COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Sixth-ranked Texas A&M made its debut in one of the toughest women's tennis conferences in the nation by defeating No. 43 South Carolina, 5-2 in the Aggies' inaugural Southeastern Conference match tonight at the George P. Mitchell Tennis Center.
"I don't want to say 'I told you so,' but the conference is awful strong, and if you want to pick up a win you actually have to play very well," Texas A&M head coach Howard Joffe said.
South Carolina took the early lead by winning the doubles point. Elixane Lechemia and Ximena Siles Luna jumped out to a 4-0 lead against A&M twins Ines and Paula Deheza and went on to win, 8-3, at No. 3.
Josefin Andersson and Katerina Popova clinched the point for the Gamecocks, winning three consecutive games to break away from a 5-5 tie to defeat seniors Cristina Sanchez-Quintanar and Wen Sun, 8-5, at the No. 2 line.
The No. 1 court was tied at 8-8 and South Carolina's Jaklin Alawi and Dominikia Kanakova held a 6-3 lead in the tiebreaker against A&M's 11th-ranked Stefania Hristov and Cristina Stancu when the doubles point was clinched, and the match went unfinished.
"It certainly wasn't a nice way to start conference play by losing the doubles point, but you have to give all the credit to South Carolina," Joffe said. "They played with passion. They played with desire. They played with heart, and they actually played quite well. I don't know necessarily if our kids as a group came out flat, but they certainly didn't meet South Carolina's energy in the doubles. But I also have to give our kids a lot of credit because we hung in the doubles and right in the last 10 minutes of the doubles, if one or two points go differently, we may end up stealing the doubles point. So we did end up competing well, but it was not a fun way to start to SEC play."
The Aggies quickly gained the momentum in singles, winning the first set on five courts. Sixth-ranked Sanchez-Quintanar evened the score at 1-1 as she raced to a 6-1, 6-2 win against 69th-ranked Alawi at the No. 1 line. It was the seventh consecutive win for the All-American, who improves to 7-0 in dual matches, 26-3 overall and 15-1 against ranked opponents.
Hristov won the first three games in each of her sets en route to a straight-set 6-1, 6-3 victory over Andersson at No. 5. With the win, the freshman improved to 7-1 in dual matches, and she put the Aggies ahead, 2-1.
Sun also jumped to early leads, opening her match by winning the first three games and jumping out to a 4-0 lead in the second set in a 6-3, 6-2 victory against Kanakova at No. 4, extending A&M's lead to 3-1.
Anna Mamalat won three consecutive games to close out a 6-4 first set win against Siles Luna at No. 6. Mamalat then led the entire second match and won, 6-3, to clinch the winning point for the Aggies.
South Carolina tallied its only singles victory at the No. 2 line, where 83rd-ranked Stancu and 108th-ranked Popova were battling in a three setter. Popova won the first set in a tiebreaker, 7-4, to notch the only first-set win for the Gamecocks, but Stancu won the second set, 6-3. Since A&M had already won the overall team match, the two slugged it out in a 10-point super tiebreaker for the third set, with both players fighting off match points in the marathon breaker. After being down 8-3, Popova scored six unanswered points to get to match point at 9-8. Stancu countered with two points to put herself at match point, 10-9, but Popova rallied to win the next three points to take the match and score South Carolina's only other point.
Senior Nazari Urbina then capped the 5-2 victory for the Aggies by defeating Lechemia, 6-2, 1-6, 6-1 at No. 3 singles.
"This would be a match that I can point to that is very revealing of our team, because there was very much pressure," Joffe said. "We lost the doubles point and yet we came back, and absolutely from one through six took it to South Carolina, which is a very, very fine team. It took 12-10 in the final set breaker for them to win one point in the singles. I couldn't be more proud of our kids. It was a very, very tough win."
It was the fifth consecutive victory for the Aggies, who improve to 7-1 overall. They also end a six-match losing skid against the Gamecocks, who own a 7-2 lead in the all-time series dating back to 1988.
South Carolina, which entered the match having won its last three contests, drops to 7-4 overall and 0-1 in SEC play.
A&M, the SEC Western Division preseason favorite, concludes its longest home stand of the season and puts its win streak on the line Sunday when the Aggies play host to two-time defending national champion and fourth-ranked Florida. First serve against the Gators is scheduled for noon at the Mitchell Tennis Center.
"No doubt Florida is a very, very good team, but we also have a very fine team," Joffe said. "One of the things about sports in general and the match today in contrast to the match against Florida is the whole dynamic of the underdog. Today South Carolina, taking nothing away from them, was able to really come at us because they were such a prohibitive underdog. That is one of the things our team will need to learn if we want to maintain a high ranking, is we need to at least psychologically not to protect and just get after it. The dynamic against Florida I imagine will be different in the sense that they are the two-time defending champion. They are the top dog, so I feel like our kids will emotionally be able to play with a little more passion out of the gates in the doubles.
"It is exciting to get to play the two-time defending national champion. I'm excited about the match and looking for us to do well. At a broader level, it is another match and another opportunity for us to get better, to get everyone to playing were we need to be as the season goes on. But there is no question, no rhetoric aside, we will be ready to go against the Gators."
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. 6 Texas A&M 5, No. 43 South Carolina 2
March 1, 2013
George P. Mitchell Tennis Center
College Station, Texas
1. #6 Cristina Sanchez-Quintanar (TAMU) def. # 69 Jaklin Alawi (SC), 6-1, 6-2
2. #108 Katerina Popova (SC) def. #83 Cristina Stancu (TAMU), 7-6 (4), 3-6, 1-0 (10)
3. #67 Nazari Urbina (TAMU) def. Elixane Lechemia (SC), 6-2, 1-6, 6-1
4. Wen Sun (TAMU) def. Dominikia Kanakova (SC), 6-3, 6-2
5. Stefania Hristov (TAMU) def. Josefin Andersson (SC), 6-1, 6-3
6. Anna Mamalat (TAMU) def. Ximena Siles Luna (SC), 6-4, 6-3
Doubles (South Carolina wins the point)
1. #11 Hristov/Stancu (TAMU) vs. Alawi/ Kanakova (SC), 8-8 (3-6) unfinished
2. Anderssonl/Popova (SC) def. Sanchez-Quintanar/Sun (TAMU), 8-5
3. Lechemia/Siles Luna (SC) def. Ines Deheza/Paula Deheza (TAMU), 8-3
Order of finish
Doubles: 3, 2
Singles: 1, 5, 4, 6*, 2, 3
* Clinched match
Texas A&M: 7-1, 1-0 SEC
South Carolina: 7-4, 0-1 SEC