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The first day of the NCAA Championships at the USTA National Campus in Orlando didn't disappoint with a pair of thrilling matches including an upset by No. 9 North Carolina over No. 1 Ohio State.
The Buckeyes entered the match with a 32-2 overall record including a 32-2 record in doubles however it'd be North Carolina that would draw first blood.
Surprisingly none of the doubles matches were very close although there were several breaks in the opening couple of games. At No. 2 doubles, North Carolina's Brian Cernoch and Ben Sigouin (8-7 doubles record) jumped out to a 2-0 lead on Alex Kobelt and Kyle Seelig however the Buckeye duo, which entered with a 15-1 dual-match record, held and broke for 2-2. Cernoch and Sigouin broke back from 30/40 to go up 3-2 and then Sigouin held for 4-2. Cernoch and Sigouin broke at love for 5-2 and then the lefty freshman Cernoch served it out at love to win it 6-2.
While Kobelt and Seelig were fading at No. 2, JJ Wolf and Martin Joyce (16-4) were well on their way to a win over William Blumberg and Bo Boyden (18-3) at No. 1. Wolf and Joyce earned the first break of the match to go up 3-1 and then they'd add another break to go up 5-1. Wolf served it out from 40/30 to give the Buckeyes a 6-1 win.
The deciding match at No. 3 doubles pitted a pair of teams that had only dropped a combined two matches all year with Ohio State's Hunter Tubert and John McNally a perfect 21-0 while UNC's Mac Kiger and Simon Soendergaard entered with an 18-2 record. Kiger and Soendergaard took their first lead of the match after breaking McNally on the deciding point for 3-2 (McNally was up 40/15) and then Soendergaard came back from 15/40 down to hold for 4-2. In the next game, Tubert went up 40/15 but Kiger and Soendergaard came back to break again, and then Kiger served it out from 40/30 to win it 6-2.
The NCAA Quarterfinals get started at noon eastern this Thursday at the USTA National Campus in Lake Nona. In case you missed the announcement last week the USTA and the Tennis Channel have entered into a three-year partnership beginning with this week where the Tennis Channel will show more than 50 hours of live matches during the NCAA Championships. During the team portion of the NCAAs the Tennis Channel will show the two late matches each day and then on Sunday they'll show both the men's and women's finals. The USTA National Campus website has plenty of information on the NCAAs and also lists all the matches that the Tennis Channel will show all the way through the individual tournament.
The eight quarterfinalists are all ranked in the most recent ITA Top 10 and I think all eight have a reasonable chance to win it all. Virginia, Wake Forest, and Baylor are the only programs of the eight remaining that have won an NCAA Championship and with Virginia and Wake set to meet on Thursday that means that at most they'll be two former champs left by the weekend.
All eight teams that won last week had the higher UTR Power 6 so it that holds up again on Thursday the four semifinalists would be North Carolina, Wake Forest, Florida, and Texas. The difference between Ohio State and North Carolina as of Sunday evening was a microscopic 0.08 so there's a chance that by match time those numbers may have shifted back towards Ohio State - regardless it should be a heck of a match.
Slam.Tennis shows that Ohio State has the largest expected winning percentage at 88% while Florida is the smallest favorite at just 57%.
The weather forecast for Thursday shows temperatures should be in the mid to upper 80s and by the weekend they'll be up around 90 so it's going to be a battle of attrition.
The Super Regional round is officially in the books and after the host schools started off 14-0 they finished 14-2 with the final two matches on Saturday evening producing the two seeding upsets.
In Starkville, No. 10 seed TCU knocked off No. 7 Mississippi State 4-2 in a match that finished just over six hours after it started due to a nearly three-hour rain delay that occurred early on in singles.
In the first meeting between the two earlier this year it was Mississippi State winning the doubles point but on Saturday it was TCU that took the early lead after picking up wins at No. 1 and No. 3.
Most of the first sets were five to six games in when play was stopped by lightning and then shortly thereafter the rain came which delayed things even further.
Once play resumed, Mississippi State would maintain breaks leads at both No. 1 and No. 3 and eventually Nuno Borges and Strahinja Rakic would go on to win in straight sets to give Mississippi State the 2-1 lead. The top-ranked Borges led fourth-ranked Alex Rybakov 4-1 before the delay and would take the match 6-1, 6-4 which meant he'll finish his senior year with a perfect 25-0 dual-match record. Rakic was serving up 3-2 in the first against Reese Stalder before the delay and after closing out the set 6-3 he'd take the second 6-2 to put MSU in front.
TCU freshman Luc Fomba tied the match at 2-2 with a 7-5, 6-3 win over Trevor Foshey at No. 5. The match was on serve before the rain came but after play resumed Foshey won three of the next four games to go in front 5-4. Foshey served for the set and had a pair of set points but Fomba managed to break and then he'd hold and break again to take the set 7-5. In the second set, Fomba broke for 4-2 and would hold serve two more times to close it out.
All three of the other matches would go three sets though Mississippi State's Florian Broska had a chance to close his match out at No. 6 in straight sets. Broska had match point while serving up 7-6 in the second set tiebreak but Sander Jong won the next three points to take the tiebreak 9-7.
