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.
Semifinal Saturday is less than 24 hours away with Wake Forest and North Carolina set to meet for the third time in the last three months while Texas and Florida will meet for the first time in over two years. Both matches are expected to be extremely close with the UTRs of most individual matchups almost identical.
The heat and humidity played a role in Thursday's matches and will likely be a factor again on Saturday with temps expected to be in the upper 80s. Both Wake Forest and North Carolina were on the court for 3 hours on Thursday, though the Heels played under the lights, while Texas and Florida were both off the court in just over 2 hours so neither team in either matchup will really have much of a rest advantage.
Let's get to it and take a look at the numbers.
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.
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 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.
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.
I previewed the NCAA Men's Super Regionals on Monday and now it's time to preview the NCAA Women's Super Regionals which will take place on Friday and Saturday.
Five of the eight Super Regionals will be rematches with UCLA and Washington set to meet for a third time while the two USCs (Southern Cal & South Carolina) will meet for the second time but first time on this continent after a January dual in Australia.
Pepperdine and UCF will meet for the first-time ever while Stanford and Kansas will meet for the second time with the previous match taking place 22 years in 1997.
The biggest underdog in terms of UTR Power 6s are NC State (-3.68) and USC (-3.33) while the teams with the lowest expected winning percentage according to Slam.Tennis are Oklahoma State and Michigan which have just a 3% and 4% chance to win respectively.
Slam.Tennis has the UCLA/Washington match as the closest thing to a toss-up while UTR P6s have Pepperdine/UCF and North Carolina/Oklahoma State as the two closest.
All road trips are not created equal with UCF, USC, and Kansas traveling over 1800 miles while NC State makes the short 23 mile drive up the road to Duke.
As with the men, rain could play a role this weekend with the matches at North Carolina, Vanderbilt, Georgia, and possibly South Carolina expected to see rain at some point over the weekend. As of today, the weather looks good on Friday in the Durham/Chapel Hill area so Duke shouldn't have a problem getting its match in outdoors but with rain coming Saturday maybe UNC thinks about shifting its match up a day - we'll see.
A new era begins this weekend with the introduction of the Super Regionals which will take place on campus sites across the country. Up until this point all Round of 16 matches have taken place at the finals site but a change was announced back in January 2017 with "part of the rationale for the change being to provide teams with another opportunity to generate local support and highlight their programs in a championship-caliber competition." The other main reason was to reduce the congested schedule, which always is made worse by rain, plus the new format allows for the semifinals and finals to be played on Saturday/Sunday as opposed to Monday/Tuesday.
Three of the eight Super Regionals will match teams that have already played this season with Florida and Tennessee set to meet for a third time while Virginia/Stanford and Mississippi State/TCU will meet for a second time.
There will be no first-time meetings however Columbia, Stanford and North Carolina will try to defeat Ohio State, Virginia and USC for the first-time in program history.
The biggest underdog in terms of UTR Power 6s are California (-3.1) and Tennessee (-2.56) while the teams with the lowest expected winning percentage according to Slam.Tennis are Cal and Oklahoma which are both projected to have just a 6% chance of winning.
The three matches expected to the closest according to UTR-P6 and Slam EWP are Mississippi State/TCU, USC/UNC, and Baylor/UCLA which makes sense due to the closeness of seeding.
Every team that goes on the road will be making the trip by plane with the shortest travel distance 530 miles while the longest is 2800 miles. Down below I have the distances which show Stanford, UNC, Cal, and UCLA will be traveling over 1000 miles with Stanford just short of 3000 miles.
The coldest host site will be Columbus (OH) with temps expected to be in the low 60s while the hottest will be in Gainesville (FL) with match-time temps expected to be right at 90 degrees. As of today there is a greater than 50% chance of rain on matchday at Texas, Mississippi State, and Baylor with Mississippi State the only site that doesn't have an indoor option in town (Tuscaloosa 85 miles away the closest).
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.