May 21, 2010

NOTEBOOK: In Rain-Adjusted Day, A Few Surprises

By Andy Johnston
Special to the

ATHENS, Ga. - Ty Tucker was worried.

One doubles match had already been lost and Ohio State's No. 1 team of Chase Buchanan and Dino Marcan were on the brink of defeat, leaving their coach concerned.

Just then, Buchanan and Marcan started to fight their way back from double match point.

They eventually won the match and the doubles point, leading the fourth-seeded Buckeyes to a 4-0 victory over Wisconsin on Friday to advance to the quarterfinals of the NCAA Division I Men's Tennis Championships at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex.

Ohio State (35-1) will play Southern California at 1 p.m. Sunday, in a rematch of last year's national championship match, which the Trojans won. Virginia, a 4-0 winner against Duke, and UCLA, a 4-2 winner against Stanford, also advanced to the quarterfinals. In the night matches, Tennessee blanked Louisville, 4-0; Baylor beat Texas A&M, 4-1; Georgia took down Florida, 4-2; and Oklahoma wrapped things up with thrilling 4-2 win over Texas.

"That doubles point was huge for us," Ohio State senior Justin Kronauge said. "We snuck by somehow and knew we (were) a tough team to beat in singles, and went out there and got the job done quickly."

The match was played indoors on a rainy, windy and overcast day in Athens. Matches were played both inside and outside throughout the day as the storms came in waves.

Officials moved two matches to the indoor courts at the Racquet Club of the South in Norcross, Ga., about 50 miles away.

"Anything can happen at the NCAA tournament," Tucker said. "We're up at 6:30 hitting some balls (Friday) morning and it looks like it's going to be nice. We're outdoors hitting and getting ready, and the next thing you know, we get back after eating, it starts to rain."

No. 1 doubles has been a point of contention for Ohio State and Wisconsin (21-9) this season.

Wisconsin's Moritz Baumann and Merek Michalicka won 9-8 in the Badgers' 4-3 loss to the Buckeyes in Madison, Wis., on April 25, but Buchanan and Marcan won 9-8 in Ohio State's 4-0 victory in the second round of the Big Ten Championships in Bloomington, Ind., on May 1.

On Friday, Baumann and Michalicka led 40-15 at double match point, but Ohio State's duo recovered for a 9-7 victory.

"From there, everything seemed to bounce our way," Tucker said. "Before that, nothing was bouncing our way."

Baumann couldn't mask his frustration, but despite the loss, this was the most successful season in program history. The Badgers upset No. 13 Illinois in the second round to reach the Round of 16 for the first time.

"You're up 7-6, 40-15, you just have to close that out," he said. That's really disappointing, especially when you lose the doubles point. It's really frustrating, but that's sometimes how it goes in tennis. ... That doubles point is so important."

Said Wisconsin coach Greg Van Emburgh: "It's unfortunate because I would have liked to seen our team play (after) winning that doubles point and playing a little more confident, playing with a little more poise. I think it could have been a totally different match."

The Buckeyes took control from there, winning at Nos. 1, 2 and 4 singles to run their streak to 26 consecutive victories and earn their fifth consecutive trip to the quarterfinals. Ohio State appears to have surpassed Illinois, which won the 2003 national title and finished second in 2007, as the Big Ten's premier program.

"We play a ton of matches, and if one guy has an off day, someone is always stepping up," Kronauge said. "It's been that way ever since I got here. Someone is always stepping up and taking care of business. You know, we're happy where we're at. We have another shot to make the Final Four, and that's huge for us."

But first, fifth-seeded Southern California (22-3) looms. The Trojans defeated the Buckeyes 4-1 in College Station, Texas, last year, and advanced on Friday with a 4-0 win over Kentucky.

"We feel USC might be the best team in the country," Tucker said. "Everybody in the country knows what USC is capable of. It's a road trip when you're here and you want to stay as long as possible."