By TOM ZEBOLD
USF Senior Writer
TAMPA - The fall portion of the tennis season usually allows players to ease into competition before a busy spring.
Ecaterina Vasenina's fall is a huge exception.
USF's top singles player got the chance to go up against some of the best in the country last week in Pacific Palisades, Calif., in what turned out to be a tennis marathon. The senior that's ranked No. 29 in the nation wound up playing five singles matches and another doubles match in a four-day span at the Riviera Women's All-American Championships.
"That was really hard," Vasenina said Thursday during the USF's women's tennis team's trip to Coral Gables for this weekend's Miami Invitational.
Sure there was plenty of pain for Vasenina with short turnarounds between matches, but her focus was more on what she gained out of the experience. Vasenina started out in the qualifier rounds, opening with a 6-4, 6-4 win over Illinois' Melissa Kopinski on a Tuesday morning and toughing out a torturous 6-7, 7-6, 6-3 victory over Oklahoma's Whitney Ritchie in the afternoon.
"It was like seven hours of tennis," she said. "The next day my body was so sore. I couldn't even move, which is really tough."
Success is a great motivating factor for athletes and Vasenina used her gained confidence to advance to the main draw the next day with a 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 win over UCLA's Pamela Montez, who is ranked 40th in the country.
Motivation for Thursday's match was redemption for Vasenina, who went up against No. 19 Joelle Kissell of NC State. Kissell was 2-0 all-time against Vasenina before USF's All-Big East selection handed her a 6-3, 7-5 loss.
"It was a huge win for me. I came out and I had so much confidence," Vasenina said. "I beat her in three sets and was so excited for the next match."
Vasenina's run through the main draw unfortunately was cut short on Friday because of a pulled muscle, but the action-packed week of tennis was still very memorable.
"I have so much confidence right now because I saw that I can compete at the same level as those players and beat them," Vasenina said. "It is going to help me a lot, especially matches when I lose the first set. It made me realize that it doesn't matter how good your opponents are, you still have a chance."
Vasenina has taken what she learned with her back to Tampa and is now practicing even harder than before after watching some of the nation's elite work on the court for countless hours like she did on the opening day.
"The top-10 players, you just see that they're really tired on the court, like during the second match of the day, but they are still running for every ball," she said. "They're doing the best they can and go crazy for every point. It taught me that we're practicing really hard, but I still have to improve more physically."
USF fans will get a chance to watch Vasenina and the rest of the Bulls Oct. 19-21, when they host the USTA/ITA Regionals at the Varsity Courts on campus.