Tennis

Gabriela Knutson can’t overcome injury, falls in 3 sets in Syracuse’s 5-2 loss against No. 27 North Carolina State

Codie Yan | Staff Photographer

Gabriella Knutson went up 4-0 in the first set. But she struggled the rest of the way after hurting her knee.

Syracuse’s Gabriela Knutson was cruising. She was in control of the No. 2 singles match against Anna Rogers, winning the first four games in the first set by attacking the net to put away points.

As Knutson planted her left foot, ready to return a ball, her knee twisted. She grimaced and kept playing. And while she eventually won the set, things got harder for Knutson after that.

After being limited by the injury, Knutson — the Orange’s second singles player — fell to No. 27 North Carolina State’s Anna Rogers in three sets, 6-4, 0-6, 6-7, in Friday’s match at Drumlins Tennis Center. All four of SU’s (6-10, 3-6 Atlantic Coast) top singles players lost in the 5-2 defeat against N.C. State (17-7, 6-5) on Friday afternoon.

“I stopped playing,” Knutson said. “I stopped moving as much. That just kind of went downhill from there in the second set.”

Struggles in execution began for Knutson after going up 4-0: she hit balls into the net, double faulted a few times, and dropped points until the first set was in her favor, 5-4. She was able to grind out a few points to win the set, but Knutson had twisted her knee and the issues would only grow in the second set.

Rogers won the first three games with ease in set two. Knutson was unable to reach the wide and deep shots that she had fought back against so well in the first set. Returning drop shots was out of the question. Knutson was resigned to let them fall to the court, twice, unimpeded, rather than pushing her hurt knee to attack shots so shallow into her half of the court.

A Syracuse trainer came over and put a band around Knutson’s left knee, something they’ve used to deal with tendinitis she’s experienced in the past. It didn’t seem to help.

More points went by, most ending in favor of Rogers. Each Rogers point was punctuated by a shout of “Mine!”, and with every further point, the shouts got louder and longer. It reached a crescendo at the end of the second set, with Rogers grabbing all six games in the stanza.

Each point that went by in the set, even those that Knutson won, ended with a facial expression that exemplified the pain she felt. The walk to retrieve the ball when it was her turn to serve again displayed a limp that Knutson didn’t even attempt to hide.

“I wasn’t really there mentally because of the knees,” Knutson said.

Knutson limped over to her bench and called for the trainer, again, after ripping off the band they had put on her knee earlier. He came over, flexed out her legs, and put new bands on both her knees.

“In the third, I took a lot of pills,” Knutson said, “and kind of taped it up tighter. It definitely dulled the pain, but not enough.”

Knutson hopped off her seat to start the third set as she always does, but her usual bounding steps towards the baseline were subdued. Even the slight hops put pain on her face.

The painkillers Knutson took must have kicked in, though. She was no longer as hesitant to attack the net. She reached a few balls along the baseline that she had not come close to in the second set. A gritty victory seemed within reach.

Late in the third set, with the score tied 4-4, Knutson hit a ball wide with her forehand. When Rogers softly returned the ball so Knutson could serve, the Syracuse player momentarily changed sports and took a left-footed swing at the ball. She connected, and something about her body language showed that she might not have quite enough left in the tank.

With Rogers leading 6-5 in the set, two points away from match point, Knutson had an opportunity to put a ball away at the net. It was the type of ball she always smashes. Rogers was out of position, and it seemed simple. Knutson hit it into the net. Rogers won two points later, and the pain Knutson fought through was for naught.

“I was very proud of her,” SU head coach Younes Limam said. “She came back after losing that second set and fought hard in that third set. Just didn’t go her way.”

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