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Women’s tennis outlasted by Harvard in season debut on Saturday

Graduate student tennis player Chie Kezuka prepares to serve the ball against Harvard University. Women’s tennis lost their season opener 4-2 against the Crimson over the weekend. Diego Palos Rodriguez / Thresher

By Diego Palos Rodriguez     1/23/24 10:08pm

After comfortably winning the doubles point and first singles point, the Rice women’s tennis team fell to Harvard University 4-2 on Saturday, Jan. 20. While playing away from home at the Advantage Indoor - Houston Indoor Tennis Club’s facilities due to cold weather, the Owls made their season debut against a Harvard team that played their third match of the season. 

Despite the change in venue, head coach Elizabeth Schmidt said the team got off to a great start after 6-1 doubles victories from two pairs: graduate student Chie Kezuka and senior Federica Trevisan, and freshman Divna Ratkovic and sophomore Darya Schwartzman.

“This [was] our first dual match,” Schmidt said. “We wish we would have been at home but we weren’t, so we came here. I thought we played aggressive, we took it to them, and [I told them] to keep that up. In some parts we did in the singles, but in some points Harvard was just able to make one more ball than us and was just a little more committed to their shots from start to finish.”

Since the indoor facility only had five courts, the sixth singles match was played immediately following the first singles win. Following a quick doubles victory, Ratkovic was just as swift in the singles.

After only giving up two games in a 6-2 first-set victory, she played an even more dominant second set and shut out Harvard’s Charlotte Owensby 6-0.

“[Ratkovic] did a great job getting that quick point and staying focused,” Schmidt said. “Sometimes, especially as a freshman, you can lose focus there when you’re way up and it’s a team battle. We’re proud of her for the way she competed and the way she kept her foot on the gas and finished the job quickly and helped us get a second point on the board.”

Ratkovic’s performance helped the Owls start 2-0 in the overall score, but their momentum was quickly halted by Harvard victories on the remaining courts.

Kezuka was the first to lose against Maxi Duncan (6-2, 6-3), followed by Trevisan against Holly Fischer (6-3, 6-3) and junior Saara Orav against Kate Kim (6-3, 6-2), putting Harvard up 3-2 with only two singles matches left.

Schmidt said the team played with discipline and aggression, but still had strides to make when keeping composure on the court.

“On a couple of courts, we got a little flustered when things didn’t quite go our way, so we’ve got to keep working on that,” Schmidt said.

Schwartzman played from behind to tie her first set 6-6, but she dropped the tiebreaker 7-4. She turned her luck around and won the second set 6-2. Schwartzman and Harvard’s Angel You opted to play a full third set — instead of a shortened one —  but mid-set, the sixth singles match ended in a Harvard victory (6-1, 6-1). Although Schwartzman was leading 4-3 in her third set, the match went unfinished as Harvard clinched the dual match victory 4-2.

“[Schwartzman’s] match was a battle,” Schmidt said. “To come back after losing that first set, I have full confidence that she was going to win because of the way she was competing. Her opponent was competing hard, too. I was just pleased with her rebound after losing that first set.”

Despite the loss, Schmidt said it’s early in the season and there is a lot of time left to improve.

“I told [the team] at the end, ‘Look, the season’s a marathon and whether we win this match or lose this match, some of the things we need to work on remain the same,’” Schmidt said. “You always want to win, but we’re going to get better from this match, win or lose. Take the things we did well and keep doing them, and take the things we need to improve on and improve on them. This is one of many and we’re going to grow and get better from it.”

The Owls’ next match will be at Texas A&M University for the Intercollegiate Tennis Association Kickoff Weekend tournament. Rice takes on Texas Christian University on Saturday, Jan. 27 at noon.

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