By Chris Starrs special to USTA
ATHENS, Ga. – After an opening round that saw four upsets – three men, one woman – there were no real surprises on the second day of singles play Thursday at the NCAA Men’s and Women’s Tennis Championships.
But just to keep things interesting, there were a host of startling developments, as three of the top four teams in the women’s draw were eliminated during Thursday’s first day of doubles competition, where 32 teams were reduced by half.
The biggest upset came late in the day, as the 13th-ranked and unseeded duo of Ema Burgic and Nina Secerbegovic of Baylor defeated Florida’s No. 1-ranked and seeded tandem of Allie Will and Sofie Oyen, 7-5, 6-2.
Also ousted Thursday were third seeds Shinann Featherstone and Lauren McHale of North Carolina, who lost to unseeded Natalie Pluskota and Kate Szekely (though ranked No. 10 in the country) by a 7-6 (2), 6-3 count.
Completing the upset trifecta was a three-set loss by fourth-seeded Kaitlyn Christian and Sabrina Santamaria of Southern California to Michigan’s Emina Emina Bektas-Brooke Bolender, who came into the tournament ranked 11th but also unseeded.
In men’s and women’s singles play, the top seeds remaining after Wednesday’s first round all moved on to the round of 16, with matches set for the morning hours Friday, to be followed in the afternoon and evening by doubles play.
Two of the top seeds in the women’s singles tournament are Stanford’s Nicole Gibbs (No. 3) and Mallory Burdette (5). Both advanced to the quarterfinals, but they took decidedly different paths.
Burdette, a Georgia native back in her home state, quickly downed Washington’s Denise Dy, 6-4, 7-6 (3), the second consecutive day she’s had a short time on the court, compared to most other players. Burdette beat South Carolina State’s Maria Cracium in the first round.
"I was a little surprised I was able to put her away so quickly, but I’m not complaining," said Burdette, who faces USC’s Zoe Scandalis at 10 a.m. Friday. "It’s a long tournament. I’ll take what I can get."
On the other hand, Gibbs – who cut through Virginia’s Emily Fraser in the first round – struggled in her match with scrappy Joanna Mather of national champion Florida. Gibbs lost the first set and fell behind 0-3 in the second, before a major rally led to a 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 victory.
"I came into this match mentally prepared for it to be a battle," said the sophomore. "I lost to (Mather) in the fall (6-4, 6-2 at the USTA/ITA National Indoor Championships in Flushing, N.Y.), and I knew I had a really tough match-up against her. I anticipated her bringing her best tennis today, and that’s exactly what she did in the first set.
"I started to fight to hang in there right at the beginning of the first set, and I really think that helped me going into the second, letting her know that I was still there and was not going to go down easy. Down 0-3 in the third, it was just guts from there, staying out there and having faith that, if I fought for every point, she’d break down, too, at the end."
Gibbs will meet Tennessee’s Natalie Pluskota at 10 a.m. Friday. Burdette and Gibbs, the No. 2-ranked doubles team, beat Hilary Bartlett and Lindsay Graff of Princeton, 6-1, 6-1, and will next face Natalie Beazant and Dominique Harmath of Rice.
On the men’s side for the Cardinal, Bradley Klahn (ranked No. 36) defeated No. 27 Remi Boutillier of Fresno State, 6-1, 6-1. Two years ago, Klahn won the singles championship, also in Athens. Klahn also teamed with Ryan Thacher to make up the fourth-seeded duo that beat Notre Dame’s Niall Fitzgerald and Casey Watt, 6-4, 7-6 (2).
Klahn will play Ohio State’s Chase Buchanan Friday and will join with Thacher to square off against Duke’s Henrique Cunha and Chris Mengel in doubles.
Will leads top-ranked women
In singles play Thursday, No. 1 Allie Will of Florida defeated USC’s Danielle Lao, No. 2 Beatrice Capra of Duke beat Virginia’s Lindsey Hardenbergh, and No. 4 UCLA’s Robin Anderson topped Natalie Beazant of Rice. No. 6 Jana Juricova of California also advanced past Northwestern’s Kate Turvy, as did No. 7 Cristina Sanchez-Quintanar of Texas A&M, who ousted Alexa Guarachi of Alabama.
