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ND WOMEN’S TENNIS: Seeing double

Ryan Kiefer | Monday, October 10, 2005

Catrina and Christian Thompson won the ITA All-American Championships doubles title Sunday in Pacific Palisades, Ca., making history by becoming the first Notre Dame women’s tennis players to capture a collegiate tennis grand slam tournament.

The twin sisters won the title match 9-8 (9-7) over Fresno State’s Luica Sainz and Kathrina Winterhalter after fighting off two match points. Sainz’s return of a Catrina Thompson serve at 8-7 in the tiebreaker sailed long to give the Irish the championship.

“There were no free points out there,” assistant coach Michelle Dasso said. “The girls really earned it. Both teams had chances with match points. It was definitely nerve-racking.”

The title match was a back and forth affair. The Irish jumped out to a 2-0 lead, but Fresno State was able to hold its serve and break the Irish to tie the match at two games all. The score was tied 4-4 before a hold and a crucial Irish break gave Notre Dame a 6-4 lead.

With Christian Thompson serving up 30-0 in the following game, the Irish seemed destined to cruise to victory. A tough Bulldog squad answered, though, rallying to earn the break. A hold in the next game tied the match at six.

The Fresno State team, which defeated the No. 1 team in the nation (Caroline Basu and Shadisha Robinson of Georgia) in the semifinals, would win two of the next three games. They had a chance to serve out the match at 8-7. The Bulldogs had two match points that game, but clutch returns by the Irish thwarted Fresno State’s chance at victory. Notre Dame won the game on a net-cord winner to send the match to a decisive tiebreak.

The tiebreak was a microcosm of the entire match with momentum swings throughout. No team held a lead larger than one point until Sainz’s errant return gave the Irish the victory.

The match was the closest doubles final in the ITA All-American Championship’s history.

The Thompsons had high expectations this weekend as they entered the tournament ranked No. 2 in the nation in doubles. They finished runner-up in the tournament last year.

Dasso said an attitude change put the sisters over the top this year.

“In the past, they would get upset with each other when things weren’t going well,” she said. “This weekend they were calm. They got fired up for each other and totally supported each other. Last year, they would have let each other get down in a match like that [the title match], but they just rolled with it this year. The attitude difference is like night and day.”

The Irish advanced to the final by virtue of three victories over top-seven opponents earlier in the weekend.

The Thompsons blanked No. 7 Gabrielle Duch and Neyessa Etienne of South Florida 8-0 in the round of 16 before defeating No. 6 Stanford’s Alice Barnes and Anne Yesley in the quarterfinals, 9-7. An 8-1 win over New Mexico’s Iva Gersic and Maja Kovacek clinched a birth in the championship round.

Head coach Jay Louderback did not travel with the sisters to California, but was extremely proud of his star doubles team after hearing the result.

“We are excited to have the Thompsons come through in the final of a national tournament,” Louderback told und.com following the match. “They have been so close over the past year. I think this is a big step for them to play so well in such a big tournament. They played really well throughout, defeating several really good teams. This experience should be really big for them in the future.”

Dasso also commented that in addition to the doubles success, she was also proud of the sisters’ singles play at the All-Americans. Christian Thompson knocked off five ranked opponents in the pre-qualifying and qualifying rounds of the singles tournament, while Catrina Thompson fought off cramping to post a 2-1 record in singles.

“This week showed them that they can compete against anyone in singles and doubles,” Dasso said.

Catrina and Christian Thompson will rejoin their teammates this week to prepare for a match at home against Southern California Friday afternoon.

Coach Dasso emphasized that the twins cannot rest on their laurels, especially with a talented Trojan squad on the horizon.

“We’ve got a good USC team coming in here this weekend, and we need to get back and focus on them,” Dasso said. “Everyone will be after [the Thompsons] now. Everyone will play their best match against them. They need to be focused for every match.”

Dasso said while the sisters need to be prepared for every opponent, they are extremely confident following this weekend’s success.

“They know there’s no one they can’t beat,” she said.