No. 7 Cal women’s tennis begins conference season with wins over Colorado, Utah

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The No. 7 Cal women’s tennis team began conference play this past weekend with a 7-0 whitewash of both Colorado and Utah. The Bears wanted to start Pac-12 play on a positive note, and that is exactly what they did. Cal’s performance was of a very high caliber, and the team on the whole only dropped two sets in these dual matches.

The Bears went into the game against Colorado on Friday with a record of 7-2 and had won their last two contests — one against UCLA on Feb. 21 and one against Stanford on March 1.

The Bears began the game against the Buffaloes by obtaining the early doubles point. The No. 12 duo of senior Zsofi Susanyi and junior Klara Fabikova defeated Colorado’s Alexandra Aiello and Ashley Tiefel, 8-0. Cal’s pairing of sophomores Denise Starr and Maegan Manasse, ranked fourth, also had an easy 8-2 win against Julyette Steur and Tina Bokhua. Manasse and Starr’s win clinched the doubles point for Cal.

No. 24 Susanyi, who snapped a two-match losing streak with a victory against Stanford, played close to perfect tennis in singles against Colorado as well as against Utah. She earned an impressive 6-1, 6-1 win against Aiello. Susanyi’s timing and placing of shots was impeccable. Her backhand was the trump card against Aiello, who was left confounded by Susanyi’s exquisite stroke play. No. 41 freshman Karla Popovic was convincing in her win against Kyra Wojcik. Popovic only dropped a single game, and the match ended 6-0, 6-1 in her favor.

No. 61 Starr took home the overall victory for the Bears with a 6-1, 6-2 triumph over Nuria Ormeno Ruiz. Sophomore Stephane Lin also eased to a 6-0, 6-0 victory over Vitaliya Alkhovik. And newly crowned Pac-12 Player of the Week No. 42 Klara Fabikova also had a straight-set victory over Steur. This match also saw Steur have some injury concerns, as she landed awkwardly in the final game and had to be given medical attention before she could continue

On court No.1, Manasse, the No. 2 singles player in the country, went down in the first set against Bokhua, whose spin-laden first serve deceived Manasse several times. Manasse, however, fought back in the match and eventually won it in a tiebreaker. The score was 3-6, 6-5, 1-0(5) in Manasse’s favor.

The Bears then met Utah on Saturday, and Cal was again able to register an easy win and improve its record to 9-2. The win also helped the team to post a 2-0 record in the Pac-12.

Head coach Amanda Augustus was pleased with the good start to conference play.

“It was nice to see us keep our focus today,” Augustus said. “Utah did a good job in making us compete today. We’re very happy that we won. We’re pleased with a 2-0 start.”

Cal was again able to capture the doubles point, with Manasse and Starr defeating Utah’s Tereza Bekerova and Margo Pletcher. The duo of Susanyi and Fabikova clinched the point with a win over Elena Najera-Salas and Luisa Gerstner Da Rosa.

Cal’s doubles performance in both of the games was very good, but they could still work on a few aspects, especially in returning serves.

“I think we will work on our returns,” Augustus said. “We didn’t return as well as we can.”

In the singles, Manasse posted the first win as she demolished Bekerova, 6-0, 6-2. Manasse’s forehand was world-class, and she hit quite a few winners in the match to which Bekerova had no answer. Susanyi notched her third straight singles win with a victory over Pletcher, 6-0, 6-1. Susanyi’s game was beautiful to watch, as she moved like a ballerina on the court with graceful yet precise steps and combined a lot of her strokes to leave Pletcher fuming throughout the match.

“I am able to stay focused on the court,” Susanyi said. “What I have in my mind is ‘next point, next point.’ ”

Starr again came away with the match with a 6-1, 6-3 win over Gerstner Da Rosa. Starr combined her strong groundstrokes with an improved backhand slice that neutralized Gerstner Da Rosa’s offensive game.

“The whole finishing thing, I don’t really play attention to it,” Starr said. “I focus on my game, and it’s fun that I sometimes happen to clinch the victory.”

Fabikova defeated Sarah Richter in straight sets, 7-5, 6-0. Popovic, in spite of having problems in serving because of the hard sunlight, was able to beat Najera-Salas. Popovic’s explosive forehand topspin, along with an ever-improving backhand, was too much to handle for the Utes. Lin also defeated Victoria Robertson in a long and tiring match that went into a tie breaker set.

The victories have added to Cal’s morale and boosted the team’s confidence for the season.

“This feels really good,” Susanyi said. “We came out strong and were able to finish strong. In matches like this, our focus can get away from us. If we can hold ourselves together and stay focused, that’s the most important thing.”

Devang Prasad covers women’s tennis. Contact him at [email protected].