to pick the right targets. When I played her last time, mentally I wasn't in it and that's what lost me the match. Tomorrow I'll have to be mentally prepared to play every single point the same way."

Ma trailed North Carolina's Fiona Crawley by two breaks at 4-1 in the second set, but when she got one break back to make it 4-2, she saw a path to closing out her 6-4, 6-4 victory.

"I was kind of mentally getting ready for a third, but once I got that break for 2-4, I thought yeah, maybe," said the 18-year-old freshman from California. "She was just playing unbelievable tennis up until 4-1 and I was like wow, it definitely won't be an easy match. But yeah, I'm glad I was able to pull through."

Ma, who had a small cheering section with head coach Lele Forood and teammates Sara Choy and Valencia Xu taking the red-eye Thursday night to support her, also admitted to thinking about the wild card.

"Yeah, I've thought about it, but I don't think that's what I'm playing this tournament for," Ma said. "I'd rather just represent Stanford. I'm not totally set on the wild card. If I get it, that's great, but if I don't, it's fine."

The last Stanford woman to win an NCAA singles title did so in Champaign, with Nicole Gibbs taking her second straight NCAA singles title.

"Lele told me Nicole Gibbs had won here in 2013, so maybe there's good luck here," Ma said. "There's a plaque in her office with all the people who won the individuals. That would definitely be cool to be on there, but I'll have to fight Peyton for it."

Unlike the singles semifinals, which were played entirely indoors, the doubles semifinals enjoyed some outdoor play. The men's semifinals began outdoors, but rain moved them inside during the first sets, while the women's semifinals were played entirely outside, with a brisk wind and temperatures around 60 degrees. 

No. 2 seeds Robert Cash and Matej Vocel of Ohio State trailed unseeded Daniel Rodrigues and Connor Thomson of South Carolina 4-1 when play was moved indoors, with the Buckeyes winning the next four games to take the first set. Rodrigues and Thomson got the only break of the second set, with Cash serving at 5-6, and took an 8-5 lead in the match tiebreaker by making six consecutive first serves, most of them unreturned.

Cash held both of his serves for 8-7, then Rodrigues missed a first serve, with the Buckeyes taking the point. They took the lead with Vocel's volley winner down the middle and ended it with a booming ace by Vocel for a 6-4, 5-7, 10-8 victory.

Cash and Vocel, who won both ITA fall majors as a team, will look to match former Buckeyes Chase Buchanan and Blaz Rola as the only men's college teams to win all three titles in the same academic year. Buchanan and Rola achieved that in 2011-2012.

Cash and Vocel will face No. 3 seed Richard Ciamarra and Cleeve Harper of Texas, who ended the run of twin brothers Maxence and Charles Bertimon of Virginia Commonwealth 6-4, 6-3.

The women's doubles final will feature top seeds Jaeda Daniel and Nell Miller of North Carolina State and unseeded Daevenia Achong and Eden Richardson of Miami after they posted straight-sets victories Friday evening.

Daniel and Miller came from 4-1 down in the second set to defeat Janice Tjen and Savannah Broadus of Pepperdine 7-5, 6-4 and earn the program's first berth in an NCAA doubles final. Achong and Richardson defeated Lisa Marie Rioux and Ayumi Miyamoto of Oklahoma State 7-6(5), 6-2, and are the first Miami women's team to make an NCAA final since 1988.

The schedule for Saturday begins with the singles finals at 11 am CDT, followed by the doubles finals. TennisONE's Hayley Carter, Mark Bey and Alex Gruskin will provide commentary for all four matches. Links to live scoring and streaming are available at the University of Illinois tournament page.

The weather forecast is for partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the 70s with no rain expected.

Qualifying is complete for the Roland Garros Junior Championships, which begin Sunday in Paris. Two girls from the United States qualified: Sonya Macavei and Kaitlin Quevedo. Quevedo defeated No. 1 qualifying seed Anastasiya Lopata of Ukraine 6-4, 6-2, Macavei defeated French wild card Thessy Ntondele Zinga 6-4, 7-5.

