Women’s tennis team scores huge upset of Wildcats

by Aaron Blake

Minnesota women’s tennis senior Michaela Havelkova wanted to be the X-factor. With the doubles point decided and the overall score knotted at three, Havelkova had some motivation for rallying to beat Northwestern’s Andrea Yung in the rubber match.

And it wasn’t even the dominant Wildcats’ 29-match Big Ten winning streak.

“What I was thinking about was the Big Ten final my freshman year,” Havelkova. “We were two points away from beating them and we lost.”

Lucky for the Gophers, Havelkova often finds herself in the last match of a team event. Despite squandering a 4-2 second-set lead after winning the first, she rallied to defeat the 98th-ranked Yung 7-6 (5), 4-6, 6-3 at No. 4 singles.

As a team, No. 31 Minnesota edged No. 17 Northwestern 4-3 on Sunday after beating Wisconsin 5-2 on Saturday at Baseline Tennis Center. The Wildcats (13-7, 5-1 Big Ten) wound up not only losing their 29-match conference streak, but also first standing in the Big Ten.

“Nobody beats (the Wildcats) because nobody believes they can beat them,” coach Tyler Thomson said. “We talked before the match about the fact that we finished dead last in the Big Ten last year. I said, ‘I don’t think it’s too early to go from worst to first.'”

The Gophers (13-6, 6-1) proved once again just how much improved they are from last season. They finished 1-9 in the conference in 2002 and lost to Northwestern and Wisconsin 6-1 and 7-0, respectively.

While the Wildcats won Nos. 1-3 singles and No. 1 doubles, Minnesota exited victorious on the strength of its depth. To go along with Havelkova’s singles upset, Gophers freshman Nischela Reddy defeated Ruth Barnes 6-2, 6-2 at No. 5, and Brandi Watts put down Kristi Roemer 7-5, 6-2 at No. 6.

In doubles action, Angela Buergis and Reddy beat Barnes and Yung 8-6 at No. 2, and Havelkova and Watts triumphed over Jamie Peisel and Connie Chiang 8-6 at No. 3.

Northwestern’s Cristelle Grier, ranked No. 7 in the nation, easily disposed of the 111th ranked Buergis 6-0, 6-0 in No. 1 singles action. The loss was Buergis’ first in seven Big Ten matches.

Eightieth-ranked Jessica Rush beat Valerie Vladea 6-2, 6-0 at No. 2, and Peisel beat Amy Thomas 5-7, 6-2, 6-3 at No. 3 to give the Wildcats their other two points.

Grier and Rush combined to give Northwestern its only doubles victory, winning 8-3 over Thomas and Vladea.

After Thomson’s squad notched its biggest victory in his one-plus seasons at Minnesota, he maintained he wasn’t surprised by their performance.

“Actually I did (think we could do this),” Thomson said. “I knew that on paper we can compete with anybody in the conference.”

Now that his team has proven this, Thomson and his athletes can focus on holding onto first place with three matches to play.

“I don’t want to say that we’ve won the Big Ten yet because we have a lot of work to do,” Thomson said. “But I’m just bursting with pride with this team. They continue to amaze us (coaches).”

Men win a pair on road

The No. 12 Minnesota men’s tennis team also found success over the weekend. The Gophers won all 12 singles matches in defeating Wisconsin on Sunday in Madison, Wis., and No. 47 Northwestern 6-1 on Saturday in Evanston, Ill.

Minnesota (16-3, 6-1) moves into second place in the conference with the wins. The Gophers overtook No. 25 Ohio State (15-5, 5-1), which lost to No. 1 Illinois (17-0, 5-0) on Saturday.

Versus Northwestern, 58th-ranked Gopher Thomas Haug defeated 121st-ranked Tommy Hanus 6-3, 1-6, 6-3 in No. 1 singles competition. No. 63 Aleksey Zharinov made quick work of Jackie Jenkins 6-1, 6-2 at No. 2, and 95th-ranked Chris Wettengel beat Josh Axler 6-2, 6-7, 6-3.

Aaron Blake covers tennis and welcomes comments at [email protected]