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.
The opening day of the Men's National Team Indoor Championships in Chicago was a day of upsets and near-upsets as No. 2 Mississippi State and No. 4 Florida went down while No. 3 Wake Forest and No. 5 Texas survived and held on. The top seed Ohio State had no issues, North Carolina blanked a less than 100% Baylor, UCLA overcame the loss of one of its top players to get past Notre Dame, and Virginia surged past Stanford 4-2.
The day started off with the biggest upset by seeding as No. 15 TCU defeated No. 2 Mississippi State 4-1. The Horned Frogs overcame the loss of the doubles point after dropping the decider at No. 1 in a tiebreak 7-5 but they rebounded in singles and took all six opening sets. Unlike the match against Florida last Sunday, this time TCU was able to close out its courts in straight sets with Reese Stalder, Bertus Kruger, Luc Fomba, and Sander Jong winning at No. 3, No. 4, No. 5, and No. 6.
There was tennis played again in Seattle after snow wiped out Saturday's schedule at the Women's National Team Indoors and while most of the favorites won there was one mild upset. In an all-SEC dual, it was the No. 5 seed Georgia coming back from 3-1 down to defeat No. 4 Vanderbilt 4-3. The Commodores took the early lead with a 7-5 win at No. 1 doubles and a 6-4 win at No. 2 and then the teams split opening sets in singles. Georgia's Katarina Jokic put the Bulldogs on the board with a 4-6, 6-1, 6-2 win at No. 1 but Vandy answered seconds later with a 6-2, 7-6 win from Christina Rosca at No. 2. Vandy's Amanda Meyer extended the lead to 3-1 with a 4-6, 7-5, 6-3 win at No. 4 and it looked like the match was all but over with Emily Smith leading 5-0 in the third at No. 5. However, Georgia junior Elena Christofi would win the next seven games to close it out 6-4, 3-6, 7-5. The Christofi comeback changed the momentum on the rest of the courts as well and both Meg Kowalski and Lourdes Carle would pull away in their third sets to complete the 4-3 Georgia win.
"We won a lot of third set matches today, and it was super exciting out there," said Georgia coach Jeff Wallace. "This was our biggest test so far, and we knew anybody you play out here is going to be really good, and it's going to be a battle. It takes a lot of maturity and discipline to hang in there like Elena did after getting down 5-0 and fighting back. Katarina (Jokic) got us on the board at No. 1 with a big win in a matchup of two of the best players in the country and then two freshmen came through in Meg (Kowalski) and Lourdes.
Saturday may have been a long day but it was mostly definitely a great one with one thrilling match after another. The day started off with the two-time defending NCAA Champs Virginia facing some resistance but ultimately pulling away from No. 10 Texas and winning 4-1. The match of the tournament was taking place on the McWhorter Courts as No. 3 Ohio State outlasted No. 6 TCU 4-3 in a match that lasted 3 hours and 30 minutes. The late afternoon session turned into the late night session after a five-hour rain delay interrupted play during singles. Play would resume at 11 p.m. ET and surprisingly almost 500 of the announced crowd of 2324 returned to see the hosts Georgia upset No. 5 UCLA 4-2. The final match to finish was an All-ACC affair on McWhorter that saw No. 9 North Carolina upset the top seed Wake Forest 4-2.
Photo by Bill Kallenberg (CapturedInAction.com)
The rubber meets the road on Saturday afternoon in Athens with an extremely competitive schedule lined up. In the noon session you'll have the two-time defending champs Virginia taking on Texas and the other match could be the match of the tournament as No. 3 Ohio State takes on No. 6 TCU. In the late-afternoon session they'll be huge crowd on hand to see if Georgia can get past UCLA while a pair of ACC rivals, Wake Forest and North Carolina, will tangle on the back courts. The temperature is expected to be in the upper 80s and may hit 90 so it'll be interesting to see how the teams from outside of the south handle the elements.
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.
The men's second round wrapped up on Saturday so Sunday belonged to the women with nine regionals closing out the weekend after seven finished on Saturday. 15 of the 16 regional hosts advanced to Friday's Sweet 16 in Athens with the one upset taking place in Waco. Baylor had already defeated Texas A&M once this season (4-0) but on Sunday they'd find themselves playing from behind virtually the entire match. In that first meeting on March 22nd, Texas A&M was without its top player Rachel Pierson so having her in the lineup today obviously changed the whole complexion of the match.
Texas A&M struck first in doubles with a quick 6-0 win from Eva Paalma and Domenica Gonzalez at No. 2 but it looked like Baylor would take No. 1 after Blair Shankle and Karina Traxler went up a double break at 4-1. Texas A&M's Rachel Pierson and Rutuja Bhosale got one break back to make it 4-3 but Baylor held for 5-3. A&M then held, broke, and held to take a 6-5 lead.
Meanwhile over No. 3, Baylor's Theresa Van Zyl and Rhiann Newborn jumped out to a 2-0 lead but Texas A&M's Stefania Hristov and Saska Gavrilovska broke Van Zyl's serve and then held for 2-2. A&M would go up a break at 4-3 after breaking Van Zyl again but BU immediately broke back for 4-4 and then Newborn fought off two break points to hold for 5-4. After a Gavrilovska hold for 5-5, A&M would break Van Zyl for a third time to go up 6-5 and then Newborn served it out at love to take it 7-5.
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.