Pitt tennis racks up pair of resounding wins to start 2017 season


Senior Amber Washington won all four of her matches at the Vartabedian Invite in Harmarville, Pennsylvania. Courtesy of Pitt Athletics

By David Leftwich | Staff Writer

Coming off its most successful season in four years, the Pitt women’s tennis team built off that momentum with an emphatic performance in its 2017 season-opening meet.

Last season, the Panthers claimed their first-ever ACC win and finished with seven victories total — the most since their 2012 season. Their roster remains relatively intact — losing only first-year player Carina Ma, the team returns a mix of three seniors, one junior and three sophomores while adding one first-year player.

Pitt hosted the Vartabedian Invite over the weekend at the Alpha Tennis and Fitness Center in Harmarville, Pennsylvania, kicking off its season with two nearly flawless victories. First, the Panthers dominated the Duquesne Dukes Friday, winning eight of the nine matches. They then mauled the Morgan State Bears Saturday, again dropping only one match while winning six.

“I saw a great base so we can build and I saw a lot of good patterns and energy,” Pitt head coach Alex Santos said Friday in a press release. “We just need to develop and refine our game a little more to be more disciplined and tougher. I was very pleased with the energy, effort and the overall quality of tennis.”

In the singles portion of the season-opening match against the Dukes, the experienced Panthers made quick work of their opponents.

Redshirt senior Amber Washington beat her opponent Megan Wasson 6-3, 6-0 in the No. 1 slot, while senior Audrey Ann Blakely crushed Zuzanna Stelmaszak 6-2, 6-0 in the second slot to lead the Panthers.

Jovana Knezevic — a native of Limassol, Cyprus, and Pitt’s lone first-year player — was the only Panther to suffer a loss in singles competition, falling 2-6, 6-4, 6-0 to Duquesne’s Aishwarya Kona. As the youngest player on the team, a low-pressure non-conference match like this was a good chance to give Knezevic singles experience.

The Dukes offered more resistance in the doubles portion of the competition, but Pitt managed to win each of the three matches.

Washington teamed up with junior Callie Frey in the first doubles match, continuing their strong play from their singles victories and dominating their opponents, 6-0. Despite being pushed to a tiebreak, Pitt sophomore Gabriela Rezende and Knezevic eked out a 7-6 (3) win in the second doubles slot.

Sophomore Clara Lucas and Blakely also ran into a tough challenge from the Dukes, but managed to take the final doubles match 7-5 to round out the easy 8-1 victory for the Panthers.

Pitt kept the pressure on against Morgan State Saturday, cruising to victory in its second match of the weekend.

After posting a 26-8 record as a redshirt junior last season — tied for the third-most victories in a season in program history — Washington carried over that dominance to the Vartabedian Invite. She followed up her decisive win Friday with another easy victory against Morgan State, defeating Chloe Kabamba 6-2, 6-1 in the top singles position for the Panthers.

Blakely, who rose to the highest national singles ranking in program history last season, surrendered a set against Katia Jordan in her singles match Saturday. But Blakely recovered to win 7-5, 2-6, 6-4 in the second singles position.

Rezende and Frey easily won their singles matches 6-0, 6-3 and 6-0, 6-2, respectively. Again, Knezevic was the only loss on the singles side for Pitt, losing 6-2, 7-6 (4).

Shifting to the two doubles matches, the Panthers quickly dispatched Morgan State. Washington and Frey beat their opponents 6-1, and Rezende and Knezevic beat their opponents by the same score to complete a perfect doubles section of the match and secure the 6-1 match victory for Pitt.

After this weekend, it appears the top four singles spots are secure for the Panthers. But Knezevic will need to step up in order to lock down one of the final two singles positions.

The doubles side looks to be solid, but Santos will be tasked with the responsibility of finding the right combinations of skill and experience in his three doubles pairs.

The Panthers will face the rival West Virginia Mountaineers Saturday, Jan. 21, at 10 a.m. in the Alpha Tennis and Fitness Center.

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