In an Ivy League matchup, a team’s record or ranking often means little.
Both teams come in fired up, and adrenaline and mental toughness can make differences in talent disappear.
On Saturday, the Penn women’s tennis team (6-10, 1-4 Ivy) was a heavy underdog against No. 72 Harvard, a preseason Ivy favorite and undefeated in the league going into the match.
However, it was the Red and Blue who emerged victorious, beating the Crimson, 4-3, at Hamlin Tennis Center.
Yet, the next day the Quakers were unable to keep the momentum going, losing, 4-3, to the Big Green (8-10, 2-2).
Coach Sanela Kunovac was particularly pleased with how her team played this weekend, especially given that it was not favored in either match.
The weekend’s matches were “awesome, both as a coach and a spectator of tennis,” Kunovac said. “Harvard was supposed to be better than us and we upset the team that should have beaten us.”
Against the Crimson, the Quakers quickly fell behind, 3-0, after losing the doubles point and getting crushed in No. 3 and No. 4 singles.
Harvard needed to win just one of the four remaining singles matches to emerge victorious.
However, freshman phenom Sol Eskenazi turned the momentum in Penn’s favor with a straight-set victory at No. 1 singles.
Fellow freshman Srinidhi Raghavan followed soon after with her first career Ivy victory at the fifth position.
While Emma Whitfield won the second set to even her No. 6 singles match, Stephanie Do blew a match point at 5-4 in her second set and dropped the next three games to lose the set.
In her third set, Whitfield won rather easily, meaning Do’s match would decide the outcome between Penn and Harvard.
Serving at 5-6 in the decisive set, Do fought off three match points and ultimately won in a tiebreaker.
She attributed her victory to mental toughness. “Believing and wanting to win really pulled me through my match,” the sophomore said.
“I just locked in and let myself know that each point really counts.”
Kunovac was particularly pleased that Do played to win rather than not to lose.
“Win or lose, you want to go out swinging on your own terms,” she said.
In Sunday’s match against Dartmouth, the Quakers were also forced to come from behind. After capturing the doubles point, the Red and Blue lost the first set in five of the six singles matches.
The Big Green evened the score at two with straight-set victories at No. 4 and No. 6 singles following a victory by Eskenazi at No. 1 singles.
Either team would have to win two of the three matches remaining to come away with the win.
Though Penn had lost the first set in all three matches, the Quakers had big leads in the second sets of each of those matches.
In all three matches, the Big Green fought back. At No. 2 and No. 3 singles, Do and Alex Ion held on to force third sets. Raghavan, however, gave up a 5-1 second-set lead, losing 7-6 in the second set.
Do won the third set, which left the Quakers’ fate in the hands of freshman Alex Ion.
Ion jumped out to a 4-1 lead, but with the pressure on, she began to play tentatively.
“She got into the mindset where she didn’t want to pull the trigger,” Kunovac said.
Her opponent, Janet Liu, fought back and tied the match at four. After a seesaw game with many deuces, Liu broke Ion’s serve before holding her own to win the third set, 6-4.
After the match, Kunovac restated how proud she was of her team.
“It takes guts for them to do what they did yesterday and it takes guts for them to pick up their heads after [the Dartmouth match],” she said.
Next weekend, the Red and Blue will try to move on from the loss to Dartmouth against Cornell and Columbia in their final games of the season.
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