Thursday, September 21

Clutch performance keeps NCAA hope alive

Freshman Nina Pantic plays during the NCAA Second Round against Arizona State at the Los Angeles Tennis Center on Sunday. UCLA won 4-3.

Freshman Nina Pantic plays during the NCAA Second Round against Arizona State at the Los Angeles Tennis Center on Sunday. UCLA won 4-3. Eric Agar

Ever since the draw for the NCAA Women’s Tennis Tournament was announced two weeks ago, the second-round rubber match between No. 15 UCLA junior Yasmin Schnack and No. 10 Arizona State sophomore Kelcy McKenna was thought to be the surefire highlight of the Bruin-hosted regional.

When the matchup became a reality on Sunday, all eyes were on Court 1, where the two standouts did battle for the third time this season.

Before it could end, however, UCLA freshman Nina Pantic and Arizona State senior Laila Abdala stole the show with their epic battle to decide the match on Court 4.

With the dual match knotted at 3-3 and both teams’ seasons on the line, Pantic roared back from a 5-3 second-set deficit, winning 10 straight games to pull out a stunning 4-6, 7-5, 6-0 win.

The win booked the Bruins’ tickets to College Station, Texas, the site of the final rounds of the NCAA Tournament. Pantic virtually shut out Abdala in the one-sided third set, dropping just two points.

“I looked at the scoreboard and I saw that I was going to have to win for us to go to Texas,” Pantic said. “Once I got the second set under my belt, I just wanted to keep it going. I didn’t want to let her back in.”

Pantic’s win gave the No. 11 Bruins the 4-3 victory, their third triumph over the Sun Devils by that margin in three matches this season.

“That’s the best I’ve seen Nina play, and for her to play her best now is just awesome,” coach Stella Sampras Webster said. “That’s going to give her so much confidence and I think it’s going to help her so much throughout the tournament.”

UCLA took care of Boston, 4-0, in the first round on Saturday in a much quicker and smoother match.

But in the second round, the two teams traded points throughout the dual match, with the Bruins easily winning the doubles point but then trading singles victories with the Sun Devils thereafter.

Sophomore Maya Johansson won just two games in two sets to drop her match at the No. 3 spot, tying things up at 1-1. After freshman Carling Seguso held out for a 6-2, 6-3 win, Bruin senior Ashley Joelson quickly fell, 6-3, 6-0, to balance the match once again at 2-2.

Sophomore Andrea Remynse fought off an inspired comeback attempt by junior Nadia Abdala to grab a 6-3, 6-3 victory, putting the Bruins up 3-2 and one win from advancing to the round of 16.

“(Today’s) match was not easy,” Remynse said. “I got whooped by her a couple weeks ago in Arizona, so quite honestly I was shocked with how I played. I played pretty well.”

At Court 1, after Schnack nearly played McKenna out of the stadium in the first set, winning 6-2, the players’ second set was one for the ages. Schnack was able to break McKenna’s serve four times but could not hold her own serve even once, and the second set went to McKenna, 6-4.

Schnack could not regain her rhythm in the third set, but by the time it became apparent that she would lose the match and drop her second decision of the year to McKenna, Pantic was already in the midst of one of the most clutch performances by a Bruin so far this year.

Pantic absolutely caught fire midway through the second set.

Facing elimination, Pantic realized the magnitude of her match and took hold of the situation.

Schnack joined the rest of her teammates and all the fans at the Los Angeles Tennis Center to watch the match between Pantic and Abdala.

“The more pressure that was on me and the more people that came to watch my match, I felt like I was playing better and better every minute,” Pantic said.

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