STANFORD, Calif. – USC’s Steve Johnson and Tennessee’s Rhyne Williams will meet for the NCAA Division I men’s singles title Monday after both advanced in semifinal action on Sunday.
Johnson advanced after Virginia’s Michael Shabaz retired in the middle of the match’s second set. The final score ended up 7-6 (4), 4-2 (ret.).
In the first set, both players served well and dropped just a total of six points on their serve over the first 10 games, as the match was tied at 5-5. Shabaz then saved two break points to hold for a 6-5 lead. With Johnson serving to stay in the set, Shabaz had a set point at 30-40. During the rally, Shabaz hit a shot that hit baseline and was ruled good by the linesman in front of the play, but was overruled as long by the chair umpire. Johnson eventually held serve to force a breaker. In the breaker, the players remained on serve until Johnson went up a mini-break at 5-3. Serving at 5-4, Johnson won a pair of points to win the opening set.
In the second set, both players held easily through the first five games, with Johnson holding a 3-2 lead. As Shabaz served at 2-3, he faced the first break point of the set at 30-40. After his first serve was long, he hit Johnson’s return out of the way to prepare for a second serve. That swing caused the ball to leave the stadium and Shabaz was given a point penalty for ball abuse, giving Johnson the break and a 4-2 lead. Following the call, Shabaz chose to retire from the match.
“I’m still not quite sure what happened. [Michael Shabaz] was just done,” Johnson said. “After that serve, he hits the ball out of the stadium, gets a point penalty and calls it quits. He’s a really tough competitor, so I’m not quite sure what happened.”
With the loss, Virginia’s five-year streak of having a NCAA singles or doubles finalist comes to an end.
In the other semifinal, Williams, a Knoxville native, defeated fellow Vol and roommate Tennys Sandgren 6-3, 3-6, 6-0.
“We were probably eight or nine years old the first time we played, in a tournament in Chattanooga, in another long match,” Williams said. “That was the first time we met.
“I’ve been really happy with the way Tennys has been playing. He’s been really helping out our team…It kind of stinks that one of us had to lose today, but it’s good to have a Tennessee Vol in the finals.”