COLLEGE STATION, Texas – No. 6 Texas A&M got a huge boost from its four freshmen as the Aggies defeated No. 24 Baylor, 4-0, on a cold and blustery evening at the George P. Mitchell Tennis Center.
It was the fourth consecutive win for the Aggies, who improve to 6-1 entering their inaugural Southeastern Conference match against No. 43 South Carolina (7-3), Friday at 5 p.m. at the Mitchell Tennis Center.
“I thought today’s match was just particularly difficult,” A&M head coach Howard Joffe said, “and I certainly don’t want to be a baby – Baylor had the same set of circumstances – but it was pretty darn cold, it was really windy, and what made the wind even worse, it wasn’t blowing in just one direction. It was like swirling all over, so it was just really difficult to play any kind of quality tennis. But in terms of the competing, hopefully it has put some good mileage on us and it is a good, to use the theatrical vernacular, a dress rehearsal for our first SEC match in two days.”
As A&M junior Cristina Stancu, who plays No. 1 doubles and No. 2 singles, watched from the stands with an injury, the Aggies got clutch wins from a pair of freshmen doubles teams to take a 1-0 lead against the Bears. Twins Ines and Paula Deheza, who joined the team in January and were playing up a spot in the altered lineup, jumped out to a 4-0 lead against Baylor’s Maria Biryukova and Megan Horter en route to an 8-3 victory at the No. 2 line.
“They played particularly well,” Joffe said when asked about the four freshmen. “If I had to single out one person, it would be Paula Deheza. Baylor sort of came out with a strange strategy. They were just whacking all the balls at the net player, and Paula literally like Harry Houdini hit like 15 straight winner volleys, and suddenly they were in an unassailable lead at No. 2 doubles, so she played particularly well.”
Baylor evened the race for the doubles point at the No. 1 line as the 23rd-ranked duo of Ema Burgic and Victoria Kisialeva pulled away for an 8-6 win against the tandem of Cristina Sanchez-Quintanar and Wen Sun, who had up until today been playing the No. 2 position.
The point came down to the No. 3 position, where rookies Stefania Hristov and Anna Mamalat were playing together for the first time this spring. They found themselves trailing 3-0 to Baylor’s Kiah Generette and Alex Leatu, but after being down two service breaks, the Aggie duo fought back and got the match back on serve at 4-4. The teams were on serve with A&M leading 8-7 when Baylor committed a double fault to put A&M at match point. The Bears then hit long on the next play to give A&M the 9-7 win and a 1-0 lead.
“I would say at No. 3 doubles, more than anything it was a character win,” Joffe said. “It was difficult. We started 3-0 down, and for freshmen that is not easy, but they really, really acquitted themselves upstairs really well.”
With Stancu out, Joffe was forced to also juggle his singles lineup. He inserted Mamalat at the No. 6 line, and playing in only her second singles match in dual competition, the Philadelphia native gave the Aggies a 2-0 lead with a 6-2, 6-2 victory over Leatu at the No. 6 line.
“That match became very close at the end and we are thankful for the ‘W’, but in a funny way it allowed us to get Anna Mamalat a match at No. 6 and she really acquitted herself well,” Joffe said. “She beat a girl who actually had played at Vanderbilt last year very, very handily, so where we lose having one of our top doubles and singles players, we gain by getting other people in there, because we are a relatively a young team with four freshmen in there.”
Sanchez-Quintanar, ranked No. 6 in the nation, was once again unstoppable and improved to 6-0 at No. 1 singles as she disposed of 12th-ranked Burgic, 6-2, 6-2, to put A&M ahead, 3-0.
Although A&M had won first sets on four of the six courts, Baylor was getting back into contention. Where the Aggies’ next point would come from, if it happened at all, would turn into a mystery as Baylor built second-set leads in each of the remaining four matches until Hristov made an amazing comeback to clinch the victory.
