Nash dominates in Missouri tennis season opener

Senior Serena Nash finished a perfect 3-0 in singles as Missouri began its season at the Mizzou Invite.

In big white letters, the word “finish” covered the back of Marta Oliveira’s warm-up shirt.

“At the top, we’re all fighting for that one spot right now, that’s no secret, they’re all playing well and I like that about them,” Missouri tennis coach Colt Gaston said. “We’ve got three players that can step up at any time and that makes us deeper up top and at the bottom.”

Finishing strong became a theme throughout the weekend’s matches. Missouri tennis hosted The University of Tulsa, the University of Houston and Southern Methodist University for the eighth annual Mizzou Invite. Missouri finished the weekend with a combined singles and doubles record of 21-22.

Missouri faced difficult opponents throughout the weekend, with all three opponents ranked in the top 75 of the Intercollegiate Tennis Association’s final Division I women’s national rankings last season. Tulsa featured a star-studded doubles team, seniors Martina Okalova and Vera Ploner, the fifth-ranked doubles team in the nation.

Missouri senior Serena Nash opened the weekend with a doubles loss with her partner, senior Gabrielle Goldin, to SMU’s Nicole Petchey and Tiffany Hollebeck. Nash didn’t drop another game the entire tournament.

“We’ve been really tough on that mental part and I saw a very big improvement from [Nash] in these matches on the mental part,” Gaston said. “She did the best [job] of anyone at closing out matches and winning the big points and that says a lot about how she's doing in the mental stage.”

Nash and Goldin won both of their doubles games on Saturday. Nash rolled through singles competition, defeating her first two opponents in straight sets and capping off her impressive weekend with a victory over Ploner, an All-American last season. She ended the tournament with a 5-1 overall record, the best of any of her teammates.

Gaston has high expectations for the senior this season and is proud of the improvement she showed over the weekend.

“She’s done a phenomenal job bouncing and winning some big matches,” he said.

Mental toughness has been a focus for the Tigers, and they showed a great deal of it this weekend, roaring back from deficits to steal matches time and time again.

On Friday, sophomore Lisa Fukutoku defeated Houston’s Ndindi Ndunda after losing her first set. The next day, she clawed back from being down 3-0 in her first set against Petchey to win in straight sets. On Saturday, junior Ellie Wright, Goldin and sophomore Vivien Ábrahám dropped their first sets and came back to win the tiebreaker.

“Tennis is that kind of sport,” Gaston said. “If you're not strong mentally, you're going to fall apart.”

The Tigers struggled in doubles play, finishing 4-5 across all three days. Only Nash and Goldin had a positive record (2-1) in doubles competition.

For Gaston, it again comes down to finishing.

“We've tended to pride ourselves on being a really solid doubles team so we've got some work to do,” Gaston said. “I thought we also gave ourselves an opportunity we just didn't finish well in those [doubles matches]”.

Gaston tested out different matchups and lineups during the invite. Nash, Fukutoku and Wright all occupied the number one spot in singles at some point in the tournament.

“[The team was] executing a little better and handling [themselves] the right way, slowing down points when it didn't go our way, turning around, refocusing and resetting,” Gaston said.

Missouri’s next competition comes on Oct. 5 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, at the Rivera/ITA All-American Championships.

Edited by Emily Leiker | eleiker@themaneater.com

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