UCLA women’s tennis players form electric pairs at Thunderbird Invitational
Freshman Mia Jovic leans to one side with her racket as she awaits the ball. Jovic paired wih freshman Ahmani Guichard and defeated upperclassman opponents. (Courtesy of Sofia McMaster)
Nov. 9, 2023 5:44 p.m.
Four Bruins matched up against quartets of Wolverines, Golden Bears, Antelopes, Trojans and Sun Devils in the desert.
While the competition didn’t count for anyone’s records, freshman Mia Jovic said her trip will serve her well going forward as she prepares for her first season in Westwood.
“It definitely helped me kind of just loosen up on court,” Jovic said. “And I know it’s going to be more pressure on these matches when we actually start (the) season, so I think this was just a good intro to go out and have fun.”
UCLA women’s tennis sent junior Elise Wagle, sophomore Anne-Christine Lutkemeyer and freshmen Ahmani Guichard and Jovic to the Thunderbird Invitational to play against Michigan, California, Grand Canyon University, USC and host school Arizona State. The quartet of Bruins left the invitational, which lasted from Nov. 3 to Nov. 5, with a combined 4-8 record in singles play and 5-1 record in doubles.
“I (am) really encouraged by the skill levels that our players have for doubles,” said coach Stella Sampras Webster. “And then singles – everyone competed hard and the level was high and got some great matches. So I was really happy with the event.”
All four players participated in one doubles and one singles match per day at the invitational. No two players teamed up twice in doubles competition, giving Sampras Webster the opportunity to sample myriad pairs and find the right chemistry for the upcoming season.
Of the six different combinations, UCLA’s freshmen teamed up at the event last Friday and defeated a pair of juniors in Makenna Thiel and Lan Mi from Cal.
Guichard said she and Jovic were able to claim victory over more experienced players by having fun together.
“We were just having a lot of fun,” Guichard said. “We enjoyed playing together. I’m really thankful to have Mia by my side overall because it’s not easy going in as a freshman alone, and I think it’s really nice having her.”
Sampras Webster said she was glad that Jovic and Guichard gained experience playing doubles over the weekend with a different partner each day and also said that she was impressed by their doubles ability as newcomers to the college environment.
Jovic added that because she did not receive much doubles practice in juniors, she was happy to have time to play in a low-stakes environment and practice doubles with different players. The freshman brought the Bruins another doubles win over older players when she and Lutkemeyer defeated a pair of Cal upperclassmen last Saturday, ending the weekend with a 2-1 doubles mark.
Guichard won all of her doubles matches, including a five-set comeback for a 7-5 doubles victory Sunday. She was the only Bruin to win more than half of her singles matches, with two wins and one loss in singles play.
Her performance in Tempe follows a third-round finish at the ITA All-American Championships, outlasting the same three Bruins with whom she traveled to the Thunderbird Invitational.
Guichard said she has been focusing on her own game to get ready for dual-match season.
“(I’m) just overall sticking to my own game plan and not worrying as much what’s going on on the other side,” Guichard said. “Usually, I just have to focus on playing aggressive and playing my game, and then it’ll be okay.”
The Thunderbird Invitational, which UCLA attended for the first time this fall, wraps up the Bruins’ preseason schedule to begin their break before the start of the dual-match season in 2024. While only four players competed in UCLA’s fall team schedule, nine players will participate in the dual-match season, with several players taking the fall off and one new Bruin set to join the squad in a few months.
“We’ll have nine strong, healthy players in January, so we’re excited,” Sampras Webster said. “This is very unusual to have four competing (in the fall), but everyone’s going to be ready for January. It’s been good for those four to get a lot of attention and work on the game.”