The opening day of the 2019 NCAA Tournament was plagued by rain at many sites but despite the delays most of the matches went according to plan with all the national seeds in action advancing though in the 2 vs. 3 matches (I know they don't refer to them that way anymore but I will) there were several close ones. All 16 men's sites were supposed to complete their first round matches on Friday but rain wiped out play in College Station at the indoor-less Texas A&M Regional so they'll play on Saturday and Sunday. 7 of the 16 women's sites played on Friday with the matches in Stillwater being played indoors while Kansas and Denver started outdoors but moved indoors in Lawrence.
I'll start off with the closest women's matches of the day which took place in Stillwater and Nashville.
Championship Sunday brought us several good matches with some decided in third set tiebreaks while others weren't as close as we thought they'd be. The two matches pitting the highest ranked teams took place in Cary (NC) as No. 4 Wake Forest met No. 5 Virginia while No. 2 Texas and No. 8 Baylor rumbled in Lawrence (KS).
Wake and Virginia split regular season meetings with each winning at home so Sunday's rubber match was expected to be close. The doubles portion of the dual was definitely close however many of the singles matches had lopsided finals. Wake wrapped up No. 2 doubles with a 6-3 win and they served for the match at No. 3 up 6-5 however Virginia would break back and Gianni Ross and William Woodall would go on to win the tiebreak 7-3. The decider at No. 1 doubles also went to a tiebreak with UVA's Brandon Nakashima and Henrik Wiersholm jumping out to a 4-1 lead en route to winning it 7-5.
Wake fought back in singles and claimed four opening sets of which they'd ultimately close them all out in straight sets.
Virginia's Aswin Lizen put the Hoos up 2-0 with a 6-4, 6-0 win at No. 6 but Wake followed suit with fairly quick wins by Melios Efstathiou (6-3, 6-1) at No. 5, Rrezart Cungu (6-2, 6-2) at No. 4, and Borna Gojo (6-4, 6-2) at No. 1.
Wake had a 3-2 lead but Virginia's Brandon Nakashima was closing in on a win at No. 2 leading Wake's Petros Chrysochos 7-6, 5-1 while Henrik Wiersholm was nearing a split at No. 3 after taking a 5-1 lead in the second set tiebreak against Bar Botzer. However both Chrysochos and Botzer would fight back with Chrysochos winning five straight games to take a 6-5 lead while Botzer took seven of the next eight points to close out Wiersholm 7-5, 7-6(6) to clinch the championship.
Sunday was a day of near upsets with a pair of top 5 men's teams narrowly avoiding a big loss on the road. Second-ranked Wake Forest, who was playing without Borna Gojo (playing Canada Challenger) got all it wanted and more from #49 UCF.
The Knights took the early lead with 6-2 wins at No. 1 and No. 2 doubles and then the teams split opening sets in singles. Wake senior and ITA #1 Petros Chrysochos evened the match at 1-1 with a straight set win at No. 1 and freshman Siddhant Banthia put the Deacs ahead with a straight set win at No. 6. UCF freshman Trey Hilderbrand tied it back up with a straight set win at No. 5 but Wake freshman Melios Efstathiou won a close 7-6, 7-5 match at No. 4. Both of the remaining matches went three sets with UCF freshman Bogdan Pavel finishing first with a 6-3, 2-6, 6-4 win at No. 3 which evened the match at 3-3. In the final match on court at No. 2, Wake sophomore Bar Botzer broke UCF sophomore Alan Rubio to go ahead 2-1 in the final frame and then he added one more break to clinch with a 6-7, 6-1, 6-3 win.
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.
Georgia Tech junior Chris Eubanks accepted a main draw wild card into the BB&T Atlanta Open, which is an ATP 250 event, with his opening round match scheduled for Tuesday, July 25. Eubanks has played in the main draw of the Atlanta event two years in a row though he had to go through qualies last year to do so. Eubanks has been ranked in the ITA Top 10 all year and was recently named the ACC Men's Player of the Year for the second year in a row. For more information see the release from the BB&T Atlanta Open.
The NCAA Division II Men's Round of 16 got underway today in Altamonte Springs, Florida, with #1 West Florida, #2 Barry, #3 Columbus State, #4 Hawaii Pacific, #14 Azusa Pacific, #16 Ferris State, #18 Drury, and #23 Southwest Baptist moving on to tomorrow's quarterfinal round. Of those eight winners the only lower ranked team to win was Southwest Baptist which defeated #20 St. Mary's (TX) 5-3. The highest profile matchup in the quarterfinals will be #1 West Florida taking on #4 Hawaii Pacific. For the men's bracket click here and to see individual match results click here. The women's round of 16 gets started tomorrow though I see that #1 BYU-Hawaii and #2 Barry are in the same quarterfinal so I'm not sure what's going on with the bracket making at the D2 level. The bracket is available here and the box scores from each match are available here. The brackets don't have any seeds listed (guess they don't do that?) so it's kind of hard to tell who is the better team without going through the rankings.
