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UCLA women’s tennis rises in the ranks, sweeps CSUN before return to Pac-12 play

UCLA women’s tennis stands in a circle as the players high-five each other before the beginning of their matches. The Bruins rose to No. 14 after taking down Stanford on Sunday afternoon. (Brianna Carlson/Daily Bruin)

By Olivia Simons

April 4, 2024 1:51 p.m.

The Bruins beat the Cardinal on Sunday for the first time since 2021.

Two days later, they rose three ranks in the national rankings – their highest rank of the season – and also saw two singles players and two doubles teams rise in the ranks.

On Wednesday, they swept CSUN in an hour and 40 minutes with two singles sweeps on courts one and three.

No. 14 UCLA women’s tennis (12-4, 5-1 Pac-12) will now take five ranked players into its final five matches before the last-ever Pac-12 championship. The Bruins stand tied with California in conference rankings as they prepare to travel to face Utah (10-6, 2-3) and Colorado (12-4, 1-3) over the weekend.

“I’m just really pleased with where we’re at,” said coach Stella Sampras Webster. “Individually, every player is improving and feeling more and more confident, and the most important thing is starting to believe that we can be a top team. … We have to get ready for really tough indoor teams with altitude and make adjustments. It’s never easy playing over there.”

The matches against CSUN and the mountain schools come after an over four-and-a-half-hour marathon win against No. 5 Stanford on Sunday, clinched by junior Kimmi Hance. Hance’s win boosted her over 50 spots in the individual rankings from No. 89 to No. 32 and earned her Pac-12 Player of the Week, in part for her win over then-No. 13 Connie Ma, the highest-ranked player in the conference.

The conference accolade was UCLA’s fifth this season, with sophomore Tian Fangran winning the honor four times prior to Hance. Tian swept her CSUN opponent for her 10th win in a row Wednesday, including four ranked wins. The sophomore has played on court one in all of her matches this season, and after the team’s win against Stanford, she said she enjoys having the opportunity to give the team that anchor on the top court.

“Playing on court one is definitely something I want to bring for my team, like bring more energy,” Tian said. “I also know my team has full faith in me, so I really want to fight for them. I feel like it’s their belief that helped me pull out all the matches.”

Tian also notched wins in doubles with her partner, junior Elise Wagle, against Stanford and CSUN. The duo entered the doubles rankings this week at No. 43, marking their first time with a ranking.

Tian and Wagle played together for the first time in January, and hold a 6-2 record. Sampras Webster said they can be a threat on the courts when they perform at their best.

“It’s just a matter of execution,” Sampras Webster said. “If they can execute, they are very dangerous. So it’s really important for them to be consistent. That’s their biggest thing is if they aren’t executing, then they can be average. So the execution is really key because they’ve got good weapons.”

Along with Tian and Hance, freshman Bianca Fernandez helped complete the sweep against CSUN on Wednesday. Her double bagel allowed the Bruins’ top court lineup to all bring wins into the mountain school matchups after Fernandez lost both of her singles matches over the weekend.

Fernandez said watching Hance have patience in her match against Stanford showed her what she needs to advance her own game.

“Watching her … be patient and just out-work our opponents really opened up what I need to improve,” Fernandez said. “I’m not used to this whole college thing, and I think if I can be a little bit more patient, I can be able to manage this kind of game.”

The Bruins’ matches this weekend will be their fourth and fifth in nine days and fourth and fifth matches away from home since March 26. Colorado and Utah will present a different challenge, however, as their stadiums are indoors, and both sit several thousand feet higher in elevation than the Los Angeles Tennis Center, which has an elevation of about 400 feet compared to 4,265 in Salt Lake City and 5,430 in Boulder.

The last time UCLA played a team indoors, Duke and Ohio State notched back-to-back 4-0 victories, leaving the Bruins without a win between Jan. 28 and Feb. 23. While Duke and Ohio State are both ranked opponents with a handful of ranked athletes each, Sampras Webster said she is not underestimating the difference in environment and elevation her team will face, regardless of the opponent.

“It’s going to be uncomfortable for us. So, we’re going to have to fight and we’re going to have to really dig deep and make some adjustments,” Sampras Webster said.

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Olivia Simons | Quad editor
Simons is the 2023-2024 Quad editor and a Sports senior staffer on the women's tennis beat. She was previously the 2022-2023 managing editor, an assistant Sports editor on the baseball, women's tennis, men's tennis, swim and dive and rowing beats and a reporter on the baseball and women's tennis beats. She is also a fourth-year student from Oakland, California.
Simons is the 2023-2024 Quad editor and a Sports senior staffer on the women's tennis beat. She was previously the 2022-2023 managing editor, an assistant Sports editor on the baseball, women's tennis, men's tennis, swim and dive and rowing beats and a reporter on the baseball and women's tennis beats. She is also a fourth-year student from Oakland, California.
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