Karla Popovic is ready to assume her role as the next dominant force on the Cal women’s tennis team.
The junior, ranked 90th in the nation, continued riding her recent wave of success over the weekend, where she and the rest of the team competed in the Saint Mary’s College Fall Invitational in Moraga, California.
Not only did Popovic capture the top-flight doubles title with sophomore Olivia Hauger, she also won her second top-flight singles tournament in a row Sunday afternoon. These two victories come just a week after she claimed the Blue Flight singles title at the Cal Nike Fall Invitational, where she handily defeated Arizona State’s Kassidy Jump, 6-1, 6-2.
In the SMC Invitational singles semifinals, the No. 1 seeded Popovic defeated the seventh seed, Saint Mary’s own Jana McCord, 6-1, 6-3.
On the other side of the draw, fellow Bear, Hauger, fell 6-4, 7-5 to the second seed, Stanford’s Emma Higuchi. Hauger, the third seed, had only dropped one set in the tournament before losing to the freshman Higuchi.
Although Popovic was aware of the fact that her opponent in the finals had taken out her doubles partner, she was determined to focus on her game only.
“Karla has a different game style, and we knew it was going to be a different matchup in the final,” said head coach Amanda Augustus. “It was really about Karla playing her best game, and there weren’t too many tactical adjustments that we made.”
This approach paid off for Popovic, helping her take the title from Higuchi with a score of 6-0, 6-4.
“In general, I’ve been playing pretty well. All of the hard work I put in during summer has been paying off,” Popovic said.
Earlier in the day, Popovic and Hauger won the doubles championship, capping off a dominant run. The pairing lost a total of just eight games in its three matches, including an 8-3 victory over Saint Mary’s McCord and Jacqueline Pelletier in the title match.
Hauger and Popovic first played together in last week’s Cal Fall Nike Invitational, where they reached the quarterfinals of the doubles Blue Flight. This combination looks to have potential, and it certainly seems as if the two Bears have great chemistry on the court.
“I definitely enjoyed pairing with Olivia. We played a great doubles tournament, especially in the final, and I’m very much looking forward to playing with her again,” Popovic said.
Popovic’s last three wins have put her improved skills on display, signaling that this may be the beginning of her rise as a national contender.
“She has improved a lot, and the consistency of her matchplay level and training is what’s prepared her for this,” Augustus said. “She has always been open to improvement and coaching, and that’s always good.”
Augustus also cites a stronger serve, improved movement, a polished transition game and a better ability to close out sets as main factors that have helped Popovic get to this new level of play. It is only a matter of time before she starts rising up in the ITA rankings.
Stephane Lin, Audrey Mayer, Maria Smith and Alexis Nelson were also in action in the Singles A flight but all were knocked out in early rounds. Nelson and Smith lost in the doubles quarterfinals with a score of 8-5 to Marine Dans and Miyo Kobayashi of San Jose State.
After a busy two-week stretch, the Bears will have a much-needed week off, which will be used as time to rest, recover and prepare for the team’s next competition.
They will next participate in the individual USTA/ITA Northwest Regional Championships, which will be held at Stanford. Each member of the team will be entered in the main singles draw, and pairings of Cal players will be entered into the doubles draw. The top performers from this tournament, which runs from Oct. 21 to Oct. 24, will qualify for this season’s national indoor tournament.
Nikhil Bhumralkar covers women’s tennis. Contact him at [email protected].