Sofia Blanco might not be the hero had the umpire's call gone her way.
Blanco, a sophomore on the Oklahoma State women's tennis team, was leading 5-4 against Kansas’ Nina Khmelnitckaia in the second set tiebreaker when her shot was called out. Instead of having a 6-4 lead and a double match point, Blanco then dropped the next two points and had to see her match go the full distance.
When the final set was tied at one, it became the decider.
“I was very close to win in the second set,” Blanco said. “I had the match point then there were a couple bad calls and I was like, ‘Please, don’t let your mind go and keep focus on the match.’
"Then coach actually came to me and said, ‘It is going to come back to you and your court.’"
Blanco broke Khmelnitckaia’s serve in the fifth game, only to allow the latter to take back the break three games later. Tied at four, the ninth game went to a game point situation with Khmelnitckaia serving.
Blanco pinned her opponent to the left corner, then capitalized on a volley at the net.
Finally having a chance to serve for the match, Blanco didn’t allow the opportunity to slip. A forehand return after the match-point serve gave OSU a 4-3 victory in front of a jubilant crowd at Michael and Anne Greenwood Tennis Center.
The victory sends OSU to the ITA National Indoor Championship in Seattle, Washington.
OSU coach Chris Young, who sat by Blanco in the final set during change of ends, knew he had the right person to deliver the deciding point.
“I told Sofi when I was coming down (that) there is nobody I want to be on the court than her right now,” Young said. “She has been playing great tennis, she is as good as anyone on the team and I’m comfortable when it comes down to her. That is what you want in the big moment.”
The ninth game of the final set was like deja vu for both players on Court 5 when they faced off in the doubles match earlier. Blanco and her partner, Catherine Gulihur, were on the other end of the result when they allowed Khmelnitckaia and Janet Koch to break the serve in the final game to steal the 6-4 victory.
Another 6-4 defeat in the similar situation on Court 1 saw the Cowgirls at home trailed for the first time this season.
“I thought Kansas played really well throughout the match,” Young said. “They actually stuck up their shots a little bit more at the key moments in doubles and I thought we were a little bit tentative. So we talked about that going to singles and there will be the key moments and we need to play more in our terms. I thought that was the difference later in the match.”
Marina Guinart eliminated the Jayhawks lead after she defeated Malkia Ngounoue 2-6, 6-0, 6-1. Both teams then traded singles victories, with Cowgirl junior Lisa Marie Rioux and senior Katie Stresnakova taking the victories. Newcomers and doubles tandem Tamara Arnold and Bunyawi Thamchaiwat fell short in straight sets.
Young praised the performance of his seniors in singles matches.
“Everybody fought hard to win, especially our seniors," Young said. "(They) were able to finish their singles matches. When it got tough our seniors stepped up and I thought it was really important to those girls.”
Thamchaiwat’s 7-5, 7-5 defeat against Anastasia Rychagova set up Blanco for the script that she has waited for since coming to OSU. Her fantasy became reality once her teammates rushed to the court to celebrate the victory.
“I have been waiting for moment like that since I came to OSU,” Blanco said. “I have been working so hard for that moment and it was special for me. I thought today everyone played her role and every win was important. Even the girls who weren’t playing was very loud and I was excited about this win.”
Young also has kind words for the Cowgirls’ hero
“Sofi was the one who executed and went for her shot at the right time,” Young said. “It was the conviction for the toughness of games she wants to play. She has been working in the development of her game and everything came together tonight.”