May 30, 2010

By Andy Johnston
Special to NCAA.com

ATHENS, Ga. - Austen Childs has a tough time explaining his run of success in the NCAA singles championships. Even his coach didn't think Childs would be around for the final.

"Let's just say I've run out of clothes at this point," Louisville's Rex Ecarma said. "I've run out of deodorant. I had to go buy some deodorant. I didn't know we'd be here this long."

The unseeded Childs continued his amazing run on Sunday, advancing to the men's final with a 7-6 (2), 6-0 victory over Auburn's Tim Puetz at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex.

He'll play Stanford's Bradley Klahn for the men's championship at 2 p.m. (EDT) Monday. Klahn, who is seeded 9-16, upset Duke's top-seeded Henrique Cunha 6-2, 6-2 in the other semifinal. Childs and Klahn have not met this year.

Childs' streak is tough to believe for several reasons.

No Louisville player had ever advanced past the quarterfinals in the history of the tournament. Childs had lost in straight sets in the first round the past two years. Also, and perhaps most inexplicable, he lost regular-season matches to four of the five players he's defeated on the road to the final.

That includes Puetz, who was seeded 9-16 and who knocked off Childs 6-2, 4-6, 6-4 in the South Carolina Fall Invitational on Nov. 1.

Childs also defeated third-seeded John-Patrick Smith 6-1, 6-1 in the first round, just six days after Smith helped Tennessee eliminate Louisville from the team tournament with a 6-2, 6-2 win over Childs at No. 1 singles.

"I don't know," he said. "I'm just playing good out here on these courts and just playing hard. That's about it really."

Whatever the reasons, Ecarma isn't straying from their schedule, even if it means one more meal at Thai Spoon, the downtown Athens restaurant where they've eaten five straight days.

"I'm so sick of it, but if it takes me eating there one more time because he wants to do it, I'll do it," Ecarma said. "We've been staying with the same routine. Leave the hotel at the same time. We go to the (intramural) courts. We're not practicing here. We park in the same parking space, way over there behind the indoor (courts). We go through the same doors. We just want to stay with the routine that apparently is working. We'll just stay with it." Childs, a junior from Mt. Maunganui, New Zealand, was ranked 19th entering the tournament and has won 14 of his past 15 matches. He struggled in the first set, but dominated the tiebreaker and then the second set.

"He played significantly better in the second set and honestly, I got a little bit tired in the second set," Puetz said. "Everything just came together for him. I couldn't win points anymore and he wasn't missing. Six-and-oh is always bad, but he just played too good."

In the winning game, Childs led 40-0 before Puetz came back within 40-30. Childs then hit a serve that Puetz couldn't return, resulting in a fist pump and load roar from the "Louisville Crew," a small group of student-athletes and fans who drove eight hours Saturday night and arrived in Athens at about 3 a.m. Sunday.

Childs then went over to his fans, celebrating with hugs and high-fives.

"I love them," he said. "They said they were going to be as loud as they can."

DOUBLES: Tennessee's second-seeded team of Davey Sandgren and John-Patrick Smith will face Virginia's unseeded team of Drew Courtney and Michael Shabaz for the doubles title at noon (EDT) Monday.

Sandgren and Smith defeated North Carolina's unseeded team of Clay Donato and Stefan Hardy 6-3, 6-2.

Shabaz, who won the doubles tournament last year with partner Dominic Inglott, and Courtney defeated Stanford's Klahn and Ryan Thacher 7-6 (3), 7-6 (7). Klahn and Thacher were seeded fourth.