On the first day of the NCAA Women’s Singles Championships on Wednesday, Georgia’s Maho Kowase ran off the rails at the worst possible time while teammate Chelsey Gullickson never was able to get on the track.
Gullickson, the No. 8 seed and 2010 singles champion, was defeated 6-3, 6-2 by unseeded Sabrina Santamaria of Southern California in her last singles match as a Lady Bulldog. Kowase was eliminated by Texas’ Aerirel Ellis 6-2, 7-6 (5), 1-6.
Although Gullickson — who left the Dan Magill Tennis Complex without speaking with reporters — started strong Wednesday, jumping ahead of freshman Santamaria 3-1 in the first set, she never seemed to be able to develop any kind of tempo, which her opponent said may have been a result of her unusual style of play.
“I made (Gullickson) hit kind of weird shots,” said Santamaria, who came into the tournament with a 35-7 singles record for the year. “My game is not very ordinary, so I think that was the main cause of her being off.”
Georgia coach Jeff Wallace concurred with Santamaria’s assessment.
“It was a rough style for her to play against,” said Wallace. “The way (Santamaria) plays is a just a lot of easy balls, a lot of low chips, a lot of balls below the knees and above the shoulder and power at the right time. It was a tough matchup and (Gullickson) just never got into that rhythm that she usually
establishes. It was unfortunate, but (Santamaria) just played fantastic.”
Santamaria had never faced Gullickson before, but she said her coaches were well familiar with the Georgia star’s reputation and style.
“My coaches know a lot about her and had seen a lot of her in the past, and that really helped going into the match,” she said. “They gave me a game plan that was really key for me.”
Gullickson, the All-Southeastern Conference first-team selection and a seven-time All-America selection, ends the season with a 34-9 singles mark. She will begin play in the doubles tournament with Nadja Gilchrist at 5 p.m. today. They will face the team of Beatrice Capra and Rachel Kahan of Duke.
Wallace said he didn’t think Gullickson’s loss would have an adverse effect on today’s doubles play.
“I sure hope we can get up for doubles,” he said. “We’ll see. It’s the NCAA tournament. If you can’t get excited about this, you’re not going to. I would hope they would come out and play great. They’ve got a tough match against Duke. There’s a lot of work to be done. They’ve had some success here in the NCAA tournament in 2010 in doubles, so let’s see if we can get on a roll, win and possibly get on a run.”
Santamaria will face Florida’s Sofie Oyen in today’s second round.
Kowase was on a major run against Ellis, who paced the Lady Longhorns to their first Big 12 championship since 2005 earlier this spring, taking a quick first-set victory and jumping out to a 3-1 edge in the second set before disaster set it.
Ellis, who was clearly winded, faced an early elimination but rallied to gain a 5-5 tie and tied it again at 6-6 before forcing a tiebreaker, which she won 7-5, getting her to the third set.
“I definitely felt like I was going to drop in that second set, but you know what? The less energy I use, the better I play,” said Ellis, who will face Anya Morgina of South Carolina in today’s second round. “It’s kind of weird, but it worked to my advantage. I was able to make the shots I needed to make and that was enough, thank God.”
“She just played better than me at the end,” said the Georgia sophomore. “I thought I had it. I was up 6-5, 40-love, (which is) hard to beat. I have to get better for next year for the team and for the individual tournament.”
Wallace said he knew Ellis was fading and urged Kowase to drop the hammer on her.
“That was my main focus, especially down the end there in the second set,” he said. “I said keep the ball in play and make (Ellis) move. She was getting tired and I thought she might fade away in the third set, but she got a second wind and actually played a really good, solid set, much better than the first two.”
Kowase, who produced a heart-stopping 0-6, 7-5, 6-1 match-clinching victory over Clemson in the second round of the NCAAs on May 12, posted a 25-8 singles record this season.