May 25, 2014
ATHENS, Ga. - Alex Sarkissian of the Pepperdine men's tennis team is having the senior year most student-athletes can only dream of, and it isn't even over yet. The Waves' ace will have the rare honor of playing for the NCAA Singles Championship title in his final match as a college player on Monday, after winning in three sets in the semifinals this afternoon.
Sarkissian (Glendale, Calif./Glendale CC) ended Denis Nguyen's Cinderella run at the tournament, holding off the Harvard player 4-6, 7-5, 6-2.
The Wave's feat is an incredibly rare accomplishment. He is just the eighth player in program history to reach the semifinal round of the NCAA Singles Championship, and just the third to advance to the title match. He joins company with Brad Gilbert, who finished runner-up in 1982 and Robbie Weiss, who won Pepperdine's only NCAA Singles Championship title in 1988.
"It's hard to believe, but tomorrow will be my last match for Pepperdine," reflected Sarkissian. "I'm really excited to get to play in the finals. It's a great feeling and great for this University."
"With the tough season we had, this is just tremendous for our program, for Alex, to end the year on such a positive note," said head coach Adam Steinberg. "Alex is focused, he's motivated and playing so smart. He can beat anybody right now."
To do that, however, Sarkissian will have to beat one of the nation's elite. Marcos Giron of UCLA enters tomorrow's match ranked #2, and was the only top-eight seeded player to avoid the upset in the first round.
Sarkissian is 1-1 all-time vs. Giron, losing 6-2, 6-3 earlier this year in dual play but winning last season's meeting 6-4, 7-5.
As Americans, both will be playing for a wild card entry into the main draw of the U.S. Open, which begins in August. The runner-up will take a spot in the qualifying draw.
So what's it going to take for Sarkissian to walk away with the national title?
"It's going to take belief more than anything," said Steinberg. "Marcos is a great player and just so solid on both sides. Alex hits the ball as well or even better than anyone in the country, even before this tournament, but he doesn't always believe he belongs here. If he believes then he'll have a great chance tomorrow."
It was clear Sarkissian was right where he belonged today as one of four players left standing in the 64-player draw.
Both sides struggled to hold serve in set one, but neither Sarkissian nor Nguyen never led by more than one game until the very end of the frame. Tied at 4-4, the Wave fought off break point twice but ultimately lost the game. Sarkissian threatened the break back and extend the set, but Nguyen held serve to take the stanza 6-4.
"I was full of mixed feelings at the beginning of the match. Nerves. Excitement. But as I got into the match, I started feeling less pressure and just enjoyed playing in the moment," said Sarkissian.
Unlike the first, set two was nothing but on serve from the start. Sarkissian tipped the momentum in his favor after holding at love to take a 6-5 lead. With Nguyen serving, Sarkissian continued to win points and quickly snagged a triple set point opportunity. The Pepperdine ace took full advantage and broke Nguyen at love to clinch the frame 7-5 and extend the match to a third set.
"He mixed up his game in set two," said Steinberg. "Alex did a better job keeping the ball out of Denis' strike zone, where he really likes to hit the ball. He mixed up the height of his shots and it really paid off."
Sarkissian snagged the earlier advantage in the deciding set and went ahead 3-0. The senior only got better from there and went on to win 6-2 and advance to the finals.