May 13, 2012

By Jeff White

CHARLOTTESVILLE — As an advertisement for University of Virginia tennis, the proceedings couldn’t have gone much better Saturday.

On a picturesque spring afternoon at the Snyder Tennis Center, with hundreds of fans watching, the UVa men’s and women’s tennis earned decisive victories in their respective NCAA tournaments.

Coach Brian Boland’s men, seeded No. 3 in the 64-team tournament, dispatched Fairleigh Dickinson 4-0 in a first-round match. UVa (25-1), which was the NCAA runner-up in 2011, hosts VCU (23-4) at noon Sunday, with the winner advancing to the round of 16 in Athens, Ga.

The Rams are “a talented team,” Boland said. “They have a program that’s been successful for a long time … They’re good from 1 through 6, and we’re going to have to play well.”

The women’s team has already booked its trip to Athens. In a second-round match that lasted three hours Saturday, Mark Guilbeau’s Cavaliers defeated Tennessee 4-1 to move on to the Sweet Sixteen for the second consecutive season.

Next up for No. 14 Virginia is another date with its nemesis, ACC rival Duke. The Wahoos (19-7) will meet the third-seeded Blue Devils (27-2) at 4 p.m. Thursday in Athens.

Duke’s got a ton of talent,” Tennessee coach Mike Patrick said Saturday, “but [the Cavaliers are] going to compete and fight ’em at every spot, and it’s going to be a war.”

Guilbeau acknowledged that Duke is “a team that we basically put thought to every single day, the entire year. We try to make no matches bigger than the other, but we’re definitely ready to give them absolutely everything we’ve got, and we’re due.”

During the regular season, Duke edged UVa 4-3 in Charlottesville. When they met again in last month’s ACC tournament, the Devils won 4-0.

“I don’t think it’s a barrier or a hurdle,” Virginia’s Lindsey Hardenbergh said of the team’s struggles against Duke. “I think honestly it just makes us that much hungrier to go out and get it the next time and learn from it. Every match, win or lose, we’re taking things that we did well [and others] that we need to improve on.”

The losses to Duke, Hardenbergh said, have shown the ‘Hoos “specific things that we work on, which we’re very attentive to. We’re hungry. We knew who was coming. We wanted to get through the regional, take care of business here and look forward.

“We want Duke another time. I can speak for Emily and myself.”

The two seniors in UVa’s lineup, Hardenbergh and Emily Fraser, play No. 2 and No. 1 singles, respectively. Fraser, who plays doubles with sophomore Li Xi, didn’t get to finish either of her matches Saturday, but Hardenbergh teamed with junior Maria Fuccillo to win 8-0 at No. 3 doubles.

Then, in singles, Hardenbergh clinched the match for Virginia with a 6-4, 6-1 victory over Brynn Boren, who is ranked ahead of Hardenbergh nationally.

Guilbeau praised the injury-ravaged Lady Vols for their grit and determination. “But then it gets back to our kids,” he said. “So proud. This is what makes all the work that they do worthwhile, and they’ll have a great experience in Athens, and I know we’re really hungry.”

For Hardenbergh and Fraser, the match was their final one as Cavaliers in Charlottesville.

“It crossed my mind actually after the warmup,” Hardenbergh said. “As I was going back to the locker room before doubles, it just kind of hit me, but I didn’t really think anything of it. I just wanted to go out and compete and wanted to end on a good note. It’s been such a blessing being here. I’m not going to look back and remember [any] one match.”

A year ago, Fraser and Hardenbergh helped UVa advance to the round of 16 for the first time in program history. At Stanford, Virginia fell 4-1 to UCLA, but not, Guilbeau said Saturday, because his players were satisfied simply to reach that stage of the NCAA tournament.

“Even though it was their first experience last year, I know for sure that they came into that round of 16 hungry, determined, not satisfied,” he said. “That was one of our best matches of the entire year … I know that if we bring that same kind of hunger this year and maybe a little bit more, I think this team — and I just finished telling them this — I think this team’s as good as any team out there.”

On the women’s side, Guilbeau said, this “is a pretty open year, I think … Where a lot of years you have maybe two or three teams that are just so heavily favored, I think this year you’re looking at 10 to 16 teams, so every team [in Athens] is going to have a chance moving forward.”

The women’s team tuned up for its second match of the season with Tennessee — Virginia won the first 4-3 in late January — by routing Fairleigh Dickinson 4-0 in the opening round Friday.

For Boland’s men, their match Saturday was their first since April 22, when UVa defeated Duke 4-1 to win the ACC tournament for the sixth consecutive year.

“I thought the guys played pretty well,” Boland said, “considering we’ve had a three-week layoff of competition and they just finished exams.”

UVa’s standouts Saturday included senior Drew Courtney. At No. 4 singles, he romped 6-1, 6-0. At No. 1 doubles, Courtney and junior Jarmere Jenkins won 8-1.

“Drew Courtney did a phenomenal job of focusing and doing a good job of playing his game and doing the things he does best,” Boland said.

“We don’t look too much at the scouting reports, we just try to play our games, and I think Drew did a great job of that, as did a few others. And a couple guys struggled, which is always expected in a situation like that.”

That group included Jenkins, who at No. 1 singles had to rally to win the first set against Arvis Berzins. The match was halted with the score 0-0 in the second set after UVa clinched the team victory.

“Jarmere battled himself today, but he’ll be fine,” Boland said. “Credit to the Fairleigh Dickinson kid. He played a really good match.

“Jarmere has days like that. I’d rather he had it today than another day. He’ll be ready to play ball [Sunday]. Jarmere’s a gamer. He’s as tough as it gets, and I know when he needs to turn it up a notch, he does, as we saw when he was down 4-1 [against Berzins and rallied to win] the set 7-6. Didn’t play his best tennis — he lost his focus a little bit and was his own worst enemy — but he’ll be fine.”