Pandzic Falls in Three Sets in NCAA Singles Title Match
May 29, 2004
ATHENS, Ga. - The inconsolable look on Jelena Pandzic's face after the match told the entire story. This was not an outcome for which she prepared, nor was it one she expected.
Amber Liu of Stanford put a stop to what appeared to be Pandzic's inevitable run to the NCAA Singles title on Saturday afternoon with a 6-4, 0-6, 6-3 victory over the Fresno State freshman at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex in Athens, Ga.
The victory gives Liu her second NCAA title in a row and served as a bookend to what has been a fantastic week for the No. 4 seed from La Mesa, Calif. Just six days ago, the Cardinal's top singles player helped lead her team to an NCAA team title over UCLA.
Liu became the fourth Stanford player in the last five years to win the national championship and the first to repeat since former Cardinal Laura Granville in 2000 and '01.
"This court has been very good to me this week," Liu said after the match. "This has been quite a week."
Pandzic, the tournament's No. 3 seed who had lost only 23 games in her previous five NCAA matches, fell into trouble right away in an unconventional manner. Down 1-0 and serving, Pandzic was called for four foot faults in the deuce court for having her right (back) foot start on the ad side of the hash mark before she served. Unnerved, Pandzic's committed three double faults in that opening service game and fell behind 2-0.
It was the first time Pandzic said she had that type of foot fault called in her career. The NCAA Singles Tournament semifinals and finals are the only matches of the spring season to feature a full complement of referees who call all lines and foot faults. Normally, players call their own lines, and foot faults are very rare. She was not called for a foot fault in yesterday's semifinal match.
"[It is] something that we have not experienced since the beginning [of the year]," head coach Simon Thibodeau said. "It was the first time Jelena has been called for a foot fault all year and the whole tournament. And it [happened] in the final of the NCAA Championships."
"It made me think a little bit about my serve," Pandzic said. "I looked where I was standing."
Pandzic never fully regrouped in the first set, falling behind 5-2 before making a brief charge to bring the lead down to 5-4. But Liu broke Pandzic's serve to claim the first set 6-4 in 40 minutes.
But mysteriously, Liu's game suddenly vanished while Pandzic picked her's up. As the Fresno State standout improved her consistency, Liu sprayed balls wildly all over the court. Pandzic broke in the first game and simply cruised, winning the second set 6-0. It appeared at that moment Pandzic had rebounded from just her fifth lost set of the entire season.
"In the second set, I found my game and she made a lot of mistakes," Pandzic said.
But Liu came out in the first game of the third set and served notice she had put the second set far behind her. Playing more aggressively and consistently, Liu held to go up 1-0 and then broke for a 2-0 lead.
Pandzic came right back with a break of her own and then a service hold to knot it back up at 2-2. After three easy service games in a row, Liu was ahead 4-3 with Pandzic to serve.
And that's when Pandzic's forehand - which had been the side Liu had been trying to attack the entire match - began to misfire. Down 15-30 on her service game at 3-4, the Split, Croatia, native launched two forehands well long, handing a break to Liu. Serving for the match at 5-3, Liu once again was the benefactor of forehand errors by Pandzic, who missed long on 15-love and then again at 30-15.
On her second match point, Liu claimed victory when a Pandzic backhand went into the net.
"I really have to give Amber credit. She played amazing," Pandzic said. "She played a very good match, especially in the first set. I was really surprised; we had really short points and she made so many winners. I had a tough time getting into the game."
"This is a tough loss for Jelena. She is obviously very disappointed to lose," Thibodeau said. "But she accomplished so much this season, perhaps more than any other Fresno State player ever has in one season. I am very, very proud of her and the effort she made this entire tournament and this entire year."
Indeed, it was a year for the record books for the freshman, who was the first Bulldog women's tennis player ever to advance to the national championship match. She was the Intercollegiate Tennis Association Rookie of the Year, an All-American, the WAC Player of the Year, the WAC Freshman of the Year and a first-team All-WAC honoree in singles and doubles.
She finished the year with a 29-2 record. With her title, Liu improved to 30-4.
- Match story and notes courtesy Fresno State Media Relations.