Oct. 22, 2004
By Bo Rottenborn
There are a few reasons you should know who Catrina and Christian Thompson are. First of all, they comprise one of the best doubles teams ever to represent Notre Dame on the tennis court. Secondly, they have already – at age 19 – compiled a resumÃƒÂ© that anyone would envy, including being ranked the #1 girls’ 18-and-under doubles team in the United States and having the privilege of playing in the U.S. Open. Thirdly, they are twin sisters, a fact that, in itself, makes them quite unique among elite athletes. And finally, they are charming – and exactly the type of student-athletes that the University prides itself on recruiting and developing.
In just over a year on campus, the Thompson twins have established themselves as two of the brightest young stars in collegiate tennis. The sisters immediately stepped in as Notre Dame’s top doubles team (while also playing No. 2 and No. 3 singles), and responded by turning in a freshman campaign highlighted by six wins over ranked opponents (including one against the #2 team in the nation). Their spectacular season culminated when Catrina and Christian became the first all-freshman doubles team from any Division I school since 1998 to earn a bid to the NCAA Doubles Championship. Not only did the Thompsons participate, they boisterously announced their presence on the national scene by upsetting the 15th-ranked team in collegiate tennis before falling in three sets in the round of 16 of the event. The sisters ended the year ranked 26th in the nation with a 22-17 record.
The early portion of the 2004-05 season already has seen major steps forward from last year, as the Thompsons were listed seventh in the preseason national doubles rankings before putting together one of the best runs ever by a Notre Dame pair in a collegiate grand slam event. Earlier this month, Christian and Catrina took part in the 16-team main draw of the Riviera/Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) Women’s All-American Championships, an event featuring the top talent in all of Division I tennis. The Irish duo upset the sixth-ranked doubles team in the country by an 8-4 score in the first round before dethroning the nation’s #1 pair, Dianne Hollands and Maja Mlakar of Arizona, in the quarterfinals by an 8-6 score en route to becoming the first Notre Dame doubles team to advance to a final of the collegiate grand slam.
The sisters, who began their doubles partnership at the age of six, believe one key to their success is their familiarity and closeness with one another.
“I think it is definitely an advantage, because you know what shots the other person is going to hit and you know her favorite shots,” says Catrina.
“It is such an advantage over teams that get put together for the first time in college,” says Christian. “We have been playing together for 13 years, so we know each other pretty well”
Both Thompson sisters are also accomplished singles players. Christian led the Irish in singles victories in dual matches (13-8 record) and overall (25-13) last season. She was the first Irish player since 1998 to play as high as No. 2 singles. After a 12-5 fall season, she earned her first national singles ranking at 88th. Catrina, meanwhile, filled the No. 3 slot for the Irish, peaked at 84th in the national rankings and ended up with a 20-15 mark in her initial college campaign. They both went unbeaten in three matches in the first tournament of the 2004-05 season, with each sister claiming a victory over a nationally-ranked foe.
Christian Thompson, who was the first Irish freshman since 1998 to play in the top two of the singles lineup last season, paired with her sister Catrina to be the first Notre Dame doubles team to reach the title match of a collegiate grand slam tournament.
On the issue of charm, a conversation with the Thompsons is an absolute joy. They are unassuming and disarmingly gentle and kind – completely antithetical to their on-court playing personalities, which can only be described as intense and hard-hitting – with an adorable tendency to finish each other’s sentences and hand off thoughts back and forth like relay runners passing a baton.
As Irish men’s tennis coach Bob Bayliss puts it, “The Thompsons are such great people that you can’t help but to really want them to succeed in everything they do.”
Part of their likeability comes from their closeness, which they say is unique, even for twins. They are roommates – after they were allowed only to live in the same dorm as freshmen – and have always been best friends.
“The longest we have ever been apart is four days,” says Catrina.
That nearly 96-hour period of separation came last October, when Christian had to leave early to play in the singles qualifying bracket of the ITA Midwest Championships in Kalamazoo, Mich. Catrina, based largely on an early-season upset of the nation’s 69th-ranked player, had earned a berth in the main draw.
“That was the first time Catrina had not been with me on a trip,” says Christian, who ended up winning all three of her qualifying matches plus three more in the main draw before falling to eventual champion and current national #1 Cristelle Grier of Northwestern in the quarterfinals. “I was away from home and away from Notre Dame and by myself. I was kind of nervous about that, but we got through it.”
The sisters, natives of Las Vegas and 2003 graduates of Bishop Gorman High School, came to Notre Dame as two of the most heralded recruits ever. Their brilliant careers in junior tennis saw them win national doubles titles on every surface and ascend to and maintain the national #1 ranking. They earned a bid to play in the junior doubles draw of the U.S. Open, and were dismayed to find out that they could have competed again the next year if they had only gone to the tournament and signed in. In prep action, neither lost a high school match, earning All-America honors four times and helping Gorman to the Nevada state championship.
Despite the Thompsons’ tremendous accomplishments in junior action, they believe their best tennis is in front of them, due in large part to Notre Dame’s training and practice regimen.
“In juniors, we didn’t really have anyone pushing us other than each other, so eventually we would get lazy,” says Christian. “Now we have great competition every day, and we’re doing conditioning with them, which we never did before. So we’re stronger, we’re fitter, and we’re facing better competition. I think you just become a much better all-around player in the college game.”
The Thompsons make it clear that their top priorities for now all involve Notre Dame’s team success. But as far as their post-college hopes, they are aiming high.
“We would like to pursue a professional career in doubles,” says Catrina, adding that they’d love to play mixed doubles some day with the world’s #1 men’s team, twins Bob and Mike Bryan. “We know not many people succeed in that, and we are realistic about it. Nonetheless, we think if we don’t fight with each other and we work together, we have a chance to make that happen.”