The NCAA's Women's Final Four is set after a long day of tennis in Orlando with the first ball struck at noon eastern and the last celebration taking place just before midnight. The two late matches were the closer of the four with top seed Georgia coming back from a late 3-2 deficit to edge No. 8 Vanderbilt 4-3 while No. 5 Duke pulled off the mild upset over No. 4 South Carolina 4-1.
SEC rivals Georgia and Vanderbilt were meeting for the third time in the last three months and for the second time Vanderbilt would grab the early lead after an impressive performance in doubles.
Vanderbilt jumped out to break leads on all three courts but Georgia came back to tie all three at 3-3. VU's top team of Emma Kurtz and Emily Smith won the next three games to close out Lourdes Carle and Katarina Jokic 6-3 while Georgia's No. 3 team of Marta Gonzalez and Meg Kowalski won the next two and served for the match up 5-3. VU's Christina Rosca and Amanda Meyer broke back on 3 and were serving at 4-5 when teammates Fernanda Contreras and Georgia Drummy sealed the doubles point with a 6-4 win at No. 2 over previously unbeaten Elena Christofi and Vivian Wolff (16-0 now 16-1).
Vanderbilt came out strong in singles and went up breaks on all but one court and would ultimately take four opening sets.
Despite going down an early break at No. 1 singles, Georgia sophomore Katarina Jokic would get it back on serve at 2-2 and then go on to win 10 of the next 13 games to defeat Georgia Drummy 6-3, 6-2 which tied the overall match at 1-1.
VU senior Fernanda Contreras put the Dores back in front with a 6-3, 6-2 win at No. 2 over Marta Gonzalez. Contreras had also defeated Gonzalez in straight sets in the final regular season meeting while Gonzalez lost for the third time against VU.
UGA sophomore Vivian Wolff tied it back up after winning her 19th straight match (23-1 in dual-match play) with a come from behind 3-6, 6-0, 6-3 win over Amanda Meyer at No. 4 singles. Meyer had handed Wolff her only dual-match loss of the year back in February when the teams met at the National Team Indoors in Seattle.
Friday will be the start of the NCAA Women's Quarterfinals with the top 8 seeds making it to the Elite 8 for the first time since 2011. While the men have a day off between the quarters and semis the women will play three straight days which means fitness is going to be key with most of these matches expected to be hotly contested.
Five of the final eight have won a NCAA Championship with Stanford leading the way with 19 titles, Georgia and UCLA each having 2, while Vanderbilt and Duke have 1. Neither South Carolina or Pepperdine have ever advanced past the quarterfinal round while North Carolina will look to do so for just the third time in program history.
If looking at the UTR Power 6s, Georgia is the biggest favorite (+2.20) in the quarterfinals while No. 5 seed Duke is a favorite over No. 4 South Carolina with a UTR Power 6 of 1.01 point higher.
Slam.Tennis shows that Georgia and North Carolina are both prohibitive favorites, with an expected winning percentage of 96%, while Duke is the smallest favorite with a 56% expected winning percentage over South Carolina.
The USTA National Campus's website has all the links that you'll need to follow the championships so make sure you check out what they have to offer.
The first day of Super Regional play brought us a few good matches and a few shutouts but they all ended with the home team coming out on top. The two closest matches of the day took place on the West Coast with Stanford edging Big XII Champion Kansas 4-3 while Pepperdine fought off a scrappy UCF team 4-2.
Stanford won its 20th straight match and advanced to the Elite 8 for the 10th year in a row but it was far from easy. The Cardinal found themselves in a 1-0 hole after Kansas won the doubles point for the 25th time in 26 matches with a 6-2 win at No. 2 and a 6-3 win at No. 3.
Each team claimed three opening sets in singles with three of the matches finishing in straight sets while the other three went the distance.
Stanford seniors Melissa Lord and Caroline Lampl gave the Cardinal the lead at 2-1 after Lord won 6-2, 7-5 at No. 2 singles while Lampl stayed perfect in dual-match play (21-0) with a 6-3, 6-3 win at No. 3.
Kansas's Maria Toran Ribes tied it at 2-2 with a 7-5, 6-4 win at No. 6 singles. Ribes's opponent Niluka Madurawe was playing in just her fifth dual-match of the season with Stanford's usual No. 6 Emma Higuchi out for unknown reason.
Stanford would go back in front after Emily Arbuthnott completed her comeback with a 5-7, 6-1, 6-4 win at No. 4 singles but Kansas's Anastasia Rychagova knotted it up at 3-3 with a 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 win at No. 1.
By the time Rychagova closed out Michaela Gordon at No. 1, Stanford's Janice Shin was nearing the finish line in the decider at No. 5. Shin dropped the opening set 6-4 but she'd come back to take the final two sets 6-4, 6-2 to send the Cardinal to Lake Nona where they'll meet No. 6 Pepperdine on Friday.
The Sweet 16 is set and while eight of the nine matches played on Sunday were on the women's side it was the one men's match that was the showstopper.
Oklahoma jumped out to a quick start on the road against No. 13 Texas A&M by claiming the doubles point with 6-4 wins at No. 1 and No. 3 and then the Sooners added first sets at 4, 5, and 6.
Texas A&M's Hady Habib tied it at 1-1 with a 7-5, 6-0 win at No. 2 but OU retook the lead after Jochen Bertsch won 6-2, 6-4 at No. 6.
A&M's Val Vacherot made it 2-2 with a 6-3, 7-5 win at No. 3 but once again OU went back in front after a 6-2, 7-6 win by Ferran Calvo at No. 4.
A&M needed both of the remaining matches and it looked like they just might do it with both Juan Carlos Aguilar and Noah Schachter leading deep in the third sets at No. 1 and No. 5.
