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 Pepperdine women are more accustomed to being ranked inside the 10 and that's most likely where they'll be come Tuesday because the Waves picked up their second top 10 victory of the week with a 5-2 win over #8/#6 Texas in Austin. The Waves won the doubles point in dominating fashion with a 6-1 win at No. 2 and a 6-2 win at No. 3. In singles each team claimed three opening sets and Pepperdine would convert each of its to set leads to straight set wins. Dzina Milovanovic made it 2-0 with a 6-2, 6-1 win at No. 4 and Ashley Lahey upped the lead to 3-0 with a 6-4, 6-1 at No. 1.
Texas trimmed the deficit to 3-2 with straight set wins from Anna Turati and Petra Granic at No. 2 and No. 3 but Daria Kuczer put the Waves over the top with a 6-4, 6-4 win at No. 5.
Top-ranked Ohio State suffered its first loss of the year on Monday night falling 4-3 to #28/#20 Texas A&M in a match that wasn't as close as the final score. The Buckeyes, who were playing without JJ Wolf (Drummondville Challenger), took the early 1-0 lead after 6-4 wins at No. 1 and No. 3 doubles but the Aggies stormed back in singles taking five opening sets. A&M freshman Noah Schachter tied the match at 1-1 with a 6-3, 6-3 win at No. 5 over Tim Seibert who was playing in just his third dual-match of the year and first against a Power 5 opponent. A&M took the lead with a 6-2, 7-6 win by Hady Habib at No. 2 and Valentin Vacherot put them a point away after a 2-6, 6-3, 6-0 win at No. 3.
A&M sophomore Barnaby Smith clinched the upset with a 7-6, 6-3 win at No. 4. The final two matches were played out with Ohio State's John McNally winning 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 at No. 1 while Hunter Tubert won 6-7, 7-6, 10-4 at No. 6.
Per the Texas A&M recap it was the just the second time in school history that the Ags had defeated a top ranked opponent with the other coming in 2015 against Oklahoma.
Wolf won his opening round match in Canada over former Cal Bear Andre Goransson and will meet former Virginia Cavalier Thai-Son Kwiatkowski in the second round on Tuesday. Ohio State's next match is set for Thursday in Austin against Texas so if Wolf were to beat Kwiatkowski and then the winner of Yannick Maden (Clemson '13) and Dennis Novikov (UCLA '13) he'd probably miss it.
Saturday was a busy day across the Pac-12 with 8 of the 9 men's schools in action while there were 4 in action on the women's side. On the men's side #7/#6 Stanford and Cal finished off weekend sweeps of #21 Arizona and Arizona State. Stanford won a top 25 showdown over Arizona in convincing fashion with the Cardinal winning every completed set in singles. Cal came back from 2-0 down with four straight set wins in singles to defeat Arizona State 4-2.
#12/#21 Oregon overcame a slow start at home to defeat Washington 5-1. The Ducks dropped the doubles point but won a lot of close first sets and used that as a springboard to collect four straight set wins.
#19/#12 USC was playing without one of its top players, Daniel Cukierman, but managed to pull through on the road over #41 Utah 4-2. The Trojans jumped out to a 3-0 lead but Utah won the top two spots in straight sets to pull within 3-2. Both of the remaining matches went three sets and it'd be USC freshman Jack Sands clinching at No. 5 with a 6-4, 4-6, 7-5 win while the match at No. 3 went unfinished with Utah junior Slava Shainyan leading 6-5.
Thursday night brought us a pair of close matches in the SEC with Texas A&M and Tennessee pulling out hard fought 4-3 wins. In College Station, Texas A&M fell behind after dropping the doubles point but the Aggies rallied with four opening sets in singles. Juan Carlos Aguilar tied the match at 1-1 with a 6-0, 6-1 rout at No. 1 but Georgia's Jan Zielinski put the Bulldogs back in front with a 7-6, 6-3 win at No. 2. Texas A&M's Valentin Vacherot evened the match at 2-2 after a 7-6, 6-3 win at No. 3 but Georgia was still leading on two of the remaining courts with the third about to split sets.
Texas A&M freshman Noah Schachter came back from a break down in the third set, while also fighting off multiple breaks himself, to win 6-4, 3-6, 7-6(5). Schachter trailed Georgia junior Robert Loeb 3-1 in the third set but after holding and breaking for 3-3 he'd come back from 30/40 down to hold for 4-3. After a hold by Loeb, Schachter once again came back from 30/40 down to hold for 5-4. After a few more holds Loeb would go up 2-0 in the tiebreak but it'd be 3-3 at the changeover. Schachter went up 6-4 and after being denied on his first match point he'd close it out on the next one after the chair overruled Loeb's out call on the far sideline.
Georgia freshman Phillip Henning evened the match at 3-3 with a 5-7, 7-6, 6-2 win at No. 4. Henning led the opening set 5-3 but dropped the final four games and in the second set he also led 5-3 but after dropping three straight he came back to take it in a tiebreak. Henning went up an early break in the third and broke at love to close it out.
Texas A&M's other freshman Guido Marson was nearing the finish line at No. 6 after opening up a 5-1 lead in the third set against Georgia senior Walker Duncan. 35 minutes earlier it looked like Duncan was headed for a straight set win but a missed swinging forehand volley at 6-4, *4-2 (40/40) was a turning point that got Marson back in it. Marson came back to take the second set 7-5 and after leading 5-1 it looked like he was moments away from the clinch. However Duncan would reel off three straight games which included a break of Marson's 5-2 service game on the 40/40 point. Duncan looked like he was going to get it back on serve after going up 30/40 but after coming to the net he laid off hitting a volley on a Marson backhand, since it looked like it might sail long, however the shot landed in which brought up the deciding point. Duncan would net a forehand on the deciding point to give Marson and Texas A&M the 4-3 win.
The late-afternoon and night sessions brought us the only 4-3 matches of the day as Pepperdine upset the hosts Georgia while last year's NCAA runner-up Oklahoma State took out the other local favorite Georgia Tech. The top seed Florida won a tough doubles point over Texas A&M but then pulled away in singles while the SEC Champs Vanderbilt came from behind to win the doubles point and then got it done in singles against California.
Photo by Bill Kallenberg (CapturedInAction.com)
Pepperdine was able to claim the all-important doubles point for the 22nd time in 28 matches after picking up wins on 1 and 3 while Georgia won at 2. The match at No. 1 doubles only saw one break of serve and it came when Pepperdine broke from 30/40 to go up 5-4. In the previous game Pepperdine got a huge no-ad hold when Christine Maddox hit a service winner and then two games later Mayar Sherif Ahmed served it out from 40/15 to win 6-4.
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.