May 24, 2006
STANFORD, Calif. – Notre Dame junior All-American Catrina Thompson (Las Vegas, Nev./Bishop Gorman H.S.) rallied for a three-set victory in the opening round of the NCAA Singles Championship Wednesday morning at Stanford University’s Taube Tennis Center. She defeated a tournament-tested opponent, Sacramento State senior All-American Margarita Karnaukhova from Russia, 2-6, 6-1, 6-2. Thompson, ranked 30th in the nation, became the third Irish player ever to win a match in the event on multiple occasions and next will challenge the defending NCAA singles champion.
The Russian – who reached the round of 16 of the NCAA singles tournament in 2004 to become Sacramento State’s first-ever women’s tennis All-American – came out on fire, barely missing en route to breaking serve twice and sprinting to a 3-0 advantage. Thompson got one of the breaks back in the match’s fourth game, but got no more chances during the set – while also giving up another break late in a game featuring three double faults.
But the Irish junior turned things around almost immediately. Both players held serve to begin the second set, but Thompson would then rattle off seven consecutive games – three straight service breaks – to take control of the match for good. She did not even face a break point in the second set and converted on both of her opportunities. Karnaukhova – who was ranked 14th nationally in the preseason, but has slipped to 74th after being plagued by a back injury most of the season – tried to make a late run, winning two of the first three points, trailing 5-1. But Thompson blasted three consecutive serves that the Russian was unable to put near the court, thus forcing a decisive frame.
The Hornet – the first student-athlete in Big Sky Conference history to be the conference MVP four times – saved two break points and finally held serve to make it 2-1 in the third. She then threatened to put the final set back on serve, as Thompson fell behind 15-40 in her ensuing service game. But the Irish junior saved those two break points and eventually held. The longest rally of the match came with Thompson up 4-2 and Karnaukhova serving at 15-30. Following a relentless exchange of powerful groundstrokes, the ND player went wide for a short ball and hit her forehand on a sharp angle crosscourt, far out of the Russian’s reach, to end the point and give her another break chance (which would be converted). Thompson then served out the match, handing the 5-10 Karnaukhova the first opening-round NCAA defeat of her career.
One key to the match was the improvement of Thompson’s serve. In the opening set, she held just once in four opportunities. From then on, she held eight consecutive times and faced just a total of two break points.
The Irish junior has won six of her last seven matches and now stands 29-11 on the season, including 11-5 in tournament action. She came back from dropping the opening set to win for the fourth time and improved to 10-5 outdoors and 8-5 in close matches. Thompson is now 13-11 against nationally-ranked opposition this season.
The road becomes much more difficult now, as the second round will see Thompson match up with the tournament’s defending champion, Baylor sophomore Zuzana Zemenova from Slovakia. The No. 4 seed in the draw, she topped #47 Luana Magnani of USC 6-4, 6-2 in the first round. Zemenova, currently ranked sixth in the nation after peaking at third earlier this spring, just had a 14-match winning streak ended and stands 31-6 overall this season, including 17-6 against nationally-ranked opposition. Thompson and Zemenova will meet for the first time, though they have faced six common opponents this season: Anna Lubinsky (Texas A&M), Olga Boulytcheva (BYU), Daniela Bercek (Duke), Mia Marovic (Texas), Meg Racette (Iowa), and Amanda Fish (Vanderbilt). The Slovakian was 6-3 against that group – the losses coming against Boulytcheva, Bercek, and Racette – while Thompson was 4-3 (losing to Boulytcheva and Fish and splitting two meetings with Lubinsky).
All second-round winners will assure themselves of being named ITA All-Americans in singles (as are all of the 16 seeded players and anyone who finishes the season ranked in the top 20). For the second year in a row, Thompson will have an opportunity to play her way to that honor. In 2005, she lost 6-2, 6-7 (5-7), 6-2 to Mississippi’s Chloe Carlotti. The last Notre Dame singles All-American was current Irish assistant Michelle Dasso – the 2006 ITA National Assistant Coach of the Year – who earned those honors in both 1999 and 2001. The only other Notre Dame players ever to reach the round of 32 in the NCAA singles tournament on multiple occasions were Wendy Crabtree (1993 and ’95) and Jennifer Hall (1996 and ’97).
Catrina and her twin sister, Christian Thompson (Las Vegas, Nev./Bishop Gorman H.S.), are the No. 3 seed in the NCAA Doubles Championship, which commences on Thursday. Ranked fifth after reaching the national #1 listing for the second time in their careers earlier this spring, the sisters will take on the 18th-ranked USC team of Luana Magnani and Lindsey Nelson in the first round. The Thompsons have split two prior meetings with the team of Magnani and Carine Vermeulen, but have not yet faced Nelson. The USC squad won 8-5 in the fall of 2003 in an exhibition dual match, but the twins prevailed by an 8-3 score in the same situation this past fall.