Crystal Cleveland helped clinch the match for UT
Feb. 3, 2003
Although it took more than five hours, the No. 11 University of Tennessee Lady Vol Tennis team pushed its record to 4-0 Sunday afternoon with a 5-2 victory over 45th-ranked Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, Ill. The match was played on the indoor courts at the Atkins Tennis Center. UT is now 8-0 all-time versus the Fighting Illini. UI fell to 2-3 with the loss.
Like UT's match with Purdue on Saturday, the doubles point was once again decided at the No. 1 spot. Tennessee senior Crystal Cleveland and sophomore Ashley Robards got the Orange and White on the board first with an 8-5 victory at three over junior Tiffany Eklov and freshman Brianna Knue. The Fighting Illini responded with a 9-7 win at the No. 2 slot where junior Eva Choe and senior Eldina Fazlic defeated the 53rd-ranked duo of junior Tammy Encina and freshman Sabita Maharaj, 9-7.
UT senior Vilmarie Castellvi and freshman Melissa Schaub occupied the No. 1 court where the attention turned after the doubles was tied, 1-1. The No. 22-ranked pair's opponents were junior Jennifer McGaffigan and senior Michelle Webb, ranked one notch above Castellvi and Schaub. After UT held a 6-4 advantage, Illinois managed to break back on Castellvi's serve. The match eventually went into a tiebreaker, but not before the UT tandem saved two match points on Castellvi's serve after a couple of spectacular rallies that left the Illinois crowd in awe of the Lady Vols' persistence.
In the tiebreaker, both sides held serve until UT gained a mini-break, 3-2. After Castellvi held on both serves to give Tennessee a 5-2 advantage, she finished the tiebreaker off, 7-4, with an overhead smash, much to the liking of her jubilant teammates who waiting on the sidelines to congratulate she and Schaub on their incredible victory.
The singles action was just as intense as the doubles. Illinois tied things up early on, 1-1, when Eklov registered a 6-0, 6-3 win over Encina at the No. 2 spot. The loss was Encina's first of the spring.
Schaub put the Lady Vols back on top, 2-1, with a three set victory over Fazlic at three singles, 6-1, 1-6, 6-0. The Lexington, Ohio, native is now 3-1 in dual match play at the No. 3 slot.
Castellvi gave the Orange and White a 3-1 advantage after she battled back to beat 41st-rated McGaffigan at No. 1 singles. The Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, native dropped her first set of the year in the initial frame, 6-1, but came back to take the next two, 6-0, 6-4, for her eighth-straight victory of the spring. Castellvi is 19-3 this season and 4-0 at one singles.
The Fighting Illini came back and cut the UT lead in half, 3-2, when Choe registered a come-from-behind victory over Robards at the No. 6 position, 4-6, 6-1, 7-5.
With only two matches remaining on court at No. 4 and 5, the outcome of the match could still not be determined. Ultimately, Cleveland would be the deciding factor in the match at the five hole. After dropping the first set to Knue, 7-5, the Delray Beach, Fla., native blanked her opponent, 6-0, in the second set.
In the third set, neither player seemed capable of holding serve, and eventually the match went into a tiebreaker. After switching sides at 3-3, Knue took the lead, 5-4, and appeared to be in control of the contest. At that point, Cleveland switched up her strategy and began feeding Knue high, looping shots in order to throw off her rhythm. Her thinking worked perfectly as Knue became confused and rattled by the change in pace, and Cleveland claimed the next three points for a 7-5 triumph and another UT win.
"It was a very tough and intense match," said Cleveland after the victory. "After Vilmarie won I felt like I had to win this match. I knew that if I could keep the ball in play I might be able to wear her (Knue) down."
The Lady Vols' final victory came courtesy of sophomore Breanna Kray, who took down Webb at the No. 4 slot, 4-6, 7-5, 6-2.
Tennessee will travel to Madison, Wis., next weekend to participate in the USTA/ITA National Team Indoor Championships hosted by the University of Wisconsin. The event begins on Thursday, Feb. 6, and concludes on Sunday, Feb. 9.
Final Score: #11 Tennessee (4-0) 5, #45 Illinois (2-3) 2
|No. 1||#4 Vilmarie Castellvi (UT) def. #41 Jennifer McGaffigan (UI)||1-6, 6-0, 6-4|
|No. 2||Tiffany Eklov (UI) def. Tammy Encina (UT)||6-0, 6-3|
|No. 3||Melissa Schaub (UT) def. Eldina Fazlic (UI)||6-1, 1-6, 6-0|
|No. 4||Breanna Kray (UT) def. Michelle Webb (UI)||4-6, 7-5, 6-2|
|No. 5||Crystal Cleveland (UT) def. Brianna Knue (UI)||5-7, 6-0, 7-6(5)|
|No. 6||Eva Choe (UI) def. Ashley Robards (UT)||4-6, 6-1, 7-5|
|Order of Finish: 2, 3, 1, 6, 5*, 4|
|No. 1||#22 Castellvi/Schaub (UT) def. #21 McGaffigan/Webb (UI)||9-8(4)|
|No. 2||Choe/Fazlic (UI) def. #53 Encina/Sabita Maharaj (UT)||9-7|
|No. 3||Cleveland/Robards (UT) def. Eklov/Knue (UI)||8-5|
|Order of Finish: 3, 2, 1*|
|* clinching point|