The IX: Tennis Tuesday with Joey Dillon, May 25, 2021

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Longhorns Ride Out Waves for NCAA Title

Happy Tuesday!

Can you believe it’s already the last Tuesday of May? Roland Garros begins next week and I’d usually do a preview or talk about the big headlines entering Paris, but the NCAA Women’s Tennis Team Championship concluded this weekend and honestly, it was incredible.

Where I left you off was the Sweet Sixteen and as King of Predictions (aka — more like Joke), my predictions were near spot-on until the Elite Eight. North Carolina State caused the big upset, taking out Georgia 4-2 to reach their program’s first-ever Final Four.

Pepperdine outlasted UCLA 4-3 in an incredible four-hour battle to also reach their first Final Four. Previously, the Waves were 0-7 in Elite Eight matchups, but their reward? North Carolina, who was running on a 48-match winning streak. I don’t know about you, but I wasn’t prepared for one of the greatest collegiate upsets of all-time, in my opinion. Pepperdine took a close doubles point and the six matches split the opening sets. You don’t see many 4-3 matches all in straight sets, but of course this one had to be. Freshman Taisiya Pachkaleva ripped a return winner on court No. 3 to lift the Waves into the final, where they would face Texas.

The Longhorns entered the championship only dropping one point en route — against Ohio State in the Sweet 16. To say the doubles point was dramatic is an understatement with Texas taking tiebreaks at Nos. 1 and 3 to secure a 1-0 lead. You would expect Texas to run away with a loaded lineup, but a long night in Lake Nona awaited.

Defeating No. 118 Shiori Fukuda, No. 77 Charlotte Chavatipon gave the Longhorns the first singles point before No. 21 Jessica Failla beat No. 35 Anna Turati to make Pepperdine history as the first Wave — male or female — to win a point in an NCAA Team Final. Lisa Zaar upset No. 72 Kylie Collins to tie before No. 37 Peyton Stearns, largely thanks to a rowdy Texas men’s team cheering her on, tied it a three-set win over No. 77 Ashley Lahey. On court No. 6, Nikki Redelijk grinded out a win over Malaika Rapolu to put all eyes — and a national title on court No. 3.

A third set was beginning between No. 89 Pachkaleva and No. 62 Lulu Sun when the match tied and even though Sun is the more experienced and higher-ranked player, Pachkaleva was in this situation the night prior. Both freshmen were grinding out rallies and Sun went up 5-3 before Pachkaleva tied it all. Finally at 6-5, Sun was a wall on championship point and waited for Pachkaleva to miss to give the Longhorns their first team title since 1995.

It was an incredible final and as cliche as it sounds, it really did suck to only have one winner. Coach Howard Joffe is one of the game’s best, but an NCAA team title eluded him. He came close in 2013 when he was at Texas A&M, but a few years later, he was poached to take over a struggling Texas program.

This could be the start of a major collegiate dynasty. This Texas team was made up of four seniors, a walk-on sophomore and six freshmen. What’s even more stunning is that five of Texas’ six singles players in the final were freshmen. Think about being new to all of the dynamics of collegiate sport and not only be thrown into a national championship, but deliver. UNC, UGA and Pepperdine are losing massive contributors in their seniors, so the Longhorns could definitely continue their 24-match winning streak.

Stearns was named the Most Outstanding Player, while she, Failla, Sun, Chavatipon, Zaar and UNC’s Fiona Crawley were named to the singles All-Tournament team at Nos. 1-6 singles. In doubles, Collins/Sun, Fukuda/Pachkaleva and Chavatipon/Stearns were named Nos. 1-3.

The individual tournament is underway and will wrap up this weekend. Expect a blurb about what went down and if American players secured a US Open main draw wildcard.

Until next year — Hook em!

This Week in Women’s Tennis

At the Emilia-Romaga Open in Parma, Italy, Coco Gauff left with not only her second WTA singles title, but her third in doubles. The 17-year-old was the youngest player to sweep a tour event since Maria Sharapova captured both events at Brimingham in 2004 — 92 days after Gauff was born. With her straight-set win over Wang Qiang, she moves to 2-0 in singles finals. Partnering with Caty McNally, the American duo defeated Darija Jurak and Andreja Klepac in two sets to also stay undefeated in finals (3-0).

In Belgrade at the Serbia Ladies Open, Paula Badosa continued to thrive on the clay by capturing her first WTA title when Ana Konjuh retired in the second set. In doubles, the home team of Nina Stojanovic and Aleksandra Krunic downed Vera Zvonareva and Timea Babos in two sets to take their first title as a pair.

Coco Gauff became the youngest player to break into the Top 25 in over 15 years, while Paula Badosa also reached a career-high ranking following her title in Belgrade.

The Internationaux de Strasbourg is the final pre-Roland Garros event and Bianca Andreescu is the top seed. The Canadian is playing in only her second career WTA main draw on clay, but won her opening round with ease. She then made the quarterfinals before revealing an abdominal tear and withdrawing. It’s more of the same injury struggles and withdrawals from the 2019 US Open champ. *sigh*

Two WTA staff features to check out: WTA Insider’s recap of Belgrade and Parma and Greg Garber’s piece on Amanda Anisimova finding her groove again in Parma.

Roland Garros has begun with the qualifying draw, where former World No. 2 Vera Zvonareva headlines the draw. In main draw news, while Carla Suarez Navarro is confirmed to make her comeback from Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, unfortunately 2018 champion Simona Halep has withdrawn following the Romanian’s calf tear in Rome.

Daria Gavrilova continues to be a content queen as she rehabs from her Achilles surgery — this time creating a fun game of tic-tac-toe.

Big calendar news came last week with the announcement of the BNP Paribas Open hosting in October. Exact dates are to be confirmed since that month historically holds the Asian Swing:

It was also announced that the World Team Tennis season will be taking place, also at Indian Wells, but in November:

The new WTA 500 event next month in Berlin, the bett1open, will have a loaded field with Ashleigh Barty and Naomi Osaka both projected to enter the tournament.

Tweet of the Week

When I die, please play Venus Williams dragging the umpire and giving the sasswalk of her life after getting a time violation for dealing with the wind in Parma last week

Five* at The IX: Tweets from the NCAA Team Championship

*limit does not exist, but you’re getting more than 5.

Honorable mention to the Pepperdine Women’s Tennis account who more than delivered:

Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson, AP Women’s Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By: Joey Dillon, @JoeyDillon, Freelance Tennis Writer
Wednesdays: Basketball
By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal, The Next
Thursdays: Golf
By: Sarah Kellam, @sarahkellam,
Fridays: Hockey
By: Erica Ayala, @ELindsay08, NWHL Broadcaster
Saturdays: Gymnastics
By: Jessica Taylor Price, @jesstaylorprice, Freelance Gymnastics Writer

Written by Howard Megdal

Howard is the founder of The Next and editor-in-chief.