Greatest Performances in ITA/Riviera Women’s All-American Tennis Championships History
Although the beautiful Riviera Tennis Club, in Pacific Palisades, California, has hosted the ITA/Riviera Women’s All-American Tennis Championships since 1988, the tournament actually began on the other side of the country in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. The prestigious championship was inaugurated in 1983, and remained in Myrtle Beach for five years before moving to the West Coast. Since the cross-country move, there have been a number of great players who have triumphed in this ITA fall classic, including among others three-time champion Sandra Birch, WTA Tour stalwart Jill Craybas, and recent US Open darling Irina Falconi.
“This tournament is special for several reasons,” explained Dr. Fred Ho, Chair of the Riviera Tennis Committee. “It is fully supported by the Riviera Tennis Club members through direct cash contributions and donation of auction items. It is such a unique experience for the players, as they are housed at the homes of members from Beverly Hills to Malibu. Lastly, the field is the deepest of any national women’s collegiate tennis event.” And, as David Benjamin, ITA Executive Director, added: “The ITA/Riviera All-American Championships is a wonderful way to kick-off our fall season, and serves as a fantastic preview for the year ahead!”
Listed below are some of the more memorable championship performances throughout the years.
The Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, California, served as the host site of the tournament for the first time in 1988. This was also the first year doubles was included as part of the tournament. It would be the first of three straight years there was an all-Stanford final in singles, with Sandra Birch playing in all three.
It was all about Stanford’s Sandra Birch (pictured left) and Debbie Graham in 1990 at the Riviera Country Club. They faced off in the championship match in the singles draw, with Birch clawing her way back from down 5-3 in the final set to claim the crown 6-2, 3-6, 7-5. The victory snapped a 40-match winning streak for Graham. The two teammates then paired up to easily take down the Indiana duo of Edelman and Reece 6-3, 6-1 to win the doubles title.
Mississippi’s Paloma Collantes bounced back after dropping the first set against Laxmi Poruri of Stanford to win the second set 7-5 before breezing through the third 6-0 in the 1992 championship match, all despite having a root canal just the day before. The title was Collantes’ second consecutive at the ITA/Riviera Women’s All-American Championships, and her second consecutive win over a member of the powerhouse Cardinal squad in the final match, as she defeated Heather Willens 6-4, 6-3 the year before.
It should have been obvious that Florida’s Jill Craybas (pictured right) and Old Dominion’s Tzipora Obziler would each be top 100 players on the WTA Tour the way they competed in the 1995 championship match. The two future professional players slugged it out on the court on this day, splitting the first two sets as each took a tiebreaker by the score of seven points to four. Neither wilted in the third set and it was Craybas who finally prevailed 7-5 to take home the title. The match still holds the record for most games played in a championship match. Craybas would cap off her stellar career as a Gator by winning the 1996 NCAA Singles Championships.
San Diego’s Zuzana Lesenarova (pictured left) claimed her fifth national collegiate singles title with a grueling three-set victory over Wake Forest’s Adria Engel. She fell behind after dropping the opening set in a tiebreaker seven points to three, but rallied to win the second set 6-4 and hang on to win a dramatic third set 7-5. The win allowed Lesenarova to successfully defend her title, as she won another three setter the year before over Martina Nedelkova of Virginia Commonwealth 6-0, 4-6, 6-3. Not satisfied with taking home just one trophy, she teamed up with Katarina Valykova to win the doubles title, as the duo downed Teryn Ashley and Laura Granville of Stanford 6-4, 6-1.
The ITA/Riviera Women’s All-American Championships was filled with storylines in 2003. Raquel Kops-Jones of California won the singles title with a 6-3, 6-2 victory over Erin Burdette of Stanford. The win was monumental for Kops-Jones, as she became the first African-American woman to win a national collegiate singles title. Ironically, she would go on to be a premier doubles player on the WTA Tour. Burdette, even with the loss, began the legacy of the Burdette family name in national women’s collegiate tennis. In doubles action, Vanderbilt’s Aleke Tsoubanos won her second consecutive championship as she and Kelly Schmandt won 8-6 over Christelle Grier and Jessica Rush of Northwestern.
The Fighting Irish twin duo of Catrina and Christian Thompson battled their way to a 9-8(7) victory over Fresno State’s Lucia Sainz and Kathrina Winterhalter. The Thompson twins had to break serve trailing 8-7 just to reach the tiebreaker, fighting off two match points along the way. Sainz and Winterhalter wouldn’t go down easily either, fighting off one match point at 7-6 in the tiebreaker, but couldn’t manage to do the same at 8-7 as Sainz floated her return of serve over the baseline.
"This was an extremely exciting match, and Catrina and Christian played really well," said then-Notre Dame assistant coach Michelle Dasso, who accompanied the sisters to the All-Americans. "They kept a great attitude with each other throughout the tournament. They stayed calm and stayed focused when it got tight and battled through to the end. They deserved to win. "
Catrina and Christian are still the only set of twins to win the doubles crown in tournament history. They also reached the finals the next year.
Georgia Tech’s Irina Falconi (pictured left) couldn’t repeat as the doubles champion in 2009, but she did manage to claim the singles title with a quick 6-2, 6-1 demolition of Georgia’s Chelsey Gullickson, who went on to win the NCAA Singles Championship to end the year.
"It feels unbelievable to win this title," Falconi said. "Winning is a great feeling whether it is a regular match or capturing a national title. I didn't realize that I had won the title until the awards ceremony began."
Falconi turned pro at the end of the season, reaching the top 80 in the world after just two seasons on the WTA Tour. She reached the 2011 US Open third round, knocking off No. 14 seed Dominika Cibulkova 2-6, 6-3, 7-5 in the second round in dramatic fashion on Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Hilary Barte of Stanford made the most out of her final appearance at the ITA/Riviera Women’s All-American Championships, claiming the singles championship by knocking off top-seeded Jana Juricova 7-6(4), 6-3. She didn’t surrender a set in her five matches along the way to winning the title. Barte also teamed up with Mallory Burdette in the doubles draw, and the duo cruised past Josipa Bek and Keri Wong of Clemson 6-3, 6-3 for the doubles title. Barte is the first player since Florida’s Jessica Lehnhoff in 2001 to take home the singles and doubles crowns in the same year.
Looking ahead to this year’s championships, 17 of the top 20 singles players earned direct entry into the main draw. There will be a new champion to hoist the singles trophy with the graduation of Barte. Juricova enters the tournament as the top seed, just as she did a season ago. Another player to watch is Duke's stellar freshman Beatrice Capra, who has already made a name for herself on the WTA Tour by reaching the third round of the 2010 US Open. Capra was awarded a wildcard into the main draw singles event. In the main draw of the doubles event, 14 of the top 15 are set to compete for the crown. As with the singles, runners-up Bek and Wong are in the draw once again, also coming in as the top seed.