Six US boys were in qualifying: Alexander Frusina, Ethan Quinn, Jonah Braswell, Yannick Rahman, Leanid Boika and Aidan Kim. Quinn, Braswell and Kim lost in the final round of qualifying.

Thursday, May 26, 2022

Shelton, Riffice, Holmgren and Walton Reach NCAA D-I Men's Semifinals; Crawley, Ma, Stearns and Diaz-Delgado Make Up Women's Final Four; Division III Individual Championships Begin Friday in Lake Nona

©Colette Lewis 2022--
Champaign IL--

Three American women and two American men, both of them Florida Gators, have advanced to the semifinals of the NCAA D-I singles championships.  

Thursday's quarterfinals took place outdoors on the campus of the University of Illinois, on a mostly cloudy day that started with light winds that again strengthened as the day lengthened. 

The men, who started earlier, had the more benign conditions, with top seed Ben Shelton of Florida the first to finish, with a 6-3, 6-4 win over Stanford's Arthur Fery, a 9-16 seed.

Serving for the first set at 5-3, Shelton found himself down 30-40, but he came up with a forehand winner to get to a deuce point. The 19-year-old left-hander gave Fery no chance on that point, cranking a huge first serve to secure the set.

Shelton said that having access to that shot pays dividends not only in securing important points, but in the next game as well.

"It's nice, after getting out of that service game, being able to go into the next return game knowing that the guy knew he had one of few chances they're going to have and they didn't convert," Shelton said.

In the second set, Fery had the easier time holding and again had two break points with Shelton serving at 3-4, 30-40. But Shelton again saved the game, with Fery missing a backhand pass on the deuce point, and Fery was broken in the next game. Shelton served out the match at love to set up a third meeting of the year with Tennessee's Adam Walton.

Walton, the No. 3 seed, fell behind early and was on the verge of a loss late in his match with Kentucky's Gabriel Diallo, but the graduate student from Australia hung tough to earn a 4-6, 6-4, 7-6(3) victory.

Diallo broke Walton's serve at 3-4 in the third set, crushing a backhand winner to put himself in position to serve for the match. But Diallo's forehand let him down in that game, with his four unforced errors on that side keeping Walton in the match, and after three more holds, a tiebreaker would decide it. Diallo went up 3-1 in the tiebreaker, but didn't win another point, as Walton made no unforced errors and Diallo couldn't match that consistency.

Walton and Shelton, both of whom play No. 1 for their teams, met twice in the season, with Shelton winning 6-3, 1-6, 6-1 in Knoxville during the regular season, and their match in the SEC Conference championships going unfinished early in the third set.

"He's a guy who makes a lot of balls," Shelton said. "He's really solid, he serves pretty well, is a good spot server. I think it's important that I take my chances to come to the net, use my drop shot and just be really aggressive."

In the bottom half of the men's draw, No. 6 seed August Holmgren of San Diego will face defending champion Sam Riffice of Florida, who is not seeded this year.

Holmgren got off to a fast start against unseeded Eduardo Nava of Wake Forest, up two breaks in the first set, but Nava eventually found his form and got back in the match, saving a match point at 5-6 in the second set tiebreaker before Holmgren reasserted himself in a 6-4, 6-7(6), 6-0 victory. Holmgren, a fifth-year senior from Denmark, reached the ITA All-American Championships final last October and won the ITA National Championships last November.

Riffice had just lost to Inaki Montes of Virginia during the quarterfinals of the team championships, so there were no surprises between the two, who played at line 2 for their teams. Today Riffice, a senior, went up 4-1, lost the break, but got it back immediately and served out the 6-4 first set.

In the second set, it was Riffice who fell behind 4-2, but he got it back on serve only to go down 15-40 serving at 4-5. With three set points, Montes didn't do anything wrong, but Riffice came up with big shots that forced errors and took the deciding point with a drop shot that was successful against the speedy 19-year-old from Spain. At 4-5 in the subsequent tiebreaker, Riffice hit a forehand on the line for 5-all, then hit a perfect lob winner over Montes, who had approached the net. Riffice then finished it off in style, hitting another forehand winner for a hard-fought 6-4, 7-6(5) victory.

