A slice, a lofted return — then Karla Popovic released her trademark forehand winner. Oregon’s Marlou Kluiving made a valiant effort to reach the ball, but it was way beyond her. Game, set and match to Popovic.
Popovic’s win clinched the series for Cal (16-3, 7-1 Pac-12) against Oregon, and a day before, sophomore No. 43 Denise Starr had clinched the series against the Huskies.
The match against Washington started well for the Bears, as they took the early doubles point. The No. 11 team of senior Zsofi Susanyi and junior Klara Fabikova played on court No. 1 and defeated Washington’s Elianne Douglas-Miron and Miki Kobayashi, 8-5. Starr partnered with junior Lynn Chi because Starr’s regular partner, sophomore Maegan Manasse, was rested for the week’s matches. The team of Starr and Chi also emerged victorious against the Huskies and clinched the doubles point.
In the singles, Cal continued its strong play on the first three courts. No. 22 Fabikova played on court No.1 and was on the way to defeating Douglas-Miron, but the latter player retired due to an injury, so Cal was awarded the match.
No. 33 Susanyi was the next to post a win, disposing of Kobayashi, 6-3, 6-3. Susanyi utilized her strong backhand very well as she hit a large number of backhand winners that led her to victory. No. 43 Starr finished off the tie with her explosive groundstrokes, which were too hard for her opponent, Grace Ysidora, to withstand: The matchup ended, 6-3, 6-2, in Cal’s favor.
This killing instinct, however, was lacking on the other three courts, as all of Cal’s players were defeated. The final score, 4-3, in Cal’s favor.
This close tie charged the Bears for the next day, and they responded in emphatic fashion as they mauled the Ducks, 6-1.
The day started with the early doubles point, with Susanyi and Fabikova defeating Nia Rose and Alyssa Tobita of Oregon, 8-3, and freshmen Popovic and Lyann Hoang demolishing Oregon’s Lina Akesson and Sofia Hager.
In the singles, it was a different story from the Washington matchup, as the last three courts were able to close out their matches. Hoang made quick work of Paloma Gomez, 6-1, 6-0. Hoang ended her match while some of the other matches were still in their first set.
“Lyann did a great job today,” said head coach Amanda Augustus. “I was really pleased to see her there on the court and play so well in both doubles and singles.”
Hoang’s win had an effect on the other players, who ramped up the intensity of their strokes. Susanyi posted a 6-4, 6-4 win over Nicole Long, 6-4. Susanyi weaved her strokes around the court and made her playing style look like an art form as she patiently rallied and set up crucial winners for herself.
Popovic clinched the match for the Bears with a strong performance against Kluiving. Popovic played to her strengths and tormented Kluiving with some heavy topspin. Starr, too, had a brilliant performance and defeated Tobita in convincing fashion. Starr altered her groundstrokes with a particularly effective slice in order to deal with the cross winds on the court.
“I had a game plan of coming in and (being) solid and (getting) my groundstrokes in shape and deep,” Starr said. “It was really windy, and I had to adjust a little bit and had to move my feet and slice more. Overall, I think I adjusted well and stepped it up when I needed to.”
Senior Cecilia Estlander also posted a win, but Fabikova fell on court No.1 to Nia Rose, another power hitter. Fabikova tried to mount a comeback in the second set but failed to win the tiebreaker.
Despite a change in lineups, Cal was able to post solid wins over its opponents. This shows a lot of depth in the team, which will be vital as the season draws to a close. Additionally, the change in lineups was a learning experience for the players.
“It was different playing with Lynn (Chi),” Starr said. “I play with Maegan (Manasse) all the time, and we have our formations, and I know where she moves. This time, I played on the forehand side instead of the backhand side. It was a good learning experience.”
Devang Prasad covers women’s tennis. Contact him at [email protected].