Seniors propel Syracuse Tennis to 3-0 on the season
By Cameron Ezeir
CitrusTV Tennis Beat Reporter
This fall saw one of the most significant changing of the guards in Syracuse Tennis history. Gabriela Knutson walked out of the doors of Drumlins Country Club as Syracuse’s all-time leader in wins. With Knutson, Dina Hegab, Libi Mesh and Maria Tritou graduated, all of whom recorded four very successful years for the Orange.
All four seniors earned countless wins and accolades along the way. Knutson went from being ranked No. 68 by the ITA as a sophomore to No. 8 by her junior year. She became the first singles All-American for Syracuse since 1995 as a junior, earning the honor for a second time her senior year. Plus, the Czech Republic native earned All-ACC first team nods twice and ITA Senior Player of the Year in the Northeast before graduation.
Hegab, who’s currently serving as a student assistant coach, flourished in the tennis circuit in Egypt before deciding to play for the Orange. Both her singles and doubles play ranked amongst the best on the team throughout her last two years. Hegab also had early success in the NCAA tournament before her collegiate career came to a hold.
Tritou’s merit came during SU’s upsets over numerous top 50 teams, including the Orange’s biggest win the date over Georgia Tech in 2018. Lastly, Mesh was a pivotal part of Syracuse’s success in the prior four seasons before 2020. She mainly played singles and finished with over ten singles wins, as well as a couple huge ACC victories.
All four of these players were integral in the Orange finishing 54-44 over the past four years, including the 70+ wins from each and every one of the four seniors who graduated.
However, the record that matters now is 3-0.
This perfection serves as a reflection of the stout senior leadership that molds the team together this year. So far, Miranda Ramirez and Guzal Yusupova have absorbed this role and prospered to the tune of three-straight wins with a chance to make it four this Sunday.
On the court, the two seniors joined forces on the doubles court for the first time in their SU careers and have not looked back. In the fall, the tag team finished with a 7-4 record as they got acclimated to playing with each other. This winning record carried over into the new decade as Yusupova and Ramirez are now 3-for-3 in doubles play including Syracuse’s sole doubles win against Cornell this past week. The formula is the combination of Yusupova’s powerful serve and the craftiness of Ramirez at the net, proving too versatile for opponents to contain.
These two are also just as dominant separate as they are together. Ramirez went 18-8 in spring singles last year and has already won two pivotal matches in straight sets in the early going of 2020. For Yusupova, the fall season was a clinic after holding a 19-5 record in singles the past two years at Washington State. Obviously it is not easy to fill the shoes of Knutson, but Yusupova is already 2-1 in singles play this spring and looks to return to her success as a Cougar, now as a senior for the Orange.
Off the court, their leadership has already shown through in the come behind effort against Cornell last Sunday. As Novak Djokovic, a 16-time Grand Slam champion once said, “Tennis is a mental game. Everyone is fit, everyone hits great forehands and backhands. At the end of the day, you battle yourself the most.”
All four underclassmen lost in doubles on Sunday, but then responded effortlessly in singles play. One could credit persistence the leadership of the two seniors, setting an example by dominating in straight sets and supporting their fellow teammates in their respective matches.
As Syracuse prepares for a Super Bowl Sunday battle against Boston University, the woes of last week’s doubles matches must remain in the rear view mirror. The ACC now has seven ranked teams, providing even more reason for Syracuse to pick up as many early wins as possible.
Yusupova and Ramirez will need to continue setting an example for the underclassmen on the roster. Leadership and poise might just be the seed that allows the Orange to flourish as they’ve done in years past.
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