Rubin and Shane Meet For Men's NCAA D-I Title; Loeb and Zhao Face Off for Women's Singles Championship
Two New Yorkers playing for Carolina schools, both No. 7 seeds, and both alumni of the John McEnroe Tennis Academy, will play for NCAA singles titles Monday at the Hurd Tennis Center on the Baylor University campus.
Noah Rubin, a freshman from Wake Forest, will play No. 8 seed Ryan Shane, a junior from Virginia, for the men's title, while North Carolina's Jamie Loeb meets No. 2 seed and fellow sophomore Carol Zhao of Stanford for the women's singles championship.
Rubin earned his opportunity for a place in American tennis history by defeating unseeded Thai Kwiatkowski, a sophomore from Virginia, 6-4, 6-4 after trailing 3-0 in the second set. Although a few sprinkles and low cloud cover made players and officials jittery in the first hour of play, Rubin was able to keep his focus.
"You can't get caught up in history," said Rubin, who recalled hearing about Martin's legendary junior career when he won Kalamazoo last August. "You just want to do what you can, prepare yourself each and every day. History, it's great and all, but I just want to make people proud."
Shane got off to a slow start in his 6-4, 6-1 victory over Quentin Monaghan of Notre Dame, a No. 9 seed, who had beaten Shane in their previous ACC meeting this spring. The junior from Falls Church, Virginia was broken in the opening game but got it back for 3-3, then broke Monaghan, also a junior, to claim the first set.
Shane's power, which Rubin referred to as "monstrous," eventually took its toll on Monaghan, who failed to convert two break points down 4-0 in the second set, and Shane served out the match, hitting two aces in the final game, including on match point.
Rubin and Shane have met once before, last month in the final of the ACC Tournament final, with Rubin winning 7-6(5), 6-3.
Because both Rubin and Shane are Americans, Monday's final also has a US Open wild card on the line, with a US winner of the NCAAs traditionally receiving a place in the main draw from the USTA.
Shane admitted the possibility of playing at the Open was never far from his mind.
"Yes, I'm allowing myself to think about it," Shane said. "It's just a jump start to any career. It's an experience I would love to have, to play at the US Open. It's definitely been on my mind this whole tournament. I'm trying to block it out as much as I can, but as much as people may not admit it, everyone's thinking about it."
Shane said he is not surprised by his performance this week, with last year's tournament helping build his confidence.
"Last year I thought I had a decent chance," the 21-year-old said. "Not to win it, I don't think I was ready, but going down to [champion Marcos] Giron in the second round and being the only one to take a set off him, this year I came in knowing I could do well. Obviously, I'm not going to come in and say I'm going to win the tournament looking at the draw, but I definitely thought I had a chance to do something in the tournament. And I'm doing it. I believe in myself and it's paying off."
Rubin, who has already played in the main draw of the US Open after receiving a wild card for winning Kalamazoo, says his performance in the final will have no bearing on his decision as to whether he'll return for his sophomore year. As for another main draw wild card, Rubin wasn't going to stress out about it.
"It's another tennis match," said the 19-year-old. "Obviously, there's a lot on the line, but I feel there's always something on the line when I'm playing tennis, whether it's my future or for fun, whatever it is it's something and I'm always enjoying myself, so hopefully it's just another match."
While Rubin has played only one three-set match in the tournament, Loeb, his John McEnroe Academy training partner, has played only one two-set match. In Sunday's semifinal against Stephanie Wagner of Miami, a No. 9 seed, Loeb again went the distance before posting a 4-6, 6-4, 6-2 victory.
"I guess my body's adjusted to that," said Loeb, who needed nearly three hours to eliminate Wagner. "Obviously I want to win in two sets, but maybe the one match I did win in two sets, against the Clemson girl, that was maybe a fluke. These courts are really slow, everyone here is good and they're here for a reason."
After only three breaks of serve in the opening set, the second set had seven, and although Loeb failed to serve out the set at 5-3, she broke Wagner, whom she had beaten twice this season, to claim the second set.
In the third set, Loeb took a 3-0 lead, but despite leading 40-0 serving at 3-1, she lost the game. But Wagner, who hits big, appeared to be tiring with Loeb breaking and holding for a 5-2 lead. In the final game, Wagner made errors early in the rallies, which she hadn't done in the first half of the match, and hit a backhand long at 30-40 to send Loeb to the championship match.
