2018 NCAA Singles & Doubles Championships preview
University of North Carolina sophomore Makenna Jones can pinpoint the exact time and place a little less than a year ago when she decided to dedicate herself fully to her tennis game.
“We were on a family vacation in Mexico in early June and talking about goals and what we wanted to accomplish, and I decided right then and there that I would transform my game,” said the 20-year-old Jones (pictured above), who will be the No. 2-seeded player when the NCAA Division I Singles and Doubles Championships begin Wednesday in Winston-Salem, N.C.
Unfortunately for Jones and her Tar Heel teammates, the highly anticipated dream of winning an NCAA team title ended last week, as the No. 2 team was upset by eventual champion and No. 15-seeded Stanford University in the Round of 16.
“It was so tough to lose that match, and we thought we were going to go farther,” Jones, of Greenville, S.C., said Tuesday. “It’s sad that we lost, but Stanford is a great team and ended up winning it all.”
Following the loss, Jones retreated back to her home just 45 miles away in Chapel Hill and began focusing on the 64-player NCAA Individuals singles draw. She faces Gabby Smith of USC in the first round Wednesday.
The past 11 months have seen an amazing transformation in Jones’ game. “Last year, I played No. 5 on the team and was ranked around No. 110 and didn’t even get into this event,” said Jones, the MVP of this year’s ACC Championships, who is currently enjoying a 17-match winning streak in singles competition that began back in early March. “It’s crazy to think about. I’m not a big person who thinks about rankings or seedings. I didn’t even know I was seeded No. 2 until my coach told me yesterday.”
Jones, who has always been coached by her parents, comes from a family steeped in tennis tradition, as her father Kelly Jones won two NCAA doubles titles at Pepperdine in 1984 and 1985 and was once ranked No. 1 on the ATP World Tour in doubles. He is currently the head men’s tennis coach at Furman University in Greenville.
Jones’ mother Tami Whitlinger-Jones was a former No. 1-ranked junior in the United States in both singles and doubles and won back-to-back NCAA team titles, starring at No. 1 for Stanford. Whitlinger-Jones played nine years on the WTA Tour, competing in 38 Grand Slam tournaments and winning three tour titles.
Jones’ great uncle John Whitlinger is the former Stanford men’s coach, who was instrumental in leading the Cardinal to its first two NCAA championships in 1973 and 1974. The 1974 campaign proved to be Whitlinger's most successful, as he led Stanford to an NCAA team title, while becoming only the fourth player in program history to capture the NCAA singles and doubles titles in the same season.
“My family has done some incredible things in tennis, but we really just try and have fun with it,” Jones said. “It’s really kind of calming. There’s no pressure. Sometimes it’s hard because I want to be as good as they are.”
Jones compiled a 34-4 overall singles record this season and became only the second player in program history to notch a 14-0 mark against the ACC.
Here is a look at some of the other top women’s players who will contest NCAA titles in singles and doubles this week:
No. 1 Bianca Turati, Texas sophomore. Turati is from Barzano, Italy, and went 15-1 this season, leading the Longhorns to a 19-match winning streak and the Big 12 team title, before Texas fell to Texas A&M in the NCAA Round of 16. A singles semifinalist at the 2017 ITA National Fall Championships, Turati became the No. 1-ranked ITA singles player in early February, becoming the first top-ranked Longhorn since 1995.
No. 3 Estela Perez-Somarriba, Miami sophomore. This season’s ACC Player of the Year hails from Madrid, Spain. Last year, she became the first Hurricane freshman to reach the NCAA Championships singles semifinals as an unseeded player.
Other seeded players to watch include No. 4 Duke senior Samantha Harris (Melbourne, Australia), No. 5 Syracuse junior Gabriela Knutson (Czech Republic), No. 6 Ole Miss senior Arianne Hartono (Meppel, Netherlands), No. 7 UCLA sophomore Ena Shibahara (Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif.) and No. 8 Vanderbilt junior Fernanda Contreras (Austin, Texas).
