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Sunday, May 22, 2022

Virginia Men Defeat Kentucky for Fifth NCAA Team Title; Texas Repeats as Women's Champions with Victory over Oklahoma; Basavareddy Claims ITF Grade A Title in Milan

©Colette Lewis 2022--
Champaign IL--

Two programs new to the NCAA finals got a look at the highest levels of collegiate tennis Sunday, with the University of Kentucky men and the Oklahoma women bringing plenty of energy to the Khan Outdoor Tennis Center.

2022 National Champions University of Virginia

But it was the more experienced teams from the University of Virginia and the University of Texas who prevailed on a cool and cloudy day, with the Cavaliers defeating Kentucky 4-0 for their fifth title and the Longhorns taking their second straight championship by a 4-1 score.

Virginia's first title came on the these very same courts back in 2013, when UCLA's Adrien Puget's net touch on match point gave Mitchell Frank new life, which led to the Cavaliers 4-3 victory.

Virginia head coach Andres Pedroso was Virginia's assistant coach that year, and he recalled that first title, which ended a long string of near-misses.

"I remembered that we played good tennis here and we won by a miracle," said Pedroso, who took over as head coach when Brian Boland left the program in 2017. 

It did not take a miracle for the Cavaliers to win their first title since 2017, with Virginia setting the tone for the match by taking the doubles point in 35 minutes with wins at lines 3 and 2.

That may not have bothered Kentucky, as they had dropped the doubles point in both their quarterfinal win over top seed TCU and in their semifinal win over Ohio State, but Virginia started strong in singles, taking four first sets, which deflated the large Kentucky contingent that had made the five-hour drive to support the Wildcats.

Liam Draxl and Millen Hurrion, who took the two first sets that Kentucky earned at the No. 1 and No. 2 positions, regularly asked the fans to raise their already impressive support, but neither was able to close out their opponents in straight sets, a boost that Kentucky sorely needed.

Virginia was up big at lines 2, 4, and 6, and with Bar Botzer's 6-1, 6-1 victory over Kentucky's JJ Mercer at line 6, the Cavaliers were on their way. 

Kentucky's Francois Musitelli was up a break in the second set against Ryan Goetz and line 4, but that was a rare bright spot for the Wildcats. Inaki Montes closed out Gabriel Diallo 6-2, 6-2 at line 2 to make it 3-0 Virginia, and then the questions centered on whether Kentucky would earn a point or which court would clinch. Virginia had won its semifinal over Tennessee Saturday by a 5-0 score, and it looked as if it might happen again, with Goetz and Gianni Ross at line 5 both on the cusp on that fourth point.

Goetz had fought back from a break down to serve for the match at 6-0, 5-4, but he was broken and went to a tiebreaker. 

Ross held a 0-40 lead with Joshua Lapadat serving at 3-5 in the second, but Lapadat held, saving those four championship points. Goetz had trailed Musitelli 5-3 in the tiebreaker, but was up 6-5, and at match point when Ross clinched the Cavaliers title as Lapadat's ball went long at 40-15.

"Clinching's tough. It's is one of the toughest things in the sport," said Ross, a fifth-year senior, who was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player. "But I got lucky. If Bar didn't win, or Inaki didn't win, I might not have clinched. But it doesn't really matter."

Ross was the first recruit Pedroso called when he took the reins in Charlottesville.

"My first recruit, I remember I was on a date with my wife and he called me back, and I said, Erica, I'm sorry I have to leave the restaurant and I have to talk to this kid," Pedroso said. "It's been an incredible story, we've been through highs and lows, and this is so fitting."

Pedroso said his team, which was 5-5 early in the season before closing it on a 23-0 run, found their identity while processing those losses.

"We had some really tough talks," Pedroso said. "Honest talks, after each of those matches. Those bus rides were tough. But we kept fine-tuning things, adjusting, kept improving. We developed a clear plan for how we were going to look on the court, how we were going to talk to each other on the court, how we're going to play and how we're going to prepare, thanks to those five losses."

