May 26, 2006
STANFORD, Calif. – Sophomore Sheeva Parbhu (Omaha, Neb./Millard North H.S.) continued to excel in three-set affairs, posting a 6-3, 2-6, 6-3 victory against Roger Matalonga from Arizona Friday afternoon at Stanford University’s Taube Family Tennis Stadium in the round of 16 of the NCAA Men’s Tennis Singles Championship. He became the first Notre Dame player to reach the quarterfinals of the NCAA singles tournament since Maxwell Brown advanced to the semis in 1959 en route to helping the Irish to a share of the national championship. The lowest-ranked player remaining and one of just three Americans, Parbhu will next take on 14th-ranked Indian Somdev Devvarman of Virginia on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. (PT).
“As Sheeva has done all year, he once again was able to maintain his composure through a long match and to step up at crucial points and execute the shots he needed to win,” said Irish associate head coach Todd Doebler, who has been handling the on-court coaching duties since Thursday. “That was a very good win over a tough senior player from Arizona who is a fighter and tough to knock out. It was great to see Sheeva bounce back after the second set, and he did a great job of stepping up in the court and dictating play at 3-3 in the third set.”
The decisive set began with six consecutive holds, though the players had a chance apiece to break. Matalonga was up 40-15 in the opening game of the set, but Parbhu came back and had a break point. The Wildcat eventually converted on his fourth game point. He then had a break chance of his own in the fourth game, but Parbhu moved up in the court and hit a backhand winner crosscourt to erase that and went on to hold serve. The seventh game would prove to be the decisive one in the contest, and it featured a show by the Irish sophomore’s backhand. He would hit three consecutive winners off that side to open the game and then convert his third break point, when Matalonga could not keep his groundstroke in the court after a deep Parbhu forehand. The Notre Dame player held serve to make it 5-3 and then dropped just one point in Matalonga’s service game, blistering a backhand winner crosscourt on his first match point.
Parbhu, ranked 32nd in the nation, came out quickly to begin the match, winning the first four games to take control of the opening set. Matalonga – who knocked off the tournament’s No. 2 seed in the second round – got one break back and battled the rest of the way. The ninth game saw the Spaniard, ranked 57th after peaking at a career high of 18th earlier this spring, have two break points. But Matalonga’s backhand slice sailed wide on the fifth deuce of the game, and Parbhu then ended it with a forehand volley winner on his fourth set point.
The Irish sophomore hit a forehand winner at 30-30 in the third game of the second set and had a pair of break points, but Matalonga would eventually hold serve. The Wildcat would then register the only two breaks of the set, breaking Parbhu to go up 4-2 and then doing so again to even the match.
Parbhu surpassed his win total from last season and improved to 33-7 overall this season, marking the most victories in a campaign for an Irish player since Ryan Sachire was 37-9 in 1998-99. He is 65-14 in his career and has won 11 of his last 12 matches. Parbhu is 14-2 in tournament action (26-6 in his career), as well as 16-2 outdoors (35-6 career). He has now won 33 consecutive matches when winning the opening set (26-0 this season) and holds a 9-3 record in three-set affairs (14-5 career). Parbhu is 11-3 vs. nationally-ranked opponents and has an 18-5 record in close matches (28-7 career).
Parbhu is the first player during the 19-year tenure of head coach Bob Bayliss to reach the quarters of the NCAA singles tournament. Five times previously an Irish player had lost in the round of 16; five-time All-American David DiLucia did that three times (1990, ’91, ’92), with Chuck Coleman (’93) and Sachire (’98) following suit. There have been just three occasions in the 84-year history of the program that Notre Dame has placed a player in the semifinals of the national singles championship: Jim Evert in 1943, Charles Samson in 1944 (NCAA runner-up), and Brown in 1959.
The only remaining Nos. 9-16 seed in the tournament, Devvarman has yet to lose a set in the tournament. He beat #43 Matko Maravic of Michigan 6-4, 6-0 in the opening round and then topped #26 Martin Sayer of Radford 6-3, 6-4 in the second round before disposing of the nation’s fifth-ranked player, Ludovic Walter of Duke, by scores of 6-2, 6-3. He has been ranked among the nation’s top 30 players in every listing over the past season and a half, peaking at #6 earlier this spring. Devvarman stands 29-12 on the season and was 18-9 in dual-match action (10-7 at No. 1, 7-2 at No. 2, 1-0 at No. 3). A native of Chennai, India, he lost in the second round of last year’s NCAA singles tournament and now stands 68-20 in his career.
He and Parbhu have faced five common opponents this season: Brian Hung and Matko Maravic of Michigan, Duke’s Jonathan Stokke, Texas’ Callum Beale, and Irish junior Stephen Bass (Bronxville, N.Y./Iona Preparatory School). The Indian went 4-1 against that group, the lone defeat coming against Beale. Parbhu posted a 4-2 mark, having lost to Bass and split two meetings with Maravic.
Devvarman is unbeaten in two career singles matches against the Irish. He beat current junior Barry King (Dublin, Ireland/Gonzaga College) 6-3, 6-4 at No. 3 in last year’s dual match (a 4-3 Virginia triumph) and then topped Bass 6-3, 5-7, 6-4 at No. 1 in the final match remaining on Jan. 27 in Richmond, Va., to give the then-#1 Cavaliers another 4-3 win over Notre Dame. Parbhu is 1-2 in his career against UVa. He lost 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 to Marko Miklo in the semifinals of the A flight of the Crimson Tide Fall Championships in 2004, then beat Treat Huey 7-5, 7-5 at No. 4 in last year’s dual match before falling 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 to Doug Stewart at No. 2 this spring.
The only other Americans remaining in the tournament are KC Corkery of host Stanford and Texas’ Travis Helgeson – the brother of current Irish freshman Brett Helgeson (Overland Park, Kan./Blue Valley West H.S.). Though Parbhu is the lowest-ranked player remaining, it has been an event of upsets, as just three of the top eight seeds – all of them on the upper half of the draw (Parbhu is on the bottom) – lived up to their seeding. In fact, half of the players left were not among the 16 seeded competitors, as Parbhu and Corkery (ranked 25th) are joined by Mississippi’s Erling Tveit (22nd) and Clemson’s Clement Reix (30th) in that group. Parbhu and Reix are the only players still alive that did not play the majority of their dual matches this season at No. 1 for their respective teams.
The tournament’s top seed, national #1 Benjamin Kohlloefel of UCLA, has avoided the upset bug, and will take on sixth-seeded Conor Niland of California – who eliminated Bass in the opening round – at 1 p.m. (PT) in a quarterfinal matchup. The other top-half contest will see Tveit take on eighth-seeded Helgeson at 1:30 p.m., while Corkery and Reix will play at 2 p.m. The winner of that match will face the Devvarman-Parbhu victor on Sunday, while the title match will be Monday at Noon.