Tennis : Despite inexperience, Orange finds success in pressure-filled situations

first_img Comments Facebook Twitter Google+ Published on February 14, 2012 at 12:00 pm Contact Jacob: [email protected] | @Jacob_Klinger_center_img Luke Jensen saw Syracuse’s opponents whimpering and shaking on the sidelines. Routine shots and serves became errors and double faults. Deficits turned into wins and the Orange came back to beat a pair of ranked opponents.In both matches, the team thrived under do-or-die pressure.‘We absolutely, positively couldn’t be short by an inch,’ Jensen said.Four singles matches went to three sets, and the Orange won all but one of them as SU (5-3, 2-1 Big East) beat No. 55 Boston College and No. 60 Harvard last weekend. Twice SU needed a clean sweep of the remaining matches on-court to win the team match. They did both times.Pressure was evident in both instances, wearing on SU’s opponents while the Orange drew strength from the situations. Jensen recruits and trains his players to win close matches. In beating ranked opponents for the first time this season, it paid off.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textOn Saturday evening, senior captain Emily Harman was the last player on the court for SU. With the team match tied 3-3, her match against No. 108 Jessica Wacnik was the decider. In the middle of the third and deciding set, Harman stepped up and broke Wacnik’s serve.After exchanging breaks, Harman broke her opponent to win the match 7-6, 4-6, 6-4. Though Harman said her experience and athleticism were keys in winning the match, she ultimately dealt with the pressure better than Wacnik.‘I think she wasn’t used to it and that I used that to my favor,’ Harman said. ‘… At that point I want the ball.’The win set the table for an equally tense match against Harvard the next morning. And once again, the team match came down to late third-set action.Down 5-4 with her opponent, Hannah Morrill, serving for the match, freshman Amanda Rodgers raised her intensity and lengthened the points. The team match was tied 3-3, and all of Rodgers’ teammates were watching.‘I would look over at them every time I won a point, and they would be like, ‘C’mon,” Rodgers said.Rodgers broke Morrill to stay alive and send the match to a tiebreaker. She won the tiebreaker 7-1 to clinch another close win for the Orange. Her performance under pressure did not surprise Jensen.When the head coach looks at potential recruits, he specifically evaluates their ability to handle pressure. He watches to see how players perform after dropping the opening set. Some players flame out and lose, while others bounce back and win. Jensen recruits the latter.So when Rodgers pulled out the match-winner after losing the first set, he saw it as a product of that analysis.‘She played her best tennis in that tiebreaker in the third, and it would have been real easy for her to pack it up and go away, but that’s not who she is,’ Jensen said. ‘… There was no doubt when I saw her that she had something extremely special.’SU thrived under the microscope last weekend, but their opponents caved. Wacnik lost her final game against Harman while serving, and Morrill had the match on her racket.The strong performance under pressure stems from the Syracuse’s competitive practices. In all of the team’s drills, players compete. There’s always a winner and a loser, Jensen said.‘I see it in the practice sessions,’ Jensen said. ‘… When you come up against stiff competition you run into it or you dive into it.’Last weekend, the team dove in. Despite fighting an infection and not starting, Anika Novacek ran five miles before the Boston College match. Jensen sees the wins as a turning point, not just for the season, but for the program as a whole.Despite the historic wins, SU is keeping pressure on itself. With a new set of Intercollegiate Tennis Association national rankings set to come out Thursday, Jensen dismissed their importance ahead of matches against Temple and Rutgers.The ITA is known to reward wins against ranked opponents, but harshly punish teams that lose to unranked opposition.‘If we lose one of these matches or both of these matches, everything we gained last week will go right down the drain,’ Jensen [email protected]last_img read more

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