By Chris Starrs, special to USTA.com
ATHENS, Ga. – The skies were sunny for a change at the NCAA Division I Individual Championships at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex, but Wednesday still turned out to be a gloomy day for a host of seeded singles players.
Three of the top eight men were ousted in the first round of the singles tournament, while one of the top eight women’s players – a sentimental hometown favorite from the University of Georgia – was eliminated in her final collegiate singles match.
Klahn wins rematch with Jenkins
The highest-seeded men’s player who was dropped Wednesday – No. 4 Jarmere Jenkins of Virginia (and the nearby Atlanta suburbs) – lost 7-5, 6-3 to Stanford’s Bradley Klahn, who won the 2010 singles championship here in Athens.
Klahn assented that he wasn’t seeded in the tournament due to his absence during all of the fall season and a third of the spring season. Perhaps an element of surprise worked in his favor.
"I knew I was going to have to be ready for any of the top seeds," Klahn said. "At the same time, I thought I could use that to my advantage because they would be seeing me earlier than they would have liked. I feel confident here. Athens has been good to me. But it’s tough."
Jenkins – the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Men’s Player of the Year who toiled late into the night Tuesday when his team lost the indoor title to Southern California in a match delayed and finally driven indoors by rain – and Klahn have played against each other for years, starting on the juniors circuit, and they actually played as recently as last Sunday.
On Sunday, Stanford advanced to the NCAA semifinals with a 4-0 victory over Stanford and Jenkins’ and Klahn’s match featured the Cavalier winning the first set in a tiebreaker and trailing 2-3 when the match ended on another court.
"We were having a battle when we met a few days ago," said Klahn. "Jarmere is a great player, and he’s had a great season. Credit him for his mentality and competition to be so fired up and energized after a tough team match last night. I just thought I was able to raise my game when I needed to, and I’m very happy to be through the first round."
The other men’s players from the top eight who were eliminated Wednesday included No. 6 Evan King of Michigan, who fell in straight sets to Virginia’s Alex Domijan, who in 2011 as the No. 2 seed lost in the first round to Pepperdine’s Sebastian Fanselow, who interestingly enough was ousted, 6-3, 6-4, on Wednesday to Florida’s Bob van Overbeek. Fanselow entered the single’s tournament seeded eighth.
Gullickson bows out
Wednesday’s biggest upset on the women's side involved eighth-seeded Chelsey Gullickson, who won the singles title in 2010 on her home court, and, as one of greatest players in Georgia history playing at home, clearly had a bundle of advantages over freshman Sabrina Santamaria of Southern Cal, who faltered early against Gullickson but quickly recovered and took over.
Both Santamaria and Georgia coach Jeff Wallace – Gullickson left the premises without speaking to reporters – said that the USC player’s somewhat unorthodox style led to Gullickson’s undoing.
"I really made her play, giving her balls she’s not used to seeing," said Santamaria. "I was definitely keeping it out of her strike zone and making her move uncomfortably. I made her hit kind of weird shots. My game is not very ordinary, so I think that was the main cause of her being off."
"It was a rough style for (Gullickson) to play against," added Wallace. "The way (Santamaria) plays is a just a lot of easy balls, a lot of low chips, a lot of balls below the knees and above the shoulder and power at the right time. It was a tough match-up, and (Gullickson) just never got into that rhythm that she usually establishes. It was unfortunate, but (Santamaria) just played fantastic.
"It was a different, unique game that you don’t see that often. You don’t see many players that play that style of tennis, and when you do, you just have to grind it out and gut it out and find a way to get through, and unfortunately we didn’t have the answers today."
Gullickson, who in the team tournament recorded one doubles loss to Duke and a singles victory over the Blue Devils’ Beatrice Capra, this year’s No. 2 seeded player, in the Bulldogs’ loss to Duke on Saturday, has at least one more opportunity to play before the hometown fans. She and Nadja Gilchrist will team up Thursday in the first round of the doubles tournament against Capra and Rachel Kahan of Duke.
