Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Tennis: Sooners Crowned 2015 ITA National Indoor Champions

Photo Credit: SoonerSports.com
Photo Credit: SoonerSports.com
The Oklahoma men’s tennis team claimed its first ever national indoor championship with a 4-2 victory over No. 1 USC in the finals of the 2015 ITA Men’s Team National Indoor Championship Monday afternoon in Chicago.

In a rematch of last year’s NCAA championship with the Trojans, the Sooners snatched a victory from the jaws of defeat in doubles, successfully defending six match points, to jump out to a 1-0 lead.

OU picked up singles wins from senior Dane Webb at No. 3 and junior Axel Alvarez at No. 2 to push the Sooners’ lead to 3-2. For the second day in a row, sophomore Alex Ghilea delivered the clinching point for OU, winning at No. 5 to give Oklahoma its first ever national indoor championship.

“These things are years and years in the making as far as effort goes," sixth year head coach John Roddick said. "It seems like a long time to get here. When you do, you have to enjoy it, and I think our guys are excited. For our program, it’s massive. I haven’t checked my phone, but it’s blowing up. Just to say that we’re national champions, just to put those two words together is a huge thing for any program, especially ours coming from where we did. To know that we belong, and that we can win this kind of tournament."

Doubles started slowly for the Sooners. At the No. 2 spot sophomore Andrew Harris and freshman Spencer Papa fell to the 38th-ranked duo of Max De Vroome and Eric Johnson 6-1. The Sooners were also down breaks at No. 1 and No. 3 and momentum was firmly with the Trojans.

At No. 3, sophomores Ghilea and Florin Bragusi trailed Nick Crystal and Connor Farren by a pair of breaks, but refused to yield. The duo came storming back, fending off four match points to tie the match at 5-all. The duo picked up another break and then held serve to take the match 7-5.

With the first two matches split, two of the best duos in collegiate tennis squared off at No. 1 with the doubles point on the line. The 5th-ranked duo of Axel Alvarez and senior Dane Webb gave up early breaks to Yannick Hanfmann and Roberto Quiroz, ranked No. 1 in the nation, and trailed 4-1. The Sooners buckled down and pushed the match to 6-all to force a tiebreak that would ultimately decide the doubles point. Up 6-4 in the breaker, Alvarez was back to receive for OU. Alvarez sent a wicked forehand return down the line and, just in, to give OU the doubles point. Alvarez and Webb remain undefeated as a tandem for the year, and improved their record to 11-0.

"They went out and played aggressively and fought back in the doubles point," Roddick said. "I don’t think anyone in the country would have bet on us at that point, maybe including myself. To pull together and actually play some good tennis at the end against a team like USC, who’s been here so many times and Peter does such a good job with them, is huge."

All told, the Sooners successfully defended six match points to complete the comeback and take the doubles point. The Sooners rode that momentum to a fast start in singles, taking first sets in five of the six matches.

Playing in the No. 3 spot in singles, 31st-ranked Webb took set one from No. 20 Jonny Wang without losing a game. Webb finished the job in the second set to win 6-0, 6-4. Webb now has 10 wins this season and is a perfect 8-0 in dual play, including three wins at this weekend’s championship.

“I was getting some 6-0 and 6-1 sets, so that’s always nice," Webb said. "I’m feeling confident, and I’m playing well. It’s great to be able to help everyone out by getting a quick win. As soon as I finish and go over there, everyone starts playing better when they realize I’ve won and that we’re so close. I just want to keep battling and try and win every match to help the team.”

With the doubles point in hand and a win from Webb, the Sooners led 2-0. The exact same scenario played out in last year’s NCAA Championship match with the Trojans, but USC would win the next four points to take the title.

The Sooners would write a different ending this time.

Playing in the No. 2 spot, Alvarez, ranked No. 11, faced No. 24 Quiroz. Alvarez took set one 7-6 in a tiebreak, then pulled away from Quiroz to win set two 6-2 and give the Sooners their third point and put OU on the precipice of taking the title. Alvarez leads the Sooners with 11 wins this season and remains a perfect 9-0 in dual play. The junior won three singles points for the Sooners this weekend.

