Sometimes it’s the closest losses that hurt the most. The ability to recover from these heartbreaking losses often define the careers of great athletes and teams.
The Cal women’s tennis No. 5 duo of junior Klara Fabikova and senior Zsofi Susanyi’s ability to cope with one of these losses will be tested next season, after the Bears came just short of winning the NCAA Championship in doubles Monday. Susanyi and Fabikova lost to the defending champions, Maya Jansen and Erin Routliffe from Alabama, in a match that went the full three sets.
Susanyi and Fabikova fell behind early, as the Crimson Tide team won the first set, 6-2. But Cal’s duo showed the talent and the chemistry that got them as far as they did in the tournament as they narrowly gutted out a 7-6 (5) win in the second set. The defending champions, however, proved to be too much for the Bears. Jansen and Routliffe won the last set, 6-3, and secured their second consecutive national championship.
Despite the tough loss, Fabikova and Susanyi were the most successful Bears this weekend at the NCAA Singles and Doubles Championships. In fact, the duo was Cal’s only representative to make it to at least the quarterfinals.
This includes Susanyi herself, who lost as a singles player in the round of 16, preventing her from reaching the quarterfinals. She had a tough task in front of her, as the bracket lined her up to play Stanford’s No. 2 Carol Zhao. Zhao, who went on to lose in the national championship match, was never in any danger of losing to Susanyi, winning a 6-2, 6-0 match.
“Zsofi ran into Carol Zhao, whom she hasn’t played before, and Carol’s a really good opponent who played quite well,” said Cal head coach Amanda Augustus to Cal Athletics.
The round of 16 proved to be a tough battlefield for Cal to maneuver, as the team’s other competing doubles team, No. 7 Maegan Manasse and Denise Starr, was eliminated in the round of 16. The Bears lost a tight match to Stanford’s No. 10 Caroline Doyle and Ellen Tsay, 6-4, 1-6, 6-4.
Manasse’s singles run also came to an end in the round of 16. No. 13 Josie Kuhlman of Florida upset No. 4 Manasse, who has been a breakout star for the Bears this season, in straight sets. A 4-6, 1-6 defeat brought a disappointing close to what had been a great season for Manasse, which saw her ascend to the No. 1 spot in the singles rankings at one point in the season.
With Manasse’s loss, all Cal-centered attention turned to Fabikova and Susanyi. They knocked out four top-25 teams en route to the finals, including No. 6 Brooke Austin and Kourtney Keegan from Florida in the semifinals. Fabikova and Susanyi’s run to the finals was never one defined by easy matches, as the duo won only one of their matches in straight sets. They lost the first set in four of their five matches but were able to come back and win three of those matches.
It is that fourth match, however, that will define this tournament when the team looks back on it, as it came at the worst time. Still, the Bears will have a lot to build upon with this strong showing.
“They had a tremendous season and tremendous run,” Augustus told Cal Athletics. “They’re NCAA finalists and All-Americans, and all the things they accomplished this year is really important to emphasize. They fought really hard yet again today.”
Hooman Yazdanian is the sports editor. Contact him at [email protected].