Just call her “the closer.”
No point in a tennis match is more difficult to win than match point, especially when the entire team’s success rests on one player’s victory. Yet, by closing out her singles matches this weekend, senior co-captain Nisha Suda of the women’s tennis team guaranteed victory for Cornell not once, but twice, as the Red defeated Harvard on Friday and Dartmouth on Saturday.
Against the Crimson, the Red had won the doubles point, as well as matches at No. 3 and No. 5 singles played by sophomore Tammy John and junior Dana Cruite, respectively, when Suda was battling Elizabeth Brook at No. 4 singles. Suda captured the tight first set, 6-4, and ran away with the match by taking the second set, 6-1, and securing the win for the Red.
“Before the Harvard match, [head coach] Laura [Glitz] just told us that not even Harvard would be like the really tough teams like Arizona St. that we already played,” the Kinnelon, N.J., native said. “She said to go out there and fight hard, and that we had nothing to lose. I had some nerves in the 6-4 first set. It helped that [senior co-captain] Kasia [Preneta] was on the court next to me making a comeback in her second set. It really boosted my confidence.”
Suda and her opponent Lindsay Winingham were the last players on court in the Red’s match against Dartmouth, with the score of the overall match even at 3. Having lost the first set, 3-6, Suda rallied and got a quick 3-0 lead, which she rode to a 6-1 second set. The score was dead even at 2 in the third set when Winingham held serve and quickly broke Suda to go up 4-2.
“I was a little bit nervous in the third set,” Suda said. “I got down 4-2, worked my way back to 4-4, but then I got down 40-15 on [Winingham’s] serve.”
Suda strung together four points in a row to break Winingham, and her energy carried her through her final service game to the victory.
“If she had gone up, 5-4, she could have taken the match,” Suda said. “As soon as I won that game, I knew I was going to win the match. It’s really big to come back from being down 40-15. You have to just go for it, especially when you’re down in a really tight match like that. There’s no time to freak out.”
At some point in the third set, whatever nerves Suda felt melted away.
“There were so many fans, my team was on the court, my mom and grandma were there, and it’s my senior year — I had no reason to be nervous,” Suda said. “The nervousness set in after the match, and I was shaking. I’ve been playing so long that I was able to put that emotion aside. You have to take care of business and worry about the other stuff later.”
While Suda’s matches were the wins that decided both matches for the Red, she sees Cornell’s wins purely as a team effort.
“When I lost my first set in the Dartmouth match, [sophomore] Shayna [Miller] had just won her first set on the court next to me. It was good timing, because even when I was down, I got confidence from my teammates’ success. It calms you down mentally. You never feel like it’s just you out there because everyone’s playing their part, and being part of the team is making sure that everyone can rely on you.”
Suda has proven her reliability so far this spring, posting an 8-3 (3-0 Ivy) singles record, with her only losses coming to the Red’s tough opponents of Arizona, Arizona St., and Northern Arizona over spring break.
“I think Nisha’s greatest strength is her athletic ability and her footwork,” Glitz said. “She is very fast and it’s hard to hit a said. “She is very fast and it’s hard to hit a winner by her. Also, I think she’s extremely tough mentally and knows how to win.”
Suda, who has been playing tennis since she was eight years old along with her sister Nina, a player for Columbia, prides herself on her strength and her ability to read her opponents’ patterns of play.
“I have a big forehand and groundstrokes, and even though I’m short [5-4], I’m really strong,” Suda said. “My coach growing up made me hit with a lot of boys, and if I didn’t hit hard they’d beat up on me. Playing so many years, I have good anticipation, and I can pick up on what a person’s game plan is. I do a lot of fakes by making a movement toward where I won’t really go, which I picked up from the guys. I like to use my weapons to create opportunities, and to step in and go for my shots. If I miss, whatever — at least it shows my opponent that I’m going to go after her.”
Last year, Suda posted the women’s best singles record, going 7-5 (3-3 Ivy), and she has already won as many Ivy matches this year as she won in 2006. She sees this weekend’s matches against the Crimson and the Green as the best of her career.
“All our team ever asks of us is that we compete well,” Suda said. “These wins show that everything — all the work we’ve put in since Laura took over as coach three years ago — pays off. It shows our tremendous improvement, and it was the best weekend we’ve had in years.”
Just call her “the closer.”