By Staff Report.
STANFORD, CA – Josipa Bek and Keri Wong just keep rolling, this time bouncing the No. 3 national seed, Southern Cal’s Maria Sanchez and Kaitlyn Christian, from the NCAA Doubles Semifinals, 6-4, 6-4 in Stanford, CA. The Tigers broke the Trojans’ serve in seven of ten service games to propel them to the win.
They advance to play in the National Championship match against the winner of No. 1 seed Jana Juricova and Mari Andersson of California and No. 4 seed Hilary Barte and Mallory Burdette of Stanford. The match time is yet to be determined, as Juricova has also earned a berth in the Singles Championship match.
“Both of them are great doubles players,” said Head Coach Nancy Harris, who led the team to a fifth straight Sweet 16 appearance. “With Jo and Keri, they are both so gifted and talented. When one is playing well, and the other is not, they complement each other so well, and when they both play well, they are very tough to beat.”
“There is no easy match at nationals, and we fought every point today,” said Bek. “We just try to play hard whether serving or receiving, and it was important to make good decisions about where to go with the ball, and we were good about looking for their positions on the court and how we can take advantage.”
The win comes just a day after they dispatched the No. 2 seed from Florida, Allie Will and Alex Cercone, who had been 14-0, in the quarters. The Trojans entered this match with a 27-4 mark on the year, but held just three of ten service opportunities in the match.
Among Clemson sports that employ a single-elimination tournament format, this will be just the fourth appearance in a National Championship match in school history (Gigi Fernandez – Tennis Singles, 1983; Soccer, 1984; Soccer 1987).
It was Bek’s 40th doubles win of the season and the 95th of her career, while Wong registered her 39th of the season and 91st of her career. The previous record for doubles wins in a singles season was 35 by Ina Hadziselimovic last season.
They have now reached the finals of each of the three collegiate “Grand Slam” events, the ITA All-American Championship, the ITA Indoor National Championship, and the NCAA Championship.
“The matches have been very tough,” said Wong. “We knew going in that it was going to be very tough, but playing in the other two tournaments helped us to see what the competition is like. We were expecting it but at the same time you never know.”
The duo is 34-10 together on the season, far surpassing the previous tandem’s record of 29 wins in 2004.
“Both Keri and Jo are juniors, and they have been in this arena several times, and they love it and enjoy it,” said Harris. “They are looking for the next opportunity to get the next point, and it’s a great focus and energy that is propelling them. There is no doubt that this is one of the best doubles teams in college tennis history.”
Clemson had first serve in the opening set, and each team held the first three games before Clemson broke the Trojans and then held again to take a 4-1 lead. The Trojans got back on serve after breaking back to pull within 4-3, starting a streak of four straight breaks that finished with Sanchez’s double fault giving the Tigers the 6-4 first set.
Clemson opened the second set strong as well, holding the first game and then breaking Sanchez to take a 2-0 lead. The Trojans broke Bek, but Clemson answered with a quick break of Christian and a 3-1 lead. Clemson then held, to go up 4-1, as Bek’s smash found open court on Wong’s serve.
Much like the first set, The Trojans got back on serve to close to 4-3, but Clemson again broke Christian setting up Wong with a 5-3 lead. Clemson took a 15-0 lead as Bek used a series of smashes, and Christian put a return in the net. Wong’s offer on the next point was long, knotting it at 15-15. Wong then double-faulted twice in a row, giving USC the 15-40 lead. Christian then hit a winner down the line off the next serve to break, pulling to within one at 5-4.
With Sanchez back serving, Wong’s return was into the net, giving SC the 15-0 lead. Sanchez then double faulted, knotting it at 15-15. Christian hit the next ball off Wong’s return at Bek’s feet and she couldn’t handle it, but bounced right back sending a backhand winner down the line off the next serve. Sanchez again double-faulted, setting up match point at 30-40.
Sanchez fought off her own serve, missing long on the first, and setting up a high-pressure situation. But, the nation’s third-ranked singles player hit her second offer into the net, her third double-fault of the game, and clinching it for the Tigers, their seventh break of the match.
“I’ll be really happy and proud if we can win tomorrow, and would be big for all of us,” said Bek. “It is a reflection of everything and all the support we get day to day in Clemson, and would be big for our fans and how we represent Clemson University.”