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'I felt like a kid': UNC star Fiona Crawley recounts unlikely run at U.S. Open


UNC junior Fiona Crawley and sophomore Carson Tanguilig return a shot during the Tar Heel 4-0 victory over the Maryland Terrapins in the women's tennis matches on Friday, Jan. 27, 2023 at The Cone-Kenfield Tennis Center.

Two weeks out from the U.S. Open doubles tournament in mid-August, North Carolina senior Fiona Crawley was hitting with her partner, junior Carson Tanguilig, and former UNC tennis standout Jamie Loeb when she received big news.

Loeb was texting another former Tar Heel, Makenna Jones, who had just earned a wild card into the singles tournament. Moments later, another text came in. 

“Fi, you got one,” Loeb said to Crawley. 

At the 2023 U.S. Open in New York, Crawley advanced out of the singles qualifier to the main draw by winning all three qualifying matches – one of only two collegiate players in the tournament to do so. Crawley and Tanguilig also competed in doubles after receiving a wild card bid and fell in the first round.

But, prior to Crawley's run at the U.S. Open, when she first received word of her wild card from Loeb, panic set in. Before that day, Crawley said she hadn't touched a racket in two weeks — a short break from tennis after competing all summer.

Crawley already knew she'd be competing with Tanguilig in doubles, but the wild card meant she had to change her flight and gear up quickly to play against professionals a week earlier than expected. These players were older, ranked higher and did not have schoolwork to keep up with like Crawley, an English and Comparative Literature major.

"We were playing women," Crawley said. "I felt like a kid, like, 100 percent."

In her first match against No. 249 Reka Luca Jani on Aug. 23, Crawley faced a close contest with multiple tie-breaks. However, the ITA National Player of the Year managed to clinch a 6-1, 6-7 (7-5), 7-6 (10-6) victory and record her first ever Grand Slam match victory. 

Crawley faced No. 193 Timea Babos in the second round, scraping by with another win in a last-ditch tiebreak of the third set, 6-2, 3-6, 7-6 (10-5). The final points of the match had to be played the next day after it was postponed due to bad weather.

Although Crawley said she gained more confidence in the second match, the San Antonio native said she started to get in her head during the third round. She realized another win would send her into the main draw and a loss would end her improbable run in the qualifying tournament. 

Luckily for Crawley, her doubles partner’s flight arrived just in time to watch the match. 

“I try not to look up because there’s so many people there watching, but [I heard] Carson, just her voice,” Crawley said. “I looked over, I couldn't even see her in the crowd. I just heard her voice, and knowing that she's there, coaches are there, my mom, my boyfriend and everyone just was there for me. The people that I love, in the best way possible, drown out everything else.”

With this support, the UNC senior punched her ticket into the main tournament with a decisive 6-3, 6-3 victory over the No. 13 seed Kimberly Birrell. At the time of the match, Crawley was ranked No. 731 in the WTA rankings.

“I’m really proud of what she did not only for UNC, but for college tennis,” head coach Brian Kalbassaid. 

Following the match, Crawley and Tanguilig walked together through the tunnel to get off the courts. Crawley said a combination of stress-induced and happy tears welled in her eyes. 

“That feeling after I qualified, it was crazy,” she said. “I still can't really explain it. It's just like, ‘I wanna do it again,’ then I'm like, ‘Can I do it again? Do I want to do it again?’”

Crawley ultimately fell in the first round of the main draw to No. 82 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova with a score of 2-6, 4-6, which shifted her attention to doubles play.  

Two days later, on Aug. 31 she and Tanguilig faced off with No. 179 Daria Saville and No. 69 Irina Khromacheva. Crawley and Tanguilig struggled to build momentum against their more experienced opponents, resulting in a 2-6, 2-6 loss. 

Despite the loss, Tanguilig was grateful for the chance to compete in her first Grand Slam tournament.

“[The pro level is] not as far away as you think,” Tanguilig said. “It definitely motivates me. I don't want to speak for Fiona, but I think it motivates us to hopefully go back.”

Rest assured, Crawley already has her eyes set on traveling to Europe next year and continuing her tennis career at the professional level. 

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Next time, she won’t have English homework. 


@dthsports |