Knights conquer Quakers with 5-2 victory

Senior Natalia Serrano returns the ball to her University of Pennsylvania opponent during her singles match at the United States Tennis Association National Campus on Sunday, March 10 in Lake Nona. Serrano took a 6-0, 6-1 victory.

The UCF women’s tennis team took down the University of Pennsylvania Quakers at 5-2 on Sunday at the United States Tennis Association National Campus in Lake Nona.

With 11 straight wins now under their belt, they extended their season record to 13-2.

The Knights had a slow start as they lost the doubles point. On court two, Quakers senior O.J. Singh and freshman Iuliia Bryzgalova had an edge as they took the lead from senior Natalia Serrano and sophomore Rebeka Stolmar.

Serrano and Stolmar attempted tricky shots, but often couldn’t follow through. They fell to Singh and Bryzgalova at 3-6.

Redshirt freshman Nandini Sharma and freshman Marie Mattel gave few chances for UPenn’s juniors Ashley Zhu and Carolyn Xie to catch up.

They hustled to a 6-4 win, extending their winning streak as a duo to three matches. This left court one as the deciding point for the doubles clinch.

Sophomore Ksenia Kuznetsova and redshirt sophomore Valeriya Zeleva started out in the lead in the first five games, but they later lost momentum. UPenn senior Marta Kowalska and sophomore Marija Curnic secured points as Kuznetsova and Zeleva struggled with unsuccessful volleys and repeatedly hit shots out-of-bounds, leading to a 6-6 tie. After the tiebreaker, however, they fell to Kowalska and Curnic at 6-7.

As singles play commenced, Sharma got frustrated halfway through her first set on court five as she lost points to Zhu. But her continued drive led to her 6-3, 6-1 victory. This brought her singles winning streak to 10 games.

“I think Nandini has made a great jump,” Koniecko said. “We’ve seen a lot of improvement with her and the results have been showing.”

With temperatures reaching above 85 degrees, the Florida sun began to take a toll on some of the players by the time singles began.

As Serrano went into singles, she began feeling the heat’s effects as she battled an upset stomach.

Serrano said she came in focused, which made quick work of her match against Singh. Even through the heat, Serrano returned with hard and fast shots, closing out the match at 6-0, 6-1.

“I wasn’t feeling good physically, so I knew I had to keep it short,” Serrano said. “So I stayed as aggressive as I could, being smart and not making stupid errors, and just keeping it simple for me.”

Freshman Domenika Turkovic had a mostly slow week, but she evoked energy from her singles victory against Miami of Ohio on Friday as she dominated court six.

Long rallies that spanned most of the court left Quaker sophomore Jennifer Richards visibly winded. Turkovic took advantage of this weakness and closed the match at 6-0, 6-2.

Mattel, facing Curnic on court two, breezed through the first few games as she stole points left and right, eventually taking the first set 6-3. Curnic made a comeback and stayed with Mattel neck-and-neck for the first half of the second set, but as she lost energy, Mattel took the lead again and closed out the set with a 6-4 win.

Zeleva had the most trouble out of all of the Knights on court three as Bryzgalova sent powerful serves.

Zeleva wasn’t as quick on her toes as in her last few matches, leaving her at 6-7 after a tiebreaker. Bryzgalova’s 6-4 win in the second set left Zeleva’s singles winning streak broken.

“Obviously right now, [Zeleva’s] a little bit low on confidence,” Koniecko said. “You know, the season is long, it’s January to May, so you’re not going to be feeling your best every single day that you go out there.”

Over on court four, Kuznetsova was having similar issues with Kowalska as she sent the ball out-of-bounds and, many times, sailing directly into the net. Kuznetsova was still able to climb to 7-5 in the first set, but an incident in the second set escalated her temper.

When Kowalska served, Kuznetsova heard her call a “let” and therefore caught the ball in her hand to prepare to restart the point. Kowalska, however, said she never called “let,” and after Koniecko and UPenn head coach Sanela Kunovac’s heated debate, the chair umpire sided with Kowalska.

“The [chair umpire] just gave her the point, and that was the game point, so I started losing 3-1,” Kuznetsova said. “I guess that really also helped me to get angry and kind of just focus again back, and from that point I just [won] four games in a row.”

Kuznetsova said she has been working to control her anger by “trying to stay positive and not pressure myself too much.”

This strategy of using that energy constructively helped her follow through, closing out her second set at 6-4.

Koniecko emphasized that after a rough week in doubles, the Knights will be focusing the most on doubles play at practice for the upcoming matches. He said in singles, however, he is happy to see each individual’s improvement.

“I think we’ve gotten pretty solid in a lot of spots in singles,” Koniecko said. “I just think we’re competing a little bit better than we were in the beginning of the season, and hopefully it keeps going.”

The Knights will face Southern Methodist University at the USTA National Campus in Lake Nona on Wednesday at 1 p.m.

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