Gamecocks Pick Up 4-1 Victory Over No. 18 Auburn

March 22, 2013


COLUMBIA, S.C. -- The 49th-ranked South Carolina women's tennis team picked up a 4-1 win over No. 18 Auburn on Friday evening at Carolina Tennis Center in Columbia, S.C. The win snapped Carolina's three-match losing streak and improved the Gamecocks to 9-7 on the year and 2-4 in the SEC. Auburn has now lost two straight after winning 14 in a row and is 14-3 overall and 4-2 in the league.

Auburn entered the match having won 15 consecutive doubles points, with the Tigers' only loss coming in their first match of the season versus No. 1 North Carolina. The Gamecocks, though, came out and dominated all three positions to grab a 1-0 lead heading to singles. It became a race between courts one and two as to which duo would finish first, as both jumped out to 6-2 leads. Katerina Popova and Josefin Andersson ended up defeating Jackie Kasler and Emily Flickinger first on court two by an 8-4 count.

At the No. 1 spot, Jaklin Alawi and Dominika Kanakova continued to lead 7-3 after 10 games, but 54th-ranked Pleun Burgmans and Plamena Kurteva recovered to win two straight games to cut the deficit to 7-5. Alawi, however, used her powerful serve to help propel the Gamecocks to the win in the next game. It marked the 12th time in 16 matches South Carolina has won the doubles point.

"We obviously work a lot on doubles," Gamecock head coach Kevin Epley said. "It's just one of those things where we are turning the corner confidence wise. I still think we could play a lot better than we did today, quite frankly, but they're growing into their skin and thinking of themselves as one of the better doubles teams out here. It's been sort of a transition for them because they used to think of themselves as not being doubles players, but now they're starting to realize they are and they're going to expect to win going in to every match. Today, we made a goal to finish if we get leads, and I think we could have even been a little better, but overall, we finished the matches and I think that as a team, we're starting to realize that we are one of the better doubles groups out there."

Elixane Lechemia and Ximena Siles Luna held a 6-4 advantage on court three versus Paulina Schippers and Jen Pfeifler and also were ahead 15-0 on the Tigers' serve when played stopped.

The Gamecocks continued their tough play in singles and No. 102 Popova quickly put them ahead 2-0 with her 6-4, 6-0 triumph over Michala Kucharova on court two. With the win, Popova improved to 16-7 on the season and 10-4 in dual match play, both team highs. Not long afterward, Kanakova ended her winless drought in league matches with a 6-4, 6-3 win over Pfeifler at the No. 4 position. It would take some time, though, for South Carolina to pick up the clinching fourth point.

Less than three minutes after Kanakova put USC ahead 3-0, Kurteva held off Andersson 6-1, 6-4 on court six. The remaining matches on courts one, three and five were all in third sets once Kurteva gave Auburn what turned out to be its only point of the match.

No. 78 Alawi had fought back from a 6-1 loss to No. 51 Burgmans in the first set to win the second 6-4 and she held a 4-3 lead late in the third. At three, Lechemia also lost her first set to Flickinger 6-4, but she won the second 6-2 and raced ahead to a 4-2 advantage in the third. Siles Luna won 6-3 in the first set against Kasler at five, lost the second 6-2 and took a 2-0 lead to start the third.

Alawi and Burgmans continued to trade games back and forth until eventually reaching a tiebreaker. Lechemia, meanwhile, went ahead 5-2 and had two match points on Flickinger's serve, but she was unable to close out the contest and it advanced to 5-3. Siles Luna continued to cruise on court five, pushing ahead 4-1 on Kasler.

Lechemia managed to hold serve in the ensuing game to pick up the 4-6, 6-2, 6-3 win over Flickinger to lift the Gamecocks past the Tigers. In the process, it kept South Carolina's perfect all-time record against Auburn in Columbia in tact, pushing it to 14-0. Lechemia improved to 5-3 on the season and 2-3 at No. 3 singles for SEC matches.

"Eli is a player who had a lot of pro experience, and the game is just different out there," Epley said. "Out here, in the SEC, you're getting girls who may not have the ability in terms of striking the ball, but they certainly have more heart than what you're going to find on the lower pro level. These girls are fighting hard for their schools and teams and competing; that's the name of college tennis, it's competing. I think it has kind of taken Eli back a little that they are going to make her work for points. Adjusting to that, the screaming and the yelling, adjusting to the American culture and not having a fall to kind of build that confidence, it's a difficult thing to ask her to do. I think that she is coming along, she's plugging away and working hard and has a good attitude."

Alawi trailed 4-3 in the tiebreaker when play was suspended and Siles Luna was still ahead of Kasler 4-2 in the third.

South Carolina will return to action Sunday hosting No. 8 Alabama at 1:30 p.m. at Carolina Tennis Center. In the event of inclement weather, the match will move indoors to the USC Field House.

SINGLES COMPETITION

  POS SOUTH CAROLINA AUBURN WINNER SCORE FINISH
1 #78 Jaklin Alawi #51 Pleun Burgmans Unfinished AU led 6-1, 4-6, 6-6 (4-3)
2 #102 Katerina Popova Michala Kucharova South Carolina 6-4, 6-0 1
3 Elixane Lechemia Emily Flickinger South Carolina 4-6, 6-2, 6-3 4
4 Dominika Kanakova Jen Pfeifler South Carolina 6-4, 6-3 2
5 Ximena Siles Luna Jackie Kasler Unfinished SC led 6-3, 2-6, 4-2
6 Josefin Andersson Plamena Kurteva Auburn 6-1, 6-4 3

DOUBLES COMPETITION

  POS SOUTH CAROLINA AUBURN WINNER SCORE FINISH
1 Alawi/Kanakova #54 Burgmans/Kurteva South Carolina 8-5 2
2 Popova/Andersson Kasler/Flickinger South Carolina 8-4 1
3 Lechemia/Siles Luna Schippers/Pfeifler Unfinished SC led 6-4