By Max Kardon
Daily Sports Writer
There’s nothing like getting started on the right foot. Nina Yaftali—— — a junior transfer from UCLA — made two strides in the right direction in her first dual match for Michigan. On Saturday afternoon, Yaftali and the No. 20 Michigan women’s tennis team kicked off the season in style, dispatching the DePaul Blue Devils, 5-2.
Michigan has been known to come out of the gates strong, having won its last 10 season openers and 14 of its last 15 season starters coming into Saturday’s meet. A sizeable crowd arrived at the Varsity Tennis Center to enjoy the season-opening festivities and watch the Wolverines extend the streak to 11.
“We were all anxious to start competing,” senior co-captain Leanne Rutherford said. “Everybody’s been working hard, and there’s a real desire to win. It’s great to finally get out on the court and see what we can do.”
It did not take long for Michigan to reap the fruits of its labor. Shaking off the rust from winter break, the Wolverines sparkled in the morning doubles matches.
Yaftali and sophomore Elizabeth Exon set the tone early in No. 3 doubles by quickly downing DePaul’s Bojana Murisic and Brenda Leung, 8-2. Senior Michelle DaCosta and sophomore Kara Delicata, Michigan’s top duo, followed Exon and Yaftali’s success. Their 8-2 victory over Beatrix Csordas and Gergana Ganeva guaranteed Michigan the team point for doubles play.
Rounding out Michigan’s doubles sweep was the No. 2 pairing of senior Leanne Rutherford and junior Debra Streifler. They overcame Marina Pareshkavova and Petra Rehusova, 8-4, to improve their team-leading doubles record to 7-3.
Having secured the doubles point with their morning sweep, the Wolverines rode their success into singles play. Streifler was the first to down a Blue Demon in No. 6 singles match, dispatching Bojana Muricic, 6-1, 6-0, in a dominating performance to extend the Wolverines’ lead.
Yaftali followed up her doubles success by excelling in No. 5 singles with a, 6-1, 6-3, victory over Leung. DaCosta sealed the day’s success as she took command of her match against Csordas. DaCosta kept Csordas on the run to secure a, 6-2, 6-2, win.
“I felt a little tight today,” DaCosta said. “I want to play more relaxed next time. It’s a little different playing in front of a large crowd. I still pulled out the win and know what I need to do to be more satisfied with my play.”
Despite her discomfort, DaCosta improved her season record to 6-4. Her control of the tempo from the baseline wore Csordas down and showed why DaCosta has a No. 44 national ranking.
With a 4-0 lead and the win already in their pocket, the Wolverines had mixed success with the win already in their pocket. Exon struggled to rattle DePaul’s steady Pareshkevova. Pareshkevova stayed steady during the long volleys that extended the tightly contested games. Unable to capitalize on her opportunities to break Pareshkevova, Exon dropped the match, 6-3, 6-3.
Delicata fell to Ganeva, losing her early first-set momentum after dropping a lengthy tiebreaker in the second set to lose, 3-6, 7-6(4), 6-3.
Rutherford managed to go the distance against Rehusova and won in three sets, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3, to round out the Wolverines’ 5-2 victory.
“We did a good job today,” Michigan coach Bitsy Ritt said. “It was a good start. Today’s match against a very competitive DePaul team is a good measuring stick for where we are as a team. We have to maintain our energy and intensity to reach our goals for this season, and sweeping doubles and sealing the win in singles shows we’re heading in the right direction.”
With a 1-0 record, the Wolverines will have to maintain their intensity this Saturday when they clash with a dangerous Vanderbilt squad at home.