Texas A&M’s Cristina Stancu was in mid-season form during a 6-0, 6-2 singles victory in the season opener against Mississippi State but the most encouraging thing for the Aggies was freshman Saska Gavrilovska clinching the match.
Gavrilovska’s 6-3, 6-0 victory over Timea Guibe gave seventh-ranked A&M a 4-1 victory in first-round action of the ITA Kick-Off Classic at the Mitchell Tennis Center on Saturday.
A&M advances to play DePaul at 2 p.m. Sunday for the right to advance to the ITA National Team Indoor Championships on Feb. 7-10 at the University of Virginia. DePaul opened its season with a 4-1 victory over 68th-ranked San Jose State (2-2). Mississippi State (1-1) and DePaul will play at 10 a.m. Sunday in the consolation.
A&M, which lost three seniors off a national runner up, leaned heavily Saturday on Stancu, the team’s only upperclassman who understood what her teammates were going through.
“I knew our freshmen were pretty nervous before the start of the match,” Stancu said. “They came [to me] and they’re like, ‘Oh my God, I’m so nervous, what am I going to do.”
Stancu experienced those nerves twice, as a freshman at Maryland and then a year ago when she played for the first time as an Aggie after transferring. Stancu said she barely could hold her racquet in her first home match at the Mitchell Tennis Center.
The senior gave her teammates a reason to relax by teaming up with sophomore Stefania Hristov for a 7-5 doubles victory over freshman Guibe and senior Alexandra Perper. Stancu slammed home the winner for the nation’s 22nd-ranked duo, then in singles the 14th-ranked Romanian won the first 10 games against fellow countryman Georgiana Patrasc.
“I liked the way the ball was coming from her,” Stancu said. “That was perfect for my forehand and I just tried to keep hitting the ball pretty hard.”
Stancu’s play gave A&M a 2-0 lead and plenty of confidence.
“We are a team … it’s a little boring hearing it all the time, but we’re a super, super young and for lack of a better word, immature,” A&M head coach Howard Joffe said. “And on that basis all these matches are going to be very difficult. [But] we also are very talented.”
One of those talented freshmen, Rutuja Bhosale, was schooled at No. 5 singles by MSU senior Roseline Dion who claimed a 6-1, 6-2 victory.
“That’s part of getting bloodied in the college matches,”Joffe said.
Gavrilovska didn’t get to finish her doubles match with partner Anna Mamalat after A&M clinched the point, but she made up for it with a grinding singles victory. Stancu almost had her match won at No. 1 singles by the time Gavrilovska won her first set at No. 3. Gavrilovska, though, made it for it by breezing through the second set.
“She showed some real toughness to fend off a good challenge in that first set from the French girl and then ran away with the match,” Joffe said.
Stancu and Hristov also showed grit, bouncing back from a 3-1 deficit in doubles.
“It was kinda shaky at the beginning,”Stancu said. “We tried to smile and enjoy the play.”
Stancu and Hristov were smiling after clinching the doubles point for A&M minutes after 51st- ranked Rutuja Bhosale and sophomore Paula Deheza grabbed a 6-3 victory over sophomore Georgina Patrasc and junior Naomi Tran.
Joffe said doubles play might not have been pretty, but you have to factor in the newcomers, a change in scoring with a tiebreaker at 6-all, and it was the first match of the season.
“I thought they did an unbelievable good job of managing the nerves,” Joffe said. “I was actually very, very pleased with how we handled ourselves in the doubles. I’m very certain with the passage of time the quality of tennis will get better.”
Joffe said it was a great opening match because the youthful Aggies got tested, they learned, and they won.
Mississippi State, picked to finish last in the 14-team Southeastern Conference, was 9-14 overall last season, 2-11 in league play including a 6-1 loss to A&M which was tri-champion in the regular season with Georgia and Florida and is picked third this year behind Florida and Georgia.
No. 14 Cristina Stancu, A&M, def. No. 84 Georgiana Patrasc, 6-0, 6-2 Alexandra Perper, Miss. St., vs. Anna Mamalat, 6-4, 5-4, unfinished Saska Gavrilovska, A&M, def. Timea Guibe, 6-3, 6-0 Ines Deheza, A&M, vs. Naomi Tran, 6-1, 3-6, (2-4) unfinished Roseline Dion, Miss. St., def. Rutuja Bhosale, 6-1, 6-2 Stefania Hristov, A&M, def. Rosalinda Calderon, 6-2, 6-0 Doubles No. 22 Hristov/Stancu, A&M, def. Guibe/Perper, 7-5 No. 51 Bhosale/Deheza, A&M, def. Patrasc/Tran, 6-3 Gavrilovska/Mamalat, A&M, vs. Calderon/Dion, 5-4, unfinished