Shelton said he is trying not to look ahead at the prospect of playing his teammate in the final.

"He's having a good run as well, and I know that will be fun if we end up playing each other in the finals," Shelton said. "But I'm just going one match at a time, thinking about playing Adam. Sam's definitely chopped me in some practice matches, so I think he's the one guy here I wouldn't be looking forward to play."

The women's quarterfinals, played on the north courts, started out with one-sided first set scores, but tightened considerably as the matches progressed.

Fiona Crawley of North Carolina was first off the court, defeating Lisa Zaar of Pepperdine 6-3, 6-1. Crawley, who played No. 4 for the Tar Heels, said the score was deceptive.

"I think that I played very well," said Crawley, a sophomore from Texas. "She's an amazing competitor and the score was definitely not representative of how the points were and how the match was--we had so many deuce points. Every point, she just gets every single ball back. She loves competing, I love competing, thank God it wasn't as windy as yesterday so we could actually have some good points."

Crawley played doubles late Wednesday night, losing to the University of Miami team, and she said she was up later than usual due to that match.

"It's a joke on my team that I'm always in bed by 8:30, 9:00, with my tea and a book and I'm kind of the grandma of the team," Crawley said. "Late night matches are not my forté. So the morning after one, I'm just like, that didn't happen, I'm fine. And honestly, if you fake it for long enough, you start to believe it."

Crawley will play Stanford freshman Connie Ma, who ended the run of giant-killer Abigail Rencheli of North Carolina State 6-2, 7-6(6).

Ma failed to serve out the match at 5-4, losing the deciding point after a long rally, and then went down 5-1 and 6-3 in the tiebreaker. But determined not to miss, Ma made ball after ball in despite the wind, and took the last five points to earn the victory.

Ma said she doesn't have any particular thought process in those tight situations, which also included a third-set tiebreaker in her third round win over USC's Salma Ewing.

"I don't know what I tell myself, to be honest," the 18-year-old said. "Somehow I stay calm in those moments and it works out I guess."

Ma said she did not expect to have this kind of run in her first NCAA tournament.

"I definitely did not think I would be here this long," Ma said. "I didn't pack enough clothes, I'll probably need to do laundry later. I really didn't have many expectations coming into this tournament, but it's always exciting I guess."

Crawley and Ma played last November at the ITA Fall Nationals with Ma taking a 7-6(4), 4-6, 6-2 decision in the second round.

The other women's semifinal will feature No. 2 seed Peyton Stearns of Texas and Paola Diaz-Delgado of Virginia Commonwealth.

Stearns trailed No. 7 seed Eryn Cayetano of Southern California 3-1 in the final set, but broke the 2021 ITA Fall Nationals champion three consecutive times to earn a 6-1, 1-6, 6-4 victory.

Diaz-Delgado, a graduate student from Spain, became the first woman in the program's history to reach the NCAA semifinals with a 6-1, 7-6(8) win over Washington State's Michaela Bayerlova.

The doubles semifinalists were also decided on Thursday, with the women's final four featuring just one seeded team and the men's two.

No. 2 seeds Matej Vocel and Robert Cash of Ohio State were challenged by unseeded Jakub Schnaitter and Sid Banthia of Wake Forest, but survived 6-4, 4-6, 10-7. They will face unseeded Connor Thomson and Daniel Rodrigues of South Carolina, who ousted No. 3 seeds Finn Bass and Sven Lah of Baylor 7-6(2), 6-4. 

No. 3 seed Richard Ciamarra and Cleeve Harper of Texas defeated Shelton and Riffice, 5-8 seeds, 7-5, 6-2 and will play VCU's  Bertimon twins, Maxence and Charles, who defeated Finn Murgett and Tad McLean of Auburn 7-5, 4-6, 10-6.

The Bertimon brothers, the first NCAA doubles semifinalists in program history, took out top seeds Luc Fomba and Jacob Fearnley of TCU in the first round, which did ratchet up the expectations for the pair. 

