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NTI Semifinals Recap and Championship Preview
Monday, 02/17/2014
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by Bobby Knight. Pictured Ohio State Team Celebration

What a great day of tennis it was on Sunday with both semifinal matches going the distance.  There was a great turnout with Virginia having the most fans followed closely by Ohio State.  Everybody enjoyed the show that those 2 schools put on in their back and forth match. Before we get to the Championship preview let’s recap the day that was in Houston.

In the opening match of the day Ohio State came back from the dead and stunned Virginia 4-3.  In the opening 15 minutes of doubles, Ohio State put on a clinic on courts 1 and 3 and opened up a 4-1 lead while #2 stayed on serve.  While the nations #2 doubles duo of Peter Kobelt and Kevin Metka were able to close it out at 1 by a 6-3 score the Buckeyes #3 pair of Ralf Steinbach and Chris Diaz weren’t as fortunate as Virginia’s Mac Styslinger and Thai-Son Kwiatkowski turned up the heat and pulled even at 4-4.  After a Steinbach hold put Ohio State back up 5-4, Styslinger struggled to get a first serve in play but managed to fight off 2 match points to send it a tiebreaker.  Meanwhile at #2 doubles, the Virginia pair of Mitchell Frank and Luca Corinteli would reel off 4 straight games to win it 6-2 meaning all eyes turned to that tiebreak on 3.  Virginia would go up an early mini break only to see Ohio State take it back which put the Buckeyes serving at 1-2.  Ohio State would not win another point in the tiebreak and by a 7-1 score Virginia would take it at 3 and claim the overall doubles point to take the 1-0 lead.
In singes play each would win 3 opening sets with Ohio State’s Peter Kobelt, Kevin Metka, and Hunter Callahan taking it at 1, 5, and 6 while Virginia’s Alex Domijan, Ryan Shane, and Justin Shane took it at 2, 3, and 4.  So Ohio State was now faced with the task of not only closing out the 3 matches they were up in but they also needed to turn around 1 match where they were behind.  Ohio State’s Chris Diaz and Ralf Steinbach both managed to take the 2nd set at 2 and 4 to send those to a 3rd set however Virginia’s Mitchell Frank and Thai-Son Kwiatkowski did the same at 1 and 5 so we now had 4 matches going the distance. 
In between the madness Ohio State’s Hunter Callahan managed to tie up the match at 1-1 with a 6-3, 6-4 win at #6 singles over Jordan Daigle but just a short while later Virginia’s Ryan Shane was close to putting Virginia back ahead when his match at #3 singles went to a 2nd set tiebreak.  Ohio State’s Herkko Pollanen jumped out to 4-1 lead in that tiebreak only to see Shane win the next 5 points with 3 huge first serves and 2 winners down the sideline.  With match point on his racket Shane would miss long on a backhand but would recover on the next point to break and close it out by a final score of 6-2, 6-5(5) which would give Virginia the 2-1 lead. 
The next match to finish would come at #2 singles. Virginia’s Alex Domijan came out extremely strong and claimed the opening set 6-1 and looked like he was going to run away with it however Ohio State’s Chris Diaz changed up tactics and just started blocking and slicing virtually every shot on both wings.  Domijan quickly became frustrated as he fell behind 5-2 in the 2nd but he finally got his bearings straight and reeled off 3 straight to send it to a 2nd set tiebreak.  In the tiebreak Diaz switched it up again and became more aggressive and quickly raced out to a 6-0 lead and would take the tiebreak 7-1.  Diaz would go up an early break in the 3rd before Domijan broke back and would break again with Diaz serving at 4-5 to take the match 6-1, 5-6(1), 6-4.  Virginia would now lead 3-1.
At #1 singles Ohio State’s Peter Kobelt and Virginia’s Mitchell Frank were tied at 4-4 in the 3rd when momentum would turn back towards the guys in Scarlett and Grey.  Kobelt would break Frank for just the second time on the day and then the big man would serve it out to for a 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 win to cut the Virginia lead to 3-2. 
At #4 singles Virginia’s Justin Shane played close to flawless in the opening set but as the 2nd and 3rd sets progressed the winners that were plentiful in the 1st set started to sail just a little long.  Steinbach kept chipping away at the lead and would actually open up a 4-1 lead in the 3rd set before Shane started to find his range again and would come back to tie it at 4.  After another exchange of holds it would go to a tiebreak to decide the match.   Steinbach raced out to a 5-2 lead in the TB and had the next 2 points on his serve but Shane took them both and then evened it at 5 on his serve.  With the Virginia faithful sensing a victory, Steinbach would take the next 2 points and close it out for a 4-6, 6-2, 6-5(5) win that would tie the match at 3-3.   