Kentucky coach Cedric Kauffmann was able to see the strides the program had made this year.

"If you had asked me before about making the final of the NCAAs, I would have taken it for sure," Kauffmann said. "I'm really proud of my boys. We didn't play great today, but the way they've been playing the last six weeks, I think has been incredible."

NCAA D-I Men's Final
May 22, 2022
Champaign IL

Virginia[7] d. Kentucky[8] 4-0

1. Bar Botzer/Chris Rodesch(Virginia) v Millen Hurrion/Francois Musitelli(Kentucky) 4-4, unfinished
2. Ryan Goetz/Inaki Montes(Virginia) d. Gabriel Diallo/Joshua Lapadat(Kentucky) 6-3
3. Gianni Ross/Jeffrey Von Der Schulenburg(Virginia) d. Liam Draxl/Alexandre LeBlanc(Kentucky) 6-1

Order of finish: 3,2

1. Chris Rodesch(Virginia) v Liam Draxl(Kentucky) 2-6, 7-5, unfinished
2. Inaki Montes (Virginia) d. Gabriel Diallo(Kentucky) 6-2, 6-2
3. Jeffrey Von Der Schulenburg(Virginia) v Millen Hurrion(Kentucky) 2-6, 6-3, 2-2, unfinished
4. Ryan Goetz(Virginia) v Francois Musitelli(Kentucky) 6-0, 6-6 (6-5), unfinished
5. Gianni Ross(Virginia) d. Joshua Lapadat(Kentucky) 6-4, 6-4
6. Bar Botzer(Virginia) d. JJ Mercer(Kentucky) 6-1, 6-1

Order of finish: 6,2,5

2022 National Champions University of Texas

The women's final, which followed the men's and finished under the lights, featured another one-sided doubles point, with Texas getting up early breaks on all three courts and eventually capturing lines 2 and 3 in just over 30 minutes.

In singles, Texas did take four first sets, but Oklahoma got the crucial quick point from Emma Staker at line 6. Staker, who clinched the Sooners' 4-3 quarterfinal win over Texas A&M and 4-3 semifinal win over Duke, was uncharacteristically first off with her 6-1, 6-1 victory over Vivian Ovrootsky.

In the meantime, Oklahoma had fought back in the second sets at lines 2, 3, 4 and 5, so Peyton Stearns' 6-0, 6-2 victory over Oklahoma's Layne Sleeth at line 1 came at a time when the Longhorns needed some reassurance.

Four matches were on the brink of third sets, and two went the way of Oklahoma, at lines 2 and 4, but it was Sabina Zeynalova at line 3 who all but ended the hopes of the Sooners. Down 5-1 in the second set to Ivana Corley, the freshman from Ukraine fought back to send the match to a tiebreaker, and she closed out the third Texas point with a 6-3, 7-6(4) victory. 

While that match hung in the balance, Allura Zamarripa was fighting back from 4-1 down in the second set in her match with Alexandra Pisareva at line 5. Zamarripa saved two set points serving at 5-6 and then brought her best tennis to the tiebreaker, with the freshman taking a 3-1 lead and holding onto it with a variety of offense and defense. Pisareva double faulted at 3-5 to give Zamarripa the chance to clinch the championship and she managed to take match point No. 2 with a perfectly executed pass.

"I was very nervous going into it," said Zamarripa, who was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player, with wins in each of the three Texas victories. "But Taylor(Fogleman), the assistant coach, helped me through it and I came up clutch in a couple of shots and that totally set the momentum; I was really confident from there on out."

Zamarripa was not on the 2021 championship team, but Peyton Stearns, now a sophomore, said the paths to the titles were not similar.

"The road to this one was a lot different from last year, I will say that," Stearns said. "In the fall, including me, four of us were injured, in boots and even wheelchairs. So at the start of this season we weren't out on court, so we couldn't experience that team environment, and it took a lot of time, and with the freshmen, to learn how to cooperate."

Head coach Howard Joffe said he would have bet against his team repeating this year after the way the season had begun, and he admitted that injuries were just part of the reason for the slow start.

