NCAA tennis: The smell of success
URBANA — The farms just to the south of the Khan Outdoor Tennis Complex give off a distinct smell when the winds move just right.
It’s a smell Brian Garman is familiar with. But the man in charge of organizing the singles and doubles brackets at the NCAA Championships might not get out much to take in the omnipresent odor on the Illinois campus.
He’s busy managing the computer program he invented to arrange court times for all 128 men’s and women’s singles players along with all 32 men’s doubles and 32 women’s doubles teams that will take to the court this week.
“It’s the first time I’ve ever been in Champaign, and it’s a nice little city,” said Garman, a math professor at the University of Tampa who has coordinated scheduling of singles and doubles matches at the NCAA Championships since 1984. “I’m from a small town of 800 in Michigan originally, so it reminds me a lot of the countryside in Michigan. It’s near Kalamazoo. My uncle had a farm, so I used to go out there and bale hay. It just feels like I’m back in Kalamazoo. I know that smell.”
Singles action began Wednesday featuring four matches every half hour in a staggered start.
Doubles play begins today using the same Garman System.
Garman spends most of his day inside a windowless building connected to the side of the Atkins Tennis Center. The tournament’s scheduler doesn’t mind the setup.
All he needs is a power cord, his laptop and the formulas to work out the schedules for the 12 outdoor courts at Khan.
“During the individuals, I’m running the tournament desk, so I’m assigning the matches to the courts,” he said. “I wrote this scheduling program on a 1984 128k Mac (computer). I had about 10,000 lines of code, and I’ve revised it since then.”
In his 30th year of managing the schedule, Garman has the arrangement down to a science. His method makes sure there’s almost continuous action on the court while minimizing delays or wait times.
“The way you used to schedule ... you would say, (for example), that you’re the fifth match on Court 1,” Garman said. “The other way was you would just (have matches) every hour and a half. You’d have 12 (matches) at 8 o’clock, and another 12 at 9:30 and so on. What happens in those situations is at 9, there might already be three or four matches out of the 12 done, but you don’t have anybody to put on because they’re not coming till 9:30. At 9:30, you’d have 12 teams ready to go, but you might still have four matches in the third set, so four of them would go on late.”
Not so with the setup the tennis enthusiast — he became involved with tennis by umpiring matches and still does occasionally — brought to light more than three decades ago.
“This way you keep on time throughout the day and the players don’t have to wait around,” Garman said. “It all just flows smoothly.”
✰ ✰ ✰ ✰ ✰
By the time Jared Hiltzik’s singles match most likely would have originally ended Wednesday night, the Illinois freshman was munching on a granola bar inside the Atkins Tennis Center.
He, like many other players, fans, coaches and tournament personnel, were waiting for the courts to dry at the Khan Outdoor Tennis Complex. A brief shower came through about 6:30 p.m., the second weather-related delay Wednesday, pushing Hiltzik’s match with Adrien Puget of UCLA back.
When his match finally ended at 10:12 p.m., more than five hours after his scheduled 5 p.m. start, Hiltzik walked off with a 5-7, 6-2, 6-4 victory.
“The whole match the crowd was unbelievable,” Hiltzik said. “They just got me through it.”
It was the last men’s match of a long first day of singles action at the NCAA Championships. Matches started at 8 a.m. Wednesday at Khan.
Hiltzik — who battled cramps midway through the third set — won’t have much time to rest.
The Wilmette native is scheduled back on the courts today for an 11 a.m. second-round match against eighth-seeded Henrique Cunha of Duke.
“I’ve cramped in the past, and I’ve lost every single match in three sets,” Hiltzik said. “This is a monkey off my back.”
Hiltzik — the lone Illini in the singles tournament — finished off the match after an unforced error by Puget. His win kept alive the Illini’s streak of having a singles player win at least one match at the NCAA Championships every year since 2002.
He credited Illinois coach Brad Dancer for helping him adjust after losing the first set and falling behind 2-0 in the second set.
