I tell you there is nothing quite like the first two days at the NCAA Championship site because it's action-packed from sunrise to sunset with one good match after another. The day started off with gray skies and temperatures in the 70s but as the day progressed the sun made its way out and the temperatures shot up into the mid-80s (high humidity all day though). The morning slot saw Virginia roll over Florida on the Henry Feild Stadium courts while Texas overcame the loss of the doubles point to defeat Baylor on the McWhorter courts. Then in the noon slot it was Ohio State overcoming the loss of the doubles point to defeat Oklahoma 4-3 while TCU held off a hard charging Illinois 4-1. In the late afternoon window the hometown Georgia Bulldogs upset USC 4-3 while UCLA roughed up Texas A&M 4-1. The day was capped off with the top seed Wake Forest handling Stanford 4-0 while North Carolina defeated California 4-1. The announced crowd of 1,781 hit its peak during the Georgia/USC match with many sitting up high in the grandstand to stay out of the sun.
I'll go back through each match to give you some of the highlights though with two matches going on at the same it was hard to stay on top of both. I stuck with the Texas/Baylor match to start the day, then during the second slot I started with Ohio State/Oklahoma then watched most of singles in the TCU/Illinois match and then finished up back at the OSU/OU match. I watched just about the entire Georgia/USC match since UCLA/Texas A&M wasn't that close and then in the nightcap I spent most of my time watching UNC/Cal since the result of the Wake/Stanford match wasn't ever in doubt.
The opening rounds of the NCAA Tournament were completed last weekend so now it's time to look at the Sweet 16 matchups that will take place on Thursday in Athens, Georgia. There will two matches taking place at the same time with one on the main Henry Feild Stadium Courts and the other on the McWhorter Courts. The first matches start at 9 a.m. ET with the final two set to start at 7 p.m. ET though it wouldn't surprise me to see both of the 4 p.m. matches run late. Six of the eight matches will be rematches from the regular season so it'll be interesting to see how those teams do the second time around.
For the most part Friday was a pretty dull day but Saturday delivered us some gems including two big comeback wins. I'll start with the upset of the day which came in Stillwater when Illinois rallied from 3-0 down to stun No. 11 seed Oklahoma State 4-3. The Cowboys took the doubles point with wins at No. 1 and No. 3 and then each team took three opening sets in singles. Oklahoma State seniors Lucas Gerch and Lukas Finzelberg made quick work of their opponents at No. 3 and No. 6 to make it 3-0 but Illinois started winning all the close sets and got back in the match.
Aron Hiltzik put the Illini on the board with a 3-6, 6-3, 6-0 win at No. 2 which elicited a big fist pump from head coach Brad Dancer and then both Aleks Kovacevic and Zeke Clark would win their matches within seconds of each other to tie it up at 3-3. Clark came back from a 4-0 first set deficit to take the set 6-4 and then he won the second set in a tiebreak by a 10-8 score. Kovacevic had a chance to close his match out in straight sets but after failing to do so he won the third set 6-0.
Illinois junior Aleks Vukic, who missed yesterday's match against Drake, would get the clincher with a 7-6, 7-6 win over Julian Cash at No. 1. Illinois is headed back to the Sweet 16 for the first time in two years and in doing so that means that an unseeded team has advanced to the Sweet 16 every year since the NCAA field was expanded to 64 teams in 1999.
Former Virginia Tech Hokie Sebastien Jacques is making his way across the country, by foot, after not being able to walk across a room just a few years ago. Jacques played at Virginia Tech from 2007 to 2010 but during his senior year he had to quit playing due to a lack of energy. After graduating with a degree in marketing he returned home to Magog, Canada, and after seeing several doctor he was eventually diagnosed with a pineal cystic tumor in his brain which was the cause of the energy drain. The doctors in Canada determined the procedure was too risky and the health care system wouldn't cover the cost so Jacques ended up raising $80000 and had the surgery performed in California. The surgery was a success and Jacques returned to a normal life but he decided to embark on the cross-country walk to show people that it is possible to overcome obstacles in life. Virginia Tech had a write-up on Jacques a few days ago plus there are plenty of details on his website.
The NCAA Division II Men's Championship has reached the semifinals with #1 West Florida advancing after a 5-0 win over #4 Hawaii Pacific. UWF's top player, #4 Alex Peyrot, played doubles but sat out in singles which was interesting because in the round of 16 its #2 player, Gabriel Dias, did the same thing. Next up for UWF will be #23 Southwest Baptist after the Bearcats held off #16 Ferris State 5-4 with Raul Cabalero winning the deciding match 6-2, 4-6, 7-6(1) at #4 singles. The other semifinal match will be between #2 Barry and #3 Columbus State. Barry cruised past #18 Drury 5-1 with the Bucs taking two of three in doubles and winning every completed set in singles. Columbus State ran through #14 Azusa Pacific 5-1 with the Cougars sweeping all three doubles courts (count as a point each) and then getting two straight set wins at #3 and #4. APU got its lone point when Oliver Frank, D2s top ranked player, cruised to a 6-1, 6-3 win at #1.
Top seed Vanderbilt knocked off top ranked Florida 4-3 to win the SEC Championship in match that was played indoors at Vanderbilt. Florida played without Josie Kuhlman (#2 singles/#3 doubles) who was sick with a stomach illness but the Gators still rolled through the doubles point to take the early lead. Vandy's Astra Sharma tied the match with a win at No. 1 but Florida's Kourtney Keegan made it 2-1 with a win at No. 5. Vandy's Sydney Campbell pulled out a three set win at No. 2 to even the match at 2-2 but Florida's Anna Danilina put the Gators back in front with a three set win at No. 4. Vandy's Christina Rosca tied the match at 3-3 with a three set win at No. 3 so the final match to go on court in the five-court facility would decide the championship.
