After a slow start with a doubles loss, the UCF women's tennis team defeated the Tulane Green Wave 4-1 on Friday at the United States Tennis Association campus in Lake Nona.
The Knights have dropped down nine spots to No. 27 in the latest Intercollegiate Tennis Association rankings, but still extended their winning streak to nine games, bringing their season record to 11-2.
Redshirt freshman Nandini Sharma and freshman Marie Mattel came out of the gate with powerful serves and a silent chemistry that guided them to the top. Their score sailed past their opponents, freshman Adelaide Lavery and sophomore Alex Alegre, bringing them to a 6-2 win.
Sophomore Ksenia Kuznetsova and redshirt sophomore Valeriya Zeleva started the match with strong resolve, but Tulane took an increasingly defensive approach. Tulane’s senior Elena Muller and junior Ivone Alvaro volleyed the ball strategically out of Kuznetsova and Zeleva’s reach for many of their later points.
These shortcomings led to the Knights' 4-6 loss.
Head coach Bryan Koniecko said that he thinks it will take some time and practice for the freshmen on the team to acclimate to the world of collegiate tennis.
“I thought we just came out a little bit flat with energy,” he said. “We’re still trying to, you know, help them understand what playing with passion and energy means in a doubles set, that’s with no ad-scoring and it lasts 22 minutes. If you lose energy for six minutes, it’s going to be a tough day for you in the office, so the freshmen were trying to learn that.”
Senior Natalia Serrano and freshman Domenika Turkovic started out strong on court two, but junior Laura Fabrizi and sophomore Daniela La Fuente quickly caught up. By using fast and strategic volleys, they took advantage of Serrano’s and Turkovic’s weak spots.
Coupled with some lost points due to Zeleva’s failed serves, they also fell to the Green Wave 4-6.
Singles, however was a different story. Sharma made quick work of junior Christina Sisti, claiming a near-perfect score of 6-0, 6-1. Sisti was no match for Sharma’s powerful fast returns. Sharma also was able to meet the ball at nearly every point that Sisti sent it.
“My secret is more precisely my coach telling me what to do,” Sharma said. “They tell me what to do and I stick to that, but most importantly, not going for crazy shots, and waiting for the right moment, and hitting on the safe zone.”
Zeleva was next in line for a singles win as she battled it out with Muller on court three. Zeleva succeeded at 6-3, 6-1. This increased her season record to 11-2.
Kuznetsova had some struggles in the beginning of her match against La Fuente. But halfway through the first set, she came back and stayed consistent.
La Fuente had trouble as she increasingly returned the ball out-of-bounds, and Kuznetsova managed to take advantage of her weak spots and come through at 6-3, 6-2. This victory led to the clinching of singles for the Knights and capping off the score at 4-1.
This left Serrano and Turkovic’s singles matches incomplete. Serrano stayed neck and neck with Fabrizi but pulled through to win the first set 7-5.
Turkovic, who won the first set 6-4, became increasingly frustrated throughout the second unfinished set. Head coach Bryan Koniecko kept checking in with her between games, attempting to remind her of the game plan they had intended to put in use.
“[Alvaro], I thought, had a weaker backhand, so we tried to hit as many balls to that girls backhand as we could to open up the court,” he said. “I think [Turkovic] overplayed the forehand a little bit to get herself into some trouble in that second set, but hopefully it’s a learning experience for her going forward.”
Turkovic, along with her teammates, will have more opportunities for improvement this season. They faced Miami (Ohio) later in the day and will face the University of Pennsylvania on Sunday at the USTA National Campus in Lake Nona.
Correction: A previous version of this article said the Knights would face Penn State on the following Sunday, but the school they were facing was the University of Pennsylvania. It has been updated to reflect the proper school.