ANN ARBOR, Mich. - Texas A&M freshman Stefania Hristov overcame 4-2 third-set deficit to win her singles match at the No. 6 line and clinch the 11th-ranked Aggies' hard-fought 4-3 victory against No. 13 Michigan today at the Varsity Tennis Center indoor courts.
A&M improves to 5-1 after recording its third consecutive win against a top-15 opponent. The Wolverines, who knocked the Aggies out of the NCAA tournament last year with a 4-3 second-round victory in Ann Arbor, fall to 5-3.
"Just the view through the lenses of getting a win against a very, very good team on the road and with them being an indoor team, this was obviously a big achievement and exciting for us," A&M coach Howard Joffe said. "I certainly think that the win was a team win in the sense that everyone chipped in to get us to four points, which proved to be a battle.
"Through broader lenses, what the competition over the past week or two has done, it has exposed the areas where we need to improve and the areas where we are reasonably strong. I'm very, very excited and encouraged at how good this team has the potential to play when everyone is firing on all cylinders. But for today in Ann Arbor, Mich., I'm really proud of the girls to have gotten the win today."
Michigan took the early lead in doubles as the sixth-ranked duo of Emina Bektas and Brooke Bolender pulled away for an 8-4 victory over 11th-ranked Hristov and Cristina Stancu at the top of the lineup.
A&M, however, got wins on the other two courts to take a 1-0 lead. A&M's Cristina Sanchez-Quintanar and Wen Sun went up a break to take a 6-4 lead against 34th-ranked Sarah Lee and Ronit Yurovsky at the No. 2 court. The Michigan duo got back on serve to get within 6-5, but A&M broke back to take a 7-5 lead. The Aggies then held serve to close out the 8-5 victory.
The crucial doubles point came down to the No. 3 court, where Aggie freshmen twins Ines and Paula Deheza were making a comeback after falling behind, 5-2, against Kristen Dodge and Mimi Nguyen. The A&M tandem reeled off three straight games to get back on serve at 5-5, and after the two teams had held serve over the next four games, the Deheza sisters got a break to take their first lead of the match, 8-7. A&M then held serve to win the next game and clinch the 9-7 victory that gave the Aggies a 1-0 lead.
"At No. 1 doubles, it was always going to be a struggle to win that match," Joffe said. "Stefania and Tina competed really hard, but indoors it was always going to be a monumental task. One of the things that probably was a very good sign for us going forward is that Sun and Cristina played in such a way today that they approximated the level of tennis they were playing last year, so that was a very, very good win. At No. 3 doubles, we started off with the twins playing quite poorly, and I have to give them credit because they were able to pull their emotional selves together and fight and give themselves the opportunity and then stole the win in the end."
Although A&M started out singles play by winning the first set on four courts, the Wolverines proved they were not going down without a fight. Sanchez-Quintanar, ranked No. 5 in the nation in singles, finished off a 6-3, 6-3 straight-set victory over 48th-ranked Bektas at the No. 1 line to give the Aggies a 2-0 lead, but Lee immediately followed with a 6-1, 6-1 win over A&M's Nazari Urbina at the No. 3 position to put Michigan within 2-1.
Sun held onto a 7-5, 7-5 victory over Bolender at No. 4 singles, overcoming a 3-0 deficit in the second set en route to the straight-set win that put the Aggies ahead, 3-1, but the remaining three matches would be nail-biters that were decided in three sets.
"This is the area where I would give the coaches and the players at Michigan a ton of credit," Joffe said. "Them losing the doubles point would go down as being quite painful. Then they lost four of the first six singles sets, and yet they competed tooth and nail on every court. We were fortunate to get over the finish line and get to four points."
Yurovsky, ranked 32nd in singles had dropped her first set to 73rd-ranked Stancu at No. 2, but she came on strong to take the next two sets, 6-2, 6-0 to put the Wolverines within 3-2.
Following Yurovsky's win, Michigan appeared to have all the momentum with only two matches remaining. At the same time Hristov was falling behind in her third set, Amy Zhu had won the first set, 6-3, and held a 5-3 second-set lead over Ines Deheza at No. 5. Deheza then began to rally and won the next four games to win the second set, 7-5, and force a third set.
"I was very, very proud of Ines Deheza," Joffe said. "She was down a set and 5-3. If she loses that match at that stage, it puts all the pressure on Stefania, who was struggling. She was able to fight back and level the match. She eventually lost the match but it took some pressure off Stefania being able to close it out."
