Freelove Survives to Reach NCAA Round of 16
On the second day of the NCAA Singles and Doubles Championships, Oliver Freelove advanced to the round of 16 in singles while two Illini duos were dispatched in the first round in tight, three set matches. Freelove will face TCU's Esteban Carril, the No. 4 seed, on Friday morning at 9 a.m. central time.
"Oliver didn't play a great match but he came through with the win," head coach Craig Tiley said. "He'll have to play better tomorrow in order to move on against another tough player."
In early morning action, Freelove advanced to the third round of the NCAA Singles Championships after a hard-fought 7-6 (10-8), 7-6 (8-6) victory over South Carolina's Jerome Jourdan, ranked 40th nationally. The Illini senior had his serve broken in the first game and trailed 4-2 in the first set before rallying. With the score knotted at 5-5, Jourdan broke Freelove's serve again for a 6-5 lead and the chance to serve for the first set. Freelove responded with a break of his own to force the tie-break 6-6. In the tie-breaker, the USC junior jumped out to a 6-2 lead and seemed ready to claim the first set. The Illinois senior would hit a booming ace on his next serve to stave off set point, as Freelove would survive six total set points to even the tie-break score at 8-8. Freelove won the next point and then returned Jourdan's serve to win the tie-breaker 10-8.
Winning the first set seemed to energize Freelove, as he quickly went up 0-40 on Jourdan's serve in the first game of the second set. However, the UI netter would waste three break points before Jourdan held serve for a 1-0 advantage. Freelove would break Jourdan's serve later in the set and led 5-4 with a chance to serve out the match. In that tenth game, the Illinois senior missed his first serve every point, as Jourdan broke back to even the score at 5-5. Both players would then hold serve to force a second tie-break. The South Carolina netter once again built a quick lead, going up 4-1. Freelove came back, evening the tie-break score at 5-5 with another ace before claiming a 6-5 lead. Jourdan saved that first set point but with a 7-6 lead, Freelove served out the match for the 7-6 (7-8), 7-6 (8-6) victory.
Freelove, rated No. 9 nationally, will meet Esteban Carril of Texas Christian for the second time this season on Friday morning. The TCU sophomore, currently ranked sixth in the country, handed the UI senior his first loss of the season back in September 6-3, 6-2 in the quarterfinals of the ITA Claycourt Championships. With a win, Freelove will play again on Friday afternoon for a shot at the NCAA semifinals on Saturday.
In doubles play, two Illini duos saw their seasons come to a close in tough three-set matches in the first round of the NCAA Doubles Championships this afternoon. Freelove and Cary Franklin, the No. 4 seed, were upset by the pair of Aaron and Adam Marchetti of Virginia Tech for the second-straight season 3-6, 7-5, 6-4, while the Illini team of Sontag and Jeff Laski were dispatched by the Stanford duo of Ryan Wolters and K.J. Hippensteel 7-5, 6-7 (7-4), 6-2.
In the early match, the pair of Sintag and Laski played together for the first time in more than three months against a familiar foe. Sontag had not played with Laski since February 20, when he suffered a fractured hip. The Illini duo had already faced Hippensteel/Wolters this season, as they upset the Cardinal combo 6-3, 6-4 in October in the quarterfinals of the ITA All-Americans.
Today's match was close from the beginning, as Sontag/Laski were edged 7-5 in the first set after taking an early 4-1 lead. In the second set, Illinois again broke Stanford's serve to take a 2-0 lead only to see the Cardinal duo break right back. Both teams held serve to force a tie-break before Illinois jumped out to a 6-3 advantage in the tie-break before holding on for the 7-6 (7-4) win. In the deciding set, Stanford broke Sontag's serve in the sixth game to take a 4-2 lead. After Wolters held serve, Laski's serve was broken to give the Cardinal the win. Sontag/Laski end the season at 16-10 overall as Laski set a new school record with 39 doubles wins on the season.
Freelove/Franklin started their match just over an hour after Sontag/Laski began, as the Illini duo faced a rematch with a Virginia Tech combo that had dispatched them in the first round of the NCAA's last season. The pair of Aaron and Adam Marchetti earned a 6-4, 7-5 victory last May.
Illinois' top duo, ranked fifth nationally, started off well by winning the first set 6-3. The Illini jumped out to a 4-1 lead in the second set and seemed ready to move on. After the Hokies held serve to close the score to 4-2, Franklin went up 40-0 and was serving for a 5-2 advantage. However, the Virginia Tech duo chipped away at the lead and eventually broke Franklin's serve to pull within 4-3. Franklin's serve was broken again later in the second set as the Marchetti brothers forced a third set with a 7-5 win.
In the deciding set, the two duos traded service breaks and were knotted at 3-3 with Franklin again serving. Virginia Tech forced a break point at 15-40. On the next play, the Hokies hit a shot that was headed out of bounds but Franklin, who was charging the net, could not get out of the way and the ball hit him, to give the Marchettis a 4-3 advantage. After Adam Marchetti and Freelove held serve, Aaron Marchetti served for the match with a 5-4 lead. Illinois battled off one match point before a return went into the net, as Virginia Tech upset the Illini for the second straight year.
Freelove/Franklin end their season with a school-record 34 doubles wins, as Freelove ends his career as the winningest doubles player in Illinois history with an incredible mark of 115-37.
The NCAA Singles and Doubles Championships continue tomorrow, with third round singles play in the morning, followed by second round doubles and then the quarterfinal round of singles in the afternoon. The championship match in both singles and doubles will be played on Sundy.
NCAA Singles Championship
Oliver Freelove (9-16 seed), Illinois def. Jerome Jourdan, S. Carolina - 7-6 (10-8), 7-6 (8-6)
NCAA Doubles Championship