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Friday, May 26, 2023

My Conversation with USC's Learner Tien; Quinn and Styler, Sleeth and Tian Reach NCAA Singles Finals; All-UNC Doubles Final; D-I Coaching News; Williams, Quevedo and Ngounoue into J500 Milan Semis; Townsend and Nava Qualify at Roland Garros

Before recapping all the semifinal action today in the NCAA Division I singles and doubles, I have other college tennis news, which comes from my conversation two weeks ago with University of Southern California freshman Learner Tien. In my article posted today at the Tennis Recruiting Network, the 2022 Kalamazoo 18s champion reflects on his long wait to compete, his college experience, his adjustment to no-ad, his plans for this summer and whether he plans to return to compete as a Trojan next season.

The player Tien beat to win the Kalamazoo title will play for the NCAA singles title Saturday, after No. 2 seed Ethan Quinn of Georgia came back to defeat No. 9-16 seed Chris Rodesch of Virginia 2-6, 6-2, 6-4.

For the fourth time in the five days of the individual tournament, rain again disrupted play, this time in the morning instead of the afternoon. Quinn and Rodesch played their entire match indoors, which would seem to favor Rodesch, and that appeared to be the case in the first set, with Rodesch not making errors and routinely holding serve, while Quinn was not quite settled in. But Quinn got an immediate break to open the second set, his first of the match, and when Rodesch lost his serve a second time, a third set was just three games away.

The key stage of the final set came with Quinn serving down 2-3. Up 40-0, Quinn saw his lead disappear and faced a deciding point. He went to his potent forehand and it didn't let him down, with the clean winner pulling him even. Rodesch, who had been in action nine straight days, began to look a little weary and when he went down 0-40, the hole he had dug himself was too deep. Quinn held for 5-3 and after Rodesch put the pressure back on, the 19-year-old redshirt freshman served it out at love, becoming the first Georgia man to reach an NCAA singles final since John Isner in 2007.

Quinn will face No. 8 seed Ondrej Styler of Michigan, who rolled past Arizona State sophomore Murphy Cassone 6-1, 6-2. Styler, who defeated top seed Eliot Spizzirri of Texas 6-4, 6-3 in the quarterfinals, looked extremely comfortable indoors, where the senior has played the bulk of his collegiate career.  Styler is the first Michigan man to play in an NCAA singles final since Dan Goldberg in 1987. 

As was the case for Quinn last August in Kalamazoo, a US Open main draw wild card will be on the line; Styler, who is from the Czech Republic, is extremely unlikely to receive a US Open wild card should he take the title.

The women's final will feature two international players: Canada's Layne Sleeth of Oklahoma and China's Fangran Tian of UCLA.

The rain came at a bad time for Tian, who led fellow freshman Maddy Seig of USC  6-3, 4-1 when play was stopped. It was over 90 minutes when they resumed the match indoors, and Sieg did get one of the two breaks back for 4-2. But Tian, who had two wins over Sieg in the past two months, immediately broke back on a deciding point and held in the final game, becoming the first UCLA women's singles finalist since Keri Phebus won the title in 1995.

Sleeth's 7-5, 4-6, 6-4 victory over NC State's Amelia Rajecki made even more history, with the senior the first Sooner to reach the final, although Oklahoma head coach Audra Cohen will have some wisdom to impart to Sleeth after reaching the final while at Northwestern in 2005 and winning the title after transferring to Miami in 2007. 

Sleeth might have been at a disadvantage indoors, and she did trail the big-hitting Rajecki 3-1 in the third set, but she got it back to 3-3, and won a deciding point to take her first lead since the first game of the set. Rajecki held for 4-all, but after an easy hold for Sleeth, the pressure was right back on Rajecki serving at 4-5. Her first serve was nowhere to be found and a double fault and a backhand error gave Sleeth three match points at 15-40. Rajecki saved the first, scrambling and defending, but not the second, as she tried to shorten the next point and hit her backhand volley wide. 

The weather cleared for the semifinals of doubles, which were played outdoors, and North Carolina has assured itself of another National Championship before the final, with both their teams getting wins today.

