Tennis

Syracuse tennis success follows solidified doubles pairings

Codi Yen | Staff Photographer

Earlier this season, Gabriela Knutson said, “We have no idea,” regarding double’s pairings.

Early in the season, Syracuse’s doubles pairings were far from settled. Head coach Younes Limam freely mixed partners and a season-ending injury to stalwart senior Valeria Salazar after one game only further blurred the picture.

Yet lately, Syracuse’s doubles pairings have been the most consistent thing about the team.

“At the beginning of the spring season, knowing Valeria can’t go,” Limam said, “it was a little bit challenging to know what combinations are going to give us a doubles point. Obviously, if you know who’s going to be playing with whom, it’s a little bit easier.”

Syracuse’s (7-10, 4-6 Atlantic Coast) doubles point wins strongly correlate to its wins in overall matches. In its first eight games of the season, Syracuse’s 1-7 mark in doubles resulted in a 2-6 overall record. Syracuse has improved to 4-5 in doubles and 5-4 overall since.

The key cogs to the Orange turnaround, Gabriela Knutson and Miranda Ramirez, began their time as the permanent doubles pairing in the last match of the season-opening eight-game slide. Before then, SU rotated through different doubles pairings, looking for the right fit. Since Knutson and Ramirez became an official pairing, the duo has won six of the 10 matches.

Knutson spent much of last season playing with Salazar, a pairing ranked in the Top 10 to begin this year. Once SU ruled Salazar out for the season, Limam searched for her replacement. He tried playing Knutson with Anna Shkudun and Libi Mesh but settled on Ramirez.

“I think they (Salazar and Ramirez) are a little bit different,” Limam said. “Miranda has good hands at the net, and Gabby sets her up most of the time.”

But Knutson and Ramirez aren’t enough alone. It takes two out of the three doubles matches to win the doubles point.

With its first pairing in place, Syracuse pieced together a second stable one on March 5 against Notre Dame. That day, Dina Hegab and Shkudun began a stretch of playing seven doubles matches together in eight games. The team’s six most recent doubles matches have come at the second spot, and Shkudun and Hegab are 4-3 in their time together.

“I think the best thing for us now is how we’re working as a team,” Hegab said. “We kind of expect what the other one is going to do for this point.”

The remaining healthy players, Mesh, Maria Tritou and Nicole Mitchell, are pieced together week by week to form SU’s third pairing. Tritou appears the most consistent, and is usually featured alongside Mitchell.

Two recent matches against ranked teams demonstrate the importance of winning the doubles point.

On March 26, then-No. 6 Georgia Tech visited Syracuse as an ACC power visiting a conference underling. But the Yellow Jackets narrowly escaped with a 4-3 win. Shkudun and Hegab won their second doubles match, but Knutson and Ramirez fell in a tiebreak in first doubles, 6-7 (4-7). Had SU won the tiebreak and the singles finished accordingly, the Orange would have pulled off the upset, like it did two weeks later.

On Sunday, Syracuse knocked off No. 42 Miami behind its doubles team. Knutson and Ramirez won at first doubles, and Mitchell and Tritou escaped with a 7-5 win at third. The final score was a familiar 4-3, but this time in SU’s favor.

Syracuse’s improvement throughout the season has mirrored its improved consistency to start the match at the doubles. Players have grown comfortable with their partners, a sharp contrast to earlier this season when Knutson said, “We have no idea,” regarding double’s pairings. Now, they know.

“I think it helps a little bit,” Ramirez said. “Just because you’re prepared.”

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