May 10, 2009

Courtesy of Fresno State Athletics

FRESNO, Calif. - Nothing comes easy on the road, and the 16th-ranked Fresno State women's tennis had to grind out every match to punch its ticket to the Sweet 16 for the fourth-straight year with a 4-3 victory over No. 34 Illinois on Sunday in Urbana, Ill.

Not only did the win come down to the final match, but a dramatic tiebreaker in the final set.

With the team scored tied 3-3, No. 67 Renata Kucerkova of Fresno State found herself tied 6-6 in the final set with Illinois' Chelcie Abajian on the Illini's home court. Kucerkova battled back after dropping the first set, 6-4, and winning the second, 6-1.

The junior from Roznov, Czech Republic, knocked off Abajian, 7-4, in the tiebreaker to win the final set, clinch the match for Bulldogs and a berth in the Sweet 16 for the sixth time in school history.

"It was a pretty intense match, especially in the third set, because if I didn't win there was no tomorrow," Kucerkova said. "I was really into it and my whole team was super cheering for me and that was great. I am just happy I pulled out the deciding win to move the team to the Sweet 16."

The Bulldogs came strong out of the gates by earning the doubles team point. The nation's top-ranked duo of Kucerkova and Anastasia Petukhova defeated Leigh Finnegan and Abajian, 8-2. Shortly after that, Danon Beatty and Laura Pola clinched the doubles point with an 8-6 victory over Annie McCarthy/Amy Allin.

No. 23 Petukhova continued her aggressive style of play, and was the first to finish her singles match by knocking off 103rd-ranked Finnegan, 6-1, 6-1, to give Fresno State a 2-0 lead at that point in the match.

Illinois won the next three matches, to take a 3-2 lead and appeared to be on the verge of upsetting the Bulldogs.

Senior Bruna Paes knotted the team score again at 3-3 with a crucial 2-6, 6-0, 6-3 victory over Kristina Minor.

"I'm proud of out team for competing in a tough Illinois environment," head coach Simon Thibodeau said. "They have a strong crowd, and it was a little windy, but we played inspired, and moved on to the Sweet 16. We a week to prepare and get better for Northwestern."

Fresno State will face No. 1 Northwestern, which advanced to the Sweet 16 with a 4-1 victory over Kentucky, on Friday at 1 p.m. PT in College Station, Texas.

The Bulldogs and Wildcats met before on March 27 on a neutral court in San Diego, Calif., when Northwestern narrowly escaped with a 4-3 victory. Fresno State holds a 3-2 edge in the series history.

NCAA WOMEN'S TENNIS NCAA Regionals May 10, 2009 - Urbana, Ill.

No. 16 Fresno State def. No. 34 Illinois, 4-3

Doubles 
(Fresno State wins the doubles point)
1. No. 1 Anastasia Petukhova/Renata Kucerkova (FS) def. Leigh Finnegan/Chelcie Abajian (ILL) 8-2

2. Megan Fudge/Marisa Lambropoulos (ILL) vs. No. 15 Melanie Gloria/Tinesta Rowe (FS) 4-7, DNF

3. Danon Beatty/Laura Pola (FS) def. Annie McCarthy/Amy Allin (ILL) 8-6

 Order of Completion: 1, 3

Singles 

1. No. 75 Megan Fudge (ILL) def. No. 18 Melanie Gloria (FS) 6-1, 6-0

2. No. 27 Anastasia Petukhova (FS) def. No. 103 Leigh Finnegan (ILL) 6-1, 6-1

3. No. 67 Renata Kucerkova (FS) def. Chelcie Abajian (ILL) 4-6, 6-1, 7-6 (7-3)

4. Marisa Lambropoulos (ILL) def. Tinesta Rowe (FS) 6-4, 3-6, 6-3

5. Amy Allin (ILL) def. Laura Pola (FS) 6-1, 7-6 (7-4)

6. Bruna Paes (FS) def. Kristina Minor (ILL) 2-6, 6-0, 6-3
Order of Completion: 2, 1, 5, 4, 6, 3*