Sunday, May 24

Women’s tennis grapples with maintaining late-game momentum

Freshman Ena Shibahara dropped her first singles match in dual-play this season in a UCLA loss to Cal. Shibahara pinpointed her serving and aggressive playing as key to closing out future close matches. (Wesley Hardin/Daily Bruin)

Ball-for-ball and stroke-for-stroke, No. 9 UCLA women’s tennis was right in the matches against No. 12 Pepperdine and No. 18 California this weekend.

But each time, the Bruins (6-3) were unable to close out their games, dropping them 5-2 and 6-1 respectively.

[Related: Women’s tennis falls to lower-ranked Cal, Pepperdine]

UCLA’s three losses this season, all to top-25 teams, came down to key points late in the set in both doubles and singles.

“We just need to work on that last shot. I think we had a lot of opportunities, which is great because we’re right there and we’re right in the point,” said sophomore Alaina Miller. “But it’s just that one last shot or that last point, just finishing it off.”

For coach Stella Sampras Webster, honing in on those little details will be what separates the Bruins from other teams, especially in doubles play. In losses to the Yellow Jackets, Waves and Golden Bears, the Bruins were unable to secure the two doubles wins and entered singles play in a 1-0 hole.

[Related: Women’s tennis draws from Georgia Tech upset, pulls off weekend wins]

“We certainly had some chances or opportunities, but we’re having a hard time winning those sets,” Sampras Webster said. “We’re getting so close but not getting the win. It’s something we’ll take a look at and see what we have to do to get our players to be able to execute.”

UCLA’s top doubles team of freshman Ena Shibahara and redshirt freshman Jada Hart have dropped just one match this season, but the other two courts have combined for six losses.

“We haven’t really made any changes that we feel like will win that doubles point,” Sampras Webster said. “We need to give ourselves a chance to win at number two or three doubles and that’s one thing.”

Shibahara dropped her first singles match in a dual match play against Cal’s No. 23 Karla Popovic. The UCLA freshman, who’s ranked second nationally, lost another match to Pepperdine’s No. 6 Luisa Stefani in a tie break.

After traveling to No. 10 Baylor on Saturday and competing against Stanford next week, UCLA will have a rematch with Cal, this time on its home court and Shibahara already has a game plan in mind on how to change the results.

“Just closing out the points, I was having trouble with that,” Shibahara said. “I can definitely work on making more first-serve percentages a lot higher. Next time, I can definitely see myself doing better against them.”



Dam joined the Bruin as a sophomore in 2014 and contributed until after she graduated in 2017. She was the Sports editor for the 2016-2017 academic year and spent time on the football, men's basketball, gymnastics, women's water polo, men's soccer, men's tennis, women's tennis and women's golf beats.

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