Head in the game: Bears power through to win all but 2 matches at Cal Winter Invitational

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Lisi Ludwig/Senior Staff

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Tennis, to many, is considered one of the most mentally demanding sports. Players find themselves completely on their own, trying to dig themselves out of mental ruts, push past a series of double faults and seemingly unending unforced errors. Sometimes it is not even about the strength of their opposition, but the strength of their mental game.

Cal women’s tennis faced three teams Saint Mary’s, Santa Clara and Cal Poly on the blue and gold’s home turf at the Cal Winter Invitational. Though they had a stellar run on both the Hellman and Channing courts, only losing two matches over the three days, some of Cal’s best players have been on a tough road.

On Day One, star player Haley Giavara showed off her strong style on court one but struggled to see it through in the second set. Featuring short, powerful rallies and an aggressive stance at the baseline, Giavara still had trouble with her serve and faced great winners from Cal Poly’s Kim Bhunu. Despite a tumultuous second set, in which Giavara lost 4-6, she managed to come back with a final score of 6-3, 4-6, 6-2 to secure a successful day for Bears with only freshman Makenna Thiel losing to Cal Poly’s Peyton Dunkle.

During Day Two, junior Valentina Ivanov played a long match against SCU’s JennaMarie Gordon. Though not reflected by the scoreline 6-4, 6-1 the two played a game of tag, going back and forth on breaking each other’s serve. 

“Today I had a bit of a tough one; she definitely was one of the stronger girls I’ve played so far,” Ivanov said after the match. “In the first set, I really had to dig deep, but I’m really happy I was able to come through in the end and get going.”

The most exciting day of play was the last, with three-setters on courts one and two at the Hellman Tennis Complex. Giavara faced a tough opponent in Maria Kozyreva of Saint Mary’s, who went on to claim the singles title after going 3-0 on court one over the three days. Losing out 3-6, 7-5, 6-0, Giavara was unable to overcome Kozyreva’s strong game. Aggressive at the net, she proved to be a tough opponent for Giavara, who also seemed to be struggling to get her head in the game. 

Ivanov also played a three-set match on court two against Jordan Harris of Saint Mary’s. Showing off her long rallies and well-constructed points, the match was thrilling from beginning to end. After a loss in the first set, Ivanov was able to get back on track and win 4-6, 6-2, 6-4. 

“It’s an unconventional style,” Ivanov said of her opponent. “Some shots she gets in that I don’t expect to go in, and some land shorter than I think they’re gonna land, so I think it requires me to move more.”

Other Bears, too, gave a strong performance over the three days and played up to their strengths to beat their opponents. Star freshman Jessica Alsola dominated with quick feet and seemingly effortless forehands, beating all of her opponents in quick two-setters. Cal’s newest player, Katja Wiersholm, also showed off her strong serve and confident returns, posting wins on all days.

In doubles, Cal showed a very strong performance, winning all of its matches. Team Erin Richardson and Alsola, ranked 27th, as well as Giavara and Ivanov, played together once more.

“We have two pretty established teams, but you always have to be ready,” said head coach Amanda Augustus. “If someone is sick or gets hurt, we want everyone to not feel so set in partnerships if we can help it.”

As dual matches begin this weekend, it is imperative for Cal to stay on track. They begin Friday with UC Santa Barbara, followed by second-ranked Pepperdine on Saturday.

Maria Kholodova covers women’s tennis. Contact her at [email protected].