2023 NCAA Championships: Ohio State, Virginia set showdown for D1 men's title
Though both the lower seeds on paper entering Saturday's semifinals, there will be no surprise packages in Sunday's 2023 NCAA Division I men's tennis team championship at the USTA National Campus in Orlando, as fifth-seeded University of Virgina will face third-seeded Ohio State University for the last team title to be awarded at this historic, all-division championships.
Defend champions Virgina knocked off No. 1 seeds Texas in Saturday's semifinals 4-1, while Ohio State blanked second-seeded Texas Christian University, 4-0, to drop the Horned Frogs to 0-5 in national semifinal matches all-time. Virigina now bids to repeat, and win its sixth national crown in the last 10 years, while Ohio State seeks its first national title in its second final after finishing as runner-up in 2018.
"Just to be in the NCAA championship and have a chance to play either Virginia or Texas, it's what guys daydream about for years before they get to college," Ohio State coach Ty Tucker said afterwards. "It’s an unbelievable opportunity to play for the Buckeyes against a program like five-time national champion Virginia. ... You get a chance to match up against the best and at 12:00 p.m. tomorrow, we'll try and be ready."
For the second time in as many days, Ohio State freshman Alexander Bernard delivered the clincher for the Buckeyes out of the No. 5 slot, this time defeating Sebastian Gorzny, 6-4, 6-4. With the win, the rookie improved to 12-2 in completed matches over the last three months.
"When you get into the lineup, you don't expect to be the one clinching in these big matches, but it just kind of falls into your hands when you're on court," Bernard said. "I'm just lucky to be the one doing it because we've got a lot of incredible guys on the team."
After splitting No. 1 and No. 3 doubles, the Buckeyes took the doubles point thanks to a hard-fought 7-6(4) tiebreak triumph by Andrew Lutschaunig and James Trotter at No. 2 over Gorzny and Pedro Vives, after they had three prior set points. In addition to Bernard, Ohio State added points to the board with wins for Justin Boulais at No. 1 and Jack Anthrop at No. 6.
Tucker said that while the road to victory wasn't at all how he drew it up in the pre-match plans, it was still sweet.
"We won by a bee’s nose, and then all of a sudden you got the big one in the bank. It gave us a little bit of momentum," Tucker said. "We tried to fire up and thought, ‘We'll get after it.’ We felt good at positions two and four. We were thinking those were our spots, and all of a sudden, we’re giving up breaks on those courts.
"It's funny how it goes because I’m supposed to know something, and I was feeling like, ‘We're going to win at two and four.’ But, we won at one, five and six. If you told me doubles, one, five and six was the recipe, I would have told you haven't watched any tennis. But it's humbling.
"The water tastes so much better, food tastes so much better, after every win. It's nice to have this feeling and, at the end of the year, being able to play on the last day of the season is what you aspire to do."
After rallying from behind after losing the doubles point in the quarterfinals, head coach Andres Pedroso's Cavaliers found themselves ahead after winning 6-1 at No. 2 and No. 3 doubles against the Horned Frogs.
But they weren't treating the lead like a cushion, he said.
"I really feel like at this level ... the match is 0-0, whether you win the doubles point or you lose the doubles point," he said. "These teams are so good. If you're not on your game, you could lose at every spot. I really don't feel that much momentum when we win the doubles point because these teams are so good, every spot so good, and you’ve got to show up if you feel momentum. If you feel any complacency, any sense of relaxation, it's dangerous."
As it turned out, Pedroso's gut was right: The Cavaliers got their other three points from singles wins on the fourth, fifth and sixth courts, but came from a set down at both No. 5 and No. 6.
Alexander Kiefer delievered the clincher over Cleeve Harper in the fifth slot, 4-6, 6-1, 7-6(5).
The two powerhouse programs are familiar with each other, both historically and in 2023. The Buckeyes, then ranked No. 1 nationally, beat the Cavaliers 4-1 on Feb. 11, and then again 4-0 in a consolation match at the ITA National Team Indoor Championships in Chicago just over a week later. But Virginia hasn't lost since then, and seeks to polish off its title defense with a 22nd consecutive victory to end the year.
"We're so lucky we get to play another final, another NCAA final," Pedroso said. "How much fun! We're really looking forward to it."
For more information, including tickets, draws and schedule, visit the USTA's NCAA Championships homepage. For all the latest news from the Division I, II and III tournaments, visit USTA.com's news landing page for the event.