On Friday, Will meets the only player in the tournament hailing from Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea -- Georgia State’s Abigail Tere-Apisah; Capra plays Florida’s Lauren Embree; Anderson meets Zsofi Susanyi of California; Juricova opposes Aeriel Ellis of Texas; and Cristina Sanchez-Quintanar of Texas A&M takes on Petra Niedermayerova of Kansas State.
There were a number of impressive performances in singles on Thursday by athletes playing in their first NCAA tournament.
Duke’s Capra, a freshman from Ellicot City, Md., captured her second straight victory over a more experienced opponent, with her three-set win over Virginia's Hardenbergh, a senior.
"Getting through the first round is always good, and it definitely gave me confidence today," she said. "I knew what I needed to do to win that match in the third set, and I just did it. I felt like I competed well. I really wanted to win the match. I was running down every ball, and I was just really working hard to win that match. Lindsey is so tough, and she didn’t give me any free points, so it was a great match."
UCLA’s Anderson beat fellow freshman Beazant, 6-3, 6-0.
"(Beazant) played really well," said Anderson, whose team fell to Florida on Monday in the team championship finals. "I played her in the first round of the team NCAAs, and she played really well today, so it was a tough match. I thought even though I didn’t play well today, I still battled back and found a way to win. I’m just focusing on taking it one match at a time."
On the men’s side, Virginia’s Mitchell Frank – ranked No. 2 in the country and also seeded second -- has had a dream freshman season, and it continued Wednesday, as he defeated USC sophomore Ray Sarmiento, 6-1, 6-1.
In addition to contributing to the Cavaliers’ march to the finals of the team tournament, Frank was named the ITA Rookie of the Year, the Atlantic Coast Conference Freshman of the Year and was a first-team All-ACC selection.
"I knew coming in that it was going to be a difficult match," said Frank, who next plays Georgia’s Will Spencer. "I felt like I played a pretty solid match overall. Luckily for me, I think (Sarmiento) was a little tired from all of the matches this past week, so that definitely helped me get through. I felt like I played a good match, and I am looking forward to tomorrow."
Top-seeded men move on
Besides Frank, top-seeded singles players who advanced to the round of 16 include No. 1 Steve Johnson of USC, who defeated Nassim Slilam of Florida; No. 3 Eric Quigley of Kentucky, who beat Auburn’s Andreas Mies; No. 5 Henrique Cunha of Duke, who eliminated Daniel Nguyen of USC; and No. 7 Dennis Nevolo of Illinois, who got past Marcel Thiemann of Ole Miss.
Johnson, who led the Trojans to the national team title early Tuesday morning, has now won 68 consecutive singles matches and is also teaming with freshman Roberto Quiroz in doubles. The senior said his opening-match anxiety is gone and that he’s ready for the defense of his 2011 national singles championship.
"We’re still celebrating the (team) win, and we’re still happy that we won, but now it’s a whole new tournament, and we’re all ready to go," he said. "I feel ready. It’s a long week for everybody, so you just have to keep going out there and giving it your best. This was easier for me mentally, being removed from the team event," he said. "(Slilam) is a great player. He’s got an incredible backhand, and I knew it was going to be a tough match. I was happy to go out and build in the beginning and keep it rolling in the second set, which was big."
Quigley, had to survive a first-set tiebreaker before claiming a 7-6 (4), 6-3 win over Auburn’s Mies.
"It was a tough one," said Quigley, who faces Mississippi State’s Artem Ilyushin in the round of 16. "The first set was real tough. I found a break in the tiebreaker. I was able to come up with some big shots, had the momentum going in the second (set) and got up a break and was able to carry that through the rest of the match.
"Every round you’ve got to pick up your game because the competition gets so much better. I think I played better today and hope I can get better and continue to clean up any little errors."
Nevolo also had to go to a second-set tiebreak with Ole Miss’ Thiemann to take a 6-4, 7-6 (6) victory.
"(Thiemann is) a really tough player and made me play a lot of balls," Nevolo, who faces Ohio State’s Blaz Rola next, said. "I got an early break and made a couple of errors, and he started attacking my serve. He made a good adjustment, and all of a sudden, I was in a dog fight. Kudos to him – he raised his level. By the end, I was just going for my shots, and I happened to hit a few better shots than he did."