Top seeds take care of business
It wasn’t surprising that the two top seeds – defending singles champ Steve Johnson of USC and Florida’s Allie Will – collected straight-set wins in the first round, although the junior right-hander from Florida expressed unhappiness with her play. The Gators claimed their second consecutive national title the day before, which may have been a factor in Will’s displeasure with her performance.
"I don’t think I was worried about a letdown," said Will, who beat Notre Dame’s Shannon Matthews, 7-6 (5), 6-3. "It’s the start of a new tournament, and I put a lot of pressure on myself, and I didn’t handle that very well today. That’s why I struggled mentally. (Matthews) is a really good player, and she battled really hard and made me earn every point, and sometimes I didn’t want to fight as hard as I should have, which I made it harder on myself. The way I approached it mentally was horrible, so I’m going to have to do something differently tomorrow."
Next up for Will is USC’s Danielle Lao, who beat Clemson’s Keri Wong, 6-3, 6-1, in one of the first matches of the day. She’ll also team with Sofie Oyen as the No. 1 seed in the doubles tournament, facing Ema Burgic and Nina Secerbegovic of Baylor.
Other top-eight women’s players who advanced to the second round included Capra, No. 3 Nicole Gibbs of Stanford (6-0, 6-2 over Virginia’s Emily Fraser), No. 4 Robin Anderson of UCLA (6-3, 6-0 over Courtney Collins of Memphis), No. 5 Stanford’s Mallory Burdette (6-1, 6-1 over Maria Cracium of South Carolina State), No. 6 Jana Juricova of California (6-3, 6-1 over Katy Turvey of Nortwestern) and No. 7 Cristina Sanchez-Quintanar of Texas A&M (6-4, 5-7, 7-6 (3) over Alexa Guarachi of Alabama).
In second-round action Thursday, Capra will play Lindsey Hardenbergh of Virginia, Gibbs will meet Florida’s Joanna Mather, Anderson will oppose Natalie Beazant of Rice, Burdette will play Washington’s Denise Dy, Juricova faces Sona Novakova of Baylor and Sanchez-Quintanar will meet Joelle Kissell of North Carolina State.
Johnson, the defending men’s champion and one of four Trojans advancing to the second round, had little trouble expelling Roy Kalmanovich of Illinois, taking a 6-2, 6-3 win. Like Will and the Gators, Johnson and his fellow Trojans won the team championship (their fourth in a row), and the tournament’s top gun – who picked up his 67th consecutive singles match win – pronounced himself happy to be moving ahead.
"A win’s a win," he said. "I’ve been fortunate enough to be in the finals of the team event four times, but coming back basically less than 12 hours later for another tournament is taxing on the body. I’m just happy to get through Day One. So now I’m in, now I’m ready, and now I’ll keep building and keep going forward."
In the second round, Johnson faces Florida’s Nassim Slilam, who bested Princeton’s Majita Pecotic, 6-4, 6-4, and he’ll team with freshman Roberto Quiroz – the tournament’s No. 2-seeded doubles team – against Tulsa’s Clifford Marsland and Ashley Watling.
Other top-eight men’s players who advanced to the second round include No. 2 Mitchell Frank (6-4, 6-4 over Kentucky’s Anthony Rossi) of Virginia, No. 3 Eric Quigley of Kentucky (7-5, 6-4 over Andre Dome of Cal Poly), No. 5 Henrique Cunha (7-5, 6-0 over UCLA’s Adrien Puget) and No. 7 Dennis Nevolo (6-1, 6-3 over Jaime Pulgar of North Carolina State).
All three of the top-eight players eliminated in the first round were on Johnson’s side of the bracket.
The top seeds’ schedule on Thursday includes Frank meeting Ray Sarmiento of USC, Quigley squaring off against Andreas Mies of Auburn, Cunha playing Daniel Nguyen of USC and Nevolo facing Marcel Thiemann of Ole Miss.