By Chris Starrs, special to USTA.com
ATHENS, Ga. -- As the 2012 Men’s & Women’s Tennis Championships move into the singles and doubles quarterfinals today, some of the lineups scarcely resemble the way they started as a number of top seeds have been dismissed.
While the women’s singles bracket has six of its top seeds remaining, there are only four seeded survivors in men’s singles, four in men’s doubles and only one – No. 2 Mallory Burdette and Nicole Gibbs of Stanford – in women’s doubles.
Women’s doubles didn’t start the day with many seeded teams to begin with after the first, third and fourth seeds lost in the first round on Thursday. Besides Burdette and Gibbs, the only other top-8 team still alive was Annie Goransson and Anett Schutting of California (seeded 5-8), which on Friday lost to Florida’s Lauren Embree and Joanna Mather, who were key components to the Gators’ national championship victory earlier in the week in the team tournament.
Although it would appear the Stanford contingent is in the driver’s seat, the tenor of this portion of the tournament has been anything but predictable.
In the four women’s doubles matches today, Burdette and Gibbs will meet No. 32 Lorraine Guillermo and Khunpak Issara of Pepperdine, No. 10 Natalie Pluskota and Kata Szekely of Tennessee will meet Florida’s Embree and Mather (No. 22) for a Southeastern Conference-style tussle, Georgia’s No. 27 Chelsey Gullickson and Nadja Gilchrist facing No. 15 Jana Juricova and Zsofi Susanyi of California, and UCLA’s No. 9 Courtney Dolehide-Pamela Montez will meet Baylor’s No. 13 Ema Burgic and Nina Secerbegovic, who on Thursday evening eliminated No. 1 Florida.
Pulling double duty
There are eight players – four men and four women – who will be pulling double duty today with singles and doubles.
Top-seeded Steve Johnson of Southern California will head into the quarters to face No. 39 Alex Domijan of Virginia and he and freshman Roberto Quiroz – the No. 2 seeded team – will face No. 18 Raony Carvalho and Gonzalo Escobar of Texas Tech in doubles.
Johnson, who led the Trojans to the national team championships early Wednesday morning, defeated LSU’s Neal Skupski 6-3, 6-5, taking the victory when Skupski injured his ankle and was unanble to continue.
"That’s never the way you want to win. It was really bad luck. It’s not the way you want to win, but it happens and you have to deal with it."
Johnson doesn’t seem to be suffering from the heat or the competition.
"The body feels good. I'm kind of feeling like I’m feeling stronger every day. So hopefully we can just keep the body healthy. We’ve got a great staff and people helping me out. I can’t thank them enough. The body feels good."
Also set to play twice today is Kentucky’s No. 3 Eric Quigley, who’ll oppose Duke’s No. 5 Henrique Cunha in singles and will team with Panav Jha to meet Ohio State’s Chase Buchanan and Blaz Rola, the top-seeded team in the tournament.
Rola will also pull overtime, with a singles match against No. 2 Mitchell Frank.
Stanford’s No. 36 Bradley Klahn, who entered the tournament unseeded but won the singles title in 2010, will meet No. 14 Nik Scholtz of Ole Miss and will team with Ryan Thatcher to oppose No. 10 Costin Paval and Dane Webb of Oklahoma.
And just to make things easier for himself, Klahn on Friday went to three sets with Buchanan of Ohio State and he and Thatcher needed three sets to dispatch No. 5 Henrique Cunha and Chris Mengel of Duke.
"That’s what makes it fun, being in both events," said Klahn, who ousted No. 4 Jarmere Jenkins of Virginia in the first round. "It’s a great honor for me and for me and Ryan. It’s a lot of tennis, but it’s the end of the year, this is the NCAAs and this is what we all build for all year long. I feel pretty fresh. Obviously, two three-setters will take its toll at some point. But that’s why you put in all the hours of fitness."
Burdette and Gibbs are set for singles matches today against No. 2 Beatrice Capra of Duke and No. 6 Juricova, respectively, and they’ll team up to face No. 32 Guillermo and Issara.
