It’s not easy being undefeated; just ask junior Karla Popovic of the Cal women’s tennis team. Over the weekend, the No. 90 player in the nation carried a perfect record of 21-0 into her first ever major national tournament, the USTA/ITA National Indoor Intercollegiate Championships.
The tournament, held at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York, ran Thursday through Sunday and featured many of the nation’s strongest competitors.
Popovic, who has been her team’s best player all season, came into New York with singles titles at the Cal Fall Nike Invitational, Saint Mary’s Invitational and the USTA/ITA Northwest Regional Championships. In addition, she secured the doubles titles at the Saint Mary’s Invitational and Regional Championships with her partner, sophomore Olivia Hauger.
Popovic and Hauger were joined by seniors Maegan Manasse and Denise Starr in New York. Manasse, ranked seventh by the ITA, recently recovered from an unspecified injury and played in just her second tournament this year.
Cal’s singles players, Popovic and Manasse, started the tournament with strong play but both were given tough draws and suffered second-round losses.
After a 4-6, 7-5, 6-2 upset of the nation’s 55th ranked player, South Carolina’s Ingrid Gamarra Martins, Popovic moved on to face Ohio State’s Francesca Di Lorenzo. Di Lorenzo, ranked third in the country and seeded first in the tournament, easily served up Popovic with a 6-0, 6-4 victory and went on to capture the title Sunday.
“Karla lost to the defending champion, but she did really well in her first major national tournament. It was great to see where she is at,” said head coach Amanda Augustus.
In the opposite half of the draw, Manasse defeated 41st-ranked Kate Fahey of Michigan, 6-1, 6-4, in her opening match. She then lost 6-2, 6-2 to the fourth seed Hayley Carter, who is the top-ranked player in the nation. Carter, who plays for North Carolina, eventually reached the final before losing 6-1, 6-1 to Di Lorenzo.
“I was really excited to be out there to play someone ranked No. 1,” Manasse said. “It showed me what I have to do if I want to stay in the top 10 and win tough matches.”
In doubles, both of Cal’s participating teams got off on the wrong foot. The emerging team of Popovic and Hauger came off a first-round bye and then fell 6-3, 6-4 to 12th-ranked Gabriela Knutson and Valeria Salazar of Syracuse.
Manasse and Starr, who are ranked third in the nation, also had an opening round bye. But the two Cal veterans could not find some of their past chemistry against the 34th-ranked team of Andie Daniell and Erin Routliffe. The Golden Bear pair suffered a 7-5, 6-4 loss against the Alabama duo, ending its main draw hopes.
In the second-round consolation draw, Hauger and Popovic rebounded and won their first match, 7-6(5), 6-2, over Duke’s Ellyse Hamlin and Samantha Harris. They lost in the semifinals, however, to Michigan’s Alex Najarian and Kate Fahey with a score of 6-2, 6-4.
Manasse and Starr also won their opening-round consolation match, defeating Columbia’s Star Makarome and Alexandra Solovyev, 6-4, 6-2. They then suffered a 6-4, 6-3 defeat in the semifinals against Baylor’s Elizabeth Profit and Blair Shankle.
“(Denise and I) have played together for so long and we have a great team chemistry,” Manasse said. “We know we can do so much better, and we have a couple months to work on everything and get ready for spring.”
Augustus, once a seasoned doubles champion at Cal herself, cited a lack of aggressiveness and failure to take advantage of opportunities as the main issues her doubles teams must focus on in the coming two months.
“This was the last tournament of fall, and now is a good time to kick it up a notch and work on our fitness and technique before the long January to May swing.”
Nikhil Bhumralkar covers women’s tennis. Contact him at [email protected]