Sam Riffice, Emma Navarro win 2021 NCAA singles titles, Jones-Scotty win doubles
The 2021 NCAA Championships concluded on Friday with four American champions across the individual singles and doubles tournaments at the USTA National Campus.
Fresh off leading the Florida Gators to the program's first men's NCAA team title, junior captain Sam Riffice claimed a second trophy in as many weeks by defeating South Carolina's Daniel Rodrigues to win the men's singles event. In the women's singles final, University of Virginia freshman Emma Navarro avenged her lone loss on the 2021 season by defeating defending NCAA singles champ Estela Perez-Somarriba.
In the Orlando doubles competition, the all-U.S. North Carolina duo of Makenna Jones and Elizabeth Scotty edged Texas' Katie Collins and Lulu Sun in a match tiebreak to finish the season on a high note for the Tar Heels. The men's final saw Tennessee's Aussie duo of Adam Walton and Pat Harper defeat Auburn's English pairing of Finn Murgett and Tad Maclean, 13-11 in match tiebreak.
Riffice does it again for Florida
An NCAA singles quarterfinalist in 2019 at the USTA National Campus, Orlando resident Riffice went all the way this year to become the third Gator to win the men's title. With both the team and individual trophies in hand, Riffice called those victories "the two greatest moments" of his young tennis career.
After a slow start in the championship match, the Gator outlasted Rodrigues, 3-6, 6-1, 6-4. Making the victory even sweeter is the junior's history at the Campus, where he often trains during the offseason. His mother Lori, who was supporting from the stands on Friday, also works at the venue as a coach with USTA Player Development.
"It means the world to me," Riffice said. "I call this place home."
The No. 6 seed was red-hot entering the final, after eliminating fourth-seed Val Vacherot and top seed Liam Draxl in the quarterfinals and semis. But Rodrigues managed to cool him off on a hot Orlando day by racing to an early 5-0 first-set advantage.
Riffice found his footing to close to 5-3, but could not stop Rodrigues from taking the opening set. The second stanza belonged to Riffice, as he capped off a run in which he won nine of 11 games after falling behind in the opening set.
"I feel like I did a good job of keeping my foot on the gas from the second set on," said Riffice, "and I really didn't give him a lot of chances to breath."
After scoring an early break in the decider, Riffice twice held by winning a sudden-death point, but was broken at 4-3. He answered with an immediate break back, though, then served out the match, much to the delight of the Gator faithful in the crowd. It was his third three-set victory on the week, and he recovered from losing the first set in all three.
According to Alex Gruskin of Cracked Racquets, Riffice became the eighth man since 2000 to win an NCAA team and singles title in the same season. College Tennis Today's Bobby Knight reported that Riffice is the only player this century to win the singles title without playing a single match at the No. 1 spot for his team (Duarte Vale owned the top spot for the Gators this season).
"It just shows how great our team was," Riffice said of that stat. "I thought any of our guys could go deep in this tournament. It's just who brings their tennis on the right day, in a one-week, single-elimination tournament... This week was just my week."
Navarro dominates defending champ
Emma Navarro posted a 19-1 record in her freshman year with UVA, with her only defeat coming in April against Perez-Somarriba. In that match, the American led by a set and a break but fell, 1-6, 6-4, 6-3.
In Friday's final, Navarro lost the opening two games in sudden-death points, then won 12 of the next 14 to notch a comfortable 6-3, 6-1 victory.
“I set out today to be super aggressive and dictate with my forehand and I think I was able to do that,” Navarro said in her post-match press conference. “I finished a lot of points in my backhand. A big thing for me is, as my coach and I say, getting outside the box—so using my backhand down the line and using drop shots and coming to the net, that sort of thing that I don’t do as naturally. I set out to do a lot of that today and I think that worked well.”
Navarro is the first freshman to win the NCAA singles title since 2009, and the eighth overall, according to UVA Athletic Communications. She follows former Virginia star and current WTA Top-50 player Danielle Collins in winning the title as a Cavalier, after Collins won it in both 2014 and 2016. On the men's side, Virginia's Thai-Son Kwiatkowski won the 2017 title.
"I've heard from Danielle a few times," Navarro said. "It's pretty awesome to follow in her footsteps and just see everything that she's doing on tour. It's pretty cool to see and definitely inspiring. It's awesome to hear from her and get her support."
Navarro is no stranger to the pro tour herself—while she's maintained her amateur status, the 20-year old recorded her first WTA victory this April at the Volvo Car Open in her hometown of Charleston, South Carolina. She credited her experience at that level with preparing her mentally for "the big moments and pressure situations" throughout the NCAA tournament.
Jones, Scotty come up clutch
After the heartbreak of having their undefeated team season end in the NCAA semifinals, grad student Makenna Jones and sophomore Elizabeth Scotty still managed to end their season with a trophy. The Tar Heels fell behind early in the title match against Texas' Collins-Sun freshman duo, but were better in the big moments as they snatched a 7-6, 4-6, [10-8] victory.
Including the final, the UNC pairing won three match tiebreaks on their way to the 2021 doubles title. They saved three match points in Round 1 and another in Round 2 before notching a pair of straight-sets wins in the quarters and semis.
While they did not face a match point in the final, they trailed for portions of the match tiebreak. With the breaker on a knife-edge at 8-all, the Tar Heels won the match's final two points to claim the trophy.
"I think [Elizabeth] Scotty and I, for about 15 minutes, maybe even more.... we just couldn't believe it," said Jones, who hails from Greenville, South Carolina. "We just keep saying, 'Did it really happen? Is this real?' But it's just incredible."
With the title, Jones joins her father—Furman men's tennis head coach Kelly Jones—as an NCAA doubles champion. A former ATP doubles world No. 1, Kelly won the NCAA doubles title in 1984 and 1985.
Makenna, one of three super-seniors on this year's Carolina squad, will remain in Chapel Hill for one more year as she completes a full-time internship at UNC's basketball center to earn a master's degree in sports administration.
"So many mixed emotions," she reflected, after winning the final match of her college career. "What an incredible way to end. I'm so grateful for Scotty for helping me through this run, and for helping me be excited for my final day as a college tennis player. But it's very surreal."
For more on the NCAA Championships, including full brackets for each tournament, visit the event homepage on USTANationalCampus.com.
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