Georgia’s Chelsey Gullickson and Nadja Gilchrist came into the finals of the NCAA women’s doubles tournament on a roll, but unfortunately for them, they ran into a team on Monday that had amassed even more momentum.
Winners of four consecutive doubles matches during the past four days, Gullickson and Gilchrist — who entered the tournament ranked No. 27, but unseeded — were denied the national championship and a victory in their last collegiate match by Stanford’s No. 2 Mallory Burdette and Nicole Gibbs, who posted a 6-2, 6-4 win in a contest that was moved indoors due to inclement weather.
Earlier in the day, Gibbs defeated Burdette 6-2, 4-6, 6-3 to win the national singles title. It might have seemed that Gibbs and Burdett’s three-hour noontime battle might offer the Bulldogs a slight advantage, but that was not the case as the Stanford duo ran out to a 3-0 lead before allowing Georgia a small window of opportunity before scratching out the game’s final three points to take the first set in less than 30 minutes.
“You could tell they were warmed up right from the beginning, and Nadja and I started out a little bit slow,” said Gullickson.
Although the Cardinal pair expended much in the way of physical and emotional effort in their singles match, they displayed no ill effects during their systematic victory lap.
“We came out really strong after that singles match,” said new singles champ Gibbs, the No. 3 ranked sophomore, who endured a pair of long three-set matches during the singles tournament. “(Playing earlier) got rid of the jitters. We had no real jitters for doubles because we had already been out on the stage earlier in the day.”
Gullickson and Gilchrist — who posted a 24-8 mark in doubles this year — fell behind again in the second set but played much better, holding serve at 3-3 before getting broken on match point.
Several double faults and shots into the net were hurtful to Georgia, as Burdette — who was a national doubles winner in 2011 — and Gibbs served well, volleyed well and were guilty of fewer miscues.
“I was feeling my groundstrokes a little bit,” said Gilchrist. “It’s kind of hard, because in the last game I wasn’t serving as well as I had all week, but in the second set Chelsey and I were definitely hitting our groundstrokes a lot better than we were in the first set. My volleys were very shaky in the second set, but Chelsey was very good at stepping it up when it was time to.”
“A big thing for us earlier in the week was that we were making all our returns, and that kind of hurt us today, missing easy returns,” added Gullickson. “There were some volley opportunities I had that could have made a difference, but it didn’t turn out the way I wanted them to.”
While all agreed moving indoors did not make a substantial difference in the match, there were dissenting opinions about wanting to play there.
“I would have preferred to be outside because our indoor courts are a little bit faster, so starting off the first few games was a little rocky because (Stanford) hits a lot of hard, big shots,” said Gilchrist. “Chelsey and I learned to adjust, but I would have preferred to play outside.”
“I thought it was great,” said Burdette, a junior ranked No. 5 nationally in singles. “I love fast courts and I like people who hit hard. I like to use their pace and make something out of it. It was great… We played great from the very beginning today. We were super-solid on returns. We had a few dips here and there with our first-serve percentage, but all in all, it was just a great, solid, aggressive doubles, the way we like to play.”
Gullickson ends her career as the most decorated athlete in Georgia tennis history with eight All-America honors and was the national singles champion in 2010. Like many before her, Gullickson and Gilchrist — who earned All-America recognition three times — have made an enduring mark at Georgia.
“I’m really proud of these two,” said Georgia coach Jeff Wallace. “They were on a great run and just played some fantastic tennis this week, Unfortunately we ran into a Stanford team that really played well, Those two were in the singles final against each other, and sometimes when you’re on a roll like they were, you just try to hit shots and you feel like everything is going to go in, and that’s what they did today.”
“Even though it was a loss, we are able to say we got to the finals of the NCAAs in doubles, and for two seniors to be able to do that on their home court is really exciting,” added Gullickson.
In the men’s doubles championship finals, which began outdoors, moved inside during the first set and concluded just minutes before the end of the Stanford-Georgia match, Ohio State’s top-ranked and top-seeded team of Chase Buchanan and Blaz Rola defeated No. 18 (and unseeded) Raony Carvalho and Gonzalo Escobar of Texas Tech by a 7-6 (4), 6-3 victory.
Buchanan and Rola’s victory Monday was a historic one, as they captured the “triple crown” of doubles tennis, winning the D’novo/ITA All-American Championships, the USTA/ITA National Indoor Championships and now the NCAA crown. They are the only college team to ever do so.
“We found out about the (triple crown) yesterday,” said Rola, who was beaten in the singles semifinals on Sunday against Kentucky’s No. 3 Eric Quigley. “I felt a rush on match points. So many good doubles teams have played in college, so winning those three events is just great.”
Carvalho and Escobar, who didn’t team up until March and pulled off one of the shockers of the doubles tournament when they eliminated the No. 2 team of Southern California’s Steve Johnson and Roberto Quiroz on Saturday, when Johnson retired from fatigue. They comprise the first team in Texas Tech history to play beyond the opening round.
“We had two incredible seniors that had four amazing years at Texas Tech and put us on a map that we’ve never been on before,” said Red Raiders coach Tim Siegel. “I’m sitting with Two All-Americans in singles and two guys who reached the NCAA finals in doubles. A great day, a great year and a great career for these two guys.”