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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.