"Obviously beating the number one seeds made for a little more stress in the next match," Maxence said. "We played a good first match and the tournament, the bracket, was open," Charles added. "But we just focused on our game, not on who was the opponent, and whoever is in the tournament is tough to beat."

Murgett and McLean, who were 5-8 seeds, were not new opponents for the Bertimons, who defeated the 2021 NCAA doubles finalists earlier this year at the Blue Gray Classic.

"After the match, some people tell us that we beat the team in the NCAA finals," Charles said. "It made sense to us, because they were really good players, specialists in doubles, and it was a really good match, a tight match and we won 7-6, to clinch. It was 3-all and we played doubles last, so it was a huge win."

The women's doubles semifinals in the top half will feature top seeds Jaeda Daniel and Nell Miller of NC State against Janice Tjen and Savannah Broadus of Pepperdine. Daniel and Miller defeated Anna Ross and Holly Staff of Vanderbilt 6-4, 4-6, 10-6, taking eight of the last ten points in the match tiebreaker to advance.

The unseeded Tjen and Broadus have been on a roll, losing only three games in the second round and posting a 6-1, 6-1 victory over Ava Hrastar and Kylie Blichev of Georgia Tech today.

In the bottom half, unseeded Ayumi Miyamoto and Lisa Marie Rioux of Oklahoma State defeated Jayci Goldsmith and Tatiana Makarova of Texas A&M, 5-8 seed, by a 6-3, 7-6 score and will face Daevenia Achong and Eden Richardson of Miami. In a match that moved indoors due to rain at 2-0 in the second set, Achong and Richardson defeated Stearns and Allura Zamarripa 7-6(3), 5-7, 10-5.

The schedule for Friday's semifinals is for the men's singles semifinals at 11 am CDT, followed by the women's singles semifinals, with the men's doubles, then the women's doubles to follow.

See the University of Illinois tournament page for links to live scoring and streaming by TennisONE app.

The Division III singles championships begin Friday in Lake Nona with Chicago's Christian Alshon the top men's seed and Sylwia Makos of Chicago the top women's seed.  

Claremont-Mudd-Scripp's Nikolina Batoshvili and Alisha Chulani are the top seeds in women's doubles, with Alshon and Derek Hsieh of Chicago seeded No. 1 in men's doubles.

The men's draws can be found here; the women's draws here. Links to live scoring can be found here.

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

NC State's Rencheli Stuns Defending Champion Navarro to Reach NCAA Division I Singles Quarterfinals; Virginia's Montes Ousts 2021 Finalist Rodrigues in Men's Third Round Action; Chicago Men, CMS Women Claim NCAA Division III Team Titles

©Colette Lewis 2022--
Champaign IL--

There was rain, there was wind and there were upsets Wednesday at the NCAA Division I singles and doubles championships at the University of Illinois, with North Carolina State's Abigail Rencheli recording an unforgettable victory over No. 1 seed and defending champion Emma Navarro of Virginia 5-7, 6-4, 6-3.

After three women's third round matches were played inside the Atkins Tennis Center due to wet courts at the 9 a.m. start time, the other five matches went outdoors, with the winds at the time a few miles per hour below the limit of 20 that requires play move indoors.

Less than an hour later, the wind strength picked up noticeably, with the later women's matches on the north courts particularly affected. 

That's where Rencheli and Navarro were playing, and in the first set, both struggled to hold serve as they adjusted to the windy conditions. In the second set, Navarro trailed by two breaks, but Rencheli, the No. 5 seed, wasn't able to close out the set serving at 5-2. Navarro held for 5-4 and Rencheli trailed 30-40 in her second attempt to serve it out, but a good serve and a forced error on the deciding point sent the match to a third set.

In the third set, Rencheli lost an early 3-1 lead, but broke at love to regain the lead at 4-3. Navarro's backhand, usually a reliable point-generator, let her down in the next game and Rencheli held for 5-3.  Navarro had a game point after a drop shot winner, but Rencheli crushed a backhand winner to earn a deciding point, and she held her nerve in that brief rally, with Navarro's shot going wide, ending her NCAA singles winning streak at nine matches.

