UCLA Stops Illinois' Bid For Back-to-Back NCAA Men's Tennis Titles
May 24, 2004
One of the most remarkable streaks in the history of American college athletics has come to an end. The Illinois men's tennis team nearly put together two consecutive undefeated NCAA title runs, but third-ranked and fourth-seeded UCLA handed the Illini their first defeat since May 19, 2002. The Bruins beat the Fighting Illini 4-2, in the national semifinal match tonight at the Michael D. Case Tennis Center in Tulsa, Okla. It was a bitter ending to Illinois' three seniors, who competed together this evening for the final time. The trio led Illinois to an amazing 112-13 dual-match record during their tenure, and brought home two National Indoor titles and one NCAA Championship.
Since the beginning of last year's spring season, the Orange and Blue had been victorious in an NCAA-record 64 consecutive dual matches. Thirty-four of those wins were shutouts and 13 of them came against Top-10 opponents. The Fighting Illini finish their season at 32-1; the 32 victories are the most Illinois has earned in a season (tied with last year's squad, which went 32-0). UCLA will advance to tomorrow's 6 p.m. CDT championship match against second-ranked Baylor.
"It was a great college match," said Illinois Head Coach Craig Tiley. "I don't think we did anything wrong, the guys fought hard, but UCLA just played better than we did. I'm proud of these guys.
"It has been an unbelievable year. You can't take anything way from this group. They're conference champions, they're National Indoor champions, and they're in the Final Four. No other team had a year like that, regardless of who wins tomorrow.
"UCLA played great tonight," Tiley added. "They were hungry. They had an additional player during the last quarter of the year who made a huge difference for them. It enabled everyone to move down in the lineup. I think that was the difference; we matched up better with them without Luben (Pampoulov) in their lineup."
In doubles, the Orange and Blue used wins at No. 2 and No. 1 to take an early 1-0 lead. After UCLA's 27th-ranked duo of Pampoulov and Phil Gruendler broke Chris Martin's serve to narrow the score to 4-3, Martin and Michael Calkins went on a tear, winning the last four games to take the match, 8-3, at No. 2. The duo finishes the season with a 23-7 mark. At No. 1, Illinois' fifth-ranked pair of Brian Wilson and Phil Stolt broke UCLA's serve in the 14th game (the only break by either team) to beat seventh-ranked Alberto Francis and Kris Kwinta, 8-6. The score was similar to their earlier matchup in the National Indoor title confrontation when the UI tandem won, 9-7.
UCLA grabbed the momentum in a big way by winning five of the six first singles sets. Illinois stormed back, however, with leadership from Martin, a Tulsa native. The 95th-ranked singles player in the nation won in straight sets over Kwinta, 6-2, 6-1, to put Illinois up, 2-0. Martin, who also beat Kwinta in their first meeting this season winning 6-2, 6-0, finishes his junior year at 23-7.
Martin's victory, however, would be the last the Illini would receive on the night. The Orange and Blue did force four matches into third sets. Ryler DeHeart (No. 121) fell at No. 3 to 60th-ranked Chris Lam 6-4, 6-4. DeHeart finishes his spectacular sophomore season, which saw him win his first 12 matches this spring, with a 29-11 record. The top-ranked Wilson and 51st ranked Stolt lost at No. 1 and No. 2 to No. 7 Tobias Clemens (6-3, 1-6, 6-1) and the No. 67 Pampoulov (6-0, 2-6, 6-3) respectively.
At No. 4, Calkins faced an uphill battle in his second set tie-breaker against the No. 63 Francis. Having already lost his first set, he found himself behind 3-0 in the tie-breaker. As he as done all year, the senior from Portland, Ore., battled back to win the tie-breaker and take the set 7-6 (3). Facing a 3-2 deficit, the Orange and Blue needed both Calkins and Jones to take their third sets to win the match and advance to a national championship showdown with Baylor Tuesday evening. Jones dropped the first set to Gruendler, 7-6 (1), and won the second, 6-1, to force the third. Down 2-4, Jones was behind 30-Love until an overrule which was Gruendler's third. As a result, Jones was awarded a point to even the score at 30-30. Jones went on to win that game to narrow Gruendler's lead to 4-3. At 5-3, Jones battled two match points and bad thigh cramps but fell short, 6-3. Jones, who began his collegiate career at 17 years of age this past January had a spectacular spring season; he finished his freshman year at 22-5 and posted a nearly perfect doubles record with DeHeart, going 18-1.
"Look at our last two guys (Calkins and Jones) on the court," said Tiley. "If you go into battle with them, you're going to win most of the time. Tonight was a huge experience for GD Jones, for Ryler DeHeart and Chris Martin, our younger guys. I'm excited about the future of this program. We'll have a team of mostly American kids. They'll be young and we'll have fun."
Tiley can't look totally to the future, at least not just yet.
Wilson and Stolt will both participate in the NCAA Singles and Doubles Tournament this week. Wilson is the No. 1 seed in singles and the two are the fourth seed in the doubles competition. By virtue of their seeds, both Wilson (both doubles and singles) and Stolt (doubles) are 2004 All-Americans. The brackets for both the 64-draw singles and 32-draw doubles tourneys will be announced tomorrow afternoon. Singles competition will begin Wednesday and doubles on Thursday; both will conclude May 31.
Today's NCAA Semifinal Results:
DOUBLES: 1 #5 Brian Wilson/Phil Stolt (ILL) def. Kris Kwinta/Alberto Francis (UCLA) 8-6 2 Michael Calkins/Chris Martin (ILL) def. Philipp Gruendler/Luben Pampoulov (UCLA) 8-3 3 Ryler DeHeart/GD Jones (ILL) vs. Chris Surapol/Tobias Clemens (UCLA) DNF Order of finish: 3, 2, 1