Stanford tennis fans will have to wait two more weeks to witness the Cardinal in action at home, but the players have been busy gaining match-play practice in anticipation of their dual-season opener. The No. 2 Stanford women made their first appearance since the fall this past weekend, representing the Cardinal in the Freeman Memorial Invitational in Las Vegas and the National College Tennis Classic (NCTC) in Indian Wells, Calif.
Senior captain Veronica Li, freshman Ellen Tsay and sophomore Amelia Herring journeyed to Southern California to compete in the NCTC. Other schools represented in the tournament included No. 9 Virginia, No. 21 Texas and No. 16 USC.
Tsay led the charge for Stanford as the No. 2 seed behind UVA’s Emily Fraser. Tsay breezed through the first and second rounds before falling to Virginia’s Xi Li 7-6 (4), 6-1 in the quarterfinals. Despite her elimination, Tsay was proud of the mental toughness she displayed throughout the match.
“I was down 0-3 in the first set of the match and came back to go up 5-4,” Tsay said. “Even though I lost that set in a tiebreaker and ended up losing the match, I feel as though I was constantly finding ways to try to improve and stay in it.”
Tsay faced a similar situation when doubling up with Li. In their quarterfinal match against Texas’ Elizabeth Begley and Juliana Gajic, Tsay and Li’s chances at victory seemed grim as they trailed 1-7 in the pro-set doubles match, which is played to eight games. Tsay was lucky to have experience on her side this time, as she and senior captain partner Li were able to make a comeback to win the match 9-7.
“I think at first we were still kind of feeling it out and didn’t have much match experience together,” Tsay said. “Our play was a little bit off-timing, but we knew that if we got it together, we could be the better team. We talked it out, tried to work together more and improved with each game.”
Li, too, ran away with the first round but was eliminated in the second round by Texas’ Alex Martin, 6-2, 7-5. Herring fell in the singles first round to Katerna Pallivets of Fresno Pacific, 7-5, 6-1, but moved on to consolations, sneaking by Erika Januskova of Fresno Pacific 7-6 (10-9), 5-7, 7-3. She ultimately lost in the quarterfinals of the consolation round to Cierra Gaytan-Leach of Texas, 6-2, 6-2.
Representing the Cardinal just east in Las Vegas was the rest of the squad: junior Natalie Dillon, sophomore Nicole Gibbs, junior Mallory Burdette and junior Stacey Tan. Tan and Burdette both reached the quarterfinals round, but Dillon was defeated 6-1, 6-1 in the second flight of the main draw singles round by Skylar Morton of UCLA. Tan fell 6-0, 6-4 to UCLA’s Robin Anderson in the quarters. It was Burdette who secured a 4-6, 6-0, 6-3 victory that round after dropping the first set.
“I was up 4-3 in the first but lost my focus and she came back,” Burdette said. “I knew that if I executed my game plan that I would have a really good chance of getting through that round. The match helped me work through a lot of issues.”
Many of these challenges stemmed from playing on the road.
“I needed to continue to be aggressive in the point and not settle for just hanging behind the baseline,” she said. “The conditions in Vegas were a little bit tough because of the bouncy courts, which were pretty slow compared to the soft courts at Stanford, so I had to take the ball earlier so it wouldn’t jump over my head.”
Burdette made it all the way to the championship round before USC’s Zoe Scandalis outlasted her 6-7 (8), 7-6 (5), 6-3.
“I was a little bit frustrated because I had three match points in the second set, but she was tough,” Burdette said. “She got a lot of balls back. I was taking all the risks and really going for my shots, but she was getting almost every ball even though she was hanging back. It made it difficult to close out the match, but she did a great job.”
Burdette and Gibbs also made it to the consolation championship doubles match and were set to face North Carolina’s Shinann Featherston and Lauren McHale. However, the match was not played because the Stanford players had already missed their first flight back to the Farm due to prolonged singles play and couldn’t afford to miss a second.
The Cardinal now has two weeks to prepare for its first dual match of the season on Feb. 1 against UC-Davis.
“The first weeks back are rough because everyone’s been doing different things over break,” Burdette said. “But everyone’s focused now. It’s the time to really break it down in practice and in the gym and then build it all back up for the season’s start.”
Tsay agreed and expressed excitement to play back on the Farm.
“I think our mentality will be even more intense,” she declared. “I have watched Stanford play dual matches before, and I know the crowd will be really enthusiastic. I can’t wait to experience playing for the team and the home crowd.”