Rainbow Wahine tennis comes ever so close to Indiana

Michelle Pits caught a good omen late in her tight match against Jelly Bozovic of Indiana on Court 4. / Photo by Brian McInnis

There’s close dual matches, and then there’s what happened for the Hawaii women’s tennis team against Indiana on Thursday.

Of nine contested matches — six singles and three doubles — it came down to the last singles court in UH and IU’s competition at the UH Tennis Complex. Then, it came down to the last set on that No. 6 court between UH’s Alzbeta Houbova and IU’s Somer Henry. And, because the tension wasn’t apparently high enough, it then went to a third-set tiebreaker.

Unfortunately for the Rainbow Wahine, Henry was the sharper player in the tiebreaker, 7-1, which amounted to all the dual match marbles. Hard-luck UH’s dual losing streak was run to five (3-6 overall).

“Unfortunately we had another one just like that, even closer,” coach Jun Hernandez said. “We lost 12-10 in the tiebreaker in the third set against University of San Diego (on Feb. 19), last (court), and we had a couple of match points there, too, and against a ranked team, 37th in the country. And this was obviously a good team as well. We had some opportunities, we just gotta make sure we put ourselves in position to win and keep plugging along.”

Players who’d completed their matches (everyone else) lined up on the adjacent court to cheer on Houbova and Henry in the tense final points as the sun went down. UH players went to console Houbova, of Slovakia, when the result was decided. Houbova had served for the third set on two occasions, the second of which she was two points away from the match.

Indiana (left) and Hawaii (right) players lined up to cheer on their respective teammate in the deciding match at the No. 6 court. / Photo by Brian McInnis

An observer noted that’s a tough spot to be in — the whole team’s fortunes riding on you, all eyes on you.

“Yeah, it is,” Hernandez said. “I gotta give her credit, because she competed well. I know she gave all her best. But that’s competition. Sometimes it doesn’t go your way.”

On the upside, Petra Melounova, ranked No. 119 nationally, extended her dual match winning streak at the No. 1 court to six in a row. Her underhanded slice serve got the job done against Madison Appel in a 6-1, 6-4 victory.

“I know what was working,” Melounova said. “From doubles (before the singles match), I realized if I take the ball early, she doesn’t keep up with my pace. I kind of made some unforced errors in the second set, but otherwise (it was good).”

Also winning for UH were Michelle Pits in a three-setter on the No. 4 court (that squared the dual match at 3-all) and Roxanne Resma at No. 5. Resma dropped only a single game.

Michelle Pits came back after dropping the first set to defeat Jelly Bozovic in three. / Photo by Brian McInnis

“We had really good energy … and good attitude,” Melounova said, noting the team was happy to be playing at home, its first such match since mid-January. “Most of our matches lately are so close. A few points decide. We really hope we will protect our courts.”

UH’s two-time Big West player of the year has been in some big spots in her career, but remarked that she hasn’t been in a match where she was the last one playing, the whole outcome hinging on her, a la Houbova against IU and Resma against USD.

“You definitely feel the pressure. In tennis, you need to be relaxed, swing (at) the balls,” Melounova said. “And this, usually you get very tight. But anytime I’m watching, I’m thinking, ‘oh my gosh, my teammates are handling it so much more than I would.’ ”

UH, the defending Big West champion, heads back out to face Long Beach State in Big West play on March 21, followed by a couple of Pac-12 opponents in Cal and Stanford.

“We’re definitely getting stronger, smarter, but we still have a long ways to go if we want to win our conference championships again,” Hernandez said. “There’s a lot of good competition. We gotta stay focused on what we’re doing and keep plugging along every day and getting better.”