ORLANDO, Fla. – In the NCAA Quarterfinals against No. 8 Texas, junior Fiona Crawley said the words "gritty, not pretty" rallied her and the rest of the No. 1 North Carolina women’s tennis team to overcome another doubles point loss.
On Wednesday, the Tar Heels scraped by the two-time defending champions with a 4-2 victory behind another dominant singles performance. When the two teams faced each other in the NCAA Tournament Semifinals last year, UNC lost.
For the second consecutive match, North Carolina dropped the doubles point and stepped up to supply the singles victories needed to clinch.
“Honestly, I feel like losing the doubles point isn't something that's new,” Crawley said. “We've lost doubles points in the past, and that almost fires us up more.”
Head coach Brian Kalbas said that when the Tar Heels play talented teams like Texas, the singles victories are usually split evenly, 3-3. However, when UNC does not secure the doubles point, splitting is not an option, and that is the source of motivation the team pulls from to “get gritty.”
For Crawley, getting gritty meant fighting back against a major deficit in the second set of her singles match and refusing to allow a third set tie-breaker.
The North Carolina junior controlled the entirety of the first set and only gave up one game, forcing Texas junior Charlotte Chavatipon to chase down deep returns in opposite corners of the court. But, the second half of her match proved to be a tougher test.
Mistakes and rogue shots stunted Crawley’s game and Chavatipon quickly gained the upper hand and a three-game lead. The Longhorn junior only needed one more game point to force a third set tiebreaker. Crawley refused to quit.
“It’s a joke on my team that I love a dog fight,” Crawley said.
She said, at that moment, she was thinking about another memorable UNC vs. Texas matchup from her first year, using that memory to inspire her. In her first year and a battle for an ITA National Championship title, the Tar Heels were relying on Crawley to supply a singles win at the No. 6 position and she overcame a major deficit in the second set to do so — just like on Wednesday.
“I knew I was down — it was 2-4 in my freshman year and I was 2-5 (today),” she said. “But I just needed to stay in every point. I got the first set and I was like, ‘even if it goes to a third, I'm literally just going to stay on the court.’”
With that mentality, Crawley did not allow her Texas opponent to earn another point. Throwing her body into every shot and attacking Chavatipon’s backhand sent Crawley on a five-game winning streak to clinch her match.
When she drilled a return down the line to win the final point, she threw her racket into the air and held her arms out wide, knowing her resilience had paid off. Her teammates rushed to hug her, and seconds later, senior Anika Yarlagadda outlasted her opponent to officially clinch the match.
“It feels incredible,” Crawley said. “I'm honestly still kind of shaking in shock right now.”
Conquering a second set deficit to put points on the scoreboard for North Carolina exemplifies the gritty attitude the team emphasizes, and it puts UNC one step closer to the national title game.
“We'll come back and try and work on our doubles,” Kalbas said. “But we know that if not, then our six singles players can get it done for us.”
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