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Saturday, Feb 10, 2018 at 12:26 am

SU Tennis Survives Early Scare Against UConn

By Gill Gross

The air at Drumlins Country Club smelled like an upset. It was the intermission between singles and doubles. For the first time this season, Syracuse tennis had dropped the doubles point. And in heartbreaking fashion.

The Orange did not ultimately pay the price for losing two of three doubles matches. They rallied in singles for a 5-2 victory over UConn at Drumlins Country Club, improving its record to 4-1. They couldn’t have done so without resilience and a short memory.

On the first doubles court, Sofya Golubovskya and Anna Shkudun looked immediately overmatched. Not in talent and ability, but rather in doubles savvy. The Orange pairing was passive, stagnant, cautious, and reluctant to go to net. It was not a winning formula, admittedly so.

“You have to be aggressive not waiting for things to happen,” Limam said. “Go and make things happen.”

Golubovskya and Shkudun lost to UConn’s Yelyzaveta Pletnyeva and Jacquelyn Fitz-Randolph 3-6. Golubovskya had been undefeated (3-0) in doubles this season; however, the Russian does not consider doubles her forte. “

Gabriela Knutson and Moranda Ramirez usually occupy the first doubles spot for Syracuse, but Knutson did not play on Friday. The pairing is the No.14 ranked doubles team in the ITA rankings. Coach Limam insists that Knutson is resting, but skepticism is fair. The Orange don’t play another match until next Friday and UConn proved to be an opponent worthy of Limam’s best possible lineup.

Instead, Ramirez played second doubles with Nicole Mitchell. This was a surprisingly big role for Mitchell, who was a healthy scratch in the previous two matches.

“We had a practice… and they showed they can complement each other based on their games,” Limam said. “And the good news is we have a lot of options. So for today that was the best available option.”

This proved to be a good move by the head coach. Mitchell and Ramirez were the lone bright spot for the Orange in doubles. They defeated Summer Walker and Zaina Zaki, 6-2.

Things were looking up for the Orange with Libbi Mesh and Dina Hegab up 5-0 in their match at third doubles. But the safest lead in tennis was squandered. The Orange served for the match twice to no avail. The roller coaster continued when Libbi Mesh performed a brilliant mid-rally poach to give SU the break. But once again, Mesh/Hegab found themselves down break point. After an offensive point by Syracuse, Hegab played a well-struck overhead but it was miraculously returned and UConn eventually won the point. In the decisive tie-break, Libbi Mesh missed a high forehand volley at 4-5 followed by a tough overhead at 4-6. With that, UConn had won the doubles point. And Syracuse, for whatever reason, was without their star player.

In singles, Miranda Ramirez set the tone with a lightning quick 6-0, 6-2 win over Pletnyeva. Then it was Golubovskya and Mesh, both rebounding from poor play on the doubles court.

“I just told myself there’s no way I’m going to lose this match,” Mesh said, “Not after what happened in doubles.”

Then Mesh’s partner, Dina Hegab, clinched the match for Syracuse with a 6-2 6-3 win over Zaki. Hegab is undefeated in singles this season.

“We always talk as a team about short memory,” Hegab said. “Having a short memory and moving on because there is no time to be mad or sad about anything. So I’m glad I took this as a push to start my singles really well.”