In Friday’s NCAA Semifinals in Orlando, Fla., the season came to an end for No. 7 Stanford women’s tennis (25-3, 10-0 PAC 12) as No. 3 NC State (28-4, 10-3 ACC) defeated the Cardinal 4-0.
Stanford fell behind early, losing the doubles point for the first time in 15 matches. Thereafter, the Cardinal had opportunities to grind out a victory in singles, but the Wolfpack decisively shut the door for the win.
In doubles, the Cardinal’s first pair, No. 16-ranked senior Angelica Blake and freshman Alexis Blokhina, was never in contention against the Wolfpack’s lead team of No. 4 Diana Shnaider and Alana Smith. Down 5-2, Blake and Blokhina lost their set 6-3 with Shnaider dominating her service games, a portent of what was to come. Blake and Blokhina previously had been 6-0 against ranked opponents. Next, on court two, graduate student Sara Choy and sophomore Alexandra Yepifanova engineered an impressive win over No. 9 Nell Miller and Amelia Rajecki. From 0-2 down they won the set 6-3. Choy and Yepifanova’s victory was against their highest ranked opponents this season.
Unfortunately, the Cardinal could not build on that win. On court three, Stanford’s sophomore tandem of Connie Ma and Valencia Xu, who had won 12 consecutive matches, could not dig out from an early deficit and lost 6-2 to Sophie Abrams and Abigail Rencheli, securing the doubles point for the Wolfpack.
After the singles commenced, another point soon went NC State’s way. The Cardinal’s No. 29 Yepifanova was overcome by No. 7 Shnaider 6-1, 6-0. Shnaider, who is currently No. 104 in the world tennis rankings, employed her powerful and well-placed serves and all-court game to dominate the encounter.
With the Wolfpack two points from victory, the Cardinal resistance stiffened. On court three, No. 44 Blake was involved in a back-and-forth battle against No 26 Rajecki. Blake was ahead early and served for the first set at 5-3 but could not hold. Then she fell behind 5-6 before evening the score. In the ensuing tiebreaker Blake was down 5-2 before charging back to win it 7-5. Playing in the fourth slot No. 84 Blokhina, displaying excellent court coverage, jumped out to a 3-0 lead against No. 87 Rencheli and held on to win the first set, 7-5. Xu, on court five, reeled off four straight games to take her first set 6-3.
In the meantime, No. 18 Ma, in the second position, came back from 2-4 against No. 13 Smith to tie her first set at five before losing it 7-5. Then Ma mounted a furious comeback in her second set. Showing her grit, she stormed back from 0-5 to tie the set at five, saving four match points in the process. On court six, Choy, who had lost her first set 6-3, was ahead 3-0 in the second against the Wolfpack’s Gina Dittmann.
At this juncture, it appeared that the Cardinal had a fighting chance to pull out a victory. But it was not to be. Ma’s comeback fell short and she lost the second set 7-5, bringing the Wolfpack to within one point of a win. Soon after, Choy took her second set into a tiebreaker but was down throughout, with Dittmann winning most of the long rallies and besting Choy 6-3, 7-6, gaining the Wolfpack’s clinching point. It was the final match of Choy’s illustrious Stanford tennis career.
In the other matches, Blake was entering a third set after dropping the second 6-4. Xu lost her second set 7-5 after coming back from 2-4 and was beginning her third set when the match was called. Blokhina was ahead in her second set 5-3 and appeared headed to a straight-set victory as the contest ended.
Four Cardinal players will remain in Orlando for this week’s NCAA Singles and Doubles Championships. Blake will play in singles and doubles, Yepifanova and Ma will be in the singles draw and Blokhina will play in the doubles.