The Daily Gamecock

Women’s tennis prepares for tournament

Gamecocks will take on ninth-seeded Ole Miss in first round

As the No. 8 seed Gamecocks prepare to transition from their regular season finale into the start of the SEC Tournament against ninth-seeded Ole Miss, Katerina Popova is looking forward to showing her opponents just how aggressive she can be.

The junior improved to 19-8 for the year in doubles with her partner, Josefin Andersson, ending the season with a 15-3 record in dual matches and a 7-2 record in the SEC. Though the two lost their point in doubles in this past weekend’s match against No. 47 Kentucky, coach Kevin Epley was impressed with Popova’s individual improvements and contribution to the team’s success.

“[Katerina] is one that understands her game probably better than anyone on the team. She doesn’t give a lot of points away and knows exactly what’s happening on the court,” Epley said. “She got a lot of wins for us and has also done that at doubles as well, and she’s been an extremely valuable player for us.”

This is the last year Popova will work with Andersson, but the duo has played together since last season. Popova said it’s “awesome” working with Andersson and that they know what to expect from each other during the match.

With experience playing both singles and doubles, Popova recognizes the challenges with each and hopes to capitalize on those for future wins.

“When I play doubles, I have more responsibilities because it’s two of us,” Popova said. “If I miss, I know that my partner has to work a little bit harder because we’re equal. On the other hand, it’s easier because you have somebody to help you. When playing singles, you are in control of the whole situation — Everything is in your hands.”

Popova said her aggressive mentality comes from her will and need to win matches and improve in every game.

“I fought, because I knew that it’s going to be tough,” Popova said. “It’s going to be a tough conference, and I have some goals and I just want to achieve them. I have more confidence now in my game, and I just want to use this confidence to have even more confidence, and people will be scared of me.”

Epley said the Gamecocks (13-10, 6-7) are in for a battle this weekend against Ole Miss, and the outcome could determine whether the team gets into the NCAA tournament. However, he said he’s seen a steady improvement in all of the girls and recognizes those challenges they face.

“Our main challenges are our eternal challenges of overcoming … negativity and being emotionally resilient enough and committed enough to win, even when things get tough,” Epley said. “This last week was our first real step backwards, and hopefully we can get ourselves situated for the SEC tournament.”

Popova said there is a sense of unity on the team as they all continue to fight for each other and help each other out. She hopes when people look at her, they see a “fighter” and that it pushes them to fight and work hard, too.

“Every day is given for us to improve,” Popova said. “I just want to keep improving and keep going.”


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