The Daily Gamecock

Analysis: South Carolina women's tennis dominates Missouri despite slow start in doubles play

<p>FILE—Senior Ayana Akli follows through with a hit on March 1, 2023, at Carolina Tennis Center. Akli was All-SEC First Team in 2022. &nbsp;</p>
FILE—Senior Ayana Akli follows through with a hit on March 1, 2023, at Carolina Tennis Center. Akli was All-SEC First Team in 2022.  

The No. 25 South Carolina women’s tennis team got through a sluggish start in doubles play to beat Missouri 4-0 at the Carolina Tennis Center on Sunday. 

In doubles play, the No. 70 doubles pair of senior Ayana Akli and sophomore Sarah Hamner lost 6-4 to the Tigers' sister pairing of junior Mae Canete and sophomore Inah Canete. Gamecock women’s tennis head coach Kevin Epley was blunt about Akli and Hamner’s performance in their doubles match after the match’s conclusion.

 “(Hamner) did not play well at all today," Epley said. "She was playing a little bit fearful in doubles, and her confidence was down. Her edge was off.” 

The two other doubles matches were long, drawn-out battles that went all the way down to the wire, but both of them ultimately went South Carolina’s way. Senior Ana Cruz and junior Allie Gretkowski beat Missouri's junior Emelie Schwarte and freshman Andrea Artimedi 7-6, and then senior Elise Mills and sophomore Misa Malkin defeated junior Gabriela Martinez and freshman Laura Masic 7-6 to clinch the doubles point for the Gamecocks. 

This match was the final home match of the season for the South Carolina women’s tennis team, and before the start of the match, they honored their lone graduating senior, Ana Cruz. After the match, Epley praised Cruz for her development as both a player and a person on and off the court. 

“She’s been a young lady who was dealing with nerves quite a bit … she’s just matured along the way. She’s kind of like the glue to the team. (If) anybody’s having a bad day, Ana’s calling them and hanging out with them," Epley said. "She’s been the one that’s done the most community service. She’s just somebody that looks beyond herself and is an unbelievable teammate.”

In the singles matches, Akli, the No. 6 singles player, made quick work of Canete to win 6-2, 6-1 and take the first singles point. Akli has been playing at the number one spot in the Gamecocks' lineup for the majority of the season and continued her 16-game singles winning streak Sunday. 

“It’s real hard to keep winning,” Epley said of the pressure on Akli in the top spot. "You start to get a little tentative at times, and she’s worked hard to maintain that aggressive mentality.”

Mills defeated Inah Canete in similar fashion, winning 6-2, 6-2, while sophomore Gracie Mulville secured the final point for South Carolina, taking down Schwarte 6-4, 6-4. 

The Gamecocks will kick off a two-week road trip with its next match at Georgia on Friday, April 7.