Rencheli was able to consistently keep the ball deep, usually within a foot of the baseline, even with the very challenging conditions.

"We do a lot of depth drills, that's for sure," said the sophomore from Sarasota Florida. "That's probably one of my favorite things to do at practice and so I do it a lot. It is a little difficult with the wind, but you can take something off, add some power, adjust to how the ball is moving. I just wanted to get the ball in the court; I didn't want to miss."

Rencheli's performance today was even more impressive given her comeback against Thasaporn Naklo of Iowa State, who served for the match at 7-6(3), 5-4, 40-0. Rencheli not only saved those four match points, but went on to take the next eight games after that for an improbably 6-7(3), 7-5, 6-0 victory.

"I'm not going to lie, I was quite tired after yesterday's match and doubles, but I did everything I possibly could to recover," Rencheli said. "I went neck-deep in a cold tub, so I think that helped a lot. I trusted all the work I did throughout the year--I put in a lot of practice hours--but it's a new day, I may be a little bit tired, but the adrenaline and all that stuff is going to get me through, and it did."

After surviving her second round match, which gave her All-America status, and being unseeded, Rencheli is playing with a classic underdog's freedom.

"I've absolutely nothing to lose," Rencheli said. "I'm just enjoying every single day. I love playing tennis, and I'm just enjoying it, I really am."

Rencheli will face Stanford freshman Connie Ma, who had even more tense encounter on the next court over from Rencheli and Navarro, beating Pac-12 rival Salma Ewing of Southern California 6-2, 4-6, 7-6(6).

Ma served for the match at 5-4 in the third set, but Ewing blasted a forehand winner at 30-40 to get herself back in the match, then won a deciding point to hold serve. Ma held for the tiebreaker, which was as close as the games that preceded it. Ma had the first match point at 6-5 but Ewing held serve when Ma shanked her return. Ewing then dropped the next point on serve, when she netted her reply to Ma's return and Ma closed it out with a big forehand that forced an error.

Four more of the women's round of 16 matches went the distance, with Paola Diaz-Delgado of VCU defeating Virginia's Natasha Subhash of Virginia 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 and Erin Cayetano of Southern California beating Mariia Kozyreva of St. Mary's 6-1, 6-7(5), 6-3, both matches indoors.

Outdoors, No. 2 seed Peyton Stearns of Texas advanced over North Carolina's Elizabeth Scotty 6-3, 4-6, 6-2 and Michaela Bayerlova of Washington State saved two match points in defeating North Carolina's Carson Tanguilig 5-7, 7-6(3), 7-5. Serving at 5-6 in the second set, Bayerlova went down 30-40, but managed to hang on for the tiebreaker, as Tanguilig lost a bit of focus after failing to close it out. Bayerlova failed to serve out the match at 5-3 in the third, but Tanguilig fell behind 30-40 at 5-6. She saved on match point with brilliant slice angle, but hit a backhand long on the deciding point to end the match. Bayerlova will play Diaz-Delgado in the quarterfinals, with the only two seeded players remaining in the draw, Cayetano and Stearns the other quarterfinal in the bottom half.

North Carolina's Fiona Crawley advanced to to the quarterfinals with a 6-3, 7-6(5) win over Texas's Kylie Collins and will play Pepperdine's Lisa Zaar, who beat Haley Giavara of Cal 7-5, 6-2.

The notable upset in the men's third round was Inaki Montes's 3-6, 6-2, 6-2 victory over No. 2 seed and 2021 finalist Daniel Rodrigues of South Carolina. The University of Virginia sophomore got off to a slow start in the opening set, but eventually he found his way through the wind better than Rodrigues.

"We were supposed to play indoors and then at the last moment, they switch us outdoors, and a lot of wind," said the 19-year-old from Spain. "But I think I kept my composure; I tried to stay calm, even though I was doing a lot of unforced errors, and then he started missing more. I took advantage of those opportunities he gave in the second set and in the third set I kept my energy high and I managed through it."

