The women’s tennis team may be hitting its stride at just the right time. On Saturday, April 23, the Cardinals traveled to Colby. Without dropping a set and giving up only 23 games, the Redbirds swept the Mules 9-0 for the fourth consecutive year. After returning from a quick trip to Maine, the Cardinals were back in action the following day as they hosted the 15th ranked Tufts for their final home match of the season on the John Wood Memorial Tennis Courts. Despite being down 4-1 in the early going, the Cardinals fought hard, won the remaining four matches, and pulled off the comeback to beat the Jumbos 5-4 for the second year in a row.
The match opened with a convincing 8-2 win in the Cardinals’ favor at one doubles, but the Jumbos countered with an 8-5 win at three doubles. Up 7-2 at second doubles and needing only one more game to seal another win, the Cards looked to be in great shape heading into singles play, but the unthinkable occurred. The Jumbos reeled off seven straight games to steel a 9-7 win at two doubles. The Cardinals, however, did not let this momentum swing bring them down.
“From a giant momentum swing not in our favor after having a 7-2 lead at two doubles, and losing the match to be down going into the singles, it was a tough, tough hole against one of the best teams in the country,” said head coach Mike Fried. “I am really proud of our effort. The girls played inspired tennis and had tremendous composure and tremendous fight, and we were fortunate to come out on the right side of it. I am really happy. It’s a big win for the team and for the program.”
In singles, Aashli Budhiraja ’18, who was paired with Victoria Yu ’19 at two doubles, wasted no time in getting revenge and quickly took the first set 6-1 at sixth singles. Dasha Dubinsky ’18 soon followed suit, winning her opening set at number five, 6-4. However, the Jumbos responded and took the first sets at third and fourth singles. Eudice Chong ’18 and Yu also took the first set of their matches at one and two, respectively, but the pressure and importance of each match intensified after the Jumbos claimed victories at three and four. The stage had been set. With four matches still contested and facing a 4-1 deficit, the Cards needed to pull out victories on the remaining courts to defeat the Jumbos for only the third time in program history.
Dubinsky started the comeback for the Cardinals, as her dominating performance from the first set carried over into the second, leading to a 6-1, 6-3 victory. The Cardinal faithful then turned their attention to court one. After going up 3-0 in the second set, Chong saw her lead diminish to one game, but the defending Division III individual champion was not fazed and remained up a break. After taking a few deep breaths before changing ends, Chong refocused and played clean and crisp tennis as she took the second 6-4, and earned another point for the Cards. While Yu and Budhiraja were up a set in their matches, both players were in tight second set battles. After trading breaks early in the set, Budhiraja found herself down 4-5 on the return. In order to prolong the set, Budhiraja needed to find a way to break her Jumbos’ opponent in the 10th game. When her opponent hit a forehand that went long, Budhiraja earned herself two break points, but she would only need one to pull the set even at 5-5. She easily held serve to go up 6-5, needing one more break to win the match. Budhiraja continuously struck the ball with confidence as her opponent looked beaten, and following a lengthy rally, Budhiraja smacked a forehand winner down the line to seal the victory.
The Cardinals had drawn the match even at 4-4 with second singles deciding the outcome of the contest. While Budhiraja was celebrating the victory, Yu saw her 4-3 lead quickly turn to a deficit as she lost the next two games and trailed 4-5 in the set. In a similar situation as Budhiraja, Yu needed to break her opponent in order to avoid a third and decisive set. After changing ends, Yu would not only break her opponent, but she would win the next 10 points in a row, and 12 of the next 13 to win the game, set, and match. With two match points, Yu only needed one to clinch the win and seal the comeback victory for the Cardinals. After exchanging multiple baseline shots, Yu hit a surprising drop shot that just cleared the net and bounced twice before her opponent could retrieve it.
Yu commented on her shot selection and the way she played her last 13 points of the match.
“I just felt confident that I had it; I just had to focus in on every point and just play smart tennis,” she said.
Not only did Yu play intelligent tennis, but she also put the finishing touches on an impressive victory for her team, coming back from 4-1 down. Sunday also marked the first time this season when the Cardinals won a match after falling behind 2-1 in doubles.
“I think we have struggled going down 2-1 and keeping the momentum up, and today after doubles obviously it was a tough loss at two doubles, but everyone refocused and came out strong,” said captain Maddie James ’16. “I think the energy and positivity was really great. The heart that we showed in this match is something we can take away. Even when we’re down, the match isn’t over, and we can still come back and fight our way back.”
Next on the schedule was instate rival Trinity on Wednesday, April 27. The Cardinals maintained their momentum from Sunday’s match against the Jumbos when they faced the Bantams, and the Cards cruised to their fourth consecutive win with an 8-1 victory.