Revenge may be a dish best served cold, but Penn women’s tennis found a way to serve it up sheltered from the elements this weekend.
Sunday saw the conclusion of an excellent showing for the Quakers at the Cissie Leary Invitational, a tournament hosted indoors on Penn’s campus this past weekend.
Leading Penn in its third invitational tournament of the semester, Red and Blue coach Sanela Kunovac was impressed by the level of competition on display.
“It was excellent,” she said. “We had the defending Ivy League champs [Princeton] here and another three or four teams were nationally ranked in the top 70. The level of play was very high.”
The tournament was organized into four different brackets, with singles and doubles matches divided between two tiers based on each player’s skill set.
Coming off a strong showing at the Princeton Invitational the previous weekend, one looming obstacle dominated Penn’s thoughts: the Tigers. At that tournament, the Tigers soundly beat the Quakers both in singles, 6-1, and doubles play, 4-0.
However, this weekend, Penn managed to exact its revenge.
In the doubles Flight B bracket, the Red and Blue got their first taste of it against Princeton. As the final approached, the Penn pair of sophomore Lina Qostal and freshman O.J. Singh faced off against the Tigers’ Sara Goodwin and Nicole Kalhorn.
Although not partners at the Princeton Invitational, both Goodwin and Kalhorn had been victorious in their separate doubles matches against Penn last weekend. However, Qostal and Singh flipped the script on the Tigers this weekend, taking down the pair in the championship, 6-3.
In the doubles Flight A bracket, the Quakers’ duo of senior Sonya Latycheva and junior Kana Daniel reached the final before eventually losing a close 7-5 match to a strong team from Saint John’s.
Meanwhile, in Flight B singles, Penn enjoyed another remarkably successful bracket, sending two members of the team — Marta Kowalska and Qostal — to the final to square off against one another. Because the two were teammates, the match had a different feel than a typical tournament final.
“It was more friendly,” Kowalska admitted. “Two weeks ago, we played a practice match on this same exact court. Also, we know each other’s weaknesses, so it was more of a mental match.”
In the process of getting to the final, both Kowalska, who eventually won the match, and Qostal defeated Princeton opponents in the semifinals.
The biggest battle of the weekend came between Princeton’s Kristine Steffenson and Penn sophomre Ria Vaidya in the Flight A singles final. After a long weekend of matches, Vaidya began to feel fatigue during her final match, both mentally and physically.
“[Saturday] after my two matches I was really tired,” Vaidya said. “During the breaks during a match, I read from a paper. It has words like ‘snap the wrist’ on it, things I need to work on. That way when emotional and physical fatigue set in, I have something to focus on.”
After a gritty 7-5 first set won by Vaidya, the second set was a true test of both players’ stamina. The set went back and forth, with Vaidya taking a lead and Steffenson tying the set on three different occasions. However, in the end, the Singapore native outlasted Steffenson to win the second set, 6-4, and capture the title.
When speaking about Vaidya’s performance, Kunovac praised the sophomore.
“I am very proud of the way she’s carried herself all season,” Kunovac said. “This tournament, she had a lot of tough matches. She is a fighter and very forward-looking.
“No matter the circumstance, her strong will carries her forward. I am very proud of Ria for winning, but I would have been proud of her whatever way the match turned out.”
Having captured championships in three of the tournament’s four brackets, the entire Penn squad agreed that the weekend was an immense success overall.
“Everyone played really well,” Vaidya said.
“We did well as a team, cheering each other on and supporting each other,” Kowalska added.
Yet the biggest praise for the Quakers came from Kunovac.
“I don’t like to use big, heavy words, but this weekend was phenomenal,” she said. “I think this is the best we have done in this tournament since I have been here coaching. The performances in every bracket were outstanding.
“This weekend, I think we did our talking with the rackets.”
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