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Gabriela Knutson clinches upset for No. 34 Syracuse, 4-3, over No. 3 Georgia Tech

first_imgNo. 9 Gabriela Knutson stared at the ball knowing everyone was watching her. She scanned the scene before her final serve. Knutson was in charge of clinching the match for Syracuse — a position she had never been in during her tennis career at SU, she said. But this wasn’t any other match. It was against No. 3 Georgia Tech. Knutson raised her arm and threw the ball into the air. Up 40-0, she smashed the serve straight down the middle of the court past the outstretched arms of No. 22 Paige Hourigan. Players from Syracuse jolted onto the court, jumping with their arms in the air. The crowd at Drumlins Country Club erupted. Dina Hegab was the first to embrace Knutson as the team followed and linked arms with elation. As the coaches walked over to the crowd of players celebrating, Knutson threw her hands into the air and started to tear up. At that moment, Knutson had not known what she had done for SU’s tennis program, she said, but she knew it was something special. “It makes everything I do worthwhile,” Knutson said, “Not sleeping, traveling, just waking up at 6 a.m. to go to practice. It makes everything worthwhile when you have that kind of support from your teammates to win the match.”AdvertisementThis is placeholder textNo. 34 Syracuse (14-3, 6-3 Atlantic Coast), who failed to close two matches earlier this season against Virginia and then-No. 16 Wake Forest in the final moments, did the almost unthinkable on Sunday and beat No. 3 Georgia Tech (14-4, 6-2), 4-3. The Yellow Jackets are the highest-ranked opponent SU has ever beaten. While some players, like Hegab, knew GT was a top-five opponent, Knutson made it a point of emphasis to not know the rankings before Sunday’s match. On Sunday morning, assistant athletics director William Hicks shot Knutson a text. It said, “This is why you work so hard, kick ass.”Despite the tall task, the Orange started the match with strong doubles play in the first and third slot. No. 37 Knutson and Miranda Ramirez dominated No. 1 Hourigan and Kenya Jones from the jump, taking a 5-0 lead at one point, en route to a 6-2 victory. With GT winning second doubles, Hegab and Masha Tritou faced off late crowd pressure to clinch the doubles point, 7-5, for SU. After Sofya Golubovskaya dropped her singles match, Syracuse led 3-2 with Anna Shkudun on the way to a loss. Knutson, who was on the opposite side of the courts, looked over to Golubovskaya’s match in between points. “I kept looking at the scoreboard,” Knutson said, “so when I saw that (Golubovskaya) lost I was like ‘Oh no, please no.’ I knew it was up to me.”Knutson opened her match by taking two of the first three games with three aces but fell behind after that. After a 2-1 lead, Knutson dropped seven consecutive games en route to losing the first set, 2-6, but blamed the early struggles on her mindset.After falling behind 0-2 in the second set, something clicked for Knutson. She stopped taking soft shots and began to hit aggressive forehands, she said.Knutson opened the third game of the set with two aces and never looked back, she said. Up a break, Knutson hit a forehand slice to the endline and past the arms of Hourigan. Hourigan fell to the ground, visibly shaken up, and began to yell at herself. Behind six-straight games won, Knutson forced the match to a third set. Knutson could not capitalize early in the third; she fell behind 0-3, down a break. Going into the fourth game in the third set, Golubovskaya’s match ended and everyone’s attention focused on the first singles match. “Sometimes it’s too much,” Knutson said. “Everyone rushed on (my) court and everyone was cheering. I’m like ‘I can’t think or breath.’”Down 1-3, associate head coach Shelley George began to shout in the direction of Knutson. “You got this, right here, right now,” George yelled. At 40-40, Hourigan’s backhand floated long and Knutson let out a holler and a fist pump. She ran to the bench and met with George.At 2-3, Knutson caught Hourigan off her feet to go up 40-15. After Hourigan shook off the slide, Knutson drilled an ace down the middle to level the set at 3-3. Hegab and the rest of SU’s players moved from their individual spots to cheer on Knutson.“Watching someone makes you even more nervous than actually playing,” Hegab said, “That’s how I felt today.”At 4-4 in the third, Knutson saw three-consecutive forehand winners go up the line as Hourigan went up 40-0. Knutson looked in the direction of George, who motioned her hands up and down to calm her down. After the exchange, Knutson flashed a smile and forced three-straight errors to tie it at 40-40. With the match’s most-important point pending, Knutson looked at George for assurance. Knutson fought off a strong serve from Hourigan and forced a fourth-straight error to take the game. She fist pumped as the crowd cheered her on. After the winner, Knutson had a feeling that she was going to win the match. “I knew this was my court,” Knutson said, “This is where I train every day, I was not about the lose the match (at 5-4 in the third set). It was mine.”Knutson then drilled four-straight winners to defeat Hourigan and clinch the match for SU. Head coach Younes Limam, who stood in his place after Knutson’s game-winning ace, said the end of the match commotion was more “relief” than joy for him. When the celebration ended, Knutson made it a point of emphasis to approach Hicks. He grabbed Knutson by the arm with a big smile on his face. “I knew you could do it,” Hicks said to Knutson a couple of minutes after the match, “I told you that you could do it earlier.”After the match, Knutson put the win into perspective: “It gives us the confidence to continue this season. I don’t think we’re underdogs anymore.” Comments Facebook Twitter Google+ Published on April 1, 2018 at 5:27 pm Contact KJ: kjedelma@syr.edu | @KJEdelmanlast_img read more