Katherine Ip nets D1 All-American; Eudice Chong back-to-back D3 titles

 

At the NCAA Division I Championships, Katherine Ip (Rice) upset No. 4 seed Brooke Austin (Florida) en route to the last 16 of the women's singles to earn All-America honours. Elsewhere, in Division III, defending champion Eudice Chong (Wesleyan) beat top seed Juli Raventos (Williams) in straight sets to win consecutive national titles.

As dual-matches conclude for US collegians, business ultimately comes down to post-season play where against all expectations and expert opinions, fine acts of individual brilliance can quickly rewrite the history books.

Although modestly ranked at No. 104, Katherine Ip (Rice) was one of fifteen automatic qualifiers (highest-ranked player from each conference) for the D1 Championships. The other 49 at-large selections that make up the rest of the 64-player field are, barring exceptions, determined according to rankings.

In the opening round of the women's singles, Ip upset No. 4 seed and two-time SEC Player of the Year, Brooke Austin (Florida), 6-4, 5-7, 6-4. In fact, Ip jumped out to a 6-4, 5-2, lead only to see her opponent save a match point and win five games in a row to force a deciding set.

The players proceeded to exchange multiple service breaks in the third before the junior from Rice held to take a 4-3 lead. After Austin double faulted to lose serve, she conjured another Houdini act to break back for 5-4. However, the HK Fed Cupper responded under pressure with her own break of serve to finally close out the set, 6-4.

In the round of thirty-two, against No. 39-ranked New Zealander Page Hourigan (Georgia Tech), Ip yielded the opening set and trailed 5-3 in the third before winning four games in a row to clinch a 2-6, 6-4, 7-5 victory.

Next up, despite losing to 28th-ranked Kennedy Shaffer (Georgia) in three sets, 6-4, 3-6, 6-2, by virtue of reaching the last 16, Ip guaranteed herself All-America honours in Division I women's singles.

Unless records elsewhere suggest otherwise, the only other players from Hong Kong to win NCAA Division I All-America honours were:

 Patricia Hy (UCLA)  1984  Singles
 John Hui (Pepperdine)  1999  Doubles
 Brian Hung (Michigan)  2007  Doubles
 Venise Chan (Washington)  2010  Singles
   2011  Singles & Doubles

 

Katherine Ip and teammate Emily Smith (Rice) also made it to the NCAA D1 Championships in women's doubles, but went down against 5th-8th seeded eventual semifinalists, Catherine Harrison and Kyle McPhillips (UCLA) in the first round, 7-5, 5-7, [10-4].

Following her exploits at the NCAAs, Ip improved sixty places to finish at No. 44 on the final 2016 Oracle ITA College Tennis Rankings.

In Men's Division I, Kevin Wong (Michigan), in his third year in Ann Arbor, played primarily at the two spot in doubles and a contributor of a number of key wins from the lower half of the singles line-up, none more so than in the opening round of this year's NCAA Division I Men's Team Championships.

With Michigan tied at 3-3 against East Tennessee State University, Wong rallied from a set down to beat Sebastian Yllera (ETSU), 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-3, to secure the match-clinching point for a 4-3 victory.

Despite his heroics, Michigan fell to No. 6-ranked Wake Forest in the ensuing round and hence stopped short of a berth in the Sweet Sixteen.

In Division III, as a freshman last year, Eudice Chong (Wesleyan) played exclusively at the one spot and went 17-0 in singles and 20-3 in doubles during the regular season. She garnered both NESCAC Rookie of the Year and Player of the Year Awards, and subsequently was voted the 2015 ITA Rookie Player of the Year.

After she beat Joulia Likhanskaia (Bowdoin) in the final, 6-4, 4-6, 7-5, to win the NCAA Division III singles title, Chong finished as the No. 1-ranked player on the final rankings and capped off her rookie season with singles and doubles All-America honours. She is also the first women's tennis player from Wesleyan to compete in the NCAA individual championships.

