Win over Indiana gives women’s tennis first conference victory

by Jabari Ritchie

With hopes for its first Big Ten win in seven tries resting on Brandi Watts’ and Kandis Batiste’s shoulders Sunday, Minnesota’s women’s tennis team gathered at the sidelines of the No. 5 and No. 6 singles matches against Indiana needing something it has lacked all conference season – wins from the bottom of the lineup.

The Gophers, who managed to take a 3-2 lead with three straight sets singles wins, looked as if they were in good hands with Watts and Batiste both opening three-game leads in the third set. But, as the match against the 41st-ranked Hoosiers (3-3, 14-6 Big Ten) neared its conclusion, Minnesota’s chances grew slim.

Watts lost four consecutive games in the final set while Batiste lost five straight games to miss a chance at clinching a team win with a three-set loss in No. 6 singles.

But Watts stormed back to give her team a 4-3 victory with a 3-6, 6-2, 7-5 win over Dominika Walterova in the final match of the day.

“I just tried not to think about the fact that it was all down to me,” said Watts. “I just tried to hit the ball and play my game.”

The sophomore was an unlikely hero for the Gophers (6-12, 1-6 Big Ten). Before Sunday’s match at the Northwest Athletic Club, Watts was 0-3 in Big Ten play and 2-6 overall.

“When I looked down at Kandis’ court and saw she was up 4-1 and looked down at Brandi’s court and she was up 3-0, that’s when I felt least secure,” Minnesota coach Tyler Thomson said. “I knew that Indiana was going to keep fighting and I knew that they have a lot of people who have been through situations like this. Our kids haven’t really been in a lot of situations where a big win was on the line.”

The Gophers, who now have a 4-23 all-time record against Indiana, snapped an 11-game conference losing streak, dating almost a year.

“It just showed our hard work and dedication, how much we actually wanted to win,” said Minnesota sophomore Valerie Vladea. “As long as we play well and keep supporting each other, we’re going to get more wins.”

After Indiana earned the doubles point with wins at the No. 1 and No. 2 positions, Minnesota came out strong in singles competition.

Vladea and Michaela Havelkova – who had the Gophers’ only wins in Friday’s 5-2 loss to Purdue – won No. 1 and No. 2 singles and Minnesota won the No. 4 singles match with Kelly Perry’s first Big Ten win.

Batiste’s No. 6 singles win against Ohio State on Feb. 24 was the only other time the Gophers have won a singles match out of the top two spots against a conference opponent.

“A lot of people think that tennis is just an individual sport, and it is, but you’ve got to create an electricity and enthusiasm,” Thomson said.

“The X-factor was that they were willing to fight, and their teammates on the sidelines were willing to fight with them. Even though they weren’t on the court, they were there with the team. You can attribute it to a lot of things, but I just think it’s togetherness.”

Jabari Ritchie covers tennis and welcomes comments at [email protected]