On Sunday, the Oracle ITA Masters tennis tournament in Malibu, California, concluded with the women’s finals matchup, featuring UCLA’s Ena Shibahara and North Carolina’s Alle Sanford.
As reigning champion of the ITA Masters, Shibahara cruised through her first two matchups on Thursday and Friday before defeating UNC’s Sara Daavettila and Oklahoma’s Lily Miyazaki to reach back-to-back finals appearances.
Meanwhile, first-year Sanford won her first three matches in straight sets, including a victory over Duke’s Samantha Harris in the quarterfinals Pepperdine’s Mayar Ahmed in the semifinals.
In the final, the Tar Heel clearly had her hands full on Sunday with UCLA’s Shibahara. In a matchup where the tide seemed to shift like the nearby ocean, Sanford was able to emerge victorious, winning the match 5-7, 6-3, 7-6 (11).
As the score indicates, the match was a close and hard-fought. In the final set, Sanford had to battle her way back and win the twelfth game to force a tiebreak. In the tiebreak, emotions poured out of each player after the long match and four-straight days of playing began to wear the athletes down. Sanford let out yells following hard points won and allowed her frustration to show after errors. Similarly, Shibahara fell to her knees in exhaustion as she failed in an attempt to hit the ball back over the net, giving Sanford a 12-11 advantage in the tiebreak.