Vilmarie Castellvi is on to the NCAA Finals after a 7-5, 6-2 victory today.
May 23, 2003
After a four-hour rain delay at the NCAA Women's Tennis Singles and Doubles Championships in Gainesville, Fla., semifinal play began on the Linder Stadium Courts at Ring Tennis Complex. Nearly two hours later, No. 1-ranked and top-seeded senior Vilmarie Castellvi of the University of Tennessee emerged as the victor in her matchup with Georgia's Agata Cioroch, ranked third nationally and seeded fourth for the tournament. Castellvi claimed the match by a 7-5, 6-2 count to advance to the final tomorrow at 11 a.m., where she will face 2003 ITA Rookie of the Year Amber Liu of Stanford. Liu holds a ranking of fourth and is seeded fifth for the championship. She defeated No. 10-rated and eighth-seeded Jewel Peterson of Southern California in the other semi, 7-5, 6-0.
Cioroch came out of the gate a little tentative in the first game on Castellvi's serve, but after trailing 2-1, Cioroch claimed three straight games to go up a break, 4-2. Castellvi got into trouble the next game when she dug a 15-40 hole for herself, but the Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, native bounced back to hold. After the changeover, the momentum for the remainder of the match shifted in Castellvi's favor during the eighth game.
The two traded points back and forth on Cioroch's serve, which eventually put the game at deuce. Much to Castellvi's delight, the sun began peeking out from behind the overcast sky above, and the heat and humidity began to intensify on the court. The weather clearly began taking its toll on Cioroch and was physically wearing her down. On the eighth deuce, Castellvi grabbed the advantage when she took Cioroch's solid approach to the net and ripped a spectacular running backhand winner down the line. On the next point, Cioroch double faulted to give the game away and put the match back on serve.
"I was very tired today," said Cioroch following the match. "Obviously, the match yesterday was pretty tough. Plus, (Lori Grey and I) played doubles, which wasn't that short either. I was definitely tired today, and it definitely affected my game."
Cioroch won her quarterfinal match with California's Raquel Kops-Jones, ranked and seeded sixth, in three sets, 6-7(2), 6-2, 6-2. Cioroch then lost in the doubles quarters to Kops-Jones and Christina Fusano, 6-4, 6-2.
After taking the first stanza, 7-5, Castellvi got off to a sluggish start in the second set, as unforced errors plagued her game. Despite the 1-0 deficit, Castellvi still had an obvious advantage, as Cioroch was still struggling with the heat and loosing energy quickly. Castellvi ran off the next four games for a 4-1 lead, but Cioroch stopped the bleeding with a strong service game to set the score at 4-2. It was not enough, though, and Castellvi took control of all the rallies for the rest of the match, closing things out by a 6-2 score.
"The match today was very competitive and could have gone either way," remarked Castellvi. "I just tried to stay out there as long as I could and make the points very long because I knew that the longer I made them, the better it was for me."
The victory extended Castellvi's unbeaten streak to 24 matches and upped her overall record on the year to 45-4. She also improved to 39-4 against ranked opponents, including a 20-1 mark versus those ranked in the Top-25. Castellvi has won 34 of 35 matches this spring with her lone loss coming to the tournament's No. 2 seed Christelle Grier of Northwestern. Peterson bounced Grier in the quarterfinals, 6-2, 4-6, 6-3.
Castellvi and Liu are no strangers to one another, as tomorrow will mark their fourth matchup of the 2002-03 campaign. Liu handed Castellvi her first loss of the year in October in the second round of the Riviera/ITA All-American Championships in Pacific Palisades, Calif. The last two meetings, however, belonged to the veteran. Less than one month after their match on the West Coast, Castellvi dispatched of Liu in a three-set battle in the Omni Hotels Intercollegiate Indoor Championships in Farmers Branch, Texas, by a 6-7(1), 6-1, 7-6(4) count. Castellvi took their last bout in January for the singles title at the Collegiate Tennis Kickoff in Las Vegas, Nev., by a score of 6-4, 6-3.
Castellvi is the first player in school history to reach the final of an individual NCAA Tournament. She was also the first to compete in a semifinal match for the singles. In 1992, the Orange and White tandem of Shannon Kagawa and Mandy Wilson reached the semis in doubles. No other duo has yet to equal their achievement.
Highlights of the entire NCAA Championships, which includes the team and individual tournaments, will be shown this Sunday, May 25, on ESPN2 at 2 p.m.