Loeb, a 20-year-old from Ossining, New York, won the American Collegiate Invitational last year at the US Open, earning US Open qualifying wild card for this year. That, she said, has helped her approach this tournament with less stress.
"I think last year at this time I put a lot of pressure on myself," said Loeb, who lost in the quarterfinals to Lynn Chi of Cal. "I really wanted it, and also being top seed and having a lot of success, I put a lot of pressure on myself. This year, I guess I'm the underdog, which is new, but in a way I kind of like that. I secured the qualies wild card, which I think took a little pressure off, gave me an opportunity to just play and not just focusing on winning."
Stanford's Zhao, who is from Canada and therefore is not in the running for a US Open wild card on Monday, dropped her first set of the tournament against Florida's Josie Kuhlman, a No. 9 seed, but recovered for a 2-6, 6-4, 6-0 victory.
Zhao, who played doubles until nearly 9:30 p.m. indoors on Saturday night, said she needed time to adjust to the conditions.
"I was a little bit sluggish from the start," said Zhao. "I wasn't used to the outdoor feel, so it took me a few games to adjust. I warmed up indoors, because I thought the match would be indoors because of rain. But Josie came out playing really well and had a good game plan and I wasn't able to execute in the beginning."
Zhao went up a break twice in the second set, but was immediately broken back, until she broke for a 5-4 lead. She served out the set and won nine straight games to take the match, but Kuhlman never wavered in her effort. In the third game of the third set, Kuhlman served trailing 2-0 but Zhao won the six-deuce marathon game and took control from there.
"Those are the games were you've got to bear down and try to win, they can be the turning point of the match," said Zhao. "3-0, 2-1, it's a big difference, especially going up two breaks. It gave me a big cushion in the third set, so I was really happy to fight my way through that."
Zhao could become Stanford's 15th NCAA singles champion, a legacy she said provides inspiration.
"If anything it provides motivation for me to do well for my school and carry on that tradition," Zhao said. "I'm just really happy to be in this position in the final, and hopefully I can take it all the way."
The doubles finalists were decided Sunday, with an unseeded Big 12 men's champion now assured.
Texas Tech's Hugo Dojas and Felipe Soares defeated Harry Jadun and John Patrick Mulland of Michigan State 6-3, 6-2 to advance to the final, where they'll meet the Texas team of Lloyd Glasspool and Soren Hess-Olesen. Glasspool and Hess-Olesen overcame No. 5 seeds Julian Lenz and Diego Galeano of Baylor 2-6, 6-3, 7-6(3), disappointing the large crowd of local fans.
The women's final will feature defending champions and top seeds Erin Routliffe and Maya Jansen of Alabama, who came from a set down for the third consecutive match to beat the unseeded Stanford team of Caroline Doyle and Ellen Tsay 4-6, 7-5, 6-1. Routliffe and Jansen will play No. 5 seeds Klara Fabikova and Zsofi Susanyi of Cal, who came from behind to beat Florida's Brooke Austin and Kourtney Keegan 3-6, 6-4, 6-4. Austin and Keegan were up 4-1 0-40, but Cal held to make it 4-2, then reeled off the last five games of the match.
Both singles finals begin at noon on Monday. Although the times for doubles have not been posted, in the past the doubles follows the singles.
The live streaming, live scoring and live blog links are at the tournament page.
#1  Maya Jansen/Erin Routliffe (ALABAMA) def. #10 Caroline Doyle/Ellen Tsay (STANFORD) 5-7, 6-3, 6-0
#5 [5-8] Klara Fabikova/Zsofi Susanyi (CALIFORNIA) def. #6 [5-8] Brooke Austin/Kourtney Keegan (FLORIDA) 3-6, 6-4, 6-4
#22 Hugo Dojas/Felipe Soares (TEXAS TECH) def. #18 Harry Jadun/John Patrick Mullane (MICHIGAN STATE) 6-3, 6-2
#19 Lloyd Glasspool/Søren Hess-Olesen (TEXAS) def. #8 [5-8] Diego Galeano/Julian Lenz (BAYLOR) 2-6, 6-3, 7-6 (3)