first_imgGuzal Yusupova injected hope into the Washington State’s morale during the Pacific-12 tournament semifinals against No. 16 Stanford. She trailed No. 68 Melissa Lord by a set and was tied 6-6. The Cardinals had already cruised to victories in fourth and sixth singles, and were one point away from a shutout. When that fourth point was earned by Stanford at first singles, Yusupova’s match was abandoned. Her second abandoned match of the day turned out to be the last of her Washington State career.Last Saturday, almost nine months to the date and more than 2,500 miles away from Pullman, Washington, Yusupova lined up on court two inside Drumlins Country Club. As her name was announced in Syracuse’s lineup, she folded her hands in front of her and smiled.Saturday’s match marked the beginning of a fresh start for Yusupova. Academics and a lack of fluency in English resulted in the Uzbekistan native’s rejection from the college tennis programs she longed to play for. Washington State emerged as a home, but it wasn’t the right fit. On a Syracuse (2-0) squad that returns several key players from last year’s run to the NCAA tournament, in an ACC conference that’s home to seven schools in the top-25, Yusupova provides depth that could push the Orange to the top.“I should have been here in my freshman year,” Yusupova said. “But it didn’t work.”AdvertisementThis is placeholder text***After last season, Yusupova returned home to Uzbekistan and played in three International Tennis Federation tournaments. She’d received the release papers needed to transfer from Washington State in May, but now had no coach to work with. So Yusupova did what she’d done since starting tennis at age four: just play.“At that time, I didn’t have anything so I just decided to go back home for the summer because I wanted to transfer and didn’t know where I was going,” Yusupova said.When Yusupova first looked at U.S. schools, she waited until the March before her freshman year to start. Yusupova had a scholarship offer to the Republican Olympic Reserve School of Tennis, about six hours away from her hometown Qarshi. But she wanted to play tennis in the U.S., and get a college education, too. Her English was poor and programs, like Syracuse, had pulled interest because Yusupova couldn’t be admitted due to low scores on the SAT and TOEFL, the latter measuring her English understanding.Texas A&M, another school she couldn’t get into, informed Washington State and head coach Lisa Hart about Yusupova, and WSU pursued her. At the time, she was the highest ranked recruit in Cougar history. Yusupova entered with a Women’s Tennis Association ranking of 978, and played in the top spots of the Washington State lineup right away in both singles and doubles.“We kind of got lucky with her,” Hart said.Anna Henderson | Digital Design EditorBut Yusupova entered into Washington blind. According to then-Washington State assistant coach Robin Cambier, Yusupova was the only player Washington State didn’t watch live. They had seen tape of Yusupova, but didn’t meet her before offering a scholarship.Likewise, Yusupova didn’t visit campus before committing, but felt that it didn’t make a difference. She knew she was a good person and a great tennis player, she said.“I think if we had brought her into an all-in recruiting visit, and she would have seen our presentation,” Cambier said, “she wouldn’t have come to Washington State in the first place.”During a match against Oregon her freshman year, Yusupova and her partner, Melisa Ates, defeated the Ducks in third doubles, the only Cougar pair to win a doubles match that day. Later on, Yusupova played first singles, something that happened only nine times that season. She led Shweta Sangwan 6-4 4-6 5-1, and had her on match point. Washington State was down 3-0, needing to win the remaining singles matches to stay alive. But when Ates dropped hers in a third set tiebreaker, Yusupova’s was abandoned. Afterwards, she cried.But last season, Yusupova got her rematch against Sangwan. Now at second singles, the two were the last to finish, with the overall score tied 3-3. After dropping the first set, Yusupova stormed back to secure the next two, and a Washington State win.In her freshman year, Yusupova went 18-8 in singles and 12-15 in doubles, playing mostly second and third singles. But after Yusupova’s freshman year, she approached Cambier and Hart about transferring. Hart and Cambier eventually convinced Yusupova to stay her sophomore year because they said it would be good for her development.A lot of her game relies on powerful returns from behind the baseline. It’s something coaches at both Washington State and now Syracuse have worked with her to fix. They want her to step into the court to return the ball. Yusupova hits the ball flat because she aims for speed and force, instead of craftiness and spin. That second year, Cambier set about to change her mindset, and tactically work with her on not hitting balls flat from everywhere on the court. There are spots where flat shots work, he said, and spots where they don’t.Cambier and Hart hoped that if Yusupova’s results improved during her second season, she would hold off on transferring. But in the middle of season two, talks of a transfer resurfaced, and, this time, Hart agreed to help Yusupova find a new school.“My personal philosophy is if you’re not happy, change it,” Hart said. “I definitely had no plans of blocking her transfer.”Hart said 20 schools reached out to her about Yusupova. Santa Barbara, Miami and Syracuse emerged as the final three. Yusupova received interest from others too, such as Mississippi, but never returned their emails and calls. Yusupova didn’t want to go to Mississippi, she had her mind set on somewhere warm, although Syracuse didn’t exactly meet that criteria. She didn’t visit any of the final three schools, but her English was improved this time and wasn’t a barrier anymore.Anna Henderson | Digital Design EditorHead coach Younes Limam said he offered and pitched to Yusupova everything he could about his program. Syracuse returns its top doubles pair in Gabriela Knutson and Miranda Ramirez. Sofya Golubovskaya is a sophomore who made her way into the Intercollegiate Tennis Association rankings. In that lineup, Yusupova isn’t projected as a top-three singles player or a top two doubles pair. But her presence gives Syracuse depth in that third doubles pair, where the crucial first point is many times decided. Yusupova brings the experience from playing in the Pac-12 for two seasons, along with her professional experience from back home.As a Cougar, she never completely bought into the program, Cambier said. She managed to keep her desires to transfer from harming her teammates, but in the end the opportunity for a change emerged. Limam came calling for a second time, and, now, it was too good to turn down.“When I got my release papers, I was like ‘Where do I want to go?’” Yusupova said. “Then Coach Younes asked if I was transferring.”***Yusupova returned to Uzbekistan a month ago during the semester break, and watched her 12-year-old sister play tennis. She had just started in October, but Yusupova already noticed that she’s not good enough to pursue a professional career. She started too late, but her heart doesn’t have the fire that Yusupova’s did when she was small, she said.With that passion, Yusupova chased a professional tennis career and an education. It brought her to the United States — first to Washington, and then to New York.After the match against Brown, a 7-0 win on Jan. 19, Syracuse players lightly jogged around the perimeter of the courts. In the front of the pack was Yusupova. She had just won her first two matches at SU, including a straight-set win in singles.Yusupova found her way to Syracuse for a number of reasons: Hart said she left WSU because of the weather. Yusupova said it was because she didn’t want to stay in the same place for four years.When asked if she planned on staying at Syracuse, she laughed.“Yes,” she said. “Of course I am.” Comments Published on January 22, 2019 at 11:30 pm Contact Andrew: arcrane@syr.edu | @CraneAndrewcenter_img Facebook Twitter Google+last_img

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