With Deheza rallying - she went on to take a 2-0 lead in the final set -- Hristov also made her crucial comeback. The Romanian, who had split the first two sets against Nguyen, 6-2, 4-6, tied the third set at 4-4 and 5-5 before taking her first lead of the final set at 6-5. Hristov then broke Nguyen with Nguyen hitting into the net on the final play that sealed the victory for the Aggies.
"Stefania's match was definitely an awkward match, a different style of game," Joffe said. "I don't think Stefania, even when she was up by a lot in the first set, ever felt comfortable out on the court. It was just very awkward, the dynamics of the match, and very unsettling for Stefania. But I have to give her all the credit because she was down 4-2 in the final set and had the team riding on her shoulders and all she did was fight and fight and fight. At 5-4 down all she did was fight and battle and got the win for us."
With the team match already determined, Zhu closed out a 6-3 victory over Deheza for the final 4-3 score.
"This was a huge relief through the lenses of getting the win today," Joffe added. "Our team needs to get better. Inexperienced players need to get more comfortable. If we want to go further this season, we need to play better tennis.
"The matches inherently are very difficult. The opposition is all very good. It really sort of comes down to being tough and being prepared to fight and being prepared to give up yourself for the team and for Texas A&M. In that respect, these wins are definitely either building or revealing some character."
After being on the road for their last four matches, the Aggies look forward to returning home, where the team will have a week of practice before playing host to Sam Houston State on Monday, Feb. 25. First serve of the recently added match is set for 3 p.m. at the George P. Mitchell Tennis Center.
"From a coach's point of view, it is going to be great to get back to the friendly confines of College Station," Joffe said. "Also it will be good for us to get outdoors, which is what we are more accustomed to, get our kids back to their classes and get comfortable with the schooling and the practices and hopefully find a little bit of rhythm, because it has been a very demanding schedule the last two weeks."
The contest against the Bearkats marks the start of an exciting four-match home stand over a seven-day span for A&M. The Aggies host former Big 12 Conference foe and 18th-ranked Baylor on Wednesday, Feb. 27 and then begin their inaugural Southeastern Conference season Friday, March 1 against South Carolina. A&M concludes its longest home stand of the season Sunday, March 3 against defending national champion and SEC preseason favorite Florida.
"We definitely have our work cut out for us," Joffe said. "Certainly in the better conferences in the country, which obviously the SEC is amongst them, there is nowhere to hide. And as we move into conference play, we are going to need to be ready to go. So the good news is we have a week of preparation outdoors, and hopefully by the time the SEC matches come, we are firing on all cylinders."
Free live video and scoring will be available on AggieAthletics.com. Aggie fans also can keep up to date with the A&M women's tennis team on Twitter by following @AggieWTEN or on Facebook at: http://www.facebook.com/?ref=tn_tnmn#!/pages/Aggie-Womens-Tennis/143874782434654
No. 11 Texas A&M 4, No. 13 Michigan 3
February 16, 2013
Varsity Tennis Center
Ann Arbor, Mich.
1. #5 Cristina Sanchez-Quintanar (TAMU) def. #48 Emina Bektas (U-M), 6-3, 6-3
2. #32 Ronit Yurovsky (U-M) def. #73 Cristina Stancu (TAMU), 5-7, 6-2, 6-0
3. Sarah Lee (U-M) def. #54 Nazari Urbina (TAMU), 6-1, 6-1
4. Wen Sun (TAMU) def. Brooke Bolender (U-M), 7-5, 7-5
5. Amy Zhu (U-M) def. Ines Deheza (TAMU), 6-3, 5-7, 6-3
6. Stefania Hristov (TAMU) def. Mimi Nguyen (U-M), 6-2, 4-6, 7-5
Doubles (Texas A&M wins the point)
1. #6 Bektas/Bolender (U-M) def. #11 Hristov/Stancu (TAMU), 8-4
2. Sanchez-Quintanar/Sun (TAMU) def. #34 Lee/Yurovsky (U-M), 8-5
3. I. Deheza/Paula Deheza (TAMU) def. Kristen Dodge/Nguyen (U-M), 9-7
Order of finish
Doubles: 1, 2, 3
Singles: 1, 3, 4, 2, 6*, 5
Texas A&M: 5-1