Midnight drama in women's NCAA quarters

Arthur Kapetanakis | May 18, 2019

ORLANDO, Fla. – All four higher seeds dropped the doubles point on Friday’s women’s quarterfinals at the NCAA Championships, where play concluded just before midnight. Three of the four advanced to Saturday’s semifinals at the USTA National Campus.


Assuming that all the singles matches are 50-50 propositions, the team winning the doubles point has a 65.6-percent chance of winning the match. On a hot Orlando day, heart and grit beat the cold math.


No. 1 Georgia narrowly escaped the fate of men’s top seed Ohio State, needing nearly four hours to edge No. 8 Vanderbilt in the first 4-3 match at the National Campus.


Second-seeded North Carolina and No. 3 Stanford swept their singles matches in what were, in the end, relatively comfortable victories.


Duke, the No. 5 seed, was the only team to convert their doubles point into an overall match victory. The Blue Devils knocked off SEC tournament champs South Carolina in a three-hour nightcap.


The drama was saved for the evening sessions, with Georgia and Duke battling deep into the night.


The Bulldogs rallied from a late 2-3 deficit to defeat SEC rivals Vandy and advance to their first semifinal since 2015. Neither team ever led the overall match by more than one point. In the end, Georgia needed to rely the bottom of its lineup to send them to the semis.


At No. 6 singles, Bulldog Meg Kowalski got sick on the court four times, including just before match point, but still managed to pull out a 6-7, 6-4, 6-1 victory.


“She’s a tough kid,” said Georgia head coach Jeff Wallace. “She’s from Chicago, she’s a fighter. She threw up four times and found a way to get it done… amazing.”


With all eyes on Court 5, Georgia junior Elena Christofi completed the comeback with an epic 6-3, 6-7, 6-3 win over freshman Carolyn Campana. Campana’s defensive ability was giving the Bulldog trouble for much of the match, but the Athens, Greece, native—who know calls Athens, Ga., home—was able to find her aggressive game to close it out. 


“We were telling her, ‘Do not moonball,’” said Wallace.  “We were telling her to step in and play to win, play aggressive. And she did it just enough.”


Duke never trailed against No. 4 South Carolina, but the Blue Devils had to sweat their clinching point, as Courts 3, 5 and 6 all contested third sets as the clock approached midnight in Orlando. South Carolina’s late push was ended by Duke freshman Margaryta Bilpokin at the No. 6 spot, as she clinched a semifinal berth for her team with a 3-6, 7-5, 6-2 win over Rachel Rohrabacher.


“I was looking at the scoreboard a little bit,” Bilokin said of the late trio of three-setters. “I wasn’t supposed to, but I was, and I saw the other matches were in the third set. So I knew it might be up to me, and I did my best to try to stay in there.”


The Gamecocks were loud and energetic throughout, both on the court and in the crowd, but the Blue Devils matched their fire over the course of the three-hour contest.


“We try to be louder,” Bilokin said with a laugh, describing how her team dealt with the relentless intensity on the other side of the net. “I think that was very important, the support from my team. All of us keep supporting and encouraging each other from the very first point in doubles to the very last point in singles.”


North Carolina and Stanford entered with contrasting histories in doubles play. Carolina had not lost a doubles point all season, entering the quarterfinals on the heels of 34 straight doubles point. Stanford, however, is accustomed to playing from behind—in 20 of the last 25 matches in which they’ve dropped the doubles, they’ve come back to win.


On Friday, the semifinalists shared the common ground of singles domination. Neither team dropped a singles match in a pair of well-deserved 4-1 victories.


UNC was the only university that sent both its men’s and women’s teams to Orlando. With the ACC regular season and tournament champions extending their win streak to 24, the dream of a Carolina sweep is still alive.


For Stanford, junior Emily Arbuthnott’s 10th clinch of the year sealed the deal.


Saturday is semifinal day for both the men and women at the USTA National Campus. The men of Texas and Florida will kick off the day at noon ET, with the UNC and Stanford women getting underway at 2 p.m.


The evening session will be broadcast live on Tennis Channel, with Wake Forest and UNC starting their men’s semifinal at 4 p.m. Less than 24 hours after their marathon wins on Friday, the women of Georgia and Duke will be back on the courts immediately after that.


For more information, visit the USTA National Campus tournament headquarters.



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