Chui and Estlander of Cal women’s tennis fall short at Saint Mary’s Invitational

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Fraught with injuries and faced with last-minute changes, Cal’s women’s tennis team only had two players return home Sunday after a modest showing at the Saint Mary’s Invitational.

Originally, the Bears intended to send five players to last weekend’s tournament, but a series of injuries and an NCAA clearance issue with freshman Maegan Manasse left only Kelly Chui and Cecilia Estlander eligible to represent Cal in Moraga.

Despite hoping to defend Bears’ tournament titles, the two fell short of last year’s sweeping success.

On Friday, Chui was defeated in the first round of the Red Flight singles tournament by Fresno State’s Aishwarya Agrawal in straight sets 6-4, 6-2. Estlander only advanced one round further than her teammate before falling to Saint Mary’s Catherine Leduc 7-6 (5), 6-2.

The Red Flight doubles draw did not yield much more success for Cal. Chui and Estlander paired up for a decisive 8-2 win over USF but were subsequently halted by another impressive performance by Fresno State — this time by the doubles tandem of Agrawal and Claire Yang. The doubles team defeated the Bears in a close 8-5 victory.

“I had goals in the beginning of the tournament, and I really wish I had stuck to them,” said Chui, “When times were tough, I sometimes doubted myself, and I feel like if I had just stuck to my goals, I would have won more matches.”

Chui’s early defeat slated her in the consolation draw of the Red Flight tournament, where she saw considerably more success than she did in the main draw.

On Saturday, she defeated LMU’s Elanor Grossman in a three-set thriller 6-4, 3-6, 1-0 (6) before facing Stanford’s Amelia Herring in another gripping battle. Chui eventually came out on top 6-2, 3-6, 1-0 (2), a victory that advanced her to the semifinal match against Saint Mary’s Audrey Leitz on Sunday.

Two sets against the local player eventually sent Chui packing, but not before the best comeback of Chui’s tournament performance.

After a 6-3 loss in the first set, Chui was faced with a formidable 1-5 deficit in the second. Leitz just had to keep her serve to advance to the finals. But at 30-40, Chui executed a perfect lob to catapult Leitz into a run that brought the match to 4-5. In the end, it was a blazing down-the-line forehand that won the match for Leitz.

“It felt good,” said Leitz. “I remember I played Kelly last spring and lost like 6-2, 6-2, and it felt great to win this match. I played good today, so I’m happy about that.”

Chui’s match against Leitz underscores the value of this weekend for the two Cal players despite their lackluster results. Tough match play against some of the top players in the region gave these two the chance to develop their individual games before the team — hopefully united and healthy — advances in the season.

“Of course we would have wanted to play in the finals,” said coach Amanda Augustus. “But given our current health situation, we’ll definitely take it.”

Dani Coony covers women’s tennis. Contact her at [email protected].