ATHENS, Ga. – The template was set early Saturday in the NCAA women’s tennis championships as UCLA met Cal and USC played Stanford in the California quarterfinals, and it worked out to be a doubles-or-nothing deal in each match.
Actually, it was the NCAA women’s tennis championships, and the teams that won the doubles point in each match went on to win matches to set up Monday’s, “I love L.A.” semifinal at the Dan McGill Tennis Complex at Georgia. The Bruins are ranked No. 1 and USC is No. 4 as form held through that half of the bracket.
The first point’s a big one, as much for its psychological impact as anything.
“The doubles point is a very huge part of creating momentum,” said USC’s Sabrina Santamaria, who teamed with Kaitlyn Christian to clinch that point for the Trojans with an 8-6 win at No. 1 to trigger USC’s 4-2 win against No. 5 Stanford. It’s difficult coming back seeing the ’1′ on the opposing team’s score [before singles begins].”
There are myriad ways to further support this.
Stanford (21-2) lost just two matches all season, to No. 1 UCLA and Saturday’s 4-2 match against USC. Guess the only two matches in which the Cardinal lost the doubles point. Easy, right? It was against No. 1 UCLA and again Saturday.
“The idea that you can’t just split the six singles [if you lose the doubles point], that’s the dominant psychology,” said Stanford coach Lele Forood. “You have to win four.”
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Georgia Tech coach Bryan Shelton, who steered the Yellow Jackets to the 2007 national title, said after losing to Cal Thursday in the Round of 16:
“The first 30 minutes of singles is key when you lose the doubles point. You want to get up in at least four of the matches in the first 30 minutes.”
Cal couldn’t do it Saturday.
After dropping the doubles point, the Bears were doing fine on court Nos. 1 and 2 with defending national singles champion Jana Juricova and Zsofi Susanyi, but UCLA took first-set wins on the other four courts by big scores: 6-3, 6-1, 6-1 and 6-2.
The No. 9 Bears (20-7) had split two previous matches with the Bruins (25-2) with – you guessed it – the team that won the doubles point winning each time.
When Cal upset UCLA 4-3 on April 13, the Bears swept the doubles matches.
The pairings were all the same Saturday, but at No. 3 doubles, UCLA’s McCall Jones and Carling Seguso beat Cal’s Tayler Davis and Cecilia Estlander 8-4 after losing 8-6 to them last month.
At No. 2 doubles, UCLA’s Courtney Dolehide and Pamela Montez raced to a 4-0 lead against Cal’s No. 5-ranked tandem of Annie Goransson and Anett Schutting, and went on to win 8-4 at No. 2 doubles to clinch the point. A month earlier, they lost 8-3.
“I tip my hat to UCLA today,” said Cal coach Amanda Augustus. “They came out on the doubles. They were ready to go. They attacked epically on No. 2. Also at No. 3 they played much better.”
Southern Cal (24-3) hasn’t won the doubles point and then lost a match all season. When the Trojans lost 4-2 at Stanford on April 13, doubles were not played. In USC’s other two losses, both to UCLA, the Trojans dropped the doubles point first.
UCLA’s Seguso paints a clear picture of the difference in mindset between taking the court for singles play when looking up at an 0-1 score vs. a 1-0 ledger.
“When you go out on the court you feel a little more pressure, like, ‘I have to win.’ But there’s a little less pressure if you win the doubles point,” she said. “I think some girls play a little more scared because they think they have to win. You win, and you’re bouncing around. You lose, and you’re more serious, like, ‘OK. We have to do this.’”
Trojans coach Richard Gallien doesn’t want his ladies tensing up thinking about the importance of the first point of a dual match. “You try to downplay it as much as possible [so as not to apply pressure],” he said. “If you lose it, don’t get too depressed; you still have to go play.”
That said, Gallien’s girls are smart enough to know the real score.
“Coming here we knew that everybody is going to put their best foot forward and we were going to need every edge we could get,” said USC’s Danielle Lao, who teamed with Alison Ramos to beat Stanford’s Kristie Ahn and Vernoica Li 8-6 at No. 3 to clinch the doubles point.
“So, probably the last month and a half we really annied up [in doubles practice] and . . . we’re peaking at the right time.”