ATHENS, GA -- Texas A&M junior Cristina Sanchez-Quintanar was down triple-match point in the third set of her first-round match at the NCAA Singles Championship but came back in dramatic fashion to defeat 52nd-ranked Alexa Guarachi of Alabama, 6-4, 5-7, 7-6 (3) to advance to the second round at the University of Georgia’s Dan Magill Tennis Complex.
Aggie teammate Nazari Urbina, A&M’s first three-time NCAA Singles Championship participant, was not as fortunate as she fell to 28th-ranked Cristina Stancu of Maryland, 7-6 (3), 6-0, in the opening round.
After splitting the first two sets, Sanchez-Quintanar, the No. 7 seed in the 64-player field, found herself trailing the final set 6-5 and down 40-love. For three consecutive plays she was a point away from having her illustrious season come to a screeching halt, but somehow she managed to win the next five points to win the game and even the set at 6-6. Sanchez-Quintanar then won the tiebreaker, 7-3, to complete the thrilling comeback.
“I didn’t play a good match at all,” Sanchez-Quintanar admitted. “I played probably my worst match of the season. Not mentally, but I just didn’t feel confident on the court during the whole match, and she was being much braver than me and she was playing better than me. I also was nervous in the first game. It was just strange, playing by yourself and not with your team there.”
In the opening set, the match was on serve until Sanchez-Quintanar broke to go up 5-4. The Spaniard then held serve to win the opening set.
There were a total of nine service breaks in the second set that had several untimely disruptions as balls from other matches came onto their court, resulting in a replay of the point.
“We played in the middle court, and balls from the other matches were coming into our court all of the time,” Sanchez-Quintanar said. “I had won the first set and then I started really well in the second set and it was 1-0. Then I served and she missed the return that would have put me up 2-0, but the referee called a let at that point. It was supposed to be my game, up 2-0 with a break, but it wasn’t because he called a let and she came back to win the game. It was annoying for both of us because we were calling let all of the time, and it was frustrating for me because two games were supposed to be mine. It’s not an excuse, but at that specific time in the match, if I win this game, I’m ahead a break and a set and it is much different. But she came back in this game and she is back in the match again.”
The set was on serve as Guarachi took a 6-5 lead. The Alabama junior then held serve to even the match at a set apiece.
Sanchez-Quintanar took a 3-1 lead in the final set, but Guarachi broke back to tie the score at 3-3. The two held serve for the rest of the set, although Guarachi, leading 6-5, came ever so close to breaking Sanchez-Quintanar to win the match.
“I thought, ‘well, Cris, you did all that you can do. She was better than you and she probably deserved it more than you,’” Sanchez-Quintanar said when describing what was going through her mind when she was down 6-5, 40-love in the third set. “I was almost done, but then I played three awesome points. I hit the ball a little more -- I don’t know why at that point – and I hit three good points and I came back.”
Sanchez-Quintanar jumped out to a comfortable 5-1 lead en route to winning the tiebreaker, 7-3, to advance to the second round for the second consecutive year.
“I don’t even know how I did it,” Sanchez-Quintanar said. “I felt bad for her because I think she deserved it more than me today. She was braver than me. I tried to be brave, but the things didn’t come to me. My shots didn’t go where I wanted them to go. My forehand wasn’t working and even my backhand, which I normally feel more confident with, wasn’t dangerous enough.
“She was hitting the ball hard and coming to the net all of the time. Normally when someone comes to the net, I have a good feeling and can put the ball away. This time it was so hard for me. I couldn’t feel the ball at all. All I did today was run and run and try to get the ball back, because as soon as I wanted to try to do something more I was worried because I was missing the ball. The courts seemed slow, the bounces were slow but when the ball was in the air it was travelling so fast. It was strange. It was different.”
“Today one of the very, very few days in Cristina’s career so far where she had very poor control of her shots and was just overall out of sorts,” A&M first-year coach Howard Joffe added. “The fact that she was able to not unravel emotionally and keep going just speaks volumes for her maturity and development in this past year at Texas A&M. I was very proud about that regardless of the outcome. As far as the outcome, she was very fortunate to get away with the win.”
It was the 10th consecutive victory for Sanchez-Quintanar, who improves to 38-5. She will face 31st-ranked Joelle Kissell of North Carolina State in the second round tomorrow at 9 a.m. (CT). Kissell defeated No. 48 Tayler Davis of California, 7-5, 6-1 to advance.
“I just hope things are going better than today, because today I didn’t play my best,” Sanchez-Quintanar said. “Tomorrow I want to play like I know how to play and feel good on the tennis court and not worry about the result. When I leave the court I want to say I played my best and did the things I know I can do.”
“Joelle Kissell is as tough a competitor as you can find,” Joffe said. “She is very hungry. The prize for her is All-American if she wins tomorrow, and I expect her to come out fighting and playing with all the passion in the world. Cris will have to be much improved if she wants the chance to advance.”
Sanchez-Quintanar also will be competing in doubles with Wen Sun as the NCAA Doubles Championship opens tomorrow. The pair, ranked 29th with a 23-9 overall record, opens tournament play against 32nd-ranked Lorraine Guillermo and Khunpak Issara (22-4) of Pepperdine at a time to be determined. The Wave duo enters the tournament riding a 14-match win streak.
“We will have our work cut out for sure,” Joffe said, “but I know both Cris and Sunny will be hungry and excited and chasing after the win.”
In Urbina’s match, the first set was a back-and-forth affair. The A&M junior went up a break to take a 6-5 lead and twice had advantage, but Stancu came back to even the set at 6-6 and force a tiebreaker. Urbina held her only lead of the tiebreaker at 2-1 before Stancu won six of the next seven points to win, 7-3. Stancu then controlled the second set en route to a 6-0 win.
“Nazari’s match felt a little bit like the outcome of that match was going to hang on what happened in that first set,” Joffe said. “The first set was nip-and-tuck the whole way. It just had that quality feel to it like it was sort of the match. Unfortunately for Nazari, she came up a point or two short, and the dynamic of the second set changed where the other kid started to play with much more confidence. It was a painful and difficult loss for Nazari today, no question about it.”
Urbina finishes the season 20-8.
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