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Perez-Somarriba Wins NCAA Singles Championship

By Alex Schwartz
HurricaneSports.com

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ORLANDO, Fla. After three sets and seven match points in a title contest between the two highest-ranked players in the country, the NCAA Singles Championship trophy is headed to Coral Gables, Fla.

Top-seeded Estela Perez-Somarriba of the University of Miami women’s tennis team dropped the opening set before dominating the rest of the match to defeat second-seeded Katarina Jokic of Georgia, 6-7 (1-7), 6-2, 6-3, Saturday night at the USTA National Campus.

The junior took 12 of the final 17 games to claim the second singles title in Miami history and first since Audra Cohen in 2007.

“It’s amazing. Dreams come true,” Perez-Somarriba said. “I am just really happy that I got to be here and that I was able to experience all of this. I am just really grateful to the University of Miami; the coaches, teammates and the staff, for making this possible and for helping me every single day.”

The match opened with six consecutive breaks, before second-ranked Jokic tallied a hold to take a 4-3 lead. She then extended her lead to 5-3 with a break, but Perez-Somarriba countered with back-to-back games, including staving off a set point at deuce, to pull even at 5-5.

After Jokic went back in front, top-ranked Perez-Somarriba held to send the opening set into a tiebreaker. Jokic, though, quickly took control and won it in just eight points to earn the opening set, 7-6 (7-1).

“Katarina is unbelievable . . . We made changes and then she made changes. We made different changes, she stepped up and made another change. That was going on the entire match,” Miami head coach Paige Yaroshuk-Tews said. “I didn’t think Estela played a great first set, I think her serve let her down. I told her that she needed to get her serving going because when she is not serving well she doesn’t feel confident and you are not going to beat [Jokic] if you don’t feel confident. So the first thing that we needed to do was just tweak the serve a little bit. She was able to do it immediately.”

Perez-Somarriba held at love to begin the second set and then broke at deuce for a 2-0 lead. Jokic broke back at deuce to slice her deficit in half, but the two-time reigning ACC Player of the Year rattled off three games in a row for a 5-1 edge.

After Jokic broke at love, Perez-Somarriba broke back to win the second set, 6-2, and earn the split.

The opening three games of the final set went to deuce, with Perez-Somarriba taking the first two and Jokic winning the third. Perez-Somarriba responded with three consecutive wins to build a 5-1 lead.

Jokic fought off three match points to stay alive and then repeated the feat in the following game, as well. The next time was the charm, though, as Perez-Somarriba closed out the championship on her serve to clinch the title with a 6-7 (1-7), 6-2, 6-3 decision after two hours and 53 minutes.

“We made it,” Perez-Somarriba said of her thought when the match ended. “Honestly, I have dreamt about this many, many times and I really couldn’t believe that I actually did it. I am really happy that I got to experience this next to my coaches; they are the best.”

A 2017 NCAA semifinalist, Perez-Somarriba became the first Miami player to lose a tiebreaker in NCAA Singles Championship play and win the match since current associate head coach Laura Vallverdu did so in the second set of the 2009 quarterfinals, en route to reaching the final.

This was also the first time a Hurricane defeated a top-four seed in the tournament since Stephanie Wagner downed top-seeded Robin Anderson of UCLA in the 2015 quarterfinals. Perez-Somarriba became the ninth top overall seed to claim the title, including the first since Jana Juricova of California in 2011.

“I don’t think I have ever seen a better college tennis match in a bigger moment in my career,” Yaroshuk-Tews said. “It was just incredible.”

With the triumph, Perez-Somarriba broke the program record for career wins in the NCAA Singles Championship, as she improved to 12-2 in her three-year career. She also capped her 2018-19 campaign at 43-5, the highest victory total of any player in the country and good for sole possession of the second-most wins in a season by a Hurricane.

Perez-Somarriba went 28-4 against ranked players, including 19-2 versus top-50 foes, 10-1 against top-25 opponents and 5-0 versus top-10 players. This was the first top-three victory for the three-time First Team All-ACC performer, who tallied a 31-3 record in the spring, including a 31-1 mark over her final 33 outings—one match did not finish—and lost just six sets during that span.

After going over 18 months without dropping a first set and rallying back to win a match—she, however, lost the opener just seven times during that span—Perez-Somarriba did so in two of her last four NCAA Singles Championship matches to claim the trophy.

“It’s really unbelievable. You hear it all the time in sports that athletes deserve it and it doesn’t really even do this justice,” Yaroshuk-Tews said. “You have no idea the days that we have had post-NCAA tournament freshman year, post-NCAA tournament sophomore year. We made some adjustments to her training, we made it tougher on her all year. There were moments that she didn’t like us, there were moments she didn’t understand us and she just got tougher, more resilient and able to deal with adversity and trusted us every step of the way. She trusted herself and her preparation every step of the way. This girl wakes up every single day and lives life the right way. She is walking away with a national title and words cannot even describe how happy I am for her.”

Perez-Somarriba’s victory avenged her 5-7, 5-7 defeat to Jokic in the 2017 ITA Southeast Regional Championships semifinals on Oct. 22, 2017 in Athens, Ga.

Miami is the seventh school to win multiple NCAA Singles Championship crowns and is tied for the fourth-most. In addition, the Hurricanes are one of just six programs with at least three individual titles, including the 1986 NCAA Doubles Championship won by Lise Gregory and Ronni Reis.

For more information on the NCAA championships, including schedules, brackets and live stats, visit the tournament homepage HERE.

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
No. 1 [1] Estela Perez-Somarriba (UM) def. No. 2 [2] Katarina Jokic (GA), 6-7 (1-7), 6-2, 6-3