Those who have played tennis against senior Chisako Sugiyama know how frustrating she is to compete against. The way she makes her opponents run, uses her skillful backhand and withstands long matches make her a tough foe.
And Duke’s Ellah Nze, the nation’s 43rd-ranked singles player, found that out the hard way.
After losing in straight sets (7-6, 6-4) to Sugiyama Sunday, Nze took a tennis ball, whipped it at the back wall of the Varsity Tennis Center and slowly walked to shake hands with Sugiyama.
“I knew (Nze) was going to be a good player,” Sugiyama said. “I knew I still had work to do on my shots and still be better in the second set to beat her.”
Sugiyama’s showing was one of the bright spots for the Michigan women’s tennis team this weekend during the three-day Michigan Invitational, a non-scoring tournament. The Wolverines faced off against No. 12 Vanderbilt, No. 24 Tennessee and No. 9 Duke.
She also able to upset 21st-ranked Jackie Wu of Vanderbilt in straight sets (7-5, 7-6) on Saturday.
On Sunday, the second day of the tournament, sophomore Rika Tatsuno and Sugiyama were the only singles players to beat the Blue Devils. Yesterday Tatsuno and sophomore doubles partner Whitney Taney took on Nze and Reka Zsilinszka in a hard-fought, back-and-forth match. The Duke duo took a 7-6 lead and needed to win one more game to take the match. Tatsuno and Taney won three of the remaining four games to take the match 9-8 and give the Wolverines their sixth win in the nine doubles matches.
“We’ve been doing really well at breaking serve and returning (so) I told our players we have to get better at holding serve,” Michigan coach Ronni Bernstein said. “We’ve had some excellent competition this tournament and we feel that we’re ready for the dual match season.”
Tatsuno was the top singles player of the invitational with 20 points. The Ranchos Palos Verdes, Calif., native placed ahead of Sugiyama, Wu and Caitlin Whoriskey of Tennessee.
Taney lost badly in the first set of her singles match against Maria Sorbello, but dominated the second and third set to take the match from Tennessee (1-6, 6-3, 6-2).
“After the first set, I decided to refresh and start over and came into the second with a new strategy,” Taney said. “When you lose the first set 6-1, you have to have a sense of urgency. Coach Bernstein helped me get through it.”
As a result of the top-notch competition in the invitational, Bernstein believes the Wolverines are poised to make a run to the NCAA Tournament in May.
“We are going to take everything match by match,” Bernstein said. “The preseason rankings are nice, but they don’t mean anything now. Where we rank in May is what is going to matter.”