Pac-10 Tennis Championships: Day Three

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OJAI, Calif. - Two marquee singles finals are one day away at the Pac-10 Tennis Championships after semifinal play wrapped up at the 107th Ojai Valley Tennis Tournament. Cal's Susie Babos and USC's Lindsey Nelson will stage a rematch of the 2006 NCAA Singles Championship in the women's final, while Stanford's Matt Bruch will attempt to retain his 2006 Pac-10 crown against the top-seed from Washington, Alex Slovic.

Babos and Nelson, both juniors, entered the Championships as the top-two seeds on the women's side, and both played strong and steady tennis on Saturday while both defeating Stanford opponents ranked in the top-20.

Babos, held off 14th-ranked junior Celia Durkin, 6-4, 6-4 with strong groundstrokes and a few deft drop shots, a ploy she has used to great effect in the tournament thus far. Nelson, facing 12th-ranked senior Theresa Logar, struck the ball off both sides as cleanly as anyone in the Championships en route to a 6-3, 6-3 win over the Cardinal's No. 1.

Nelson has yet to drop a set in the tournament, but looked especially crisp today, especially on serve. The only service break Nelson allowed came when serving for the match at 5-2. But she quickly earned a break point again in the next game, and ended things with a backhand return ripped up the line from the ad-court that Logar could not reach.

'I started out a little shaky (in the early rounds) and had some close matches, but I thought I played really well today. I was pretty confident,'said Nelson. 'It was probably one of the best matches I've played all season.'

After her victory, Nelson stood observing the final few games of the Babos-Durkin semi, and confessed to hoping the fourth-ranked Golden Bear would move on.

'I'd like to play (Babos) again, it would be kind of fun,' said Nelson.

Babos owns a 2-1 edge, including a 6-4, 6-1 win in the NCAA title match last year, however Nelson took their most recent meeting in three sets just two weeks ago.

'Not getting too sucked into the whole thing,' is a key for success according to Nelson. 'Just playing my game and not really seeing her on the other side. Just because it's a big rivalry, I don't want to let that get in the way.'

We're both very competitive people and really like to win.'

Two more competitive people moved through on the men's side. Bruch improved to 9-0 all-time at the Pac-10 Championships, overpowering Cal's Pierre Mouillon, 6-4, 6-2. On Friday, Mouillon played two doubles matches around a marathon singles match that went to a third-set tiebreak, and Bruch could see that his opponent's energy level was nearly spent in the second set.

'Obviously he was a little tired from yesterday. That showed in the second set,' said Bruch. 'But the first set is very important when you're playing against someone who played a long match the day before, because hopefully you'll be able to finish more quickly because he's mentally and physically fatigued.'

Much of Bruch's season was lost to stress fractures in his wrist and foot.He came into the tournament with only three wins all year against nine defeats, but his game has looked extremely healthy this week, with booming serves and smooth groundstrokes. Bruch has yet to drop a set in four matches.

'I'm out of shape. I haven't really run. I've been trying to get on the bike, but the bike definitely does not supplement what the tennis match does. It's a lot more work out here than on the stationary bike. But I'm feeling pretty good,' Bruch said.

His serve has been the best in the tournament, racking up aces and service winners and keeping Bruch's admitted lack of fitness from becoming a factor.

'I'm hitting it as hard as I can. It's going pretty good, it's coming in there,' Bruch laughed.

In all likelihood, Bruch will need a win in tomorrow's final to earn a berth in the NCAA Championships as he hasn't played enough matches for an at-large bid. Standing in his way is UW's Slovic, who reached his first career Pac-10 final after losing in the quarters the past two years. Slovic outlasted Arizona State's Juan Carlos Rebaza, 6-2, 4-6, 6-4, breaking Rebaza in the final game to advance. No Husky has ever won the Pac-10 title, although Slovic will be the fourth UW finalist in the last six years. Slovic's former teammate and fellow Yugoslavian native, Alex Vlaski, finished runner-up three times, in 2002, '03, and '05.

Bruch's fine play has carried over to doubles all week, as he and partner Blake Muller advanced into Sunday's doubles final, defeating Arizona State's Matt Brooklyn and Wes Miller, 8-5. They will face USC's Robert Farah and Kaes Van't Hof, who took out the draw's top-seeded team, Philipp Gruendler and Benjamin Kohlloeffel of UCLA. Neither the Trojans or the Bruins could make a dent on the other's serve all match, and the two teams went to an inevitable tiebreaker at 8-8. Each saved match points on the other's serve, before USC finally took the breaker, 12-10, on its fourth match point.

If Bruch is able to capture both singles and doubles tomorrow, it will mark just the third time in history that a men's player has earned both titles in the same year. Stanford's Alex O'Brien achieved the feat in 1992, USC's Wayne Black won both in 1994, and Stanford's Sam Warburg hoisted both trophies in 2005.

The women's doubles championship mach will pit UCLA's Riza Zalameda and Yasmin Schnack against Stanford duo Anne Yelsey and Lindsay Burdette.Yelsey will be going for her third-straight Pac-10 doubles title, after winning the past two years with former Cardinal Alice Barnes. A Stanford win would tie Yelsey with Barnes for the most doubles titles in Conference history at three.

Championship Sunday begins with the women's singles final at 9:30 a.m. The men's singles final will follow, starting no earlier than 11 a.m. The women's doubles final is slated for a 12:30 p.m. start and the men's doubles final will go off at approximately 2 p.m. All matches take place at Libbey Park.

Semifinals--Saturday, April 28, 2007

Men's Singles Championship Draw
Alex Slovic (WASH) def. Juan Carlos Rebaza (ASU), 6-2, 4-6, 6-4
Matt Bruch (STAN) def. Pierre Mouillon (CAL), 6-4, 6-2

Women's Singles Championship Draw
Susie Babos (CAL) def. Celia Durkin (STAN), 6-4, 6-4
Lindsey Nelson (USC) def. Theresa Logar (STAN), 6-3, 6-3

Men's Singles Invitational Draw
Jason McNaughton (USC) def. Garrett Snyder (USC), Wo.
Derek Drabble (WASH) def. Daniel Sebescen (CAL), 7-6, 2-6, 6-2

Women's Singles Invitational Draw
Julie Smekodub (USC) def. Lejla Hodzic (STAN), 7-5, 6-1
Laila Abdala (ASU) def. Elizabeth Lumpkin (UCLA), 5-7, 6-4, 7-5

Men's Doubles Championship Draw
Farah/Van't Hof (USC) def. Gruendler/Kohlloeffel (UCLA), 9-8 (10)
Bruch/Muller (STAN) def. Brooklyn/Miller (ASU), 8-5

Women's Doubles Championship Draw
Zalameda/Schnack (UCLA) def. DeVera/Fink (USC), 8-5
Yelsey/Burdette (STAN) def. Henkel/Kusano (CAL), 9-8 (8)

Men's Doubles Invitational Draw
McKean/Ryan (STAN) def. Mouillon/Sebescen (CAL), 8-6
Drabble/Kuharszky (WASH) def. Eklov (UCLA)/Zeller (STAN), 8-1

Women's Doubles Invitational Draw
L. Abdala/Rankin (ASU) def. Moore/Visico (CAL), 8-5
Bobusic/Ilcinkas (CAL) def. Opata/Selaru (WSU), 8-0

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