"It wasn't just tennis-wise that there was no traction to be had," Joffe said. "There were a lot of interpersonal struggles, which lots of teams in sports have after they achieve something. So the fall was really quite grim; there wasn't great chemistry on the team, the war breaks out in Ukraine and Sabina's parents are in Kyiv, so just a lot of difficulties on the court and off the court."

Joffe said Zeynalova has been an inspiration for the entire team. 

"Sabina is a freshman who breaks her ankle in the fall, doesn't get to do anything, goes home in December, comes back in the spring(term) and one month later a war breaks out in her country," Joffe said. "Her family had to flee Kyiv. And she went 23-1 in singles at number 3. That's just a testament to who she is. She could cope with the stress, feel it, and put it in a healthy container and come out and bring her best tennis self to the game. That's what she did, and that's why we're national champions."

For Oklahoma head coach Audra Cohen, the 2007 NCAA singles champion, the remarkable rise of her team this year won't be overshadowed by today's loss.

"This has been a storybook season," Cohen said. "When I got the job in 2016, we weren't ranked, and now to be top five in the country consistently, be in the finals of NCAAs, finals of National Indoors, finals of Big 12 championships and winning the regular season, that's a phenomenal run. I'm by no means happy about the result today, but it's an incredible job and deserving of huge applause from everybody here."

NCAA D-I Women's Final
May 22, 2022
Champaign IL

Texas[4] d. Oklahoma[2] 4-1

1. Ivana Corley/Carmen Corley(Oklahoma) v Allura Zamarripa/Peyton Stearns(Texas) 3-4, unfinished
2. Charlotte Chavatipon/Kylie Collins(Texas) d. Alexandra Pisareva/Layne Sleeth(Oklahoma) 6-1
3. Sabina Zeynalova/Bella Zamarripa(Texas) d. Dana Guzman/Emma Staker(Oklahoma) 6-2

Order of finish: 2,3

1. Peyton Stearns(Texas) d. Layne Sleeth(Oklahoma) 6-0, 6-2
2. Kylie Collins(Texas) v Carmen Corley(Oklahoma) 5-7, 6-2, 2-1, unfinished
3. Sabina Zeynalova(Texas) d. Ivana Corley(Oklahoma) 6-3, 7-6(4)
4. Dana Guzman(Oklahoma) v Charlotte Chavatipon(Texas) 4-6, 6-2, 5-2, unfinished
5. Allura Zamarripa(Texas) d. Alexandra Pisareva(Oklahoma) 7-5, 7-6(4)
6. Emma Staker(Oklahoma) d. Vivian Ovrootsky(Texas) 6-1, 6-1

Order of finish: 6,1,3,5

The singles championships begin Monday at 10 am CDT, with the doubles championships scheduled to start on Tuesday. See the University of Illinois tournament page for the draws and times, as well as links to streaming and live scores.

At the ITF Grade A Trofeo Bonfiglio in Milan, No. 10 seed Nishesh Basavareddy became the first American boy to win the title since Ivan Baron in 1990, defeating top seed Daniel Vallejo of Paraguay 6-2, 4-6, 6-3. The 17-year-old from Indiana trailed 2-0 in the final set, but went to claim his second Grade A title of the year after winning in Brazil in February. Basavareddy also captured the doubles title Saturday with Aidan Kim.

Liv Hovde, the No. 5 seed, fell to No. 7 seed Celine Naef of Switzerland 6-7(3), 6-4, 6-3 in the girls final.

Tommy Hemp has more on the tournament and what he looks for when assessing juniors in his post today at TennisUnderWorld.

No. 3 seed Kayla Day won the title today at the $25,000 USTA Women's Pro Circuit tournament in Naples Florida, defeating top seed Ana Sofia Sanchez of Mexico 6-1, 6-1 in the final. 

At the $60,000 USTA Women's Pro Circuit tournament in Pelham Alabama, top seed and former University of Georgia star Maria Carle of Argentina defeated No. 2 seed Elvina Kalieva 6-1, 6-1.