Sunday win gives tennis team split

Mark Heller

Like something out of a Charles Dickens novel, the Gophers women’s tennis team experienced its own version of the best of times and the worst of times this weekend.
On Friday, the Gophers led 3-1 against Michigan, and then watched that lead slip away, eventually losing 4-3.
On Sunday, the Gophers led 3-1 against Michigan State. This time they put the match away, winning 6-1 at the College of St. Catherine in St. Paul despite winds of 25-40 miles per hour.
The Gophers stormed ahead early against Michigan, sweeping the doubles point and winning three of the first four singles matches. Helen Wang came within one game of sealing the match, but she was broken and eventually lost in the tiebreaker. Jana Hrdinova won her first set, but lost the second set on a tiebreaker and dropped the third set 6-3.
Despite the debacle against Michigan, Gophers coach Martin Novak tried to keep things in perspective.
“Michigan was a good match for us,” Novak said. “Jana was a game away, Helen (Wang) was a game away. They’re young and they’re human beings.”
Sunday, however, was a different story. Minnesota lost the doubles point as Tammy Wang/Tarah Elkins lost 8-6 and Jana Hrdinova/and Jennifer Hayes lost 9-7 in a tiebreaker. All six Gophers won their singles matches this time, including the clincher by Alice Rangsithienchai, who battled back and forth before finally winning in the tiebreaker.
The Gophers are now 10-6 overall, and an impressive 5-1 in the Big Ten.
Extremely windy conditions caused the ball to fly and bounce all over Sunday. The Gophers got off to a slightly sluggish start in singles, but then they began to assert themselves.
“In the first set I was very impatient, and I wasn’t playing very smart in the wind,” said junior Tarah Elkins, who lost her first set before winning the next two. “But then I put more balls in play instead of forcing things and making mistakes, and it obviously worked better.”
The Gophers take on Northwestern on Friday and Wisconsin on Sunday. Both matches are crucial to the team’s Big Ten title hopes. The relatively easy victory against Michigan State seems to have taken the pressure away from the players.
“Now there are no undefeated teams in the Big Ten,” Elkins said. “I really think we can go the rest of the way undefeated. We’ll just have to do it one match at a time.”
Novak, too, has confidence in his squad, but added it will not be easy for the Gophers to win the conference title if they continue to start slowly.
“The way we started off in doubles, we just dug ourselves a hole unnecessarily,” Novak said, “and if you have to keep digging yourself out of it, that’s hard.”
One of the toughest tasks for the team has been an inability to have a regular routine, Novak said. Many times players have been forced to play their matches outside after practicing inside all week. It’s made Novak a little wary.
“I feel like a nomad,” he said. “Our home should be our safest place and yet we seem the most uneasy at home because we never know whether we’re going to play afternoon or night, indoors or outdoors.”
Overall, however, Novak liked what he saw.
“I feel great,” he said. “A win is a win. We came back beautifully in singles. It was a hard-fought match.”