Monday was a light day for competition with many teams gearing up for conference tournaments this weekend but there was one match of substance that took place in Tampa between No. 26 South Florida and No. 34 Memphis. Memphis put itself in great shape to take the doubles point after winning 6-3 at No. 1 and leading 4-0 at No. 2 but South Florida's Justin Roberts and Peter Bertran came storming back to win the decider in a tiebreak by an 8-6 score. In singles action, South Florida took opening sets at 2, 3, 5, and 6 and Alberto Barroso Campos and Vadym Kalyuzhnyy would close out their matches at 3 and 5 in straight sets to make it 3-0. USF junior Peter Bertran would get the clincher at No. 4 with a come from behind 1-6, 6-3, 6-0 win and with that win South Florida locked up the top seed in this week's American Conference Tournament which will be held in Orlando at the USTA National Campus.
Thursday was a busy day in the SEC with eight teams in action however the highest profile match of the day didn't quite live up to expectations. Georgia, ranked No. 14, strolled into Starkville and took out the host No. 17 Mississippi State 4-0 in just under two and a half hours. The doubles point itself took just under an hour with two of the three matches going to tiebreaks. Mississippi State's No. 2 team of Mate Cutura and Vaughn Hunter won the only match that didn't go to a tiebreak. Cutura and Hunter broke from 30/40 to go up 3-2 and then they came back from 15/40 down to hold for 4-2. After an exchange of holds, Cutura and Hunter broke at love to take it 6-3.
The other two matches looked like they'd be blowouts after the way each started. Mississippi State's Niclas Braun and Trevor Foshey jumped out to a 4-1 lead at No. 1 but Georgia's Robert Loeb and Jan Zielinski came back to tie it at 4-4. Mississippi State held on the no-ad point for 5-4 and after three more holds it'd go to a tiebreak. Georgia jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the tiebreak and they wouldn't drop a point on serve and would win it 7-3.
Georgia's Walker Duncan and Wayne Montgomery jumped out to a 4-0 lead at No. 2 doubles however Mississippi State's Nuno Borges and Giovanni Oradini would come all the way back to tie it at 5-5 after breaking Georgia on the no-ad point. Each team had an easy hold to push it to a tiebreak and then Georgia went up a mini-break at 2-1 and pulled away to win it 7-5.
For the third year in a row a doubles team from Oklahoma State won the Pacific Coast Doubles Championship as seniors Lucas Gerch and Arjun Kadhe defeated Stanford's Jack Barber and William Genesen 6-3, 6-4 in the final. Kadhe won the title last year with Julian Cash while Gerch won it in 2015 with Nicolai Ferrigno. Gerch and Kadhe's toughest match came in the quarterfinals when they defeated USC"s Laurens Verboven and Nick Crystal 4-6, 6-4, 7-6(2) and their second closest match came in the semifinals when they defeated UCLA's Martin Redlicki and Evan Zhu 6-4, 4-6, 6-2. Up until the quarterfinals they played 8-game pro sets and then starting in the quarterfinals it was best two out of three sets. To see full results from all matches, including consolation, check out the USTA Tennislink page. FloTennis, which streamed the event, has a recap of the tournament as well at this link.
The Sunday afternoon men's schedule was packed to the brim with three top 25 teams facing each other plus several other ranked teams would be tested against stiff competition. Last season Wake Forest went to Stillwater in late January and got beat so when they made the return trip on Sunday they had a pretty good idea of what was in store. Wake Forest jumped out to the early 1-0 lead by taking the doubles point with wins at No. 1 and No. 3 and then less than an hour later the lead would grow even more. Wake sophomore Petros Chrysochos was nearly flawless in a 6-0, 6-1 win over Lukas Finzelberg at No. 2 and then junior Skander Mansouri made it 3-0 after Julian Cash retired after the first set at No. 1.
Oklahoma State battled back with straight set wins from Arjun Kadhe, Lucas Gerch, and Jurence Mendoza so the match would be decided between a pair of January admits. Wake's Borna Gojo took the first set 7-5 but Oklahoma State's Artur Dubinski stayed right with him in the second set. As the second set entered a tiebreak both players began to cramp though Gojo was able to power through it to take a 6-0 lead. Dubinski took three straight to pull within 6-3 but after he hit a volley winner he hobbled slowly to the back wall and before he was able to serve it up again the chair coded him for a time violation and the subsequent point penalty ended the match. Here is the stream of the finish - an odd scene to say the least!
The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) announced the hiring of Dann Nelson as the Vaqueros new men's tennis coach. Nelson comes to Edinburg after spending the last 11 seasons in Carbondale as head coach of Southern Illinois. Nelson led SIU to a share of the regular season conference championship last season despite the program spending most of the season on the chopping block due to the state of Illinois's budget woes. SIU got a one-year reprieve and will be back this fall but Nelson probably made a wise decision to secure his future for many years to come.