Central Florida's "A" team won three big matches to advance to the Gold Bracket on Saturday during the USTA Tennis On Campus Fall Invitational.
Teams from Ohio State and Dayton pose.
by Steve Pratt, Special to USTA.com
Hilton Head, S.C, – Shortly after noon on a sun-splashed, gorgeous first day of the USTA Tennis On Campus Fall Invitational, Clemson University team captain Tom Orban gathered his team for a final word of encouragement before it headed out to face College of Charleston.
"OK, guys, what’s the No. 1 rule out there today?" Orban asked.
"Foot work!" screamed Tigers player Olivia Elswick, sure she’d answered correctly.
"No, just have fun!" Orban screamed back as he sent his pumped up "A" team out for a 24-18 victory on Friday in the kick-off event for the USTA Tennis on Campus season.
Having the finest foot work was all good and well on this day, and there was a lot of it, but having fun was definitely the theme as 32 teams from 26 universities converged on the Palmetto Dunes Tennis Center competing for a shot a two automatic qualifying bids into the TOC National Championships to be played in Surprise, Ariz.., next April.
On Friday, the mood was festive, the weather incredible and some very competitive matches were played, including one pool which saw three of six matches decided by just one game.
One team even managed to pull off a nice mixed doubles chest bump after an exceptional point. Did that really just happen?, tournament director Meghan Houk was asked. "This is USTA Tennis on Campus," Houk smiled. "Anything can happen."
Anything, indeed. The University of Alabama showed its school spirit by arriving to their 8 a.m. match in matching white robes taken from the host Marriott Resort Hotel. The robes were all returned unscathed and never missed.
"We did it to psyche out our opponent," said Alabama captain Joe Chow. "Hey, it seemed to work. We beat Ohio University by one game (26-25). We’ll do it again tomorrow. As long as it’s working."
Virginia beat Macon State (28-9), Kentucky (30-12) and UNC-Charlotte (30-6) to win Pool 1 and advance to Saturday’s Gold Bracket. The other three teams to win their pool and go undefeated on Friday were the University of North Carolina-Greensboro, Georgia Tech and Central Florida. The remaining four pools will finish up pool play at 8 a.m. on Saturday morning. The top two teams advance to the Gold Bracket with the third place team sent to the Silver Bracket and the fourth place team the Bronze Bracket.
"It was a really good team effort today," said Virginia captain Derek Gale. "Everybody seemed to be able to step up well in the big moments against some good competition. It’s a different team dynamic this year as we were able to bring a larger squad, but the added depth should really help as the weekend progresses.
"Obviously there is some pressure coming back as a defending champ but eight of our 10 have never played the tournament before and seem just as hungry for another UVA win as we have been in the past. "
One of Gale’s new players, freshman Faby Chaillo of Vienna, Va., played the match of the day in singles, beating Kentucky’s Sara Federschmidt, 6-4, after being inserted into the lineup (per World Team Tennis rules) down 0-2.
"I just tried to be offensive and stay in every point," the 18-year-old Chaillo said. "I came in down 0-2 but just I had to keep coming in and pressuring my opponent. There is pressure on us since we won it all last year. We can feel it."
Federschmidt was playing in just her second Tennis On Campus match and had never had a player inserted mid-set. "It’s okay. I’m up for the challenge," she said. "Sure, it’s different to face someone else after you kind of have a rhythm. But that’s what makes this format unique."
Georgia captain Scott Slezak would probably admit he’d never imagine former Bulldog and current world-ranked No. 11 John Isner arriving to a collegiate match against USC in a robe. But that’s okay. He encapsulated what USTA Tennis on Campus is all about.
"I can tell you that no team has more fun than UGA," Slezak said. "We stay positive, loud and proud. We've got some new players on the roster this year who are really solid and will be a force to be reckoned with for years to come."