The NCAA Women's singles and doubles championships swing into play Wednesday, May 23 with 64 singles players and 32 doubles teams. Today we'll try to peruse the field and identify some marquee players and sleepers in the singles and doubles draws. These competitors are chosen solely on the basis of their individual results, so you'll see some familiar faces from the team competition, but also some brand new players from schools who did not qualify for the team championships.
There is a huge emotional and physical impact on the players who participated in the team event. Did they win or did they get upset early? Did they test their bodies for four days, or were they excused after one match? Finally which scenario is good and which is bad? Conventional thinking is that the physical toll is acute, especially if you go all the way to the team final. Others say it makes you match-tough, and players whose team didn't qualify are at a disadvantage because of limited competition for as much as three weeks. Some coaches feel if your team wins, the celebration kills you - check out last year's "dogpile" after the women's team win and you'll see Stanford's Theresa Logar take a "roundhouse" to the head and stagger over backward - and minimizes the individual tournament. Of course, most coaches would love to take on that challenge. Other coaches feel the emotion of a team debacle is difficult, if not impossible, to overcome. If our team won the Team Championship, I would, of course, expound on the "roll" we were on and how we "owned" the tournament. If we lost, I would elucidate about how we can now focus on the individual tournament, and what a great opportunity we had to prepare and rest. (Editor's Note: Did Brennan's teams ever lose? That's not how I remember it.) By far, the most difficult obstacle is the first day. Although there is only one singles match that day, it can be scheduled as early as 10:00 am. After that, the 32 survivors can catch their collective breaths and consolidate for the final five days.
So with those revelations in mind, the favorites are the well-traveled Audra Cohen from Miami (transfer from Northwestern), the #1 seed and the 2005 singles finalist. Georgia Tech's Kristi Miller is a sophomore and seeded #2, followed by another transfer Daniela Bercek, who left UCLA. The defending champion, Zuzana Zemenova from Baylor, is seeded in the fourth slot. If you like freshman you will love USC's six-seeded Amanda Fink's chances, but beware that she's beaten up from the team event. Unfettered by team involvement, Cal's Zsuzsanna Fodor and UNLV's Elena Gantcheva will be rested and motivated.
Stanford, not surprisingly, has six players in the draw and four of the top 16 seeds. Besides All-Americans Anne Yelsey and Theresa Logar, the Cardinal's Alice Barnes (also an AA) has all the tools to win, but she usually saves her most inspirational performances for the team event. To me, the great story is Amber Liu (a senior and two-time NCAA champion) attempting to win an unprecedented third singles title. Not turning pro after her first singles title was pleasantly surprising (but smart), and sticking around after winning as a sophomore was pleasantly shocking! Her game has grown more powerful under Coach Lele Forood's tutelage, and Amber says, "I'm steadily improving, love my team and am having too much fun on and off the court." (Code for "I have an All-American Water Polo boyfriend.") There have been five two-time NCAA singles champions (four from Stanford), and it would be wonderful to have Amber win a third and historic title as a tribute to her loyalty.
The doubles tournament could resemble the story of "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" with the Stanford Team of Anne Yelsey and Alice Barnes playing the role of Snow White. Interestingly, both Alice (a senior) and Anne (a junior) were in the finals last year, but as opponents. In the 2005 all-Stanford doubles final, Alice combined with Erin Burdette to beat Anne and Amber Liu. Barnes and Yelsey have been ranked at or near the top all year, and are truly the best team as long as they have any gas in the tank in the later stages of the doubles tournament.
Miami has the #2 seed of Applebaum and Cohen, followed by the media-friendly Thompson twins (Catrina and Christian) from Notre Dame at #3 and the New Mexico combo of Gersic/Kovacek at #4. My sleeper call (and my editors are not going to like this) is the Cal Bears team of Suzie Babos and Zsuzsanna Fodor, who will come in rested and focused. Cal Coach Jan Brogan, long considered one of the best doubles coaches in the country, has had four doubles team winners in the last eight championships, and will have something to prove after having her squad upset by Fresno State early in the team event. That said, Stanford won the team event last year and had not one, but two teams in the doubles final, so who knows! For the record, Cal's Amy Jensen holds the record with three consecutive wins (1998-2000) with two different partners, and her gas tank was never empty. After being a thorn in our side for four years, I gave her a BIG graduation gift.
(Men's individual report later today)
Frank Brennan was the Stanford Women's Tennis Coach for 21 seasons (1980-2000), winning an amazing 10 NCAA crowns during that span. He amassed a remarkable 510-50 (.911) overall dual match record, and his players won nine NCAA singles and three NCAA doubles titles. Brennan was Intercollegiate Tennis Association's "Coach of the Decade" for both the 1980's and the 1990's. Brennan's teams won six consecutive NCAA championships from 1986-91, reached the Final Four 18 times and registered a then-record 76-dual match winning streak. He was named to the Stanford Athletics Hall of Fame in 2001 and was inducted into the Intercollegiate Hall of Fame in 2006.
Are you fully subscribed to The Bootleg? If not, then you are missing out on all the top Cardinal coverage we provide daily on our website, as well as our full-length feature articles in our glossy magazine. Sign up today for the biggest and best in Stanford sports coverage with TheBootleg.com (sign-up) and The Bootleg Magazine (sign-up)!