Fresno State’s freshman Rana Sherif Ahmed had to have felt the pressure heading into the third set of her singles outing against Wyoming on Thursday at the Wathen Tennis Center.
All eyes were fixed on the battle between the teams’ top singles players (the only singles duel to be settled in three sets) with the score tied at three.
Sherif Ahmed was facing junior Veronica Popovich with the – Wyoming’s No. 1 player in singles play and part of a doubles duo ranked 21st in the nation by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association in a preseason poll – and was down a game in the third set after losing the second set.
But despite the pressure, Sherif Ahmed — who was part of an underclassmen bunch that Bulldogs coach Ryan Stotland said “did a great job today keeping their nerves” — clinched Fresno State’s 4-3 win over the Cowgirls to remain undefeated in Mountain West Conference play.
“Losing the second set and then going to a third, especially with a top player, is tough,” Stotland said, “and Rana showed a tremendous amount of guts going after shots and playing to win.
“Third sets, especially for the match, aren’t always about the tennis. It’s about who wants it more and who really believes in themselves. And Rana proved today that she really believes in herself.”
Fresno State clinched the critical doubles point behind the duos of Bianca Modoc and Sophie Watts (8-6) and Olga Kirpicheva and Aishwarya Agrawal (8-5)
Sherif Ahmed and Melissa McQueen lost their doubles match against the Popovichi and Simona Synkova, 8-4.
Almost two-and-a-half hours later, Sherif Ahmed and Popovich were battling it out into the long-drawn third set.
Sherif Ahmed won the final set of the match (7-6, 2-6, 6-2) on an unforced error by Popovich.
Fresno State is now 4-0 on the season in matches that have had to be won in a decisive seventh point.
“Rana came in there and knew it was for the match, and she just beat a girl that’s been ranked high in the country,” Stotland said. “It’s a huge win right there for us and for Rana’s confidence.
“We’re very good under the pressure. We just have to get a team match going where everybody plays well. That’s what we’re looking for.”
Fresno State (10-5, 3-0 MWC) plays its final two home games of the season this weekend. The Bulldogs play Air Force today at 1:30 p.m. and host Colorado State on Saturday at 1 p.m.
The Bulldogs’ three seniors – McQueen, Modoc and Kirpicheva – will be honored before Saturday’s game.
McQueen and Modoc both lost their singles matches against Wyoming.
“They’ll be better,” Stotland said of the seniors. “Today, I think they might’ve felt the pressure too much and tried to hurry through. The seniors have been tremendous to the program here. They’ll turn it around for sure tomorrow and Saturday.”