A trio of top 15 matches highlighted the mid-week slate with the TCU men, Pepperdine women, and Duke women all coming through with wins.
TCU earned a hard fought 4-3 win at home over No. 8 Texas A&M. The Horned Frogs won a pivotal doubles point with wins at No. 1 and No. 2 and then each team took three opening sets in singles. Texas A&M's Valentin Vacherot tied it up with a straight set win at No. 3 but TCU made it 3-1 with a three-set win from Luc Fomba at No. 5 and a straight set win from Sander Jong at No. 6. Texas A&M's Barnaby Smith made it 3-2 with a 4-6, 6-1, 6-2 win at No. 4 and Juan Carlos Aguilar tied it up with a 7-6, 7-5 win at No. 2. TCU senior Alex Rybakov won the decider on senior night with a 7-6, 6-7, 6-3 win over Hady Habib.
The three top matches on Saturday each finished with lopsided results as the Texas men, Stanford women, and Michigan women rolled to wins over top 25 conference opponents.
Fourth-ranked Texas improved to 20-2 and snapped a four-match losing streak against No. 10 TCU with a 6-1 win. After TCU finished up its senior day activities, which celebrated the careers of Alex Rybakov and Reese Stalder, the Horned Frogs claimed the doubles point with wins at No. 1 and No. 2. Texas regrouped in singles and took five opening sets with Yuya Ito and Leo Telles winning in straight sets at No. 2 and No. 3 to give Texas a 2-1 lead. TCU battled back to force several third sets but ultimately the Horns would win them all with Christian Sigsgaard clinching at No. 1 with a 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 win over Alex Rybakov.
Texas finishes conference play next weekend with road matches at Oklahoma State and Oklahoma. TCU will have to regroup quickly with No. 8 Texas A&M coming to town on Monday and then the Horned Frogs make the same trip that Texas makes to Stillwater and Norman.
Friday was a stacked day with nine matchups between top 25 teams with six of those coming on the women's side. The highest profile match on the men's side took place in Waco with sixth-ranked Baylor hosting ninth-ranked TCU. The Bears claimed the doubles point with a 6-4 win at No. 1 and a 7-6(5) win at No. 3 and then in singles each team won three opening sets. Only two of the six matches would finish in straight sets with Baylor's Sven Lah winning 6-3, 6-3 at No. 5 while TCU's Alex Rybakov won 7-5, 6-3 at No. 1.
Baylor's Will Little put the Bears up 3-1 with a 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 win at No. 4 and Jimmy Bendeck clinched at No. 6 with a 7-6, 3-6, 6-2 win. The other two matches were played out with Baylor's Johannes Schretter winning at No. 2 while TCU's Reese Stalder won at No. 3.
Baylor Head coach Brian Boland on the win…
"We enjoyed it. It was a tremendous crowd, and everyone came out and supported a great college tennis match and it was everything (and) more than we thought it would be. I'm just happy for the guys. They really prepared well all week, and now we have to get ready to play Texas, so we do not have a lot of time. But a tribute to our leaders, they played really hard tonight and did a really good job preparing this week, along with the rest of the team. Once again, doubles is pivotal in terms of the momentum, especially in matches that are as competitive as this one. And congratulations to TCU, they played a great match, and I look forward to another opportunity to play them again down the road. The Big 12 is a big challenge, and now we have another top-five team in front of us on Sunday."
After a pretty ho-hum Saturday, Sunday brought us several good matches with a few upsets and a few near-upsets. #15/#11 USC pulled off the biggest upset of the day by going to Austin and defeating #3/#1 Texas 4-2. The Trojans grabbed the early lead with doubles wins at No. 2 and No. 3 and then the teams split opening sets in singles. All matches that finished did so in straight sets with USC getting wins from Brandon Holt, Riley Smith, and Mor Bulis at 1, 5, and 6 while Texas picked up wins from Yuya Ito and Harrison Scott at 2 and 4 while Leo Telles led 6-4, 4-4 on 3.
#8/#12 Mississippi State extended its home winning streak to 24 with a late rally to get past #22/#19 Georgia 4-3. Georgia claimed the doubles point with wins at No. 1 and No. 3 but Mississippi State fought back in singles with four opening sets. Strahinja Rakic and Nuno Borges rolled to straight set wins at No. 4 and No. 1 to make it 2-1 but Georgia's Trent Bryde would tie it at 2-2 with a straight set win at No. 3. Georgia senior Walker Duncan made it 3-2 with a 5-7, 6-1, 6-4 win at No. 6 and it looked like match at No. 4 was all but over with Georgia freshman Philip Henning serving up 4-6, 6-2, 5-2 (30/0) against MSU senior Trevor Foshey. However on the 30/0 point Henning would go down on the baseline with what appeared to be a pretty severe ankle sprain.