This season, Chong captured the USTA/ITA New England Regional Championship and the USTA/ITA National Small College Championships before signing off with back-to-back Division III singles titles when she overcame Juli Raventos (Williams), in the final, 6-2, 7-5.

Raventos had been Chong's bogeyman of late, as the Costa Rican native managed to beat the HK rep twice this year, once in a Fall preseason and again in a dual match in the Spring. However, it was the Wesleyan sophomore who triumphed in, unquestionably, the biggest match of the season.

The only other player from Hong Kong to win the NCAA Division III women's singles title was Leung Lok Sze (Middlebury), who accomplished the feat in 2013. In 2011, the southpaw also managed to win the National Small College Championships.

In 2002, Ivan Yeh (Claremont McKenna) and his teammate John Michael Cham-A-Koon beat Eric Butorac and Kevin Whipple (Gustavus Adolphus), 5-7, 7-6 (4), 6-1, en route to the NCAA Division III men's doubles title.

Butorac, of course, is the current ATP Player Council President. Currently ranked No. 44, he remains an active touring pro and holds no less than eighteen career ATP doubles titles. His last win came at Estoril earlier this year.

Elsewhere, former Hong Kong Davis Cupper and NCAA No. 17 Martin Sayer joined Virginia Tech as an assistant men's coach at the beginning of the season after serving as head coach of the women's team at his alma mater. After upsetting No. 20 Kentucky in the opening round, the 33rd-ranked Hokies fell just shy of the Sweet 16 when Canadian Hugo Di Feo won the clinching point at the three spot to snatch a 4-2 win for No. 5 Ohio State during this year's NCAA Division I Team Championships.

Lastly, tennishk.org sat down and posed six questions to 2016 graduate and four-year lettermen, Kelvin Lam (Harvard).

Q: Before you went to Harvard, you were pretty much an impact player on every team you've been on in Hong Kong. You even made your Davis Cup debut. However, when you arrived at Harvard, you suddenly find yourself at the other end of the totem pole. How did you feel at the time?

A: Well, I felt like I was sort of a fish in a small pond in Hong Kong not really knowing what's going on outside. I had a relatively high ITF ranking but didn't realize how many good players are also playing out there. Once I got here, it definitely changed how I see tennis. There are way more players at or above my level than I actually thought.


Q: So it was kind of a wake up moment?

A: Yeah, definitely. I think at this point I also opened up to trying new ways of training and new ways of improving my game. I'm more open to listening to other's criticisms and opinions.

Q: How's training there similar or different than the training in Hong Kong?

A: I think it's way more systemized here. Since we have a maximum of 20 hours on court each week, it's very goal oriented. There's always something you want to get better at every day, and the training here teaches you to understand your game better. Knowing my strengths and weaknesses. The patterns you want to get into with your opponent, etc.

Q: What are some of the biggest challenges you had to deal with?
A: I think one of the biggest challenges I faced at the beginning of my career here is having to fight for a spot to start on a regular basis. In the juniors, you basically start every time when you go to a tournament because you play for yourself. But now in a team situation, you have to get used to not being able to start every week, not being able to travel with the team on certain weeks.

Q: How did u deal with or overcome this issue?

A: It made me understand that there are some things that are out of my control. It made me realize the need to focus on the things that I can actually control. For instance, how I can improve my game, making sure I put in full effort to get better every time I'm on court and not worry about things like winning or losing. Our head coach always says "full effort is full victory". And effort is not only about the time you spend on court for a match, but also the weeks and months of practice that lead up to it.

Q: Final analysis?

A: One thing I learned during my time here is to appreciate the things you have around you, good or bad. Sometimes when we go in and out of classes and practices, we forget how lucky we are to have the opportunity to study in a top school in the US while playing a sport we are so passionate about. Appreciate this whole journey instead of focusing on the results. If you put in all you have, results will take care of itself.

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