Vanderbilt sophomore Fernanda Contreras won the first nine games of the match to go in front of Florida senior Spencer Liang 6-0, 3-0 but Liang came back to take the next five to go up 5-3. Contreras broke Liang from 15/40 with a lob winner to make it 5-4 and then she hit a service winner on the no-ad point to hold for 5-5. Contreras would go on to win the next eight points to close it out 6-0, 7-5 to give Vanderbilt its second SEC Tournament Championship in school history.
Georgia came into Saturday's match at Texas A&M with an undefeated conference record but a few hours later they'd be undefeated no more as Texas A&M played a tremendous match and came away with the win and the top seed in the SEC Tournament. Georgia was 16-5 in doubles coming into the match while Texas A&M was just 9-13 but it'd be the Aggies that'd get off to the quick start by picking up breaks at No. 1 and No. 2.
Texas A&M's AJ Catanzariti and Arthur Rinderknech jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead at No. 1 doubles against the ITA No. 2 team of Jan Zielinski and Robert Loeb and they refused to let Georgia get back in the match. Texas A&M's Jordi Arconada and Hady Habib went up an early break at No. 2 however Georgia's Paul Oosterbaan and Nathan Ponwith would break back to even it at 2-2. Arconada and Habib returned the favor and broke for 3-2, Habib held for 4-2, and then A&M broke again via a Ponwith double fault for 5-2. Over at No. 3, it stayed on serve until Georgia's Wayne Montgomery and Walker Duncan broke Max Lunkin to go ahead 5-3.
Both TCU and Oklahoma State picked up big wins on Sunday with OSU defeating Texas for the first time in 10 years while TCU won in Norman for the first time since April 1977. We'll start with the Oklahoma State/Texas match which started outdoors before going indoors after the doubles point due to rain. Oklahoma State won the doubles point for the 17th time in 22 matches after picking up wins at No. 1 and No. 2 while Texas won at No. 3. Oklahoma State took four opening sets in singles and Arjun Kadhe and Lucas Gerch won in straight sets at No. 2 and No. 3 to make it 3-0. Texas's Leo Telles won in straight sets at No. 5 and Texas earned splits at No. 1 and No. 6 after dropping the first set while George Goldhoff dropped the second set at No. 4 after winning the first.
Goldhoff ended up winning in three sets to close the gap to 3-2 but Oklahoma State was right at the finish line at both No. 1 and No. 6. OSU's Julian Cash was serving up 6-3 in the third set tiebreak at No. 1 but before he could hit that next serve his teammate Tristan Meraut held on the no-ad point to close out Rodrigo Banzer 6-1, 6-7, 6-3 at No. 6. Below are clips of the match point from two different angles courtesy of Oklahoma State and below that is head coach Jay Udwadia talking about the big W.
One streak lived on and another came to an end on Monday night in Fort Worth as No. 19 TCU won a 4-3 thriller over No. 8 Texas A&M. Texas A&M came into the match riding a 13-match winning streak while TCU entered having won its last five. TCU got off to a quick start in doubles by going up break leads on all three courts however Texas A&M would break back on two of them.
The one court where Texas A&M couldn't get any traction was at No. 1 as TCU's Cameron Norrie and Jerry Lopez went up 2-0 and cruised to a 6-1 win. Next door at No. 2, TCU's Reese Stalder and Hudson Blake jumped out to a 2-0 lead however Texas A&M's Valentin Vacherot and Aleksandre Bakshi would take the next four to go in front 4-2. Stalder and Blake came right back and took the next four themselves by breaking from 30/40, holding serve, breaking on the no-ad point, and then holding from 40/30 with a Blake service winner to take it 6-4. The match at No. 3 went unfinished with TCU's Alex Rybakov serving up 5-4 (30/30).
The Saturday schedule didn't exactly have a ton of sizzle but there were still some good matches and a few surprises as well. The only men's matchup between top 25 teams took place in Berkeley as No. 11 Cal hosted No. 25 Illinois. Cal picked up a quick 6-2 win at No. 1 doubles and then Andre Goransson and Billy Griffith clinched the point after coming back from a break down to win 6-4. Each team took three first sets in singles and four of the them would finish in straight sets. Cal junior JT Nishimura was dominant in his 6-2, 6-0 win at No. 6 while Illinois picked up a 6-4, 6-4 win from junior Aleks Vukic at No. 1 and a 7-6, 6-1 win from freshman Zeke Clark at No. 5. Cal junior Billy Griffith put the Bears ahead 3-2 by coming back from a set down to defeat Illinois freshman Aleks Kovacevic 3-6, 6-2, 6-3 at No. 3. It looked like Illinois was going to get a split at No. 4 when senior Julian Childers led 5-3 in the second set but Cal senior Filip Bergevi fought off six set points and came back to clinch the match with a 7-5, 7-6 win.
Texas A&M started off its season by losing three of its first four but after tonight's come from behind 4-3 win at Florida they've now won five in a row with the last three coming on the road. Florida jumped out to the early 1-0 lead after winning at No. 1 and No. 2 doubles and then the Gators also added four opening sets in singles. Florida's Chase Perez-Blanco extended the lead to 2-0 with a straight set win at No. 3 but Texas A&M countered with straight set wins from freshmen Valentin Vacherot and Hady Habib at No. 5 and No. 6 to tie it at 2-all. Florida's Elliott Orkin put the Gators ahead 3-2 by coming back from 3-1 down in the third set to defeat AJ Catanzariti in a third set tiebreak at No. 2. Texas A&M's Arthur Rinderknech tied the match at 3-3 by pulling away from Alfredo Perez at No. 1 and then Jordi Arconada clinched the win by breaking Johannes Ingildsen at love to close out a 4-6, 7-6(4), 6-4 win.