No. 7 Stanford women’s tennis (23-2, 10-0 Pac-12) advanced to the third round of the NCAA Tournament with wins over Weber State (12-9, 6-2 Big Sky) and Oklahoma State (16-8, 7-2 Big 12) on Friday and Saturday at Taube Family Tennis Center. The Cardinal improved their nation’s-best win streak to 20 and remains impregnable at home, where they have won 102 of their last 108 matches dating back to 2010.
On Friday, Stanford met little resistance from an overmatched Weber State team appearing in its first NCAA tournament since 2000. Throughout the afternoon, the Cardinal put on a display of shot-making, power, precision and doubles teamwork, showcasing what makes this group so formidable.
Stanford won the doubles point quickly. On court one, the No. 16-ranked team of senior Angelica Blake and freshman Alexis Blokhina cruised to a 6-1 win, their 16th dual-match victory of the season. Soon thereafter, on court two, sophomore Alexandra Yepifanova and freshman Emma Sun closed out their Wildcat opponents 6-1, securing the doubles point. On court three, the sophomore tandem of Connie Ma and Valencia Xu were on the cusp of a straight set victory as well when the doubles point was clinched.
The singles went similarly. Graduate student Sara Choy finished first on court six, dismantling her opponent 6-1, 6-1 and improving her record to 17-3 in dual matches this spring. Next, No. 84 Blokhina dominated with a 6-0, 6-2 win on court four. No. 29 Yepifanova on court one closed out the team victory 6-2, 6-4, rallying from being down 0-4 in the second set. On courts two, three and five, No. 18 Ma, No. 44 Blake and Xu also appeared to be headed to straight-set victories when the match ended.
Saturday’s matches unfolded differently. No. 17 Oklahoma State gave Stanford a more rigorous test, particularly in the singles, but ultimately the Cardinal emerged victorious 4-1, a score not indicative of the match’s closeness.
The Cardinal seized an early lead in the match by winning the doubles. Ma and Xu, their teamwork on full display, won their match 6-1, their 10th straight on court three. On court two, Choy and Yepifanova broke serve to go ahead 4-3 and never relinquished the lead, winning the set 6-4 and securing the doubles point. Over on court one, Blake and Blokhina were locked in a tight battle at 4-4 when the doubles concluded.
Singles play was closely contested from the outset. Stanford and Oklahoma State each won three first sets. The Cowgirls evened the contest at 1-1 when, on court one, powerful OSU player Kristina Novak defeated Yepifanova 6-4, 7-6, with the windy conditions appearing to adversely affect Yepifanova’s serve. It was her first dropped singles match since February.
Several minutes later, Xu controlled the baseline on court five and won her singles match 6-3, 6-4, regaining the Cardinal lead. The remaining matches all went to three sets. Blokhina employed her power game and charged back from a one-set deficit to win 3-6, 6-3, 6-4. With the Cardinal 1 point from victory, Ma, Blake and Choy were all engaged in close encounters. Blake, who had won the first set but dropped the second, relied on her shot variety and persistence to win 6-1, 3-6, 6-3, gaining the winning point.
In the meantime, on court two, Ma was staging her own comeback. Having fallen behind 0-4 in the first set, she won five of the next six games to tie the set at 5-5 but fell short, losing it 7-5. In the second set, she rallied to a 6-1 win and was ahead 4-3 in the third before the match was called. Choy was battling on court six, coming back to win the first set in a tiebreaker, dropping the second set and forging a 3-2 lead in the third before the match ended.
Afterwards, Blake and Xu spoke about the keys to their matches. Blake noted her opponent’s consistency and quickness and the match’s long rallies, and said her strategy centered on “staying patient, hanging in there and having to adjust and adapt… and to keep fighting.” Xu said her goal was to “play an aggressive brand of tennis” and “to stay up on the baseline as much as I could.”
Both commented on the importance of staying focused on their own match and not getting distracted by watching the scoreboard. Blake also highlighted the team’s depth and said that “everyone’s a great player,” and that “we all have faith in each other and trust in each other, and that if someone’s not having their best day, then some of us have got it.” Xu noted the team’s excellent overall record and said that the team felt comfortable on its home court, with “friends and family in the stands and a lot to play for.”
The Cardinal will be back at Taube Family Tennis Center for the NCAA Tournament’s super regional round, hosting No. 10 Ohio State (22-7, 10-1 Big Ten) on Friday at 1 p.m. PT.