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Sunday, February 5, 2023

Stearns Wins Rome $60K; Kovacevic Earns First Challenger Title; Parks Takes First WTA Title in Lyon; Close Calls for Two of D-I Men's Top Five, but No. 2 Buckeyes Roll

2022 NCAA champion Peyton Stearns won the biggest title of her professional career today, coming from behind to beat qualifier Gabriela Knutson(Syracuse) of the Czech Republic 3-6, 6-0, 6-2 in the final of the $60,000 USTA Pro Circuit tournament in Rome Georgia

The 21-year-old from Ohio, who turned pro last summer after winning the team and singles titles while at the University of Texas, is now on a 10-match winning streak. Stearns, who was unseeded this week, won the $25,000 tournament last week in Orlando, but she will not be returning there for the $60,000 tournament there beginning Monday, having withdrawn from qualifying there last week. Now at 137 in the WTA rankings, Stearns will not be playing qualifying in USTA Pro Circuit tournaments going forward; she has now won five singles titles on the USTA Pro Circuit, four of them since last September.

Former Illinois All-American Aleks Kovacevic also is heading toward the Top 100, beating No. 2 seed Yibing Wu of China 3-6, 7-6, 7-6(2) in today's final at the ATP Challenger 75 in Cleveland. Kovacevic, the No. 5 seed, came from a set down in his last three matches and went the distance in four of his five victories, but his reward is a career-high ATP ranking of 125. Kovacevic had lost to Wu in their previous meeting, in the final of the Indianapolis Challenger last summer. 

Kovacevic isn't the only former collegian claiming a Challenger title today, with Rinky Hijikata, who played at North Carolina from 2019-2021, earning his second Challenger title in his home country of Australia as the No. 2 seed. The 21-year-old, who won the men's doubles title at the Australian Open last weekend, defeated top seed James Duckworth 6-3, 6-3 in the final; Hijikata, now at a career-high ATP ranking of 119, didn't drop a set in his five victories.

Alycia Parks won her first WTA title today at the 250 in Lyon France, beating top seed Caroline Garcia 7-6(7), 7-5. The unseeded 22-year-old, who played her last junior event at the age of 15, was certainly the underdog, but her results the past several months, including two straight WTA 125 titles, had her on everyone's radar in 2023. It was unlucky that she had to play qualifying at the Australian Open, with her ranking of 100 at the cutoff date not sufficient to receive a main draw berth, and she ended up losing to Czech teen Sara Bejlek in the second round. But now at 51 in the WTA rankings, she shouldn't have any trouble getting into the remainder of the 2023 majors.

Division I non-conference meetings between top teams packed Sunday's schedule, with two Top Five men's teams barely surviving. No. 3 TCU got by No. 14 North Carolina 4-3, with the doubles point the difference in Chapel Hill. UNC won at lines 1, 2, and 4; TCU got their singles points at lines 3, 5 and 6, with Lui Maxsted coming from behind to beat Anuj Watane 5-7, 6-4, 6-1 at line 5. The box score is here.

No. 18 Harvard traveled to No. 4 Michigan having gone 4-1 against ranked opponents this month, all on the road, and proceeded to take the doubles point from the Wolverines. Michigan bounced back in singles, getting wins at lines 4, 3, 2 and 5, with Jacob Bickersteth clinching at that spot. Harvard got a point at line 6 and, after the clinch, at line 1, with Harris Walker beating Ondrej Styler 6-4, 5-7, 6-2. The box score is here.

No. 2 Ohio State faced No. 6 Texas today, in what should have been the toughest of the men's matches, but the Buckeyes were their usual dominant selves early in the season at home, earning a 4-0 victory in less than two hours. Playing without Cannon Kingsley, Ohio State showed a different lineup than they had used in the Kickoff Weekend and in yesterday's 7-0 win over Texas A&M, but it didn't matter, with the doubles point secured without much difficulty and straight-sets wins from Robert Cash at line 6, Alexander Bernard at line 4 and James Trotter at line 3. Ohio State had also won the first set in the other three unfinished matches.

At the Pac-12/SEC Challenge in Lake Nona this weekend, the Pac-12 went 3-1, with No. 7 Southern California beating No. 15 Florida 5-2 yesterday and No. 13 Georgia 4-2 today. The Trojans still do not have Kalamazoo 18s champion Learner Tien in their lineup. Georgia defeated Stanford 4-3 Saturday for the SEC's only victory; Stanford beat Florida 4-1 today, with Nishesh Basavareddy playing at line 4 for the Cardinal.

The only women's match today between ranked teams, after the cancellation of the Pepperdine-Cal match, was between No. 10 North Carolina State and No. 22 Tennessee in Raleigh, with the Wolfpack taking a 6-1 decision. Diana Shnaider, who made her collegiate debut yesterday, suffered her first loss in college today, dropping No. 1 doubles with Alana Smith to Tennessee's Esther Adeshina and Rebeka Mertena 6-3. But the Wolfpack won at lines 2 and 3 to take the doubles point and got singles wins from Amelia Rajecki at line 3, Smith at line 2 and, for the clinching point, Shnaider at line 1. Shnaider dropped the opening set against Elza Tomase, but took the match 3-6, 6-1, 6-2.

See CollegeTennisRanks.com's Week Ahead and Week Behind tabs for schedules, results and links to box scores.