Hristov had cruised to a 6-0 first-set win and built leads of 4-0 and 5-1 in the second set against Biryukova at No. 5 singles before Biryukova took command. The Baylor freshman won five consecutive games to take a 6-5 lead. Hristov won the next game to tie the score and force a tiebreaker, but Biryukova jumped out to a daunting 6-1 lead in the seven-point tiebreaker. Hristov, however, began to chip away, winning the next five points to even the score at 6-6. Hristov fought off another set point to tie the score at 7-7 and then took her first lead of the tiebreaker at 8-7. Hristov then won the match on the ensuing play as her lunging forehand return narrowly went over after skimming the net, and Biryukova hit into the net to end the match.
“I was up 6-0, 5-1 and the girl just started playing strange balls and she was slicing a lot,” Hristov recalled. “She was starting just to play the strangest game ever, and I lost myself during the set. Suddenly I woke up and I was down 6-5 and in the tiebreaker I was down 6-1 and I kind of started to work hard and come back into the match and I won.”
A&M’s Nazari Urbina had split sets with Kisialeva, 6-1, 1-6 at No. 2 singles when Hristov clinched. At No. 3 singles, Sun had lost her first set to Horter, 7-5, and trailed 2-1 in the second set when play was stopped. Ines Deheza also found herself trailing at No. 4 singles, where Generette had won the first set, 7-6 (2) and held a 4-3 lead in the second set before Hristov made her comeback and clinched the winning point for the second consecutive time.
“In the context of the match, the score line is going to read that we beat Baylor 4-0, but we were in some hotly contested matches,” Joffe said. “We were down a set on two of the courts. We had split sets on the other court, so it was much needed and very fortunate that Stefania pulled it out. Speaking of Harry Houdini, this is the second match in a row, she came back from 4-2 in the third to clinch the match against Michigan last week, so Hristov one way or another has found a way to win.”
Baylor suffers its fourth consecutive loss -- all against Top 25 opponents -- and falls to 4-8.
“It was hard to play like a real quality match in any of the matches, but based on the set of circumstances we were dealt, our kids played quite well,” Joffe added. “That bodes well, and probably it will be less windy come the weekend, and I fully expect us to play even better.”
A&M, which was picked to win the SEC Western Division according to a preseason poll of the league’s head coaches, trails the all-time series against the Gamecocks, 7-1, although the teams have not met since 1995.
A&M concludes its longest home stand of the season Sunday, March 3 against defending national champion, SEC preseason favorite and fourth- ranked Florida. First serve against the Gators is slated for 12 p.m.
Free live video and scoring will be available on AggieAthletics.com. Aggie fans also can keep up to date with the A&M women’s tennis team on Twitter by following @AggieWTEN or on Facebook at: http://www.facebook.com/?ref=tn_tnmn#!/pages/Aggie-Womens-Tennis/143874782434654
No. 6 Texas A&M 4, No. 24 Baylor 0
February 27, 2013
George P. Mitchell Tennis Center
College Station, Texas
1. #6 Cristina Sanchez-Quintanar (TAMU) def. #12 Ema Burgic (BU), 6-2, 6-2
2. #67 Nazari Urbina (TAMU) vs. Victoria Kisialeva (BU), 6-1, 1-6 unfinished
3. Wen Sun (TAMU) vs. #113 Megan Horter (BU), 5-7, 1-2 unfinished
4. Ines Deheza (TAMU) vs. Kiah Generette (BU), 6-7 (2), 3-4 unfinished
5. Stefania Hristov (TAMU) def. Maria Biryukova (BU), 6-0, 7-6 (7)
6. Anna Mamalat (TAMU) vs. Alex Leatu (BU), 6-2, 6-2
Doubles (Texas A&M wins the point)
1. #23 Burgic/Kisialeva (BU) def. Sanchez-Quintanar/Sun (TAMU), 8-6
2. I. Deheza/Paula Deheza (TAMU) def. Biryukova/Horter (BU), 8-3
3. Hristov/Mamalat (TAMU) def. Generette/Leatu (BU), 9-7
Order of finish
Doubles: 2, 1, 3
Singles: 6, 1, 5
Texas A&M: 6-1