Henning did his best to continue after a lengthy medical timeout but he could barely put any weight on his injured ankle and Foshey quickly won point after point. With the outcome of that match all but certain the focus went to No. 2 where MSU junior Giovanni Oradini led Georgia senior Jan Zielinski 5-4 in the third. Oradini had jumped out to a 4-1 lead early in the set but Zielinski managed to get it back on serve at 4-4. After Oradini held for 5-4 he'd get the pivotal break to close it out 5-7, 6-4, 6-4 to make it 3-3. Moments later Foshey would close out Henning 6-4, 2-6, 7-5 to extend the home winning streak to 25. Unlike most match clinchers there was no celebration in this one with Foshey and Henning hugging at the net while the teams exchanged handshakes.
Wednesday had a pretty solid schedule on the men's side with five matches between top 50 teams including a pair between top 15 teams. Fourth-ranked Florida improved to 13-2 with a dominating 6-1 win at home over #13/#16 Illinois. The Gators grabbed the early lead with 6-3 wins at No. 1 and No. 2 doubles and then in singles they won five opening sets. Sam Riffice, Andy Andrade, Johannes Ingildsen, and McClain Kessler won in straight sets at 2, 3, 4, and 5 while Duarte Vale came back from a set down to win in three sets at 6. Illinois picked up its lone point from Aleks Kovacevic who came back from a set down to win 4-6, 6-3, 6-3 at No. 1 singles over Oliver Crawford.
The other top 15 matchup between #10/#7 TCU and #12/#10 Columbia saw TCU win a close doubles point and then take all six opening sets in singles before Columbia fought back to force third sets on five courts. The Horned Frogs claimed the doubles point by winning the decider at No. 1 in a tiebreak (7-5) and senior Alex Rybakov rolled to a 6-1, 6-2 win at No. 1 over #16 Jack Lin. Columbia cut the deficit to 2-1 after a 4-6, 6-3, 6-3 win by Austen Huang at No. 6 but TCU would close it out with a 6-4, 2-6, 6-4 win by Reese Stalder at No. 3 and a 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 win by Alastair Gray at No. 2. The other two matches went unfinished with TCU a game away from a win at No. 4 while Columbia was a game away at No. 5.
The University of Texas stayed in the news for a second day in a row after athletic director Chris Del Conte dismissed men's head coach Michael Center following the charges that made headlines all across the county on Tuesday. Center, who was in his 19th season as head coach at Texas, reportedly accepted approximately $100,000 to help an unnamed student gain admittance to Texas by labeling him as a tennis recruit. Associate head coach Bruce Berque will serve as the interim head coach for the rest of the season and I'm sure the story will be a major topic on tonight's nationally televised broadcast of Texas's match against No. 1 Ohio State which will air on the Longhorn Network. Below was the official statement from Del Conte via the University of Texas:
"After working with campus leaders to review the recent situation with Michael Center, we have decided to relieve him of his duties as our Men's Tennis coach," Del Conte said. "It's a very difficult decision, and we are grateful for the years of service that he has provided, but winning with integrity will always be paramount at The University of Texas, and it was a decision that had to be made.
"I've met with our team and assured them that we will do everything in our power to support them," Del Conte added. "I also plan to reach out to all of our commitments, signees and their families immediately. I'm grateful for Coach Berque's leadership during this challenging time. Our team is in the middle of a tremendous season, and I applaud them for how they've handled this situation, especially the way they responded in their match on Tuesday."
The Tennis Recruiting Network has an article with comments from one of Texas's top recruits for next year. The Longhorns 2019 recruiting class was rated No. 2 with four blue chips and a four-star recruit so it'll be interesting to see how many remain committed to Texas following the news this week.
The semifinals are set in Chicago with the early matches providing plenty of excitement while the later matches were a pair of shutouts. It looked like No. 3 Wake Forest, the defending National Team Indoor Champions, were going to make an early exit but thanks to freshman Melios Efstathiou the Deacs lived to fight another day.
Wake found itself down 1-0 after the doubles point with UCLA picking up wins at No. 1 and No. 3 but the Deacs came back in singles with four opening sets (note: UCLA was without its No. 2 player Keegan Smith who injured his ankle the previous day). UCLA junior Ben Goldberg put the Bruins in front 2-0 with a 6-2, 6-3 win at No. 5 but Wake senior Petros Chrysochos became the school's all-time wins leader in singles (120) with a 6-1, 6-4 win at No. 2. Wake evened it at 2-2 after sophomore Yuval Solomon won 6-2, 6-2 at No. 6 but UCLA senior Maxime Cressy put the Bruins back ahead after a 6-4, 7-5 win at No. 1. Wake sophomore Bar Botzer tied the match at 3-3 with a 6-4, 7-6 win at No. 3 which meant the match would be decided at No. 4.
UCLA freshman Mathew Tsolakyan dropped the opening set 6-3 but then he won 10 of the next 13 games to take a 3-6, 6-3, *4-1 lead against Wake freshman Melios Efstathiou. Tsolakyan had a game point for 5-1 but Efstathiou broke on the deciding point and then reeled off another three games to take a 5-4 lead. Efstathiou had three match points at 15/40 but Tsolakyan came back to hold for 5-5. Efstathiou held on the deciding point for 6-5 and then he broke from 15/40 to close it out 6-3, 3-6, 7-5.