Everybody in the building then surrounded court #5 to watch the conclusion of the match between Ohio State’s Kevin Metka and Virginia’s Thai-Son Kwiatkowski.  While Metka was holding easily with his booming lefty serve and his aggressive serving and volleying, Kwiatkowski had to work for each and every point.  With Thai-Son serving at 3-4 he would fall behind 0-30 before hitting some clutch first serves to quickly come back and hold for 4-4.  Metka followed with another love service game before Kwiatkowski held at 40-15 to send it a match deciding 3rd set tiebreak.  The drama that would unfold over the next 18 minutes was something to be seen.   Below is how it went point-by-point from my vantage point next to the court:
Metka serves 1st and goes up 1-0 with a serve & volley winner. 
2-0 Metka as he attacks the net and puts an overhead away. 
2-1 Metka as he comes to the net and can’t handle the Kwiatkowski forehand.
3-1 Metka as he hits a big 2nd serve out wide that Kwiatkowski returns long.
4-1 Metka as he hits a serve and volley winner. 
4-2 Metka as he comes to the net but Kwiatkowski passes down the line.
4-3 Metka as Kwiatkowski hits a booming 1st serve that doesn’t come back
5-3 Metka as he hits a big 1st serve that is returned long.
5-4 Metka as he comes to the net and Kwiatkowski passes down the line.
6-4 Metka as Kwiatkowski put a forehand into the net.  Match point for OSU.
6-5 Metka as Kwiatkowski forces a Metka miss.  2nd match point for OSU.
6-6 – Metka served and volleyed and thought he had the match but Kwiatkowski hit a running passing shot down the line that Metka could have likely volleyed for a winner but pulled off it thinking it was going wide.  It stayed in by a lot.
7-6 Metka as he hits a big serve that doesn’t come back.  3rd match point for OSU.
7-7 – Kwiatkowski hits an ace down the T.  Metka calls it out and is overruled by chair.
8-7 Kwiatkowski as Metka comes in and Kwiatkowski passes down the line.  Match point for UVA.
8-8 – Metka serves and volleys a return off his toes for a drop winner.  Point of the match in my opinion.
9-8 Metka as he comes to the net and hits a volley winner.  (Kwiatkowski argued that he got to the shot before the ball bounced twice but the chair said no)   4th match point for OSU. 
9-9 as Kwiatkowski hit a forehand winner off the line.
10-9 Kwiatkowski as Metka comes to the net and can’t handle a Kwiatkowski forehand. 2nd MP for UVA.
10-10 – Metka hits a big serve out wide that Kwiatkowski can’t put back in play.
11-10 Metka as he hits another huge first serve that isn’t returned in play.  5th match point for OSU.
12-10 Metka wins on a Kwiatkowski double fault. 
As you can tell from this 3rd set tiebreak recap the theme of it and the whole match was Kevin Metka’s relentless attacking style.  If Kwiatkowski was going to win he was going to have to hit winner after winner and he nearly pulled it off.  Those two warriors played an extremely high quality of tennis with minimal unforced errors and each hit more winners than I could keep up with.  It was a great tennis match and it was a shame that there had to be a loser.
While that barnburner finished up on the back courts the UCLA/USC match got underway on the 3 front courts.  UCLA would jump out to a 4-1 lead at #3 and a 4-2 lead at #2 while USC broke early on #1 and would lead 4-2. USC’s #3 pair of Eric Johnson and Max De Vroome would then reel off 5 straight games to come back and win 6-4 and just moments later USC’s #1 pair of Ray Sarmiento and Yannick Hanfmann would clinch the doubles point with a 6-4 win on court 1. UCLA’s #2 pair of Clay Thompson and Joseph Di Giulio were serving for the match at #2 at the time of the clinch. 
