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With victory over Texas, UCLA women’s tennis solidifies position in Elite Eight

Members of UCLA women’s tennis pose with their NCAA super-regional trophies. The Bruins completed an undefeated season at home Friday afternoon, advancing to the NCAA quarterfinals. (Nicolas Greamo/Daily Bruin senior staff)

By Jack Nelson

May 11, 2024 5:33 p.m.

This post was updated May 12 at 11:29 p.m.

What started hot froze over in a flash.

Ahmani Guichard was riding high – breaking at will and unbreakable. But dominance can be fleeting, and on this occasion, hers was.

Eventually, cruise control switched hands entirely, leaving the freshman’s opponent comfortably in a winning position.

“I feel like I’m playing for something bigger here,” Guichard said.

She would not remain a comeback victim. She became a proprietor of her own.

Only Guichard’s effort shone, christened with trophy glory.

With a 4-1 victory, No. 8 seed UCLA women’s tennis (21-5, 9-1 Pac-12) sent home No. 9 seed Texas (23-6, 12-1 Big 12) in the Sweet 16 on Friday afternoon, securing a spot in the Elite Eight. On one last ride at the Los Angeles Tennis Center in their 2024 season, the Bruins booked a trip to Stillwater, Oklahoma, by completing an undefeated campaign at home.

They’ve avenged their super-regional defeat from a season ago and are now heading to the final site of the NCAA championships for the first time since 2021.

“It’s been a journey we had from January to today,” said coach Stella Sampras Webster. “This is a special team – they’re really believing in each other, they’re so close, the culture of our team is so strong.”

Guichard was one of four Bruins to claim their first set of singles play, but she finished well before any other with a 6-0 start on court six. Texas’ Vivian Ovrootsky promptly rewrote the narrative by taking a 6-4 second set en route to a sizable 4-1 lead in the decisive third.

But there was a rediscovery to be made. Guichard found her spots and capitalized on Ovrootsky’s errors, returning to the earlier form she lost.

Her response was sudden and relentless – five straight games won.

While the Longhorn laced a forehand into the net, the Bruin lifted her arms with a smile as triumphant cries filled the air. Rarely one for outward emotion, she let her teammates do the screaming as they sprinted toward her seeking hugs.

“For her to be a freshman and handling that and never giving up, … she doesn’t look like she’s nervous. She just plays hard and really lets her racket do the talking,” Sampras Webster said.

A back-courts mobbing migrated to the top courts as UCLA players, coaches and supporting staff gathered to accept the NCAA super-regional trophy. The separated state of singles play was no more – only a unity of pure elation.

(Nicolas Greamo/Daily Bruin senior staff)
Freshman Ahmani Guichard follows through with her forehand stroke at the baseline. (Nicolas Greamo/Daily Bruin senior staff)

It all came to a close in under half an hour as dominoes fell from the top down. No. 32 sophomore Tian Fangran and No. 73 freshman Bianca Fernandez ushered Guichard into clinching territory with straight-set performances, with Tian winning 6-2, 6-4 over No. 30 Sabina Zeynalova and Fernandez winning 7-6(2), 6-4 against No. 85 Charlotte Chavatipon.

Such efforts didn’t come without challenges. For Fernandez, the backhand failed from the get-go, forcing her to rely heavily upon the forehand as her game plan turned to one of self-deception.

“I really started stepping up on my forehand,” Fernandez said. “And to trick my mind to not have any pressure, I basically thought everyone else would clinch before me. It’s OK, I’ll just ride this.”

After three straight-set losses in four outings, she has surrendered just one frame in her three NCAA championships matches.

Tian, though, needed no redemption arc – the LATC has been her fortress.

Across two seasons, the sophomore is 20-0 in dual-singles play on home courts. She took No. 1 singles in her first-ever college match, and she has remained there ever since.

“If it was 3-3, she would be the one I want on court because she’s so mentally tough and she’s tough to beat,” Sampras Webster said. “Every match is tough at (court) one – she’s never really had any breaks, and I think the team feels it too.”

With courts one and two trending in opposite 3-0 directions, the preceding race for the doubles point turned court two into theater.

Junior Kimmi Hance and sophomore Anne-Christine Lutkemeyer trailed 6-5, 40-30 with the Longhorns serving. With all eyes on them, they fended off consecutive match points to earn a tiebreaker, and from there, they surrendered just two points – granting UCLA a crucial 1-0 advantage.

“Even if they go out, then they’re still going to be fighting until the end,” Guichard said. “That’s what we just all have to keep doing, especially in these big moments.”

Dissatisfaction with umpiring lingered for Texas. Its coaches showed no hesitation to argue at the chair, while players made multiple calls that earned shock and boos from the home crowd.

It was brutally poetic for the visitors. Their season began and ended at the mercy of the Bruins’ home-court dominance.

They didn’t bother to stick around for the ceremonies.

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Jack Nelson | Sports senior staff
Nelson is currently a Sports senior staff writer. He was previously an assistant Sports editor on the softball, men's tennis and women's tennis beats and a contributor on the men's tennis and women's tennis beats.
Nelson is currently a Sports senior staff writer. He was previously an assistant Sports editor on the softball, men's tennis and women's tennis beats and a contributor on the men's tennis and women's tennis beats.
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