In doubles playing beginning on Thursday, Georgia Tech’s Paige and Kenya Jones are the top-seeded team. They are followed by Jessie Aney-Alexa Graham (North Carolina), Emily Arbuthnott-Gordon (Stanford) and Erin Larner-Maddie Lipp (Northwestern). Duke will place two doubles team from No. 5 to No. 8, with Harris pairing with Kelly Chen, and Blue Devils teammate Ellyse Hamlin playing with Kaitlyn McCarthy. Arianne Hartono and Alexa Bortles of Ole Miss and Jada Hart and Terri Fleming of UCLA round out the seeded players.
Martin Redlicki knows the exact feeling of winning an NCAA Championship, as he and UCLA teammate Mackenzie McDonald captured college tennis’ ultimate prize by winning the 2016 individual doubles title.
This week, Redlicki will try to repeat the feat in singles, as the Bruin senior looks to close out his stellar college career and is top-seeded in the tournament. Redlicki, originally from Chicago but who trained in Boca Raton, Fla., as one of the nation’s top juniors, led UCLA to the NCAA team semifinals before falling to eventual champion Ohio State on Monday.
Redlicki will play Tim Sandkaulen of Ole Miss in the first round Wednesday.
Here is a look at some of the other top players who will contest NCAA titles in singles and doubles this week:
No. 2 William Blumberg, University of North Carolina sophomore. Originally from Greenwich, Conn., Blumberg led the Tar Heels to the NCAA team championship for the first time in school history last May. The nation’s top recruit coming out of high school in 2016 calls his favorite tennis memory winning the Junior Davis Cup for the U.S. Blumberg also played in the ITF Junior Masters in 2016 in Chengdu, China, as one of the top eight juniors in the world.
No. 3 Nuno Borges, Mississippi State junior. A biochemistry major from Maia, Porto, Portugal, Borges had an impressive fall college season, winning the inaugural Oracle ITA National Fall Championships and also winning the National Fall Championships at Indian Wells, Calif.
No. 4 Petros Chrysochos, Wake Forest junior. A two-time singles All-American from Larnaca, Cyprus, Chrysochos broke into the ATP’s Top 500 before entering Wake Forest in 2015 and will be the local favorite playing on the familiar Demon Deacons courts. Just a day before his opening-round match against Michail Pervolarakis of Portland, Chrysochos led top-seeded Wake Forest to its first-ever NCAA team title with a win at No. 2 singles in a 4-2 victory over Ohio State Tuesday.
No. 5 Patrick Kypson, Texas A&M freshman. The top first-year player in the nation this season, Kypson, from Raleigh, N.C., has won a USTA Pro Circuit Futures title at the Bluewater Bay Tennis Center in Niceville, Fla., and has a semifinal appearance on his resume, as he made the final four at the USTA Pro Circuit $15,000 Futures event, the Sunrise Pro Tennis Classic, in 2017.
Other top-seeded players in singles to watch include No. 6 Ohio State senior Mikael Torpegaard, No. 7 Wake Forest sophomore Borna Gojo and No. 8 Kentucky junior Ryotaro Matsumura.
In doubles play starting on Thursday, Mississippi State’s Borges and Strahinja Rakic are the top-seeded team and are followed by Blumberg and Robert Kelly (North Carolina), Juan Carlos Aguilar and Jordi Arconada (Texas A&M) and Johannes Ingildsen and Alfredo Perez of Florida. Placed No. 5-8 are the teams of Jack Jaede-Laurens Verboven (USC), Guillermo Nuñez-Alex Rybakov (TCU), Luis Valero-Preston Touliatos (Tennessee) and Korey Lovett-Eero Vasa (Central Florida).
Photo courtesy of UNC Athletic Communications.
- UCLA senior Martin Redlicki is the top seed in the men's singles event.