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Perez-Somarriba's Final Four Comeback Falls Short

ATHENS, Ga. Facing a 1-6, 1-5 deficit in the NCAA Singles Championship semifinals, Estela Perez-Somarriba of the University of Miami women’s tennis team stormed back to force a third set.

However, No. 40 Perez-Somarriba fell just a few games short against sixth-seeded and sixth-ranked Belinda Woolcock of Florida, eventually dropping a 1-6, 7-5, 3-6 decision Sunday at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex.

The first player ranked No. 40 or below to reach the Final Four since No. 43 Stacey Tan of Stanford did so in 2011, Perez-Somarriba was also the first freshman in program history to play in the semifinals of the prestigious tournament.

“Absolutely incredible,” Miami head coach Paige Yaroshuk-Tews said of Perez-Somarriba’s run in Athens. “I think today just the slow starts [in the first and third sets] kind of were the difference in the match, but credit to Woolcock. She plays a heavy ball. She pushes you back in the court and then she steps up and takes the attackable ball very early. Estela was struggling a little bit with those heavy deep balls. It took her a long time to figure them out and to find her rhythm on them.”

Woolcock, who played at the No. 1 spot for the team national champion, won the first three games of the afternoon. Perez-Somarriba then registered a hold to get on the board, but Woolcock took each of the next three games to close out the set.

The opening four games of the second set all went to Woolcock, after which Perez-Somarriba logged a hold to trim the margin to 1-4. A hold by Woolcock brought her to within one game of victory.

Perez-Somarriba fought off a match point in the next game, holding on deciding point to keep her hopes alive. She then staved off two more match points in the ensuing game to tally her first break of the day.

From there, Perez-Somarriba did not drop even three points in any of the next four games, taking each one of them to give her six consecutive wins and a 7-5 victory in the second set.

“I just think she loosened up and I think she just refused to lose the match like that. To that point, she clearly wasn’t playing great tennis,” Yaroshuk-Tews said. “Woolcock was playing solid, but Estela was basically just giving her the match. She just freed up and she just started hitting out on the ball. Then, I think Woolcock got a little fatigued there at the end of the second set, made some unforced errors that weren’t normal for her to make and the match turned. Estela has shown that she can do that before.”

Woolcock opened the decisive third set by jumping in front, 2-0. Perez-Somarriba countered with a hold to pull within a game, but Woolcock answered back with two straight wins to up her lead to 4-1.

Perez-Somarriba twice closed to within two games, but could not inch any closer, as Woolcock closed out the match with a break to hand the Madrid native her first defeat of the spring against a top-50 opponent. Each of the final five games of the match were breaks.

Woolcock will take on No. 24 Brienne Minor of Michigan in the national championship. The latter defeated Miami junior Sinead Lohan, ranked No. 21, in the opening round, meaning NCAA finalists eliminated both Hurricanes.

Perez-Somarriba, who has clinched ITA All-America recognition, ends her stellar freshman campaign with a 34-7 singles mark. Her 34 wins tie her for No. 14 on the program’s single-season list and rank third among Miami freshmen.

The First Team All-ACC honoree fell in straight sets on just three occasions in 2016-17 and became the second unseeded Hurricane to reach the Final Four.

In the spring, Perez-Somarriba went 27-4 with a 12-2 mark against ranked opponents, including 7-1 versus top-50 players and 5-1 against top-30 foes. She registered an 18-2 mark in her last 20 completed matches and beat 11 ranked players during that stretch, 10 of whom were in the top 85.

For Perez-Somarriba, the setback Sunday was her first since March 26 and snapped a 15-match winning streak. She went 62 days, good for over two full months, without dropping a decision. 

“When you come in, you work hard and you are just doing things right every day, good things happen,” Yaroshuk-Tews said of her main takeaway from Perez-Somarriba’s showing in the NCAA Singles Championship. “That is what we preach all the time and she is just the perfect example of that. This girl is going to get so much better and she has got the right attitude to really be amazing for us the next three years.”

Eight Hurricanes have now combined to make nine appearances in the semifinals of the NCAA Singles Championship. Eight of those berths have come under Yaroshuk-Tews’ guidance, including seven in the last 11 years.

This was the third year in a row a Hurricane played in the Final Four, good for the longest active mark in either women’s or men’s tennis.

To keep up with the University of Miami women’s tennis team on social media, follow @CanesWTennis on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

SATURDAY RESULT

NCAA Singles Championship Final Four
No. 6 [6] Belinda Woolcock (UF) def. No. 40 Estela Perez-Somarriba (UM), 6-1, 5-7, 6-3