The unseeded Montes, who won his match in Virginia's 4-0 win in the team championship final, said he felt that usual team championship hangover on the first day of competition in the singles tournament.

"Once you achieve that goal, all the adrenaline goes out and it's tough to recover, come back and start playing a tournament the next day," Montes said. "Also we celebrated the night before playing too. But I felt relief; I'm playing without pressure and I'm just trying to enjoy it and I think that's helping me. But it's true, it's tough to maintain the energy after seeing my teammates now all going back to Charlottesville, I'm here alone with my coach. I'm trying to enjoy it, but it's tough, not being around my teammates, especially enjoying so much my time with them the last five months. But I'm trying to focus match by match and enjoy it."

Montes will face Florida's Sam Riffice, the defending champion, after Riffice defeated Ron Hohmann of LSU 6-4, 6-3. The two have played twice this year, with Riffice winning at the ITA Team Indoor in February and Montes getting the victory in the team quarterfinals in last week.

"He's always trying to come to the net, he plays so aggressive," said Montes. "He serves well, he returns well, he's a complete player. So I hope I can recover from today and be ready for a great battle tomorrow."

Montes sees his own game as different from that of Riffice.

"We can all agree that I'm not a player with big strokes, with a lot of power, that has a huge weapon," Montes said. "I don't have a big serve, a big forehand, a big backhand. But I think I have a pretty good game from the baseline, I have touch, great volleys and I read the game well. In short, I think I'm a complete player that when I play organized, I can vary the game quite well. I'm good at that, but I still can improve in every thing."

The only seeded player in the bottom half of the draw is No. 6 seed August Holmgren of San Diego, who defeated Brian Cernoch of North Carolina 6-2, 6-4. Holmgren will face Wake Forest's Eduardo Nava, who won the most dramatic men's match of the day indoors, beating Hamish Stewart, a 9-16 seed, 6-4, 4-6, 7-6(5).  Stewart led 4-1 in the final set tiebreaker and was serving when he began to cramp, and he won only one point after that, with serving especially perilous.

Three seeds remain in the top half, including No. 1 Ben Shelton of Florida, who defeated Ohio State's JJ Tracy 6-4, 6-4 indoors. Shelton will play Stanford's Arthur Fery, a 9-16 seed, after Fery defeated Pac-12 rival Stefan Dostanic of Southern California 6-2, 6-3.

A second player who competed in the team final has advanced to the quarterfinals, with Kentucky's Gabriel Diallo defeating Ohio State's Matej Vocel, a 9-16 seed, 6-4, 4-6, 7-5. The unseeded Diallo will play Tennessee's Adam Walton, the No, 3 seed, who defeated Henry Von Der Schulenberg of Harvard 7-6(1), 6-3.

Although Walton is through to the quarterfinals in singles, he and partner Pat Harper, who won the NCAA doubles title last year, lost in the second round today. The unseeded pair lost to No. 2 seed Vocel and Robert Cash of Ohio State 6-4, 6-2. Doubles competition began outside, moved indoors, back out, then back in after rain, with the final turn of matches played outdoors.

Charles and Maxence Bertimon of Virginia Commonwealth, who had defeated top seeds Luc Fomba and Jacob Fearnley of TCU in the first round, continued their winning ways today, defeating Carl Overbeck and Yuta Kikuchi of Cal 7-6, 6-4.

All teams who advance to the quarterfinals receive All-American honors in doubles.

The top seeds in the women's doubles, Nell Miller and Jaeda Daniel of NC State, managed to stay alive, beating Carmen and Ivana Corley of Oklahoma 6-1, 3-6, 10-8, but the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds were eliminated this evening in second round matches outdoors.  Daevenia Achong and Eden Richardson of Miami defeated No. 2 seeds Elizabeth Scotty and Fiona Crawley of North Carolina 6-4, 6-1. Scotty, like Harper and Walton, was defending her NCAA doubles title from 2021. No. 3 seeds Emma Navarro and Hibah Shaikh of Virginia lost to Janice Tjen and Savannah Broadus of Pepperdine 6-1, 6-2. 

