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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Windy NCAA Division I Second Round Proves No Problem for 17 Newly Minted All-Americans

©Colette Lewis--
Stillwater Oklahoma--

Winds gusting over 20 mph and temperatures approaching 90 may not have been ideal for the favorites, but nine unseeded men and eight unseeded women took advantage of their opportunities to earn the coveted All-American status Tuesday at the NCAA Division I individual championships.

All players seeded in the tournament had already claimed that honor, but winning two rounds at the NCAAs is another path to that accolade. 

Illinois's Karlis Ozolins, playing with a metal plate in his shoe, had the most daunting challenge, with No. 3 seed Antoine Cornut-Chauvinc of Florida across the net and a court assignment in the back row, which is much less protected from the wind.

Ozolins needed a set to adjust, but the big serving junior from Latvia was the more consistent player down the stretch to claim a 2-6, 6-3, 6-2 victory.

"I came in here with no expectations," said Ozolins, who broke his foot at the end of March and missed the rest of the Big 10 season. "It's still uncomfortable, but I made the tournament, so I just tried to come here and play with no pressure, play loose."

Ozolins is not accustomed to being on defense, but he gave Cornut-Chauvinc credit for his level in the opening set.

"He started off the match really well, played really aggressive, really focused and it took me by surprise, took the racquet out of my hand a little bit," Ozolins said. "Then I just kept communicating with my coach about what I could do, one point at a time, handling the winds, using the wind as my friend maybe. And in the end, I think I put quite a lot of pressure on him, and he started missing more and more balls and I started feeling more comfortable and it worked out for me in the end."

Ozolins, who was a doubles All-American last year, wasn't focused on that honor this year.

"It's a little bit of a goal, but at the same time, it's just about improving, playing, getting better, getting healthy," Ozolins said. "I'm just happy I'm getting to play and getting All-American is just a bonus."

Ozolins will take on Arizona State's Murphy Cassone, who defeated SMU freshman Trevor Svajda 6-3, 5-7, 6-2.

The other eight men who earned All-American honors were Ohio State's Jack Anthrop and JJ Tracy, Dylan Dietrich of Virginia, Pablo Majuan of UC-Santa Barbara, Colton Smith of Arizona, Filip Planisek of Alabama, Michael Zheng of Columbia and Shunsuke Mitsui of Tennessee.

Three of those eight advanced by beating seeds: Smith defeated No. 6 seed Oliver Tarvet of San Diego 6-2, 6-4, Tracy beat No. 9 seed Alex Martinez of Oklahoma and Planisek downed No. 9 seed Cannon Kingsley of Ohio State.

Among the eight women who will play Wednesday's matches as All-Americans is Anastasiia Lopata of Georgia, who defeated No. 5 seed Fiona Crawley of North Carolina 6-4, 3-6, 6-3.

Lopata had a very late night Sunday in the team final, but has been able to meet that emotional and physical challenge.

"Physically it's a little bit tiring because we finished very late, our final and we have to play singles the next day," said the sophomore from Ukraine. "But I managed it I think fine. Today, I don't know why, but the first set was more difficult than the second and third, then it became a little bit easier. Somehow I'm still alive."

As a student-athlete at Georgia, Lopata is surrounded by the appreciation the university has for its former stars, and knew what was at stake before playing Crawley, who has been one of the top players in college tennis the past three years. 

"Honestly before the match I forgot I would be All-American if I win the second round," Lopata said. "But [teammate] Aysegul Mert told me you will get All-American, but during the match I forgot about it. One time it ran through my mind, but I just forgot it. I saw people on our wall, pictures of All-Americans and I thought it would also be cool to have my picture on the wall. When I leave other generations can see my name and picture."

Julia Garcia Ruiz of Oklahoma, who had beaten No. 7 seed Rachel Gailis of Florida on Monday, handled North Carolina's No. 1 Elizabeth Scotty, and the wind, 6-7(4), 6-2, 6-4 by refusing to miss in the final stages of the match.

The other six women who earned All-American status with wins Tuesday are Annabelle Xu of Virginia, Amelia Honer of UC-Santa Barbara, Alexandra Yepifanova of Stanford, Luciana Perry of Ohio State, Anika Yarlagadda of North Carolina and Sofia Johnson of Old Dominion. Honer defeated No. 9 seed Ayana Akli of South Carolina 6-4 6-2 and Yarlagadda beat No. 9 seed Carolyn Ansari of Auburn 6-0, 6-1.

The only two seeds remaining the top half of the draw are No. 1 Mary Stoiana of Texas A&M and No. 8 Alexa Noel of Miami.

The first round of doubles, which didn't finish until after 10 p.m. Tuesday night at the Greenwood Tennis Center, also produced several upsets and escapes by accomplished teams.

Last year's men's finalists Eliot Spizzirri and Cleeve Harper of Texas, who are unseeded this year, came back to beat Boston College's JJ Bianchi and Jake Vassel 4-6, 6-3, 10-8. No. 3 seeds Joshua Lapadat and JJ Mercer of Kentucky lost to the Princeton team of Filippos Astreinidis and Paul Inchauspe 7-5, 6-1, and the No. 5 seeded women's team of Elaine Chervinsky and Melodie Collard of Virginia lost to Sofia Cabezas and Elza Tomase of Tennessee 6-2, 6-2.

Defending champions Crawley and Carson Tanguilig of North Carolina, a No. 5 seed, saved a match point at 9-8 in the third set tiebreaker to beat Loudmilla Bencheikh and Anne Marie Hiser of Alabama 6-4, 4-6, 11-9. Becheikh and Hiser had led 7-2 in the tiebreaker.

Top seeds Janice Tjen and Savannah Broadus of Pepperdine saved three match points in an extended third set tiebreaker to squeeze past Cal's Mao Mushika and Hannah Viller Moeller 3-6, 6-2, 15-13.

Third round singles matches begin at 10 a.m. Central, followed by the second round of doubles. 

Live scoring is here, live streams for all courts are here, and Cracked Racquets coverage at ESPN+ is here.