Women’s Tennis Endures Another Tough Weekend

Junior Jessy Mekpoh sizes up a serve shot against an opponent. Mekpoh and the Dons had another tough outing on their Nevada road trip. Photo Courtesy of USF Athletic Department

This last weekend was probably the longest and the most tiring of my life – even though I didn’t play, watching tennis matches can take even more energy and be more stressful than playing.

Last Friday, my team and I had to wake up at 6 am, leaving San Francisco under a clear sky for our trip to Reno. Our coaches drove for four hours, stopping only once for a bathroom break, and while we were riding, the landscape changed slowly from a green hilly decor to a mountainous one, covered by snow.

Everyone was very excited about this trip, especially the foreign players, because we don’t have such a city in our respective countries; but surprisingly, we were quite disappointed. We found the city had no charm, and while the big hotels/casinos had a “too much” look, the other “normal” buildings – like the houses and diners – looked depressing.

The match against University of Reno was scheduled at 5:45 pm, which is a very inconvenient time because we had to wait the whole afternoon and had to get lunch around 2, so we weren’t hungry during the match. Eating after the match was another main concern, because we thought the game would probably end around 10:30 pm, and that all the restaurants and grocery stores would be closed. But we didn’t have the choice and had to adapt.

The good news was that we were going to play indoors – without wind or sun to disturb us – and that it was warm inside; the bad news was that we were going to play only on four courts (a game has six singles) – so we would wait – and that these courts were extremely fast and slippery.

The game started with the doubles, which didn’t go very well. The unbeaten Akerbrant-Heinser team did not play well, missing a lot of shots and making their opponents play better, and they lost 3-8. The pair Hashigutchi-Wartenburger had an okay match, but had a very slow start and were too inconsistent so they were down 1-4 in 15 minutes. Everything went better when my teammates made their opponents play and make more mistakes, but the Reno players were experienced and put pressure on the Lady Dons who finally lost 5-8. Number three doubles with the pair Gratian-McMahon had a tough match as they were disturbed by the fast court surface; they had hard times adapting even though they didn’t give up so easily, and lost 5-8.

My teammates had to move on quickly with the singles matches that didn’t go very well either. Junior Cecilia Gratian was the first one to be done, and she had a very tough match; she just could not adapt to the surface and remained very inconsistent or made wrong choices permitting her solid opponent to make numerous winners. My teammate lost 6/2-2/0. 30 minutes later, Senior Jenni Heinser won – not paticularly because of amazing shots, but rather thanks to her running skills and smart strategies (6/4-6/2). Another win came from Freshman Melinda Akerbrant who had a though match, but was strong mentally and never doubted she would win. After losing the first set 4/6, my teammate raised her level and won a tight second set 7/5, before winning easily and quickly the third set 6/1.

Junior Julia Wartenburger played a very good, but frustrating match; after being up 5/3 in the first set, her opponent scored four games in a row and won the first set 7/5. The second set was also tight but Wartenburger’s opponent didn’t lose her focus and won it 6/4. Freshman Yurie Hashigutchi started her match very strong, with good consistency and winners, so she won the first set 6/4, but then, her opponent started playing more consistently but still hitting the ball hard, and disturbed Hashigutchi who lost the next two sets 3/6-4/6. Sophomore Alana McMahon also had a tough match, and like most girls, she lacked consistency because of the court surface. She lost in two straight sets.

Coach Hilary Somers was disappointed, but she tried to motivate the team. “This was a good game even though I know we can win this game. And we got to win this double point – I know I always say that, but I mean it. Tomorrow, we’re going to win this game; I want to leave from here with one defeat and one win”, she said.

At 10:30 pm, we finally left the tennis club – tired and hungry. My teammates who were the most hungry went to an Applebee’s open till midnight; the ones who were the most tired went to Walmart, and just got some quick snacks before going back to the hotel, taking a shower and sleeping.

This time, the game against Texas Tech University started an hour earlier than the previous day. We started again with the doubles with the same doubles teams, but once again, my teammates struggled and we lost the doubles point. The pair Akerbrant-Heinser played better than the previous day, but they still made many unnecessary mistakes against a solid team, and lost 4-8. The Hashigutchi-Wartenburger team had a good beginning. Then, they had a hard time putting their balls away to finish their points and were down 1-4, making it difficult to come back, even though they started to play well again from this point. They ended up losing 4-8. The pair Gratian-McMahon had a tough match, but managed to make their opponent play, and to make them commit errors; unfortunately, the Texas team was very solid and finally won 8-6.

Coach Somers was disappointed again and told us we would only work on our doubles game for the next weeks of practice – starting everything again from the beginning. Then, she told the team to focus on the singles, not show too much respect to the opponents, and beat them.

This time, we only had three courts, so everyone knew we would be done late again. Player number one Heinser played an amazing match technically as well as mentally, as her opponent cheated a lot. Heinser showed a lot of guts, a great focus and smart shots, so she won 6/4-6/2. Wartenburger played another great match against a very good player that was hitting her shots hard even at crucial moments. After winning the first set 6/4, Wartenburger was up 5/3 in the second set and had two match points; but like so many times, she ended losing the set in the tie-breaker (8). We thought she would be completely down mentally, but she actually raised her game level and was once again up 5/3 in the third set. Unfortunately, her opponent didn’t doubt and the two players went to a second tiebreaker, in which Wartenburger was down 2-5, but thanks to amazing shots and a fighter spirit, my teammate won 8-6.

Gratian’s match was once again very tough, even though she played better than in her previous singles match. The problem is that she had a slow start at the beginning of both sets; in the first set she was down consecutively 0-3, 1-4 before losing it 1/6, and in her second one, she was also down 0-3 and 1-4 before coming back at 3-4, but it was a little late, and my teammate finally lost 3/6. In singles number four, unlike the previous day, Akerbrant didn’t have a very good match as she was extremely inconsistent; she did had some good sequences, but it was not enough to win against such a solid opponent, so Akerbrant lost 4/6-2/6.

Hashigutchi started her match very well, winning her first set 6/2 in hardly 30 minutes; but then, she lost her focus and her opponent took advantage of the situation and became more confident in her shots, so she won the second set 6/4. In the third set, my teammate did not have good sensations anymore and made too many mistakes; she lost 2/6. McMahon – who started her match at 8:45 pm – was the last match on, and she did a good job. After winning the first set quickly (6/2) against a skilled opponent from Spain, she committed more mistakes in the second set – losing it 6/2. As Texas Tech had already won the game, the two players played a super tiebreaker in 10 points (instead of playing a third set). After being down 2-5, McMahon came back and finally won 10-7.

This weekend was frustrating because most matches were very close, and we could not win them. But we have to look forward now, as we have a long weekend coming with three home games on Thursday, Saturday and Sunday against Xavier University, Southern Utah, and Gonzaga.

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