Clinching Point To Upset Stanford Capped 'Emotional Roller Coaster'
The redemptive power of athletics was on full display for the Oregon women's tennis team last week.
As crushing as defeat can be, it provides an opportunity to learn and to grow. To bounce back. As they headed to Washington this week for the final weekend of the regular season, few appreciate that better than the members of the UO women's tennis program, and in particular freshman Uxia Martinez Moral.
Oregon headed north this week fresh off an unprecedented win over Stanford, in which Martinez provided the point that clinched the victory. Just two days earlier, she had the chance to do the same against California, and came up short.
From the lowest of lows to the highest of highs, Martinez experienced what UO coach Courtney Nagle called "an emotional roller coaster," all in the span of three days.
On Friday, the Ducks had a chance to upset No. 23 California on their home courts. Oregon lost the doubles point, but freshman Janice Tjen made quick work of the No. 41 singles player in the country in straight sets, 6-1, 6-1. The Golden Bears won at No. 5 and No. 2 singles, taking a 3-1 lead. But UO seniors Rifanty Kahfiani and Julia Eshet kicked off their final weekend of home matches with wins at No. 3 and No. 6 singles, respectively.
All eyes turned to the No. 4 singles match. Martinez Moral had dropped the opening set, 6-4, and trailed 4-1 in set two. Riding a wave of momentum supplied by her teammates, Martinez Moral rallied back to force a tiebreaker in set two.
The stage was set for a monumental comeback by the Ducks. Martinez Moral had all the momentum in her match. Oregon was primed for an upset.
And then: The comeback wasn't to be. The Cal player rallied to win the tiebreaker.
Oregon had lost the match. Martinez Moral was crushed.
"Friday," she recalled later, "was one of the toughest days I could ever have in college."
After the match, and in practice Saturday, Martinez Moral's coaches tried to build her back up. You're a fighter, Nagle and her assistant, Elizabeth Lumpkin Robinson, told her. Sometimes when you think you've run into a brick wall, it just means you're close to breaking through.
At some point, they all figured, Martinez Moral would have a chance to redeem herself. Nobody could have imagined it would come just 48 hours later.
On Sunday, the Ducks hosted No. 25 Stanford. The Oregon women's tennis program had never beaten the Cardinal, winners of a mind-boggling 20 NCAA team titles since 1982, and three of the last four. The Ducks meanwhile, were three years into a rebuild under Nagle that saw them play matches just two years ago in which they sometimes had only four scholarship players available.
But Sunday was Oregon's senior day. And the Ducks were determined to put up a fight.
"We wanted them to have a special day," Martinez Moral said. "I think everyone played our best, gave everything we had. And we got what we wanted."
And Martinez Moral got her redemption.
This time, the Ducks won the doubles point. So, when the fabulous freshman Tjen knocked off another nationally ranked opponent at No. 1 singles, Oregon had two points in the team score. Unfortunately for the home team, by then Stanford already had wins at No. 2, No. 3 and No. 6 singles. The Ducks needed to win the remaining three singles matches to record the upset, and Tjen's win was only one of the three.
Then, at No. 5 singles, Eshet notched her second win of the weekend. The team score was tied. Once again, and improbably so, all eyes turned to Martinez Moral, with the outcome of the match in the balance.
She had won her first set, and was in control of the second before her Stanford opponent rallied to even their match at one set apiece. They would play a third, with players from both teams watching courtside.
"She was fighting herself," Nagle said. "It seemed like at that moment, she was starting to have some doubts. Like, you know, here we go again.
"And so she had to really put that aside, and stay present. And as soon as her teammates got over there — after Julia won — that was the difference for her. Her switch turned back on."
Blessed with a second chance to clinch an upset for her team, Martinez Moral buckled down. Fighting through windy conditions on the outdoor courts, she took a 5-4 lead in the third set. Ultimately, she was serving for the match, and a marathon ensued.
— Oregon Ducks WTennis (@OregonWTennis) April 4, 2021
Martinez Moral served to open the point, then moved to her backhand for two shots. A forehand followed, and then six more backhands. Finally, on her 11th shot of the point, Martinez Moral buried a forehand down the line. Her opponent raced from one end of the baseline to the other and got her racket on the ball. She could manage only a lunging backhand in desperation, which floated high and long.
Oregon had won the match. Martinez Moral was elated.
And pandemonium ensued.
The Ducks had their first-ever win over Stanford. They got it on senior day. And Martinez Moral was experiencing the highest of highs in her college career to that point, just 48 hours after the lowest of lows.
"She's a fighter," Nagle said. "Even when things get hard, she's always gonna keep fighting. And so, even in that match, it got hard. But her teammates encouraged her, and she kept fighting. And good things happened.
"She was extremely resilient, courageous. It was definitely just a beautiful moment for her, and the team."