The only seeded team other than Miller and Daniel remaining in the women's quarterfinals is Texas A&M's Jayci Goldsmith and Tatiana Makarova, who are 5-8 seeds.

The weather forecast calls for a 60 percent chance of rain Thursday, but as of now, the schedule continues to show a noon start. If that changes, the times will ultimately be posted on the draws at the University of Illinois tournament page.

The University of Chicago men and the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps women claimed the Division III team championships today at the USTA National Campus in Lake Nona Florida.

The No. 1 ranked Chicago men defeated No. 2 ranked Case Western Reserve 5-2 for the school's first NCAA team title. A recap of the match and a full replay of today's final can be found at NCAA.com.

Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, ranked No. 4, defeated top-ranked Chicago 5-1 today in Lake Nona. CMS, the 2018 NCAA champions, won two of the three doubles points and got straight-sets wins from the bottom three spots in the lineup to earn the victory.  A recap of the match and a full replay of today's final are available at NCAA.com.

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Nineteen Players Earn All-American Status Tuesday at NCAA D-I Singles Championships; Men's Top Doubles Seeds Ousted; Barry Sweeps D-II Titles; Chicago Plays for Both D-III Titles Wednesday

©Colette Lewis 2022-
Champaign IL

Day Two of the NCAA Division I singles championships is a special one for the unseeded players in the tournament, as they can earn the coveted status of All-America if they win to advance to the round of 16.

A baker's dozen of women and eight men claimed that honor Tuesday in Champaign, which also means that many a seed was eliminated from contention.

The North Carolina women had five of their starting six in the field and after today three are All-Americans, with Elizabeth Scotty, Fiona Crawley and Carson Tanguilig joing Cameron Morra, who received the designation by virtue of being seeded in the tournament, but lost in the first round yesterday.

Scotty defeated 9-16 seed Jaeda Daniel of North Carolina State 6-1, 6-3; Crawley defeated Tatiana Makarova of Texas A&M 6-2, 6-4 and Tanguilig beat Sabina Machalova of Mississippi 6-4, 6-1.

The other women who are now All-Americans are Kylie Collins of Texas; Lisa Zaar of Pepperdine, who defeated No. 6 seed Sarah Hamner of South Carolina; Paola Diaz-Delgado of VCU; Michaela Bayerlova of Washington State; Mariia Kozyreva of St. Marys; Haley Giavara of Cal; Connie Ma of Stanford; Abigail Rencheli of NC State, Natasha Subhash of Virginia and Salma Ewing of Southern California.

Ma defeated McCartney Kessler of Florida, a 9-16 seed 7-5, 6-4 after trailing 5-2 and saving four set points in the first set.

"I was down 3-5 0-40," said Ma, a freshman from Dublin California. "I tried to play a little more aggressive, and once I knew her game a little better, I knew to take balls a little earlier, not give her as much time, not let her attack as much."

As for the All-American part of today's match, Ma said she didn't really understand its importance until this year.

"Coming into college I didn't really know what it was," Ma said. "You hear about it, my friends who are older, they say, oh they have the All-American honor, but I'm like oh, I don't really know what it is. I didn't worry about it coming into college. But then I was like, maybe I should look into it, because it sounds cool. Then I looked into the requirements, and I was glad I was able to achieve that goal."

Ma will play USC senior Ewing, who defeated Veronika Miroshnichenko 7-5, 6-4.

Unlike Ma, Ewing wasn't aware of what was riding on her match today.

"It's very exciting, and it's such a great honor," said Ewing, who has played Ma twice this season, losing to her in the ITF Fall National Championships and at the No. 1 singles position when the teams played in during the conference season. "But I didn't know it until afterward the match."

That was not the case for two of the eight men who earned their designations today: Ron Hohmann of LSU and JJ Tracy of Ohio State.

Hohmann said the prospect of being an All-American looked bleak when he fell behind Juan Carlos Aguilar of TCU, a 9-16 seed. 

