Wednesday, May 27

Search for ace doubles pairs continues to fully utilize talents of women’s tennis

Junior Alaina Miller was added to the doubles lineup on court three earlier this year with sophomore Ena Shibahara. The pair had only one practice together before their first match, but now posts a 17-1 overall record on the year. (Niveda Tennety/Daily Bruin)

The doubles point is the first a collegiate tennis team can earn in a match – and often the most important.

After dropping the doubles point in three of its first five dual matches of the season, No. 14 UCLA women’s tennis (22-5, 9-1 Pac-12) secured the doubles point 20 times in its last 22 attempts. The Bruins are 18-4 in matches in which they have won the doubles point.

The team failed to capture the doubles point only four times in 23 bouts last season. Despite returning all players from that season, coach Stella Sampras Webster said she elected to test different pairs because of the arrival of junior transfer Ayan Broomfield.

In her 22nd year of coaching, Sampras Webster has tried 11 doubles combinations with nine players over the course of the season. Most of the tinkering occurred early in the season, while some happened due to injuries.

Sophomore Ena Shibahara started off the season playing alongside redshirt sophomore Jada Hart. The duo, the 2016 US Open girls’ doubles champion, was 7-3 on the season overall but lost the first two dual matches they played together.

Sampras Webster elected to scrap the combination, which was then ranked No. 7 in the country, and place Shibahara alongside junior Alaina Miller on court three.

The roommate-duo only had one practice session before their debut dual match together.

“We’re super close,” Miller said. “On court, it’s easy for me to know what she’s thinking and if I need to pump her up. We also know when to calm each other down.”

The pair has gone 17-1 on court three, riding a 16-game win streak.

On the other two courts, Sampras Webster said she strived to split up Hart and junior Gabby Andrews in spite of their success in fall. The duo cruised to the Intercollegiate Tennis Association Southwest Regional Championship without dropping a set in October.

“They are both such great doubles players,” Sampras Webster said at the beginning of the season. “To maximize their talents for the team, we probably need to separate them in the doubles lineup.”

Andrews played with Miller for two games to start the season, before partnering with Broomfield on court two.

The duo, currently ranked No. 64, has gone 9-4 on the season. The pair clinched the doubles point over Baylor’s Theresa van Zyl and Jessica Hinojosa for UCLA after the matches were split on courts one and three in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

The only returning pair from last year’s lineup was on court one – Hart and senior Terri Fleming, who are currently ranked No. 7.

“I love playing with (Hart),” Fleming said. “It’s fun and we complement each other well. We just try to build on something every match.”

The duo went 9-3 on court one last year and 14-7 this year.

“Doubles is something we really take pride in,” Sampras Webster said. “It’s something we work on all the time.”

The Bruins’ doubles pairs will be tested as UCLA heads to Winston-Salem, North Carolina, to face Mississippi in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament.

Sports staff

D'Souza is currently a Sports staff writer for the women's basketball, men's basketball and women's tennis beats. He was previously a reporter for the men's tennis and women's volleyball beats.

Comments are supposed to create a forum for thoughtful, respectful community discussion. Please be nice. View our full comments policy here.