UCF women's tennis defeats Yale, extends winning streak

Freshman Sara Culbertson returns the ball to her opponent during her singles match against Yale at the USTA National Campus. The UCF women's tennis team defeated Yale 6-1 on Sunday.

The No. 18 UCF women's tennis team defeated Yale 6-1 Sunday afternoon at the USTA National Campus in Lake Nona.

The win extended the Knights' winning streak to eight games.

High winds coupled with very little cloud cover in the early afternoon made for a trying environment for the players. Sophomore Ksenia Kuznetsova and redshirt sophomore Valeriya Zeleva faced issues as they were bested by Yale’s Samantha Martinelli and Jessie Gong.

But even with Kuznetsova and Zeleva falling short, the Knights clinched the doubles point. Senior Natalia Serrano and freshman Domenika Turkovic picked up a 6-2 win, while the duo of sophomore Rebeka Stolmar and freshman Valentina Martin won 6-4 on their court.

Knights head coach Bryan Koniecko said he was glad they were able to clinch the point, but he said they could have won their sets by a larger margin.

“I think we got to do a little bit better in doubles of making a little bit more returns,” he said. “I think sometimes we give some free points in some moments where we need to tighten up on the returns and make some players play a little bit more.”

The Knights made quick work of the Bulldogs from there, winning the first four points in singles play. On court three, Stolmar picked up a 6-0 shutout victory in the first set before finishing strong with a 6-3 win in the second set.

Serrano pulled ahead in both of her sets against Kathy Wang on court five, but she said she reminded herself to stay focused even as she was winning her points.

“I made sure I kept telling myself to keep moving my feet and to keep staying aggressive because I know when I was up, I was up pretty easy,” she said. “I didn’t wanna stop myself and just get bored somehow.”

That continued focus led her to a 6-3, 6-2 win, earning UCF another point. 

On court two, Kuznetsova defeated Caroline Dunleavy 6-1 in the first set, but started to struggle in the second.

“It’s really windy and if I’m not confident with my game, that’s the biggest struggle for me,” Kuznetsova said. “But I think I did a pretty good job to go back in the second set.”

Dunleavy attempted to close the gap in the second set, but Kuznetsova, last week's American Athletic Conference Player of the Week, was able to pull off a 6-3 win. Her victory clinched the match for the Knights.

On court one, Zeleva defeated Martinelli 6-4, 6-4. It was the 10th singles win of the season for Zeleva, who is ranked No. 29 by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association.

The fifth and sixth spots in the lineup, however, were more of a struggle for UCF.

Turkovic, who stayed neck-and-neck with Raissa Lou throughout the first set, lost the tiebreaker and fell 7-6. Lou then pulled ahead in the second set, and Turkovic was unable to catch up. A 6-2 loss in the second set led to UCF's only loss of the day.

Junior Sara Culbertson's match against Amy Yang was the last in play. Long-winded rallies, sometimes upward of 20 shots, were part of what stretched it out. In the beginning of the first set, Culbertson became visibly frustrated as she lost the first two games.

“I feel like I struggled a little bit in the beginning because [Yang’s] a lefty,” she said. “She hit kind of a different ball that I had to adjust to, and I wasn’t ready for that.”

She was able to close the gap and take the set by a score of 6-4, but Yang came back in the second set with a 6-1 win.

With the first two sets split, a 10-point tiebreaker decided who would take the point. The two played each other tight, but Culbertson pulled through for a 10-8 win to bring the overall match score to 6-1.

The Knights return to the court to face the Tulane Green Wave on March 8 at the USTA National Campus. 

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