May 22, 2010

By Andy Johnston
Special to

ATHENS, Ga. - This is becoming a habit for North Carolina's Sanaz Marand, which is just fine with her.

The Tar Heels defeated Duke three times this season and Marand clinched all three wins with three-set victories over Ellah Nze. Marand knocked off Nze 6-3, 3-6, 6-4 on Saturday to lead second-seeded North Carolina to its first semifinal berth at the NCAA Division I Women's Tennis Championships.

The Tar Heels won 4-3 when Nze hit a shot that Marand called out on the baseline, which was confirmed by the umpire.

"You don't want it to end like that," North Carolina coach Brian Kalbas said. "I saw the ball out. I was on that side. It was tough for them to see because they were on the far side, but Sanaz played so many out balls. She was right there. It's tough because they think the ball was good, in the heat of moment, that's the way it is. The umpire saw the ball out. You don't want it to end like that, though."

Marand said she had "no doubt in my mind," the ball was out.
Said Nze: "Obviously, I saw it in."

Marand defeated Nze 7-6, 4-6, 6-4 to clinch North Carolina's 4-3 win at the ITA National Indoors on Feb. 14 and then won 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 for another 4-3 victory on April 7.

Strange, because both Kalbas and Marand said those are the only three-set match clinching wins of her four-year career in team matches where the score was tied at 3.

"It's crazy how it came out. It's amazing." Marand said. "It's our biggest rivals on our three biggest stages - at national indoors, at their place and then here at NCAAs - it's just amazing. The feeling just takes over me and I start smiling. I love that feeling."

The Tar Heels (30-4) will face third-seeded Florida at 1 p.m. (EDT) Monday.

BIG WIN FOR GATOR: Florida's Lauren Embree figured she'd be in for a tough match against Miami's Laura Vallverdu, who lost to Duke's Mallory Cecil 7-5, 6-4 in the 2009 NCAA singles final.

Instead, Embree came away with a 6-4, 6-2 victory at No. 1 singles as the Gators defeated the Hurricanes 4-0 to advance to the semifinals.

"I knew going into it that Laura was a great player and she's had a lot of good results," Embree said. "I knew it wasn't going to be easy. I just had to try to play my best."

Vallverdu is ranked seventh nationally, two spots ahead of Embree, who is ninth as a freshman. She's 30-5 this year.

"We're playing at a very high level (at No. 1)," Florida coach Roland Thornqvist said. "Laura was a NCAA finalist last year. That tells you how well we're playing. We're about as fit as anybody in the world on court 1. We can take any game style and however long it takes. (Embree) has been amazing."

HOME FANS HAPPY: The Georgia men's team come-from-behind 4-2 upset of sixth-seeded Florida late Friday night sets up a meeting with Oklahoma, which upset third-seeded Texas, and Sooners coach John Roddick, a former Georgia player and assistant coach and older brother of Andy Roddick.

Georgia and Oklahoma will play at 5 p.m. (EDT) Sunday.

"We talked (Friday), and I've been talking to him throughout the whole tournament," Georgia coach Manuel Diaz said. "We both had tough challenges in the earlier rounds. I caught the tail end of their match (Friday) night. ... John has his team playing tremendous tennis."

Florida (21-5) defeated Georgia 4-0 on Feb. 14 and 5-2 on April 11, sending the Bulldogs (20-7) on a three-match losing streak. Georgia then had to rally to defeat Florida State 4-3 in the second round of the tournament last week just to advance.

"I think our team has gained a lot of confidence from (Friday's) win," Diaz said. "The challenge now is, how well can we compartmentalize, and hopefully our guys have put that behind them and learned from it. Now we will prepare for another big-time challenge -- a team that we don't know a whole lot about and probably the hottest team in the country. We'll be prepared to play our best against."

Florida won the first set in four singles matches before Georgia rallied in front of a crowd of 1,451 fans and clinched when Javier Garrapiz defeated Alex Lacroix 6-4, 7-6 (5) at No. 1 singles.