“I was just composed,” Hiltzik said. “Brad and I got on the right page. It really helps having a coach out here.”
✰ ✰ ✰ ✰ ✰
The top seed in the women’s draw is out.
Jacqueline Cako of Arizona State handily beat No. 1 Lauren Embree of Florida 6-3, 6-2. Cako led Embree 3-2 in the second set before a brief storm rolled through the Khan Outdoor Tennis Complex about noon Wednesday, prompting the match to move inside to the Atkins Tennis Center. Cako had no problem indoors, either, winning the final three games to close out the match and advanced to a second-round match against Kata Szekely of Tennessee.
“It’s definitely a good feeling,” Cako said. “She’s a really good player. I’ve known her since juniors and have played against her growing up.”
Cako is far from a slouch. The senior from Brier, Wash., is a two-time All-American and is competing in singles at her third NCAA Championships.
She said she didn’t have any difficulty moving the match inside.
“I am used to the indoors, even though I haven’t played indoors in a while,” Cako said. “I do like indoors generally.”
Aside from playing against Embree in junior national tournaments growing up, the two met last fall at the All-American Championships in Pacific Palisades, Calif.
Embree beat her by the same score (6-3, 6-2) Cako won by Wednesday.
“The last time I played her I was in the middle of changing rackets because I wasn’t playing very well,” Cako said. “In between matches at All-Americans, I switched strings. It was really frustrating. I literally hit every ball into the back of the fence or into the bottom of the net. That was a huge difference.”
✰ ✰ ✰ ✰ ✰
The big wins keep on coming for Mitchell Frank.
A day after the Virginia sophomore clinched the NCAA title by rallying for a win against UCLA’s Puget, Frank defeated top seed Mikelis Libietis of Tennessee 6-2, 6-1.
“I just had an unbelievable dream come true being able to be a part of (Virginia’s) first championship team,” Frank said. “I didn’t go out and celebrate (Tuesday) night because I knew I had an extremely tough opponent on my hands.”
Libietis had to retire during Tennessee’s loss to Virginia in the quarterfinals Saturday with an ankle injury and still was dealing with lingering issues because of the ailment.
“I don’t think he obviously played his best,” Frank said. “The injury is still maybe nagging, but at the same time, to give myself the best shot to win, I celebrated for a bit, went to bed and then took care of my body. It’s been an incredible run. Taking out the 1 seed is something very special.”
Frank only dropped three games in the singles match, which was finished inside the Atkins Tennis Center because of rain that hit about 6:30 p.m., causing the second delay and reshuffling of matches Wednesday. It was quite a bit less dramatic than when he rallied from two games down in the third set to beat Puget on Tuesday.
“I felt more at ease, even warming up,” Frank said. “Deep down I was pretty upset that we had to go indoors because I felt like he was kind of losing it a little bit, but luckily I return well indoors.”
✰ ✰ ✰ ✰ ✰
Along with Libietis losing, three other top-eight men’s seeds faltered Wednesday.
Tsvetan Mihov of South Carolina beat Alex Domijan, the second seed from Virginia, 6-4, 3-6, 6-2, in the afternoon and will face USC’s Roberto Quiroz at 10:30 a.m. today in the second round. Jarryd Botha took down sixth-seeded Emilio Gomez of USC 6-7 (5), 6-3, 7-5 in one of the first matches of the morning to advance to play Japie De Klerk of Tulsa at 9:30 a.m. today in the second round. Marcus Giron of UCLA bested fifth seed Romain Bogaerts of Mississippi State 6-3, 7-6 (2) on Wednesday night. Giron will tangle with Michael Redlicki of Duke at 9 a.m. today in a second-round match.
In the women’s draw, Anett Schutting of California, the eighth seed, was the only other top-eight seed to lose besides Embree. Natalie Beazant of Rice beat Schutting 7-5, 6-3 on Wednesday morning and will face Aeriel Ellis of Texas at 9 a.m. today.