NCAA tennis: Big Ten vying for singles titles
URBANA — When Blaz Rola learned that the 2013 NCAA Tennis Championships would be held at the University of Illinois, the Ohio State junior wasn’t exactly doing fist pumps.
“I wasn’t really happy when I found out ... because for us, being up north, it’s kind of nice to go to California and down to warm weather,” he said Sunday.
On another day of rainy and unseasonably cold conditions at nationals, even the weather couldn’t wipe the broad smile off Rola’s face after his latest trip to the court.
One year after winning an NCAA doubles title with then-senior Chase Buchanan, Rola moved within one victory of a national singles crown.
The 12th-ranked Buckeye advanced to the finals with a 6-2, 6-3 victory against No. 41 Japie De Klerk of Tulsa on the indoor courts at Atkins Tennis Center.
“I’m really happy I got through,” Rola said.
The native of Ptuj, Slovenia, will face third-ranked and third-seeded Jarmere Jenkins of Virginia at noon today for the title. Jenkins, looking to add the outdoors national crown to his ITA Indoor Intercollegiate title this season, outbattled No. 11 Sebastian Fanselow of Pepperdine 7-6(1), 7-6(3) in the other semifinal.
Since reaching the NCAA singles quarterfinals as a freshman, Rola has advanced one rung in the draw each year. Last season, he reached the semifinals before being ousted in three sets. Now, the junior is in the finals, hoping his NCAA pattern of one step at a time doesn’t continue.
“I hope I can skip a year and maybe get a title this year,” Rola said.
He also has his fingers crossed that an awkward move during the semifinals didn’t do any lasting damage to his left ankle.
“I was really scared,” Rola said. “I stepped kind of weird on my feet and I rolled my ankle a little bit. I’m going to check in the training room, see if anything’s wrong, but thank God it’s not hurting me right now. Hopefully it will be better tomorrow.”
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The Big Ten also has a representative in the women’s singles final. Senior Mary Weatherholt of Nebraska will face defending champion Nicole Gibbs of Stanford at noon today.
“Obviously, she’s a great player,” the 11th-ranked Weatherholt (31-1) said of Gibbs. “I just love good competition and great matches, so I’m looking forward to hopefully a great match tomorrow.”
Weatherholt — the two-time reigning Big Ten Athlete of the Year in women’s tennis — ousted No. 36 Alexa Guarachi of Alabama 6-0, 6-3 in the semifinals.
“I know I can get it done, but I don’t go into a match thinking about the end result one way or the other.” Weatherholt said. “When I finished and realized, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m in the finals!’ it took me off guard.”
In the other semi, No. 13 Gibbs swept No. 31 Breaunna Addison of Texas 6-1, 6-1.
Weatherholt will attempt to become the first Big Ten women’s tennis player to win an NCAA singles title. The conference has produced two NCAA women’s doubles champions.
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Jenkins’ quest for an NCAA tennis Triple Crown remained alive when the Cavaliers senior and partner Mac Styslinger advanced Sunday evening to the men’s doubles final. Jenkins, who earlier helped Virginia win the team title, will vie for singles and doubles crowns today.
The Cavaliers’ fourth-ranked tandem defeated Duke’s No. 2 duo of Henrique Cunha and Raphael Hemmeler 7-5, 6-3 in the semifinals. Jenkins and Styslinger will face No. 41 Chris Camillone and David Holiner of Texas in a match that will not start before 2 p.m.
The last men’s player to win the Triple Crown was Matias Boeker of Georgia in 2001.
“It’s a special feeling and feels good, but I’m trying not to think about (the Triple Crown) too much,” Jenkins said. “It’s been an unbelievable journey, and I know for the longest time that we were trying to get that team title, and we finally got it done. Obviously, this is my first time in the singles and double tournament, and I’m just having a blast with it.”
Camillone and Holiner outbattled No. 3 Nik Scholtz and Jonas Lutjen of Mississippi 6-2, 5-7, 6-3 in the other semi. The victory by the Texas tandem was its third against a Top 10 opponent in as many days.
The women’s doubles final today is an all-Pac-12 matchup. Second-ranked Kaitlyn Christian and Sabrina Santamaria of Southern California will square off against No. 25 Robin Anderson and Skylar Morton of UCLA. The match will not start before 1:30 p.m.