Vanderbilt loses heartbreaker to Stanford in National Championship

The Vanderbilt Women's Tennis Team faces off against Nebraska on Friday, January 26, 2018. (Photo by Brent Szklaruk)

It was a dream season for the Commodores.  Two conference titles, a number one overall seed, and two top 15 individual rankings.  But even the best of dreams have to come to an end.  For the Vanderbilt Women’s Tennis Team, the awakening came at the hands of the Stanford Cardinal by a score of 4-3 in the National Championship game.

It was the 19th National Title for Stanford, more than any other team combined in collegiate tennis.

Vanderbilt earned its third top-two finish in program history, coming mere points away from the team’s second tennis championship in four years, and the school’s second National Championship overall in two months.

The Commodores set the tone early, taking two hard fought matches to win the doubles point.  Astra Sharma and Fernanda Contreras, Vanderbilt’s elite number one doubles team, broke the Stanford duo of Michaela Gordon and Emily Arbuthnott early and rode the hot start to take the match 6-3.

Just moments after Christina Rosca and Amanda Meyer came up short in third doubles, Emily Smith and Emma Kurtz took matters into their own hands, serving for the match.  Smith and Kurtz had been broken on serve early, but the pair came back to break Stanford twice, taking the match 6-4 on Smith’s serve to secure the doubles victory.  It marked the 17th consecutive doubles victory for Vanderbilt, the longest such streak in the country.

The singles matches proved to be just as grueling, this time with the Commodores struggling early.  The Vanderbilt women lost the first set in five of the six matches, with Sharma coming as the only exception.  Sharma squeaked out a tiebreak victory to take the first set 7-6 over freshman phenom Michaela Gordon.

Stanford’s Emma Higuchi followed up her strong first set with another quick second set, taking the match over Summer Dvorak and negating Vanderbilt’s doubles victory.  Stanford tacked on another victory in straight sets from Caroline Lampl, who defeated Rosca 6-4, 6-2 to give Stanford the lead, but only for a moment.

Sharma built on her strong first set with an even more impressive second set.  Just two points away from sealing her final tournament victory, the senior from Perth, Australia came up hobbling with an ankle injury, having to limp off the court.  After taking a medical timeout that brought the Vanderbilt contingent to silence, Sharma returned to the court and calmly nailed the last two points, throwing her racket in celebration as she evened the score at two apiece (7-6, 6-3).

Sharma’s win was quickly combatted, however, with straight-set victory from Jenny Shin, who topped Kurtz 6-3, 6-3 to give Stanford a 3-2 lead.  The final two matches both went to the third set, with the Commodores needing both victories to earn the title.  Meyer and Contreras held the key.

Meyer and Arbuthnott split the first two sets, but Meyer caught fire in the third, winning four straight games to close the match (4-6, 6-4, 6-2).  With the score tied at 3-3, the title rested in the hands of the 10th ranked player in the nation, Fernanda Contreras.

Contreras fell behind early, losing the first set 6-4 to Melissa Lord.  Lord, who missed part of the season with a shoulder injury, returned to action March 28th, and the Cardinal haven’t lost since.

Contreras stormed back in the second set, erasing a 0-2 deficit with excellent play at the net.  She would win the next six games to send the match to a third set.  After Lord broke, Contreras broke back but another break late in the set by Lord looked to be the decider.  The Austin, Texas native didn’t quit, though, saving a match point and breaking back again.  Contreras and Lord both held serve, giving Lord a 6-5 lead, and after a couple strong rallies, Contreras hit a forehand into the net to give Lord a 6-4, 2-6, 7-5 victory, clinching the National Championship for Stanford.

Vanderbilt loses two seniors next season in Sharma and Payton Robinette, but with four semifinal appearances in the past four years, one thing is for certain.  Geoff McDonald has built a powerhouse tennis program at Vanderbilt.  And that program is here to stay.

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