By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
URBANA, Ill. — Coming off the court Monday afternoon, a dejected Jarmere Jenkins stopped to greet a group of UVa supporters seated in the stands at the University of Illinois’ Kahn Outdoor Tennis Complex.
“I’ll do better in doubles, all right?” Jenkins said, forcing a smile.
“You’re the best, J!” a fan answered, trying to lift Jenkins’ spirits.
Moments earlier, Jenkins had lost a fiercely contested match to Ohio State junior Blaz Rola in the NCAA singles final, falling 7-6(8), 6-4. And now Jenkins had 90 minutes to put aside his disappointment and prepare himself for the NCAA doubles final, a match in which he and freshman Mac Styslinger would meet Chris Camillone and David Holiner of Texas.
He ate a little during the break between matches, said Jenkins, who graduated from the University this month, but it was a struggle.
“It was hard to put stuff down,” he said. “It was tough to stomach that singles loss. I didn’t really have an appetite. But I just tried to take care of what I could. I iced down, got a stretch and then just got ready and got my mind right for doubles.”
Not since Georgia’s Matias Boeker in 2001 had a player reached both the NCAA men’s singles and doubles finals in the same season. To bounce back so quickly from a singles loss on the college game’s biggest stage “takes the toughest competitor in the world,” Virginia coach Brian Boland said. Jarmere Jenkins is a gamer, and he proved it once again today.”
It took longer than many observers might have expected. Camillone and Holiner, ranked No. 41 nationally, were unseeded in the 32-team NCAA doubles tournament, but the fourth-seeded duo from UVa dropped the first set 6-3.
“I definitely got off to a slow start in doubles,” Jenkins said. “I was still thinking about [the loss to Rola]. But then I just thought about how it was my last college match ever, so I wanted to go out on a high note, and I wanted to control what I had control over, and that was to go out and fight as hard as I could. And that’s what I tried to do from the second set on in the doubles.”
The Cavaliers dominated the second set, winning 6-2. But the Longhorns, who had upset the Nos. 1 and 3 seeds, respectively, en route to the NCAA final, refused to fold in a match that, because of thunderstorms, had moved indoors after the fifth game of the opening set.
In the final set, Texas broke Styslinger’s serve to go up 3-2. The Cavaliers answered with a break of their own, however, and then Jenkins held serve to give them a 4-3 lead. The Longhorns pulled to 4-4, but UVa, with Styslinger serving, needed only four points to take a 5-4 lead.
Styslinger struggled at times Monday to get his first serves in, “but he was composed in the big moments,” Boland said.
Jenkins, UVa’s male athlete of the year for 2012-13, lives for those moments, as those who follow Boland’s program know, and he came through again Monday evening in the still air of the Atkins Tennis Center.
With Camillone serving, the Longhorns saved two match points, but they couldn’t hold off the Wahoos forever. A Jenkins forehand gave the ‘Hoos a 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 victory and clinched their second NCAA crown in less than a week.
The first, of course, came last Tuesday in Urbana, where second-seeded Virginia capped an unbeaten season by edging top-seeded UCLA 4-3 in the NCAA team final. UVa became the first ACC school to win an NCAA title in men’s tennis.
“I’m just so happy for Jarmere Jenkins,” Boland said. “What a great way to end his career, to win a national team championship. And then he had a tough one today and bounced back to win the individual doubles championship.”
In addition to winning the ACC title for the seventh consecutive year, Virginia swept the NCAA and ITA National Team Indoor championships in 2012-13. Moreover, Jenkins and junior Alex Domijan captured singles titles at the ITA Intercollegiate Indoor Championships and the ITA All-American Championships, respectively. Jenkins and Styslinger added an exclamation point with their doubles title Monday.
“This was really a great year for Virginia tennis, to end it this way,” Boland said. “I’m so happy for Jarmere, and what a way for Mac Styslinger to start his [college career], to win a national championship his first year. I’ve never had a player do that before. So what a special moment for him.
“The way that the team tournament ended, and the way that Mac had to deal with adversity today, along with Jarmere, made it all that much more special.”
Jenkins (College Park, Ga.) and Styslinger (Birmingham, Ala.) are the third doubles team in UVa history to win an NCAA title, joining Michael Shabaz and Dominic Inglot (2009) and Shabaz and Drew Courtney in 2010.
The 6-4 Styslinger became the first freshman win an NCAA doubles championship since Illinois’ Rajeev Ram in 2003.
In the final match of his freshman season, Styslinger, who plays No. 4 singles for the `Hoos, had “his ups and downs, but he really hit the ball when he needed to,” Boland said. “That’s something that we’ve talked a lot to Mac about: He plays his best tennis when he has an aggressive mindset and he’s willing to swing out.”
In the second game of the first set, Texas broke Styslinger’s serve, and the `Hoos quickly found themselves trailing 3-0.
“In the first set, I did get a little down,” Styslinger said, “but that’s why I have an incredible partner like Jarmere, and he was right there to pick me back up. He’s been in these experiences many times before. He really showed a lot of leadership out there.”
That Jenkins was playing for the final time as a Cavalier had occurred to his doubles partner. “I was trying not to think of that, because it was going to put more nerves on me, but in the back of my head, I did realize it,” Styslinger said. “He deserves to go out this way.”
Jenkins, seeded No. 3 in the 64-player NCAA tournament, became the third Cavalier to reach the NCAA singles final, joining Vahaly (2001) and Somdev Devvarman (2006, ’07, ’08). Devvarman won the NCAA title as a junior and again as a senior.
Rola, a 6-4 left-hander, was seeded 9-16, but only because he didn’t compete for the Buckeyes in the fall. He’s widely considered the top player in the college game, and his formidable skills were on full display Monday afternoon in Urbana.
Jenkins finished his senior year with a 42-6 record in singles. Memorial Day marked the eighth straight day in which he’d played a singles match in Urbana. Jenkins also played doubles on seven of those days.
The entire UVa team arrived in Champaign-Urbana on May 13. Most of Boland’s players went home after the team tournament, and others followed when they were eliminated from the individual competitions.
Jenkins and Styslinger stayed until the end, as did Boland and his assistant coaches Andres Pedroso and Scott Brown, along with athletic trainer Nate Foot and operations assistant Justin Wilson.
“It feels like forever,” Jenkins said, smiling.
“This has been a long time, but it’s been incredible,” Styslinger said.
Boland said: “I told the University of Illinois coach today that there’s no better place than Champaign, Illinois. We loved our trip here. Obviously they put on a great event, and it went our way this time.”