For the third straight day, Burdette wrapped up her match in rapid fashion, defeating Zoe Scandalis of Southern California 6-0, 6-3, but Gibbs had a trying match, wrestling with Florida’s Mather to a 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 win.
"I’ve been a little bit surprised to have three quick matches here but I think that it just depends on the draw," said Burdette. "Zoe had a really tough match the day before. I’m just taking it one match at a time. I’m not comparing it to anything else and I’m trying to get through however I can."
Gibbs appeared near collapse after her three-set ordeal.
"I have not been on top of my tennis entirely the last two days," she said. "I just felt like my feet were really dragging and (Thursday) took a toll on my body. The match today will do the same, so I’m trying to fight through it the best I can. I hung in there and fought today. I was not hanging the ball the way I would have liked to, but I was serving the ball very well, so that saved me today."
California’s Juricova and Susanyi are also playing singles and doubles today.
Back with a stronger back
Klahn, who won the singles title two years ago in Athens and reached the quarters a year ago, came into the tournament unseeded due to missing all of the fall season due to a back injury. He admits he resumed playing in a tentative fashion but feels good at the right time.
"I was playing all last season with a herniated disc," said the senior. "I played through the U.S. Open and then got an MRI and realized something was pretty aggravated back there. I had back surgery in the middle of October and rehabbed for the next four months and played my first singles match at indoors in February.
"I feel healthy now. My back feels good and it’s holding up. If it can hold up through the week, it’s nice to have the confidence in that. In my first month or two coming back, I didn’t trust it as much because it would flare up on me at times and I would be in pain and not be able to move really well, but I’ve been putting in the hard hours in rehab and it’s nice to have that confidence."
The first-team All-Pac-12 selection and All-American in singles and doubles, Klahn has enjoyed a return trip to the site of his greatest collegiate achievement.
"It feels great to be back in Athens," he said. "I feel I’m playing some good tennis. I feel confident because it’s been something that’s been coming on gradually since I played my first singles match in February. I’m trying to survive each day and focus on playing my game and take things easy and focus on the things I can control – my game. I’m trying not to get too caught up on what my opponents are doing and work on the demons and things I need to improve on."
The other men’s doubles match today is No., 17 Chris Thiemann and Marcel Thiemann – who on Friday defeated No. 3 Kevin King and Juan Spir of Georgia Tech – against No. 63 Antione Baroz and Alexis Heugas of Vigrinia Commonwealth.
Women’s singles matches today: Other singles matches today include Florida’s No. 1 Alli Will will meet 6 Cristina Sanchez-Quintanar of Texas A&M, Susanyi will battle USC’s Sabrina Santamaria.
Will beat Georgia State’s No. 37 Abigail Tere Apisah on Friday while Sanchez-Quintanar bested 29 Petra Niedermayerova of Kansas State. Also on Friday, Susanyi upset No. 4 Robin Anderson of UCLA in straight sets while No. 26 Santamaria eliminated No. 23 Nina Secerbegovic of Baylor, 6-4, 6-4
Frankly speaking: Frank, a freshman who contributed to the Cavaliers’ run to the finals of the team tournament, says he’s soaking up the experience of his first national college tournament.
"It’s an unbelievable opportunity to even be able to play here," he said. "I’m just trying to enjoy every match because, obviously, eventually there will be a last match of the season, so I’m just looking forward to going forward and enjoying every match I can. Whether I win or win the whole thing or lose tomorrow or in the semis, I’m just trying to improve my game, keep working and enjoy every moment out here because you only get four of these in your college career."
High honors: With her 4-6, 7-6 (0), 6-1 doubles victory Friday with Nadja Gilchrist over Michigan’s No. 17 Emina Bektas and Brooke Bolender, Georgia senior Gullickson earned the eighth All-America honor of her college career. She is now the most decorated player in the long and rich history of the Georgia tennis programs, breaking a tie with fellow Bulldog alum John Isner.