BERKELEY, Calif. — Calm, cool, collected. That was Kentucky women’s tennis freshman Fiona Arrese who survived a 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 thriller to help the Wildcats to a back-and-forth 4-3 win over Syracuse in its opening-round match of the NCAA Championships at Hellman Tennis Complex on the campus of Cal in Berkeley, California on Friday.
Arrese shouldered the pressure of helping the Wildcats move on and never wilted. She fought off a tenacious Polina Kozyreva who showed no signs of quitting, but Arrese just powered through and with one crafty spin she forced an Orange mistake and was immediately engulfed by her teammates to relish in the biggest win of her young career.
The match was a back-and-forth affair as Kentucky (16-8) opened the day by taking its 20th doubles point of the season to gain an early 1-0 advantage. Lesedi Jacobs gave UK a 2-0 edge, but Syracuse (8-12) earned three successive wins to climb ahead 3-2. Carla Girbau evened the match to set the stage for Arrese.
With the opening-round victory the Wildcats have now advanced to the second round of the NCAA Championships nine times under head coach Carlos Drada. Kentucky moves on to face the winner of San Jose State and Cal.
Saturday’s match is slated for a 4 p.m. ET first serve.
Kentucky won the doubles point with wins on the No. 2 and No. 3 courts. Girbau and Anastasia Tkachenko rolled to a 6-2 victory to get things going for the Wildcats. For just the third time this season, Arrese and Akvilė Paražinskaitė lost in doubles. UK’s No. 1 ranked tandem fell 6-3 forcing the decisive point to come from court No. 3 and Elizabeth Stevens and Jacobs.
UK’s duo faced a tall task against the Orange’s No. 78 ranked tandem in Miranda Ramirez and Guzal Yusupova. UK inched ahead at 5-3, but the Orange responded with a win behind its serve. Stevens took to the service line and promptly led UK to a dominating victory and the decisive 6-4 win.
In singles action Jacobs got UK off to a fast start. Playing on court No. 2 for just the third time this season, she picked up her first victory in the post. The Windhoek, Namibia, native dominated 6-3, 6-3 to improve to 12-8 overall on the year including 10-5 in dual matches.
Syracuse logged wins at No. 3 as Natalie Novotna earned a 6-1, 7-6 win over Carlota Molina, No. 11 Victoria Kanapatskaya got past Paražinskaitė by a 7-5, 6-3 margin and Miranda Ramirez edged Stevens with a 7-6, 6-2 score.
The Orange did not have the lead for long as Girbau evened the match at 3-3 with a convincing 6-4, 6-3 result. Girbau moves to 10-10 in dual matches and 12-15 overall.
Arrese played soundly in the opening frame earning a quick 6-4 win, but Kozyreva rallied for a 6-4 victory of her own to force the decisive set. UK’s freshman stayed balanced and after Kozyreva missed on taking a late lead, Arrese seized her opportunity. Ahead 40-30 she did not give Kozyreva a chance to extend the match any longer by forcing her into a mishit into the net.
Arrese moves to 11-9 overall and 11-4 in dual matches. It marked her third win from the No. 6 post.
The winner of the Cal Regional will advance to super-regional competition May 16 in Orlando at the USTA National Campus in Orlando.