After seeing the back and forth slugfest in singles play between Ohio State and Virginia I thought we were in for another but instead got quite the opposite.  Lopsided sets were the theme for most of this one as 5 of the 6 matches finished in straight sets.  USC head coach Peter Smith made the call to insert Max De Vroome into the lineup at #5 and the move paid major dividends, as De Vroome was the first to finish with a 6-3, 6-0 win over Dennis Mrktchian.   The 2-0 Trojan lead would grow to 3-0 as Roberto Quiroz would knock off Mackenzie McDonald 6-2, 6-4 at #3 singles in what I thought was a fairly stunning result considering the results that McDonald had since September.   UCLA would then mount its comeback with Joseph Di Giulio starting things off by taking care of Michael Grant 6-2, 6-3 at #6.  Next to finish was fellow Bruin freshman Gage Brymer as he would defeat USC freshman Connor Farren 6-4, 6-4 at #4 singles.  In that contest at #4 Farren led 3-0 in the 2nd set and had a break point to go up 4-0 before Brymer turned it around and closed it.   UCLA’s Clay Thompson would then even the match at 3-3 when he completed a 6-2, 6-5(5) victory over USC’s Ray Sarmiento at #1 singles.   In the remaining match on court, USC’s Yannick Hanfmann would open up a 4-1 lead in the 3rd set at #2 singles against UCLA’s Marcos Giron and would quietly close it out 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 and with that USC was headed to the finals against Ohio State.  Below is a video clip of match point with what I thought was a very subdued celebration. 
Championship Preview:
#3 USC vs. #5 Ohio State – This will be a rematch of the 2012 NTI Finals, which saw USC come out on top 4-3 as well as a rematch of last year’s NCAA Quarterfinals which saw Ohio State win 4-3.  Ohio State will be looking for its 1st ever National indoor Title after coming up short the previous 3 times while USC will be looking for NTI Title #4 as it makes its 9th appearance in the finals.  After the emotionally draining semifinal win against Virginia, the question on many peoples mind is does Ohio State have enough left in the tank to do it one more time?  I guess time will tell but I personally think they’ll be ready to rumble at high noon.  As always the doubles point will be extremely critical and after dropping it on Sunday I look for Ohio State to rebound and to take it on Monday to grab the early 1-0 lead.   Now let’s take a look at the individual singles matches:
#1: Ray Sarmiento (USC) vs. Peter Kobelt (OSU) – These two met a year ago at #2 singles with Kobelt winning a tight 7-6, 7-6 thriller.  Kobelt’s serve has been thumping all week and he’ll be playing with a ton of confidence after knocking off Virginia’s Mitchell Frank yesterday.  I like Peter in this one and I think he’ll get it done in straights as well.  Prediction:  Kobelt in 2.
#2: Yannick Hanfmann (USC) vs. Chris Diaz (OSU) –  Hanfmann will be looking to hit it through Diaz so Diaz’s best defense will be to do what he did against Domijan and deflect shot after shot hoping Hanfmann becomes frustrated and starts making errors.  While it worked for a set and a half against Domijan I don’t think it’ll work today. Prediction:  Hanfmann in 2
#3: Roberto Quiroz (USC) vs. Herkko Pollanen (OSU) – Quiroz has yet to drop a set this week while Pollanen has been up and down with 1 win and 2 losses.  I’ll take USC lefty in this one with a straight set win to boot. Prediction:  Quiroz in 2
#4: Connor Farren (USC) vs. Ralf Steinbach (OSU) – Steinbach has shown a ton of heart this week by coming back from a set down in each of his last two matches after winning in straights against Florida while Farren has been a tad streaky with 1 straight set win and 2 straight set losses.  The heart keeps on beating and Ralf keeps on winning.  Prediction:  Steinbach in 3
#5: Max De Vroome (USC) vs. Kevin Metka (OSU) – De Vroome looked fantastic on Sunday blowing a red-hot Mkrtchian off the court in under an hour while Kevin Metka has probably been the MVP of the tournament so far.  If Metka has enough left in the tank to get into the net time and time again like he did against Kwiatkowski then I think the Buckeye takes it.  If the tank is on E by the 2nd set De Vroome will push the pedal down and pull away.  Prediction:  De Vroome in 2
#6: Eric Johnson or Michael Grant (USC) vs. Hunter Callahan (OSU) – Callahan is 3-0 this weekend with all straight set wins while Johnson dropped his 1 match in straights and Grant was 2-0 until he lost to Di Giulio 2 & 3.  Whoever gets the call for USC will face a tall task and I think Callahan finishes off the weekend undefeated.  Prediction:  Callahan in 2
Overall Prediction:  Ohio State 4-3

Make sure you follow along at the Live Scoring link to see how it all turns out at the MET.  

I will do my best to provide tiebreaker scoring along with point-by-point scoring when possible so definitely follow  CTO's Twitter feed to stay the most informed.