Wake Forest, Stanford back in
Arthur Kapetanakis | May 19, 2019
ORLANDO, Fla. – On semifinal Saturday at the USTA National Campus, both defending NCAA champions earned a place in Sunday’s finals. But the Wake Forest men and the Stanford women both enter the title match as underdogs, at least according to their seeds.
The fourth-seeded Demon Deacon men will take on No. 2 Texas at 3 p.m. ET, while No. 3 Stanford takes on the top-seeded Georgia women immediately following that.
Wake Forest booked its final place with the only 4-3 victory of the Saturday slate. Up against No. 9 North Carolina, who took out No. 1 Ohio State in Thursday’s quarterfinals, the reigning champs relied on their vaunted singles lineup for all four of their points.
In the only three-setter of the match, ITA No. 11 Borna Gojo outlasted UNC’s Will Blumberg, 4-6, 6-2, 6-3, despite trailing by an early break in the decider.ADVERTISEMENT
Gojo has now clinched both matches in Orlando for his team, though he deflected the credit to his teammates, who put him in a position to close.
“I don’t think the clinch is that special, because there’s three more guys that won for us,” he said. “It’s always a team effort. Plus, two matches happened that I lost the first set, so I had to battle back.”
Wake swept the Top 3 singles matches, with Petros Chrysochos and Bar Botzer as reliable as ever at the No. 2 and No. 3 spots. Their fourth point came on Court 6, where Siddhant Banthia extended his record to 22-7 across the bottom two singles spots.
Texas secured a more comfortable victory by riding a hot start in the day’s opening match against No. 3 Florida, the de facto home team playing just two hours from their Gainesville campus.
After taking the doubles point, the veteran Texas singles lineup—which featured two juniors and four seniors—raced to early leads on all six courts, eventually winning the opening set on four of them.
“The guys handled the moment terrific,” Texas interim head coach Bruce Berque said of his team’s hot start. “I told them after the match that we’ve been consistent with the way we played every match, with the way we competed. Every time we went out there and did it, we were preparing ourselves for this moment and reinforcing only good competitive habits, and they were ready.”
Facing a 3-0 deficit, the Gators made their move. ITA No. 9 Oliver Crawford got his team on the board on Court 1, edging Christian Sigsgaard, 6-4, 6-3.
Florida soon closed to 3-2, and with the No. 4 matchup locked in a decider after a second-set comeback from UF’s Alfredo Perez, it was up to Texas’ Leonardo Telles, battling Johannes Inglidsen at the No. 3 spot, to cash in on his one-set lead and avoid more third-set drama.
After Inglidsen leveled at 5-all in set two, the Texas senior immediately answered with a break, and took full advantage of the opportunity to serve his team into the final.
“It was more about trusting myself and knowing I’ve worked all year for this,” Telles explained. “I was going to be ready for that moment.”
On the women’s side, Stanford defeated No. 2 North Carolina with a pair of three-set victories that finished exactly one second apart.
After a 3-0 Stanford lead shrunk to 3-2, sophomores Michaela Gordon (No. 1 singles) and Janice Shin (No. 5) held simultaneous match points, with a win at either spot sending the Cardinal through to Sunday’s title match.
The 19-time NCAA team champions took both matches, with Shin’s finalizing first, 3-6, 6-4, 6- 2, on a Jessie Aney double fault. Under NCAA Championships rules, play is suspended once a team has clinched. But since Gordon’s match-point ball was in play, her 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory over ITA No. 5 Makenna Jones counted on the final score.
“For me, I wasn’t really aware of it,” Gordon said of the simultaneous finishes. “I was really just trying to focus on my own court. I could hear all of the cheering and I knew that Janice was doing really well, but I didn’t want to think about it, I just wanted to focus on my own match.”
In the final set, Gordon won two deuce points to gain an early lead she would not relinquish.
“I was really just being brave on the big points,” she detailed. “I kind of amped up my aggression, and I think that’s what really helped me out in those big points and helped me get the edge there.”
What ended as a 5-2 final was not far from swinging to 4-3 in North Carolina’s favor. Both Gordon and Shin dropped their opening sets for the Cardinal, but managed to fight back to win in three.
North Carolina, which entered Orlando without having dropped a doubles point on the season, closes the season with two straight doubles losses, against UCLA in the quarters and Stanford in the semis.
In the Saturday nightcap, Georgia was eventually able to close out a 4-2 thriller over Duke. After being tantalizingly close to victory when freshan Meg Kowalski led by a set and a break at No. 6 singles. But Duke’s Margaryta Bilokin, who clinched a quarterfinal victory for the Blue Devils less than 24 hours earlier, pushed the all-freshman matchup to a third set.
Meanwhile, Georgia’s Marta Gonzalez forced a decider on Court 2 after trailing, 6-1, 5-1, against Duke’s Maible Chi.
Clinging to a 3-2 lead, the Bulldogs needed to pull out one of the two three-setters on the night. In the end, it was Kowalski who finished first, 7-5, 5-7, 6-4, as the clock approached 11 p.m.
The freshman has been waiting for this moment since she verbally committed to Georgia as a sophomore in high school.
“I was just so ready to get on the court and play with the ‘G’ on my chest ever since that day,” she beamed. “I mean, when I do ball machines at my academy, every shot I hit, I was like, ‘This is for Georgia!’ To be able to be here, it feels like this is the best year of my life. I get three more? This is amazing. It’s just a privilege to play for Georgia every single day.”
In Sunday’s finals, the Bulldogs will be seeking their third NCAA title, while Stanford plays for its second consecutive championship and 20th overall.
The teams have faced off three times in NCAA finals in their history, with Georgia winning twice, most recently in 2000.
On the men’s side, a Wake Forest repeat would bring the school its second-ever trophy, while Texas has an opportunity to claim the program’s first national team title.
Both finals will be broadcast live on Tennis Channel.
For more, visit the USTA National Campus tournament headquarters.