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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.