Aguilar managed to close out Spencer Papa 6-0, 4-6, 7-5 at No. 1 after breaking Papa from 30/40 on an iffy call that Papa didn't like and at No. 5 Schachter had three match points on Mason Beiler's 3-5 service game. Beiler managed to come back and hold for 4-5 and then he broke Schachter from 30/40 to even it at 5-5. Schachter broke back at love to go up 6-5 but Beiler broke from 30/40 to force a tiebreak.
Schachter won the first three points of the tiebreak and would eventually go up 6-3. Schachter had a pair of chances to close it out on his own serve but a couple of big forehands by Beiler erased them both to put it back on serve at 6-5. A service winner by Beiler tied it at 6-6 but then he netted a forehand to give Schachter a seventh match point at 7-6. Beiler went big again and forced a Schachter miss to make it 7-7 and then after Schachter pulled a backhand wide Beiler had his first match point at 8-7. Beiler wouldn't waste the opportunity and he closed it out with a forehand winner to send OU back to the Sweet 16 for the sixth time in the last seven years.
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.
Friday afternoon's Battle for LA between UCLA and USC went down to the wire, as many of these encounters do, and in the end it was the No. 13 Bruins prevailing with a close as it gets 4-3 win over the No. 9 Trojans. UCLA jumped out to the early 1-0 lead after a 6-4 win at No. 1 doubles and a 6-3 win at No. 2. Each team claimed three opening sets in singles and four of the six matches would finish in straight sets. USC took a 3-2 lead after getting straight set wins from Brandon Holt, Laurens Verboven, and Mor Bullis at No. 1, No. 3, and No. 6 while Keegan Smith won in straights at No. 2 for UCLA.
UCLA tied it up at 3-3 after Ben Goldberg knocked off Logan Smith 7-5, 3-6, 6-3 at No. 5 which meant the decider would come at No. 4 between UCLA freshman Patrick Zahraj and USC junior Riley Smith. Zahraj won the opening set in a tiebreak 7-4 while Smith claimed the second set 7-5. Smith led 4-2 in the third set before Zahraj held, broke, and held to take a 5-4 lead. After an exchange of holds, Smith fought off a match point by holding on the no-ad point to send it to a match-deciding tiebreak. Zahraj jumped out to a 4-1 lead in the tiebreak but Smith took the next four to go up 5-4. Zahraj got the mini-break back to even it at 5-5 before Smith retook the lead at 6-5. Zahraj won both points on his serve to go up 7-6 and then after Smith tied it at 7-7 Zahraj went up 8-7. Zahraj closed it out on the next point to give UCLA the win.
The big match during the week took place in Los Angeles on Wednesday afternoon as eighth-ranked UCLA hosted ninth-ranked Pepperdine. The Bruins struck first by taking the doubles point with wins at No. 2 and No. 3 but Pepperdine quickly tied it up with a 6-0, 6-0 win by Anastasia Iamachkine at No. 6. UCLA retook the lead with a straight set win by Elysia Bolton at No. 2 but Pepperdine added straight set wins by Jessica Failla and Daria Kuczer at No. 3 and No. 4 to go in front 3-2. UCLA's Jada Hart tied the match at 3-3 with a 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 win at No. 1 but Pepperdine's Dzina Milovanovic would win the decider at No. 5 singles 6-3, 2-6, 6-3.
In men's action on Wednesday, No. 11 North Carolina defeated ACC rival No. 21 NC State 4-0. The Tar Heels took the doubles point and then added straight set wins in singles from William Blumberg, Brian Cernoch, and Bo Boyden at No. 1, No. 3, and No. 5.
The USC men finished off a weekend sweep in the Bay Area by following up a 4-2 win over #40 Cal with a 4-1 win over #10 Stanford. The Trojans won a close doubles point with Brandon Holt and Riley Smith winning 7-5 at No. 1 while Daniel Cukierman and Tanner Smith prevailed 7-6(3) at No. 3. Stanford tied it up at 1-1 with a 6-4, 6-3 win from Timothy Sah at No. 6 but USC was in control everywhere else and would add straight set wins from Daniel Cukierman, Laurens Verboven, and Riley Smith at No. 2, No. 3, and No. 4 with Verboven getting the clinch.
The Stanford women looked like they were going to be upset at #16 USC but senior Caroline Lampl refused to lose and gutted out a third set tiebreak to secure the 4-3 Cardinal win. With the score even at 3-3, USC's Rianna Valdes served for the match on two occasions at 5-4 and 6-5 but she wouldn't come close to a match point on either occasion so off to a tiebreak they went. The tiebreak was tied at 3-3 at the changeover but Lampl would take the next 3 points to go ahead 6-3 and would go on to take it 7-4. The win was Lampl's 15th straight and it came on a day when the Cardinal needed it with Emily Arbuthnott out of the singles lineup.
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."
The big top 10 showdown on Saturday took place at Stanford with the No. 4 Cardinal hosting No. 7 Vanderbilt in a rematch of last year's NCAA Championship Final. Stanford won that match in Winston-Salem 4-3 with some final court drama but this one on Saturday at Stanford was a pretty cut and dry win for the Cardinal. Stanford rolled through doubles only dropping two games each at No. 1 and No. 3 and then they added five first sets in singles with four of them being lopsided 6-1 scores. Melissa Lord made it 2-0 with a 6-1, 6-3 win over at No. 2 and Emma Higuchi made it 3-0 with a 6-1, 7-6 win at No. 6. Emily Arthbuthnott provided the clincher at No. 4 with a 6-1, 2-6, 6-1 win.
The other matches were played out with Stanford adding two more points with wins at No. 5 and No. 3 while Vandy got its lone point at No. 1 after Fernanda Contreras fought off multiple match points to win a third set supertiebreak 14-12.