Encina upsets No. 12 seed

Lady Vol tennis player Tammy Encina stunned No. 12-ranked Sara Walker of UCLA 6-3, 6-1 Tuesday at the NCAA Women's Singles Championships in Gainesville, Fla.

Encina, a junior rated 59th nationally, captured All-America honors with the victory, becoming the third UT player to do so this year. Senior Vilmarie Castellvi and rookie Melissa Schaub also earned the recognition by virtue of their seedings in the singles and doubles tournaments.

''I'm incredibly proud of Tammy,'' said UT Co-Head Coach Sonia Hahn-Patrick. ''She's come a long way and has a lot of things to aspire for next year. She truly earned and deserves this honor.''

Encina came out with a fury of powerful topspin ground strokes against Walker, and after the two spit the first couple of games, Encina chalked up four in a row for a 5-1 lead. Walker managed to strike back by taking the next two games, but Encina closed out the opening set by getting her first serve in when it mattered most.

Things did not start off so well for Encina in the initial game of the second stanza. Unforced errors plagued her and allowed Walker to gain an easy 1-0 advantage. Encina went to work and dominated Walker the remainder of the set. Walker had several chances to get back into it, the first of which came when she trailed 3-1 but held a 40-15 lead serving in the fifth game. Encina, though, was not intimidated by Walker's upper hand and went on to win the next four points for a 4-1 advantage. After fighting off one break point in the next game, Encina held serve and broke Walker once again for the 6-1 triumph.

''I'm really excited about this win,'' said Encina. ''I didnât get too nervous. I stayed focused and kept to my game. I didn't get too concerned with winning or losing, but just going out and playing well.

''It feels great to keep advancing. I'm not going to put any pressure on myself. I just want to go out and have fun. All I want to do is play solid and not get nervous. I'm having a lot of fun right now.''

With the victory, Encina moved her record on the year to 26-14, including a 14-9 mark versus ranked foes. She extended her winning streak to seven matches and improved to 4-0 in NCAA play. Encina now faces the daunting chore of tangling with Northwestern freshman phenom Christelle Grier, who moved on with a 6-3, 6-3 decision against No. 28 Lindsay Dawaf of Florida. Grier holds a ranking of ninth but is seeded No. 2 in the tournament. The heavy hitter from Surrey, England, is 37-6 this season and also boasts the distinction of handing Castellvi two of her four losses this season. Grier was recently named the Intercollegiate Tennis Association's (ITA) National Player to Watch as well.

Before Encina stepped onto the Stadium Courts, No. 1-ranked and top-seeded Castellvi found herself in a fight to stay alive in the tournament with No. 29 Maja Mlakar of Arizona. Both players came out tentative in the first set and errant shots covered the court. Mlakar eventually found some rhythm and began overpowering the quick-footed Castellvi with blistering forehand winners that painted the lines. Mlakar went on to hand Castellvi only her fifth defeat in a set this spring by a 6-4 count.

After conferring with Hahn-Patrick between sets, Castellvi began to play her game in the second frame, grinding Mlakar down with tiring rallies. The Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, native snatched a 3-1 lead after winning a deuce game on her opponent's serve that appeared as though it would never end. The win ended up being the turning point for Castellvi, as she cruised to a 6-3 victory to force a third and decisive set.

Obviously fatigued from the grueling points Castellvi forced upon her in the second set, Mlakar began to go for broke on every ball to end the rallies quickly in the final frame. Mlakar's strategy, however, backfired as she suffered many hitting miscues the remainder of the match. Castellvi wasted no time in getting off the court with a 6-0 victory to her extend her unbeaten stretch to 21 matches.


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