"When I was down 7-5, 4-1, I was not feeling good," said the sophomore from New York, who went on to claim a 5-7, 6-4, 6-2 win. "I was up 5-3 in the first doing what I was supposed to do, and I let off a little bit and he started playing well. Lost the first set, went down, was making mistake after mistake and then I locked in. Honestly it got to the point where I said I'm just going to go for it and see what happens."

Hohmann knew what was on line, but kept his focus on the match, not on that, at least until he could see the finish line.

"I knew if I won I'd be All-American, but that went out of my head real quick," said Hohmann, who plays defending champion Sam Riffice of Florida Wednesday. "It came back into my head when I was serving for the match, so I was a little nervous there, but I'm happy that I pulled it out."

Tracy admitted that his thoughts turned to the honor during the match, costing him his focus and several games in his 6-1, 6-3 win over Filippo Moroni of Wake Forest. 

"I won the first set pretty handily and went up 3-0 in the second and the thoughts started flowing in my brain," said the sophomore from Hilton Head, South Carolina. "Oh shoot, if I win three more games here, hold out, I become an All-American, and I messed it up, it went 3-all. I had to recompose myself and fight back to get the second."

Tracy will face top seed Ben Shelton of Florida, who defeated Axel Nefve of Notre Dame 6-0, 7-6(1). Shelton and Tracy met in the quarterfinals of the ITA All-American Championships last fall, with eventual champion Shelton claiming a 7-6(7), 7-5 victory.

"It was a battle, and a few points here and there and we're in a third set," Tracy said. "I'm feeling good, going in thinking I have a good chance."

In addition to Hohmann and Tracy, six other men made All-American: Riffice, who came through a very tough battle with Garrett Johns of Duke 7-5, 4-6, 7-5; Brian Cernoch of North Carolina; Henry Von der Schulenburg of Harvard; Gabriel Diallo of Kentucky, Eduardo Nava of Wake Forest and Inaki Montes of Virginia.

The first round of doubles began Tuesday afternoon, and it didn't take long for a big upset to surface, with men's top seeds Luc Fomba and Jacob Fearnley of TCU falling to brothers Charles and Maxence Bertimon of Virginia Commonwealth 6-3, 2-6, 10-7.

No. 2 seeds Robert Cash and Matej Vocel of Ohio State where one point away from suffering the same fate, but held on a deciding point serving at 4-5 in the second set and went on to eke out a 4-6, 7-6(5), 10-8 victory over Mississippi's Finn Reynolds and Lukas Engelhardt.  Cash and Vocel won both ITA majors last fall.

In women's doubles, top seeds Jaeda Daniel and Nell Miller of North Carolina State defeated UCLA's Elysia Bolton and Elise Wagle 6-2, 7-6(4). No. 2 seeds Elizabeth Scotty and Fiona Crawley managed to hold off Irina Cantos Siemers and Sydni Ratliff of Ohio State 7-5, 4-6, 11-9 in a match that finished after 9:30 pm. Scotty won the NCAA title last year with Makenna Jones.

With rain in the forecast for Wednesday, the first matches of the day have been moved up to 9 am.

See the University of Illinois tournament page for links to the draws with times, the live scoring and streaming via TennisONE.

The Division II team championships concluded in Florida over the weekend, with Barry's men and women taking the titles.

The top-seeded women won their fifth straight title, defeating No. 2 seed Central Oklahoma 4-1.  For more, see this article from the Barry website.

The third-seeded Barry men won their third straight title, defeating No. 4 seed Wayne State 4-1. Wayne State had beaten top seed Columbus State 4-3 in the semifinals.  For more, see this article from the Barry website.

The Division III team championships are set for Wednesday at the USTA National Campus in Lake Nona.  As with Barry in Division II, both the University of Chicago programs have advanced to the finals. The Chicago men will face Case Western Reserve at 10 am, with the Chicago women taking on Claremont-Mudd-Scripps at 3 pm. The finals will be broadcast on NCAA.com; links to that and live scoring can be found at the tournament page.