Tennis

Anna Shkudun falls shy of needed breakthrough in Syracuse’s 5-2 win

Codie Yan | Staff Photographer

Anna Shkudun pushed herself in her singles matchup but couldn't finish it off with a victory.

Anna Shkudun isn’t the tennis player she used to be.

A soft, white brace on her left knee is the only visible remnant of a November knee surgery that slowed down the senior. But back on the court, she can’t run, return or stay fresh like before.

“My movement on the court is a little slower than it used to be,” Shkudun said, “but it’s getting better everyday.”

The margin between old and new was embodied on Friday at Drumlins Country Club as Shkudun fell, 6-7, 7-5, 14-12 (super tiebreak) to Louisville’s (13-6, 2-5 Atlantic Coast) Elle Stokes in No. 3 singles. Syracuse (6-8, 3-4) won the match, 5-2, but Shkudun was edged from the breakthrough she’s been searching for.

“She’s making progress and she knows that,” SU head coach Younes Limam said.

During warm ups, Shkudun looked loose, bobbing her head and shimmying her shoulders to the Zay Hilfigerrr and Zayion McCall song “Juju on That Beat.” The smirks and relaxation carried into her No. 2 doubles match with Dina Hegab. The pair easily downed Stokes and Ariana Rodriguez, 6-2. Shkudun won some key points in the match, including a blind, over-the-shoulder lob that dropped on the baseline, putting the duo up 30-15, 5-2.

After her breezy doubles match, Shkudun mowed through Stokes in the first games of No. 3 singles, quickly building a 4-2 lead. Early on, Shkudun flicked a shot down that line and Stokes overran it and fell into the splits, laying on the court for a few moments.

Stokes pushed back, tying the first set at 5-all. Shkudun dug in and won in a tiebreak, 7-6, but something had changed.

Shots that went in were now long, and aggressive first-serves turned to safe second-serves. Shkudun got tired quickly. In a match that lasted two hours and 20 minutes, her surgically repaired right knee gnawed at her.

“Right now at this time of the season,” Limam said, “everybody is a little banged up and tired but she is doing a very good job of controlling what she can control.”

She had chances to grab a two-game lead in the second set, and Stokes’ numerous unforced errors would’ve made it easy for a player at full-strength, but Shkudun didn’t have enough juice. Eventually her one-game lead turned into a two-game deficit and Stokes won the second set, 7-5.

With every other singles match finished, and Syracuse victorious, teammates crowded the adjacent court as Shkudun and Stokes raced to 10 in a super tiebreak. Stokes bullied her way to a 6-1 lead and several of her points came from Shkudun returns soaring long. Every time Stokes threw her hand up to signal an out, Shkudun doubled over, resting her forehead on the knob of her racket handle.

Somehow, the Ukrainian stole enough points to bring the tiebreak to 9-9. They exchanged three more points before Stokes won 14-12.

Shkudun’s breakthrough never came. Her knee and fitness had let her down. She’s getting closer, she’s almost the tennis player she used to be. But not quite yet.

“I’m getting closer each match,” Shkudun said. “even though I’m losing the match. I’m feeling my game better … it’s the only thing that helps me to keep my head up at this moment.”

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