SMU, USC, Ohio State, Virginia Win

November 12, 2011

Flushing, N.Y. — ITA Men’s All-American singles champion Mitchell Frank and doubles champions Chase Buchanan and Blaz Rola each won their second national title in as many months Sunday, prevailing in three-set finals at the USTA/ITA National Indoor Intercollegiate Championships.

Winners of the women’s titles were a different story altogether as unseeded Marta Lesniak of SMU and USC underclassmen Kaitlyn Christian and Sabrina Santamaria surprised even themselves by clinching their first national championships.

“It’s like a dream, seriously,” said Lesniak, a 7-5, 6-1 winner over Joanna Mather of Florida. “Coming here, I thought I’d win one or two rounds maximum. Once I was in the semifinal, I was like, ‘Oh my God, you’re almost there.’ I was trying to go for it but I never expected it. I’m really shocked.”

After falling behind 5-2 in the first set, Lesniak eliminated the careless errors from her game and found the range on her powerful serves and penetrating strokes. With Mather trying and failing to match the Mustang’s pace, Lesniak won 11 of the final 12 games in the match.

“I started to be more aggressive when I was 2-5 down,” said Lesniak. “I had nothing to lose, so I went for my shots more and it started working and she started making mistakes. That’s how I got through the first set, and the second set was a totally different game.”

It was a week of firsts for the Trojan tandem, especially the 5-foot-5 freshman Santamaria, who had never played indoors or been to New York City before this week. She, Christian and fellow freshman Zoe Scandalis finally got to sightsee on Saturday.

“We went to Times Square, saw the Statue of Liberty and rode on the subway,” said Santamaria. “It was my first time on the subway and I have many pictures. It felt like I was on a rollercoaster (laughs).”

Throughout the tournament, Santamaria had credited Christian for carrying her en route to the final. Playing Notre Dame’s Kristy Frilling and Shannon Mathews for the title, it was Santamaria who did the heavy lifting, holding in each of her service games to overcome five breaks of Christian’s serve.

“I was really focused,” said Santamaria. “I knew that I had to hold my serve every single time, and if I didn’t we probably would not have won.”

After splitting the first two sets, Christian resorted to serving underhand, and was broken to bring the Fighting Irish within 3-4 in the third. But on break point in the following game, Santamaria retrieved two shots in the alley to set Christian up for a put-away volley.

Santamaria served out a 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 victory immediately thereafter, clinching the biggest win of her partnership with Christian, which began in the Girls’ 14s division of USTA junior tournaments.

“It’s so nice to have her at USC,” said the sophomore Christian. “We played many tournaments in the juniors and did well. She’s a banger at the baseline and I like to be all over the net. That can’t complement any better.”

After a highly competitive first set-and-a-half of the men’s doubles final, Buchanan and Rola of Ohio State broke open their match with Tulsa’s Ashley Watling and Clifford Marsland by breaking the 6-foot-5 Marsland in his last four service games.

With Buchanan lobbing and ripping his forehand equally well, Rola relied on his big lefty serve to even the match. Having dropped the first set, Rola clinched the second with an ace down the tee past Marsland.

“We changed our strategy in the middle of the second set,” said Buchanan. “We started seeing the returns a little bit better and I think I got more involved on [Rola’s] serve. In the first set, I wasn’t getting in the middle of the court and picking off enough balls, which made it hard to hold serve.”

It was Rola again coming through in the clutch in the third set, saving a break point in sensational fashion. After Marsland and Buchanan each stretched to retrieve short balls, Watling appeared in position to win the back-and-forth point with an overhead smash. But Rola guessed right and responded to the smash by crushing a crosscourt backhand winner.

“It was the point of the match,” Rola said after the Buckeyes wrapped up a 4-6, 7-5, 6-2 win. “It did everything. If we were to get broken at that point, the match could have turned on their side. It was unbelievable to see Chase stretch, and then hit that backhand.”

Following Ohio State’s win, Frank of Virginia and Dennis Nevolo of Illinois took to the court for the highly anticipated men’s singles final, which did not disappoint fans at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

Much like their match October 7 at the ITA All-American Championships, Frank proved too tough in the first set. And just like that quarterfinal in Tulsa, Nevolo bounced back in the second by blasting his approaches, finding open spaces with his volleys and mixing in drop shots to move Frank around the court at will.

“He started to come in on everything,” said Frank. “He volleys so well that it’s tough to pass him and get openings. Indoors, he’s able to take the ball earlier and I have less time to pass.”

After Frank took the first set 6-3 and Nevolo broke twice to clinch the second 6-2, the players embarked on what Nevolo called a “rollercoaster of a set”.

Frank opened up a 3-1 advantage when he called a crosscourt forehand of Nevolo’s wide. The Illinois senior protested the ruling. Though it was not overruled, Nevolo refocused to win 12 of the next 16 points and take a 4-3 lead.

He held a break point for 5-3 and, after running side to side to retrieve one crosscourt shot from Frank after another, finally drew a short ball to put the Virginia freshman away.

But Nevolo’s drop shot, which was a weapon throughout the final, fell just short of clearing the net, and Frank went on to hold for 4-4.

“I thought it was going over for sure,” said Nevolo. “To see it just barely hit the top of the tape and go down, I honestly couldn’t believe it.”

After holds by both men, Frank benefitted from a forehand error off Nevolo’s racquet to break for 6-5. Making eight straight first serves down the stretch, Frank served out the match when Nevolo misfired on another forehand.

Frank is the fourth man in history to win both the All-American and National Indoor singles titles, joining 2007 Davis Cup champion James Blake, 1996 Wimbledon finalist MaliVai Washington and former world No. 38 Sargis Sargsian.

“It’s exciting to be in company like that, but it definitely does not guarantee success at all,” said Frank, now 12-0 in college tennis. “I’ve got to work even harder now because these guys are going to be back again. They’re going to come out like Dennis and feel like they don’t have that much to lose. They’re going to play really good tennis, so I’m going to have to be on my game all the time.”

2011 USTA/ITA National Indoor Intercollegiate Championships

USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, Flushing, N.Y.

Surface: Hard-Indoor

Sunday, November 6 – RESULTS