No. 1 ranked USC would not go quietly, however. USC picked up its first point when freshman Spencer Papa dropped his first match of the tournament to Eric Johnson 4-6, 1-6 at No. 4 singles. The Trojans claimed a second point at No. 6 when, sophomore Jose Salazar fell to No. 49 Nick Crystal. Salazar took the first set 6-3 but Crystal swept the second 6-0 and then took a crucial break in the third and won 6-4.

Despite first set wins for OU at No. 1 and No. 5, USC forced third sets in both. The Sooners needed just one more win.

At No. 1 singles, No. 26 Andrew Harris was locked in a battle with No. 7 Yannick Hanfmann. Harris had battled through an ankle injury sustained in the second set and was tied at 4-all in the third when a roar from the crowd filled the air.

Playing at No. 5, Alex Ghilea delivered the clinching point for the second day in a row. The sophomore from Romania topped De Vroome 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 to give the Sooners their first ever national indoor championship.

“The level at fifth singles was incredibly high," Roddick said. "There’s not a huge difference between there and these top three courts. For Ghilea to step up again, he’s becoming Mr. Clutch for our team. When he starts going to that we call it “beast mode” off Marshawn Lynch. When he gets into that mentality, he doesn’t lose very many matches. Very few times do you see him come out on the losing end when he starts really getting his teeth into it like that."

“I was focused on doing everything the coaches told me," Ghilea said. "Winning this tournament is great for us. I was very tired at the end of the third set, but I felt like I had to win. To clinch again is just amazing. I’m very thankful to be here, thankful to play for such a great team with such great chemistry."

The win capped an historic run for the Sooners. OU topped No. 16 Ole Miss in the first round, and then bested No. 7 North Carolina on Saturday to advance to its first ever national semifinal. Roddick’s crew was not satisfied with a final four appearance. The Sooners bested conference rival Baylor Sunday in dramatic fashion to earn a finals berth and a chance to play for the title.

"We wanted some revenge because we played them in May in the (NCAA) finals," Webb said. "We just wanted another chance to play them. It feels good. Everyone played well. It shows that it wasn’t a fluke what we did in May and how we’ve been ranked. We just keep out-battling these good teams and it gives us confidence going into the rest of the season.”

USC was playing in the finals for the fourth consecutive year, having claimed the title in 2012 with a win over Ohio State.

Next up for the Sooners is a road trip to College Station, Texas to take on the Texas A&M Aggies Friday at 6 p.m. OU will then return to the friendly confines of the Headington family Tennis Center for a rematch with North Carolina Sunday at noon.

For the ITA's coverage of the 2015 ITA National Men’s Indoor Championships, click here.

For more information on Oklahoma Men’s Tennis, follow the team on Twitter at @OU_MTennis.

RESULTS

DOUBLES
No. 5 Axel Alvarez/Dane Webb def. No. 1 YannickHanfmann/Roberto Quiroz 7-6
No. 38 Max De Vroome/Eric Johnson def. Spencer Papa/Andrew Harris 6-1
Jose Salazar/Alex Ghilea 6-1 def. Nick Crystal/Connor Farren 7-5
Order of finish: 2, 3, 1

SINGLES

No. 26 Andrew Harris vs. No. 7 Yannick Hanfmann 6-4, 4-6, 4-4 DNF
No. 11 Axel Alvarez def. No. 24 Roberto Quiroz 7-6(3), 6-2
No. 31 Dane Webb vs. No. 20 Jonny Wang 6-0, 6-4
Eric Johnson def. Spencer Papa 6-4, 6-1
No. 63 Alex Ghilea def. Max De Vroome 6-3, 4-6, 6-3
No. 49 Nick Crystal def. Jose Salazar 7-5, 4-6, 6-2
Order of finish: 3, 4, 2, 6, 5

/// SoonerSports PR

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