With new No. 1, Cal women’s tennis eyes NCAA Championship

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For years, Jana Juricova was arguably the best player in the nation. Despite Juricova graduating last year, the Cal women’s tennis team did not have to wait long for someone to fill her place.

Sophomore Zsofi Susanyi has vaulted to the No. 1 singles spot in the country. In her freshman year, she advanced to the NCAA singles semifinals — farther than any Cal freshman before her.

“Jana was No. 1 in the country, but now Zsofi is No. 1 and is filling that position,” said junior Anett Schutting. “So it’s not too much of a difference. We are filling that position.”

Now that she’s at No. 1, Susanyi acknowledges that there’s a target on her back.

“I was surprised when I saw the ranking,” Susanyi said, “but it makes me want to work harder because I know they will want to beat me even more.”

After strong play in January and February, the sophomore from Hungary has tied for the top spot with USC’s Sabrina Santamaria. So far in the spring, Susanyi has gone 4-1 in singles play and 3-2 in doubles when paired with either freshman Klara Fabikova or senior Tayler Davis.

Susanyi’s accomplishment has excited the team, but the players are still focused on long-term, team-oriented goals.

No. 7 Cal has consistently ranked in or around the top 10 for the last few years. This year, the Bears (3-2) will have their eyes set on the NCAA championship.

“Our goal is to be the No. 1 team and win the NCAAs,” Schutting said. “We want to continue to keep improving, and if we have a good attitude and play well together, the results will follow.”

Last year, Cal lost to then-No. 1-ranked UCLA in the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament. Now without their veteran leader Jana Juricova, winning a national championship will prove difficult. However, having a sophomore like Susanyi as the top singles player in the country has given the team energy and optimism for the long term.

Several other young players are also contributing. Cal has two promising freshmen — Lynn Chi and Klara Fabikova, who was ranked as the No. 2 freshman player in the preseason.

Although Fabikova has struggled early with injuries this season, her future looks bright. She was 3-0 in singles play and 3-1 in doubles before being pulled out due to a nagging back injury. So far this season, Chi has been playing on the third singles court for Cal while Fabikova has been on the fourth.

Cal faces a tough test this weekend when it takes on No. 2 UCLA (6-1) and No. 6 USC (7-1). Cal fell to USC on Feb. 10, but now the Bears will have the opportunity to take on the Trojans in Berkeley at Hellman Tennis Complex. These matches will be key for Cal moving forward this season.

“The advantage is that we know what they do,” Susanyi said.

Playing in the Pac-12 gives the Bears an advantage by preparing them for difficult competition. Facing top teams like UCLA, USC and No. 13 Stanford helps Cal during the NCAAs, when the Bears have to play equally tough teams that they do not get a chance to face during the regular season.

“This conference usually has four top-10 teams, but playing against top-10 teams makes us better,” said head coach Amanda Augustus.

Last year, the Bears went 1-5 against those three opponents during the regular season. Cal should be a top team again this year, but an NCAA title might be tough.

Given the Bears’ relative youth, it’s not unrealistic to think that a title for them could be just a few years away.

“We want to go as far as we can,” says Susanyi. “But most importantly, we want to keep improving and compete well.”

Riley McAtee covers women’s tennis. Contact him at [email protected]