Monday, May 20, 2013

Stanford women upset No. 1 Florida, reach NCAA final

Krista Hardebeck, shown in last year's Australian
Open girls doubles, gave No. 12 Stanford a 4-3
victory over No. 1 Florida in the semifinals of the
NCAA Championships. Photo by Paul Bauman
    Normally, a college team doesn't want a dual match to come down to a freshman.
   Krista Hardebeck, however, is no ordinary freshman.
   At 15, the resident of Santa Ana in the Los Angeles area was featured in the Aug. 2, 2010, issue of Sports Illustrated as a future star. The following year, she reached the semifinals of a $25,000 professional tournament and the quarterfinals of a $50,000 pro event.
   Hardebeck, who arrived at Stanford last fall as the top recruit in the country, has lived up to expectations. On Monday, she notched the biggest win of her collegiate career, clinching the No. 12 Cardinal's dramatic 4-3 victory over No. 1 and two-time defending champion Florida in the semifinals of the NCAA Team Championships in Urbana, Ill.
   After trailing 5-1 in the second set, the 14th-ranked Hardebeck rallied to defeat Alexandra Cercone, a junior ranked 51st, 6-7 (5), 7-6 (5), 6-3 at No. 3 singles.   
   "In the third set, I could tell she was maybe getting a little tired," Hardebeck, who leads Stanford with 34 singles victories this season, said on "I just told myself to really keep pressing. I knew that the longer I could keep her out here was going to be to my benefit. I knew once it got to 3-3 (in the third set) that I had a really good chance to outlast her."
   Stanford, the lowest seed to reach the title match since No. 12 UCLA lost to Georgia Tech in 2007, has knocked off three top-five teams in a row. The Cardinal toppled No. 5 USC 4-3 in a five-hour thriller in the round of 16 and No. 4 Georgia 4-1 in the quarterfinals.
   Stanford (21-4) will try to make it four straight when it plays No. 3 Texas A&M for the title on Tuesday at 3 p.m. PDT. The Aggies edged No. 7 UCLA 4-3 to prevent an all-Pacific-12 Conference final. Stanford seeks its 17th NCAA women's team championship, and first since 2010, and Texas A&M its first. The dual match will be streamed live at
   The Cardinal raced to a 3-0 lead against Florida with victories in the doubles and at the top two singles positions before the Gators tied the score with wins in the last three singles spots.
   A marquee matchup at No. 1 singles turned into a rout as Nicole Gibbs, the defending NCAA singles (and doubles) champion, crushed top-ranked Lauren Embree 6-0, 6- 1 to give Stanford a 2-0 lead.
   "I'm still in shock," said Gibbs, a junior from Santa Monica in the Los Angeles area. "I was not expecting that kind of victory. Honestly, I felt like I was out there fighting for every game because Lauren Embree doesn't give you any room for messing around. If I had let her in during the first set or second set, she would have clawed her way back into the match. I was really disciplined to the game plan I came in with, and that was able to keep me calm and centered when I was down."
  Stanford improved to 18-13 all-time against Florida and 10-3 in the postseason. The Gators had won 4-2 in Gainesville, Fla., on Feb. 24. The Cardinal avenged not only that loss but a heartbreaking 4-3 setback in the 2011 NCAA final at Stanford. Playing without then-No.15 Kristie Ahn at No. 4 singles because of an ankle injury, Stanford suffered its first home loss in 185 matches spanning more than 12 seasons.
   In the deciding match of the 2011 final at No. 2 singles, Stanford's Mallory Burdette led 4-0 in the third set before falling to Embree 5-7, 6-3, 7-6 (6) in a battle of sophomores. Burdette turned pro last September and has climbed to No. 82 in the world.
   Ahn, now a junior ranked 25th, gave Stanford its 3-0 lead Monday with a 6-1, 6-4 triumph over No. 17 Sophie Oyen at No. 2 singles.      
   In today's men's final, No. 1 UCLA will face No. 2 Virginia, the runner-up to USC the last two years.
No. 12 Stanford 4, No. 1 Florida 3
    1. No. 8 Ahn/Gibbs (STAN) d. No. 11 Embree/Oyen 8-3.
    2. No. 28 Tan/Tsay (STAN) d. Cercone/Hitimana 8-3.
    3. Danielle Collins/Morgan (FLA) led Dillon/Hardebeck 6-3.
    Order of finish: 1, 2.
    1. No. 13 Nicole Gibbs (STAN) d. No. 1 Lauren Embree 6-0, 6-1.
    2. No. 25 Kristie Ahn (STAN) d. No. 17 Sofie Oyen 6-1, 6-4.
    3. No. 14 Krista Hardebeck (STAN) d. No. 51 Alexandra Cercone 6-7 (5), 7-6 (5), 6-3.
    4. No. 89 Brianna Morgan (FLA) d. No. 103 Stacey Tan 6-1, 6-3.
    5. No. 123 Olivia Janowicz (FLA) d. No. 92 Ellen Tsay 6-2, 3-6, 6-4.
    6. Caroline Hitimana (FLA) d. Natalie Dillon 1-6, 6-1, 6-0.
    Order of finish: 1, 2, 4, 6, 5, 3.
   ATP World Tour -- Dmitry Tursunov, returning from a pulled hamstring muscle suffered while practicing for last week's Italian Open, remained undefeated in doubles this year with a first-round victory in the Power Horse Cup in Dusseldorf, Germany.
   Tursunov, a Moscow native based in the Sacramento suburb of Granite Bay, and Jonathan Erlich of Israel edged Tommy Haas of Germany and Michael Russell of the United States 6-4, 6-7 (5), 10-8 match tiebreaker. Tursunov, 30, is the youngster of the four. Erlich is 36, and Haas and Russell are both 35.
   Tursunov and Erlich will meet fourth-seeded Frederik Nielsen of Denmark and Andre Sa of Brazil on Tuesday in the quarterfinals. Last year, Nielsen and Jonathan Marray of Great Britain became the first wild cards in Wimbledon's 135-year history to win the men's doubles title. Erlich won the 2008 Australian Open with countryman Andy Ram.
   The Power Horse Cup is only Tursunov's second doubles tournament this year. He and Jarkko Nieminen of Finland won four matches for the BMW Open title in Munich three weeks ago.
   Tursunov has had to play singles qualifying in most tournaments this year, preventing him from competing in doubles. He has climbed from No. 123 to No. 58 in singles and from No. 285 to No. 149 in doubles since Feb. 1 after battling injuries. His career highs are No. 20 in singles in 2006 and No. 36 in doubles in 2008.
   Trying to ensure that he's ready for the French Open, which starts Sunday, Tursunov withdrew from his first-round singles match in Dusseldorf against eighth-seeded Nikolay Davydenko of Russia.

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