NCAA women's tennis: Stanford and UCLA advance to quarterfinals

UCLA Athletics

Stanford outlasted Cal in a marathon thriller, USC lost a gut-wrenching battle to Georgia and UCLA easily dispatched of Miami in Thursday's round of 16 in the NCAA women's tennis championships. Stanford and UCLA advance to the quarterfinals, while Cal and USC end their seasons by putting up valiant fights.

Stanford

The nickname “Cardiac Card” still applies. As Stanford has embraced its underdog role (Stanford won the NCAA title last year as the No. 12 seed, the lowest seed ever to win it all in women’s tennis), Cardinal tennis fans have had to brace themselves for nail-biting thrillers in the NCAA championships. As expected, round three of the Big Slam turned into an all-timer, going to a tiebreaker on the last active court. In the end, No. 11 Stanford stormed back from a 2-0 deficit to eke out a 4-3 victory over No. 6 Cal, earning itself a berth in the NCAA quarterfinals Saturday against third-seeded Virginia.

The Golden Bears got the all-important doubles point after the duo of Maegan Manasse and Denise Starr knocked off Stanford’s Taylor Davidson and Ellen Tsay in No. 2 doubles. Cal’s lead extended to 2-0 when 23rd-ranked singles player Zsofi Susanyi took down Krista Hardebeck in commanding fashion (6-2, 6-1), but the Cardinal stormed back to take the next two singles matches behind Carol Zhao and Kristie Ahn to even things up at 2-2.

Crisis averted for the Card, right? Not quite yet, because 87th-ranked singles player Klara Fabikova of Cal pulled off the minor upset of No. 54 Ellen Tsay 6-4, 6-3 to put Cal one point away from the quarterfinals. This left it up to two freshmen -- Taylor Davidson and Caroline Doyle -- to deliver another miracle for Lele Forood’s group.

Simply put, things weren’t looking good for Stanford. Davidson cramped up in the third set on court No. 4. Doyle got down 5-3 to Manasse in the third set over on No. 6 with Manasse serving. It appeared as though the magic was all used up for Stanford.

But wait… Davidson didn’t let the cramping hinder her at all, storming past 24th-ranked Lynn Chi to take the tussle 6-2, 4-6, 6-3, winning five of the last six games in the third set in the process. While that was going on, Doyle broke Manasse’s serve and eventually forced a tiebreaker. It was all Doyle from there, who did not surrender a point in the tiebreaker and won 6-7(5), 6-3, 7-6(0) to push the Cardinal to the quarterfinals. Clinching a match is nothing new for Doyle, whose victory on No. 6 vs. Holly Reid was the decisive notch in Stanford’s 4-0 victory over Long Beach State in the second round. With the win, Doyle improves to 31-5 overall and 15-1 at the No. 6 position. Her 31 wins lead Stanford.

 

California

Tough, tough way to go for the Golden Bears, who wrap up their season with a 20-5 overall record. There is still a lot to be proud of on the Cal side of things, as the program won its first-ever Pac-12 championship by going undefeated in conference play, ironically enough clinching it with a 6-1 victory over Stanford on the last day of the regular season.  Cal showed out well today, bringing the Card the closest to defeat it has been in the last two years in the NCAA championships. It’s not the end of the road for everyone in Berkeley, as four Golden Bears earned at-large bids to the NCAA singles championship field: Annett Schutting (a recent Pac-12 Player of the Week honoree), Zsofi Susanyi, Lynn Chi and Denise Starr.

[Related: NCAA women's team tennis tournament: All four Pac-12 teams advance]

USC

Hope you had your popcorn ready, because the fun was only getting started. Like Cal-Stanford, USC-Georgia was another exhibit in why the NCAA tennis championships are so enthralling.  Like Cal-Stanford, USC-Georgia came down to the last singles match, which had to be settled in a third-set tiebreaker. Unfortunately for the Trojans, 16th-seeded USC came up juuuuuuusst shy of a major upset, falling to No. 1 Georgia 4-3.

Georgia took a well-contested doubles point, setting the tone for an all-out battle. Although Georgia senior Lilly Kimbell had a relatively easy time dispatching of Trojan junior Gabriella DeSimone 6-1, 6-2, SEC transfer (Tennessee) Brynn Boren had a little something to say for her former conference compadre, upsetting 15th-ranked Silvia Garcia in commanding fashion (6-3, 6-0). The Women of Troy even got down 3-1 when Giuliana Olmos dropped a two-setter to 20th-ranked Maho Kowase, but the two-point deficit didn’t last long. Freshman Zoë Katz (aka “Little Zoë”) quickly responded with a two-set victory of her own over the Pennsylvania-born, North Carolina-raised Mia King. Then the Trojans got some senior leadership from Kaitlyn Christian (aka “KK”), who won six straight games in the second set to knock off Kate Fuller 7-5, 7-5 and force a proverbial Game 7.

Thus, the match came down to court No. 1 in a battle of two top-20 ranked players, Georgia’s Lauren Herring (No. 6) and USC’s Zoë Scandalis (No. 19, aka “Big Zoë”). By the time Christian put a third tally next to USC’s name, Herring v. Scandalis was already in the third set, a set which would become known in some circles (read, my circle of one) as “Break City.” After Herring held serve to make it 2-2 in the third set, Herring and Scandalis would take turns breaking each other’s serve for eight straight games to take us to a tiebreaker. In the process of doing so, Scandalis had to fight off two match points when trailing 5-4 on Herring’s serve.

The Trojan got off to a hot start in the tiebreaker, taking a 3-1 lead, but the Bulldog ripped off five straight points to take it to match point. Scandalis showed even more heart by fending off a couple more match points, but the road ended there:

 

USC wraps up its season at 18-8. The Women of Troy will have two pairs of doubles in the NCAA doubles draw (Olmos/Scandalis and Boren/Katz), while Scandalis is in the singles draw. Additionally, Olmos is the first alternate in the singles competition.

 

[Related: NCAA women's tennis tournament results: Three Pac-12 schools advance]

UCLA

Fifth-seeded UCLA’s match with No. 12 Miami didn’t have nearly the amount of drama that the other two matches involving Pac-12 teams had. This one was chalk all the way, as UCLA made quick work of the Hurricanes with a 4-0 victory. The Bruins advance to the quarterfinals, where they will face fourth-seeded Duke.

To recap how things went for the Bru Cru, UCLA started off by taking the doubles point despite their No. 1 nationally-ranked duo of Robin Anderson and Jennifer Brady dropping No. 1 doubles to Monique Albuquerque and Clementina Riobueno 8-5. Luckily for Stella Sampras Webster and Friends, Kyle McPhillips and Catherine Harrison downed Melissa Bolivar and Brittany Dubins 8-3 before Courtney Dolehide and Chanelle Van Nguyen wrapped things up with an 8-4 triumph over the Latvia-Germany combo of Lina Lileikite and Stephanie Wagner at No. 3 doubles.

Then it was off to the singles matches, where the Bruins only lost one set collectively as a team. Harrison delivered the first blow by downing Albuquerque 6-2, 6-3 on No. 5, while Brady quickly took care of Riobueno 6-4, 6-2 to put the Bruins on the verge of advancing to the quarters.

Four remaining courts to get one more point… where would it come from?

 

That’s Van Nguyen, y’all.

The women take a day off while the men’s round of 16 goes down on Friday. Stanford and UCLA will be back at work Saturday, with Stanford taking on Virginia at 9 a.m. PT and UCLA greeting Duke at 1 p.m. PT.

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