Castellvi bows in NCAA title match

Lady Vol tennis star Vilmarie Castellvi won her way to the title match of the NCAA Singles Championships before losing to freshman sensation Amber Liu of Stanford 7-6(5), 6-2 Saturday in Gainesville, Fla. Castellvi was the tournament's No. 1 seed and the nation's top-ranked player, while Liu was seeded fifth and ranked fourth.

Castellvi reached the title match by beating Georgia's third-ranked, fourth-seeded Agata Cioroch 7-5, 6-2 on Friday. Liu advanced by beating Southern Cal's Jewel Peterson 7-5, 6-0 in the semis.

Castellvi and Liu met three times during the regular season with Castellvi winning the second and third confrontations. Liu came through in the clutch on Saturday, however, to square their head-to-head record at 2-2.

Castellvi built a 5-3 lead in the first set but Liu won the next three games, grabbing a 6-5 lead when Castellvi double-faulted to end Game 11. Castellvi broke serve in Game 12, however, to force the first set to a tie-breaker.

Wth the tie-breaker knotted at 3-3, Liu decided to shift gears. Instead of relying on her baseline game, she began to charge the net at every opportunity. The ploy worked, as two of her next four points came on put-aways at the net.

"I wanted to play aggressive in the match because I didn't want to let (Castellvi) dictate the pace of the match," Liu said. "I came to the net a few times to change it up. I hit the ball hard on the backline. I wanted to try and keep her off her game. She is a great competitor, and I knew what she could do if she was able to play her style of game."

The second set was somewhat anticlimactic. Liu kept Castellvi on her heels, running her side-to-side and commanding the way the points would be contested. The closest the UT star would get was when she tied things up at 1-1. Castellvi was able to notch one more game to her credit after Liu ripped off four in a row before succumbing by a 6-2 score.

"(Liu) made me miss, basically," Castellvi said. "I was trying to finish the points early. In the first set, I didn't do that and she won the set. I tried to change my game a little bit. I tried to go for too much and started making errors. She played really consistent. I didn't try to do much, she just made me miss. She did that the whole match. During certain games it was always the same thing. I should have played smarter."

Despite the loss, Castellvi still finished her career as the winningest player in Lady Vol history, thanks to a 140-51 record. She concluded her final season at UT with a 45-5 slate and won 34 of 36 matches during the spring season. Castellvi also went 20-2 against Top-25 opponents this year.

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