No. 8 seeds Reese Brantmeier and Elizabeth Scotty, the only seeds to reach the semifinals, defeated Sieg and Eryn Cayetano of USC 6-4, 6-3, while Fiona Crawley and Carson Tanguilig earned a 6-4, 7-6(3) win over Virginia's Julia Adams and Melodie Collard. Scotty won the 2021 NCAA women's doubles title at the USTA National Campus in 2021, with Makenna Jones. It will be the first time that teammates played each other in the final since 2005, when Stanford's Alice Barnes and Erin Burdette defeated Amber Liu and Anne Yelsey. As with UNC, Stanford also won the team title that year.

Ohio State and Texas will meet for the men's doubles title Saturday for the second straight year, with the only player in common 2022 champion Cleeve Harper. Harper, who won the title last year when he and Richard Ciamarra defeated Robert Cash and Matej Vocel of Ohio State, is partnering with Eliot Spizzirri this year. The No. 3 seeds, and the only seeds in the semifinals, defeated Andres Martin and Marcus McDaniel of Georgia Tech 6-1, 7-5 this evening in Lake Nona. Ohio State's James Trotter and Andrew Lutschaunig needed to win two tiebreakers in their comeback win over Pepperdine's Daniel De Jong and Tim Zeitvogel, taking the match 3-6, 7-6(2), 10-4.

The singles finals are both scheduled for 10:00 a.m., with the doubles following, not before 11:30 a.m.  Cracked Racquets will provide coverage via their YouTube Channel. Live scoring and results are here, and individual courts are available via Playsight.

A quick update on two SEC coaching hires announced recently, with University of Virginia associate head coach Scott Brown taking over the men's program at Vanderbilt, his alma mater, and James Madison's Shelly Jaudon named to lead the women's program at Kentucky.  Earlier this month, Texas Tech removed the interim tag from men's coach Michael Breler and announced that volunteer assistant Parker Wynne would be promoted to assistant coach.

There is a new Power Five opening today however, with Nebraska's Scott Jacobson announcing his retirement after 32 years guiding the women's program in Lincoln.

All three Americans competing in today's quarterfinals at the ITF J500 Trofeo Bonfiglio in Milan Italy have advanced to Saturday's semifinals. No. 12 seed Cooper Williams defeated No. 3 seed Branko Djuric of Serbia 6-2, 7-6(4) and will look to avenge his third round loss at this year's Australian Open Junior Championships when he faces No. 2 seed Yi Zhou of China.

No. 8 seed Kaitlin Quevedo beat unseeded Iva Ivanova of Bulgaria 6-0, 6-7(5), 6-4 to advance to a meeting with No. 6 seed Sayaka Ishii of Japan. No. 2 seed Clervie Ngounoue rebounded for a 4-6, 6-2, 7-5 win over No. 10 seed Ena Koike of Japan and will face No. 12 seed Renata Jamrichova of Slovakia for a place in the final. 

Tyra Grant and her partner Hephzibah Oluwadare of Great Britain have advanced to the girls doubles final, where they will play another unseeded team, wild cards Noemi Basiletti and Gaia Maduzzi of Italy. 

Live scoring is available at Tennis Ticker.

Two more Americans won their final round qualifying matches as the qualifying tournament concluded today at Roland Garros. Two-time junior slam singles finalist Emilio Nava defeated home favorite Geoffrey Blancaneaux of France 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 to reach his first slam main draw outside of the United States. Taylor Townsend defeated teenager Maria Timofeeva of Russia 7-5, 6-2 to reach the main draw. Ashlyn Krueger lost to Storm Hunter of Australia 7-6(3), 7-5 and Nicolas Moreno de Alboran(UC-Santa Barbara) lost to top seed Aslan Karatsev of Russia 6-4, 6-3. 

The two Americans qualifying today brings the number of players from the US in the main draw up to 35: 19 women and 16 men. That's the most since 39 Americans made the Roland Garros main draw in 1995.

Czech teens Brenda Fruhvirtova and Sara Bejlek both qualified for the main draw with wins today.

Play begins Sunday; I'll have the matchups of Americans playing Sunday in Saturday's post.