Beneath the lights at the USTA National Campus in Orlando, Fla., No. 7 Stanford women’s tennis (25-2, 10-0 PAC 12) vanquished No. 2 Texas A&M (30-3, 13-0 SEC) in Wednesday’s NCAA Tournament quarterfinals. Showing the strength of their lineup, the Cardinal won the dual match 4-0 to hand the Aggies their first shutout in two years and extend Stanford’s win streak to 22.
As expected, the level of tennis was high and each point was vigorously contested. But as the match unfolded it became clear that, throughout the lineup, Stanford was the superior and more resilient team, able to outplay its opponents at critical points.
Seeking 4 out of 7 possible points needed to win the dual match, the Cardinal fell behind in doubles early on before ultimately steamrolling the Aggies to clinch the doubles point. On court three, the pairing of sophomores Connie Ma and Valencia Xu was down 0-2 before reeling off the final six games to win 6-2. It was their 12th consecutive doubles win. Next, on court two, the Stanford tandem of graduate student Sara Choy and sophomore Alexandra Yepifanova fell to No. 35 Mia Kupres and Mary Stoiana 6-2. The Aggies’ service returns were a key to their victory.
All attention shifted to court one where, in the deciding match, the No. 16 Cardinal duo of senior Angela Blake and freshman Alexis Blokhina were battling No. 22 Salma Ewing and Jayci Goldsmith. The latter were up 4-2 before Blake and Blokhina accelerated. They won the key points by exploiting their opponents’ weak service returns and inconsistency, earning the last four games, the set 6-4 and the doubles point. The Blake-Blokhina team improved its record to 18-3 and 6-0 against ranked opponents. The Cardinal have now won 14 straight doubles points.
In singles, Stanford won first sets on five of the six courts to jump out to an early lead. Playing in the third slot, No. 44 Blake dissected her opponent, No. 68 Kupres, with numerous well-constructed points to win 6-3, 6-3. On court four, No. 84 Blokhina was down 1-4 in the first set to No. 108 Goldsmith before winning the last five games and the set, 6-4. At one juncture, she won 10 consecutive points. In the next set however, Goldsmith jumped out to a 5-1 lead before winning it 6-3. Undaunted, Blokhina proceeded to play her fearless brand of tennis in the third set, hitting blazing shots on or near the lines and routing her opponent 6-1 to win the match.
The Cardinal were now one singles win from advancing and the only question left was who would seize the winning point. No. 18 Ma, Choy and Xu were all on the precipice of victory. On court two, Ma won her first set in come-from-behind fashion against No. 58 Ewing. With Ewing up 5-2, Ma fended off several match points and relied on her relentless groundstrokes to win 7-5 and then take a 5-1 lead in the second set. Choy, on court six, won a first set tiebreaker 7-6 (3) and was ahead 5-3 in the second.
In the end, Xu closed it out for Stanford. She never trailed in the first set, controlling points and outplaying her opponent in numerous long rallies to prevail 6-3. She picked up right where she left off in the next set and triumphed 6-4.
In the meantime, No. 29 Yepifanova was engaged in a tight contest with No. 2 Stoiana. Stoiana won the first set using her shot variety, particularly her slice backhand, effectively. Yepifanova found answers in the second set, relying on her powerful groundstrokes and serve to win it, 6-4. The score was knotted at 1-1 in set three when the match was called after Xu won the decider.
The Cardinal moves on to the NCAA Tournament semifinals, and will face No. 3 NC State (27-4, 10-3 ACC) on Friday, May 19 at 2 p.m. PT.