Starting Thursday, several members of the Cal women’s tennis team will participate in the annual USTA/ITA National Indoor Intercollegiate Championships. The tournament, which is held at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, will run until Sunday.
The Indoor Championships will feature the nation’s most competitive players, as entry is only given to those with Regional Championship titles or players selected at-large.
Both the singles and doubles draws this weekend will feature Cal’s hottest and most surprising player — junior Karla Popovic. Popovic, who is currently ranked 90th in the ITA and has an undefeated season record of 21-0, is making her first appearance at the National Indoor tournament.
Although this is her first trip to New York, Popovic said she is not the least bit worried about how she will do this weekend.
“This is just another tournament in my collegiate career, and I do not expect any nerves in my matches,” Popovic said. “I’ll try to do what I have been doing this whole semester and will focus on just one match at time.”
Popovic will start her tournament against South Carolina’s Ingrid Gamarra Martins, who is ranked 55th by the ITA. If she wins her opener, Popovic will likely play the tournament’s top seed, Ohio State’s Francesca Di Lorenzo, who is ranked third.
During this undefeated run, Popovic won the singles and doubles titles at both the Saint Mary’s Invitational and USTA/ITA Northwest Regional Championships. She will look to conclude her fall semester with strong performances this weekend.
“She practices against her team every day, and that gives her good experience. She’s just planning on taking one match at a time, and this is the next step in her developmental progress,” said head coach Amanda Augustus.
Sophomore Olivia Hauger will be making her second appearance at the National Indoor Championships as Popovic’s doubles partner. Last year, Hauger played with then-senior Klara Fabikova, but the duo fell in the Round of 16. She will look to make a deeper run with her new partner starting Thursday. The team has a first-round bye and will face off against Gabriela Knutson and Valeria Salazar of Syracuse in the second round.
“We just need to stay focused on our game and keep maintaining our high energy and aggressive style of play,” Popovic said. “We just want to play the best that we can.”
Senior Maegan Manasse, ranked seventh nationally, will be making her third and final appearance at the Indoor Championships. Last year, she fell in the Round of 16 of the singles draw. This will be Manasse’s second tournament after returning from an unspecified injury, which also forced her to pull out of the Northwest Regional Championships.
Manasse will compete in the doubles tournament as the third seed with long-time partner senior Denise Starr, who is originally from Brooklyn.
“Denise trains here on breaks and we will have a good amount of fans, which will make it feel like a home match,” Augustus said.
Starr and Manasse, who lost in the semifinals of last year’s Indoor Championships, also earned a first-round bye and will wait to learn their opponent in the Round of 16. The duo is one of the most experienced in the nation and is always a force to be reckoned with in any competition.
This is only the second tournament for the two seniors this year because of Manasse’s injury, and they will have to be on top of their game starting in their first match.
Cal has one of the biggest contingents out of the participating schools, with four players competing over the weekend. Augustus says this demonstrates the team’s strength and her players’ comfort with playing in bigger matches.
Elsewhere, the rest of the women’s tennis team will travel to Tempe, Arizona, for the ASU Thunderbird Invitational, which will run from Nov. 4 to Nov. 6.
Nikhil Bhumralkar covers women’s tennis. Contact him at [email protected].