PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. – Ten matches in eight days.
That’s the path UCLA freshman Ena Shibahara has traveled at the 2016 Riviera/ITA Women’s All-American Championships. Navigating her way through the pre-qualifying and qualifying draws, Shibahara continued her dominant run through the main draw, and after working through a pair of tough three-set matches in the Round of 16 and quarterfinals on Friday, earned a spot in Sunday’s singles final with a 6-3, 6-1 victory over Vanderbilt’s Astra Sharma in the semifinals.
“I’m so impressed, she’s such a fighter,” said UCLA women’s tennis head coach Stella Sampras Webster. “She’s playing with so much confidence and I really think it was a great thing for her to play through pre-qualies and qualies, just getting a ton of matches and she’s gotten better every match. Right now, she’s swinging away and feeling really good and hopefully she can finish strong tomorrow. I’m excited for her and the beginning of her college career and excited to be working with her and that she’s a part of our program, because she’s a great representative of what we want at UCLA.”
With a packed house at the Riviera Tennis Club on hand to watch all of the singles and doubles action on Semifinal Saturday, Shibahara and Sharma took to the court first. Sharma, who was making the first Women’s All-American semifinal appearance in program history, traded the first handful of games with Shibahara, before the freshman’s precise groundstrokes proved to be too much to overcome.
“It was a great atmosphere,” said Shibahara. “I don’t know how to explain it, but (the crowd) helped me to have so much energy on the court, and I definitely needed that after a long day on Friday.”
Shibahara, ranked No. 2 in the Oracle/ITA Preseason Freshman/Newcomer National Rankings, will face last year’s dominant freshman and 2015 USTA/ITA National Indoor Intercollegiate Singles Champion, Ohio State’s Francesca Di Lorenzo. The No. 3 seed in Riviera, Di Lorenzo took down top-seeded and top-ranked Hayley Carter of North Carolina in straight sets 7-6, 6-2.
“It was hotter than what I’m typically used to. The crowd was really nice, really supportive and that was awesome,” said Di Lorenzo. “I enjoyed myself out there and just focused on my game and what I needed to do and tried to ignore everything else around me and it worked well.”
With the first set a back-and-forth affair, Di Lorenzo surged ahead early in the tiebreak and ultimately went on to claim the opening set.
“I knew if I could get a good lead, which I did, I could put the pressure on her and not relax, but swing a little more freely,” said Di Lorenzo. “I just played a smart few points and that got me off to a good start and I was able to execute at the end.”
Semifinal doubles followed the singles matches and the opening contest was an intense battle between No. 5 Pepperdine’s Luisa Stefani and Apichaya Runglerdkriangkrai and No. 2 Florida’s Brooke Austin and Kourtney Keegan. The Waves took the first set from the defending NCAA doubles champions 7-6 (5), while Austin and Keegan responded back winning the second, also in a tiebreak (5), to force a third and deciding set. In the 10-point breaker, Pepperdine managed to find a way to come out ahead, 10-7, to advance to Sunday’s final and earn a trip to the 2016 USTA/ITA National Indoor Intercollegiate Championships.
Pepperdine will face North Carolina’s Hayley Carter and Jessie Aney in the final. The Tar Heel tandem outlasted Northwestern’s seventh-seeded team of Alex Chatt and Maddie Lipp 2-6, 7-5, 1-0 (9) in the semifinals.
Consolation singles and doubles finals are also set for Sunday, with National Indoors spots on the line in both matches. The singles final pits No. 2 Stefani against No. 5 Sinead Lohan of Miami, while the consolation doubles final will feature No. 1 Mami Adachi and Aldila Sutjiadi of Kentucky versus the Oklahoma State duo of Katarnia Adamovic and Vladica Babic.
Championship Sunday begins at 9 a.m. PDT with consolation singles and doubles finals, followed by main draw singles final at 11 a.m. PDT, with doubles to follow. Updated draws and main draw daily recaps can be found at the ITA Championship Central page here. FloTennis will provide live streaming of the main draw matches (courts 1 and 5) at www.flotennis.com. You can also follow the conversation on Twitter by following @ITA_Tennis and using the hashtag #RivieraITA.