Kalsarieva Becomes First Kentucky NCAA Singles Quarterfinalist
ATHENS, Ga. - Kentucky junior Aibika Kalsarieva scored an historic victory Wednesday afternoon, becoming the first Wildcat women’s tennis player to advance to the quarterfinals of the NCAA Women’s Singles Championships. Kalsarieva continued a storybook initial season of NCAA competition with a 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 victory over Duke’s seventh-seeded Amanda Johnson at a hot and humid Dan Magill Tennis Complex. Kalsarieva, the ITA’s 16th-ranked student athlete seeded in the NCAA 9-16 designation, avenges a regular-season straight-set loss to Johnson. She meets the only other remaining NCAA newcomer, third-seeded ITA National Freshman of the Year Jelena Pandzic of Fresno State, in Thursday’s quarterfinals at 1 p.m.
Kalsarieva held serve to open the match and took advantage of two Johnson double faults to break the Blue Devil’s serve in the second game. Johnson quickly struck back, breaking Kalsarieva with four-consecutive points to slice the deficit to 2-1. Kalsarieva and Johnson exchanged another pair of breaks before Kalsarieva broke Johnson once again for a 4-2 lead. Trailing love-40 in the next game, Kalsarieva fought back to break even and eventually held serve for a 5-2 margin. Johnson saved two set points in the next game to hold serve at 5-3. Kalsarieva established a set point with a terrific forehand, and Johnson’s backhand into the net on the ensuing point gave Kalsarieva the set by a 6-3 count.
In the second set, Johnson failed to hold serve once again in the opening game but broke back in the second game and held in the third for a 2-1 lead. Johnson produced another service break, but Kalsarieva took advantage of three Johnson double faults in the following game to pull within 3-2. Johnson broke and held serve, but Kalsarieva held and broke once more to cut the lead to 5-4. However, Johnson forced the third set by claiming each point from Kalsarieva’s serve.
The series of service breaks continued into the final set. Kalsarieva broke serve in the first game, while Johnson broke in the second game, and Kalsarieva broke Johnson again in the third game. In the fourth game, Kalsarieva produced solid serves on her way to a 3-1 lead. Kalsarieva saved four game points in the fifth game before finally yielding the game with a backhand into the net.
The set’s sixth game provided Kalsarieva the momentum to finish the match victorious. Kalsarieva fell behind love-40 by way of a double fault but her powerful final forehand during the ensuing rally scratched the baseline to save the game. Johnson committed errors on the next two points to tie the game, and Kalsarieva smashed well-placed forehands during the next two points for a 4-2 lead. Kalsarieva saved two game points in the next game, and a Johnson backhand fell into the net, giving Kalsarieva a commanding 5-2 lead. Johnson broke Kalsarieva in the eighth game to cut the lead to 5-3.
In the ninth game, Kalsarieva took a 40-15 lead, but her drop-shot return from a Johnson forehand found the net, giving Johnson another chance to save the match. On the following point, Kalsarieva and Johnson exchanged forehands, but the final Johnson forehand landed wide, as Kalsarieva claimed her third victory in as many days.
“This was a long match with a lot of points played,” UK Coach Mark Guilbeau said. “Aibika’s ability to play her strengths to Johnson’s weaknesses was impeccable. She committed fewer than 10 unforced errors throughout the match, which was incredible. She did a great job of protecting game points today, as well.”
“This was a tough match,” Kalsarieva said. “The long match yesterday and the heat today made it difficult out there. The last game was very tough, mentally and physically, but I battled hard to get the win.”
Kalsarieva cites added experience as a factor in her victory over Johnson.
“I was still new to this level of tennis when I played her four months ago, and I feel that the time I’ve put in and the difficult competition every week helped me through this match. Johnson is a great player, so I’m really excited about getting this win.”
Kalsarieva bumps her season singles record to an astounding 40-13 in just her first season of NCAA tennis after coming to Kentucky from the NAIA’s Lewis & Clark State. Kalsarieva earned an All-America selection four days ago by way of her seed, though her three NCAA tournament victories also qualify Kalsarieva as an All-American.
NCAA Singles Round of 16
No. 16 Aibika Kalsarieva (9-16 seed) (UK) def. No. 6 Amanda Johnson (7 seed) (DU) – 6-3, 4-6, 6-3