Vanderbilt’s Fernanda Contreras Wins Riviera Singles Title; Duke Takes Doubles
By STEVE GALLUZZO | Sports Editor
Only minutes after capturing the singles title of the Women’s All-American Tennis Championships at Riviera Country Club, Fernanda Contreras was asked what it meant. “Thankful” is the word that came to mind.
“I’m thankful for my parents who made me a fighter, for my coaches who never gave up on me and for my host family who drove us everywhere,” she said. “This is the best birthday ever!”
On the day she turned 20, Contreras became the first player from Vanderbilt University to win the singles crown at the annual tournament regarded as the “jewel” of the college tennis circuit.
In a duel of hard-hitting left-handers, Contreras topped fellow qualifier Aliona Bolsova of Florida Atlantic University, 6-3, 6-3, in one of the most improbable finals in the 34-year history of the event.
“It’s a dream,” Contreras added. “It’s mind-blowing. My goal was to qualify for the main draw. Eight matches later, here I am.”
Contreras, a junior from Mexico City, earned second team All-SEC honors last season, playing mostly in the No. 6 spot. Her father Javier played on the Mexican Davis Cup team in 1984 and her grandfather Francisco won two NCAA doubles titles at USC in the 1950s. The family moved to Austin six years ago when her mother Magdalena started a PhD program at the University of Texas.
By late Friday it was anyone’s guess who would win, as seven of the eight seeds had been eliminated, including top-seeded Ena Shibahara of UCLA, the runner-up as a freshman last fall. She was upset by Contreras’ teammate Christina Rosca in the round of 16.
After surviving a three-setter against Miami’s Anastasia Rychagova in the first round, Contreras knocked off fourth-seeded Karla Popovic of Cal in straight sets on Friday morning. That afternoon, she rallied from 5-6 down in the third set and fought off two match points in the tiebreaker to outlast Jessica Livianu of St. John’s in the quarterfinals. On Saturday, she beat No. 2-seeded Gabriela Talaba of Texas Tech in the semifinals.
Bolsova, meanwhile, reached Sunday’s final without dropping a set and without facing a seeded opponent. Her closest match was a 7-5, 6-1 quarterfinal victory over Gabby Smith of USC.
“Congratulations and Happy Birthday to Fernanda—she played incredible and deserved to win,” said Bolsova, a sophomore transfer from Oklahoma State. “It’s been a hard transition for me, changing schools and places, but I’m going in the right direction.”
One reason Riviera has grown so popular amongst the players is because of the hospitality shown by their host families. This year, Vanderbilt’s players stayed at the Highlands home of Ron and Sabrina Amato, whose twin daughters Ireland and Sophia play No. 1 and No. 2 singles for the girls team at Palisades High and are now Contreras’ biggest fans. They took her to the Santa Monica Pier after Saturday’s semifinal win and even warmed her up for the finals.
“We lucked out because the Amatos went above and beyond,” said Geoff Macdonald, the Commodores’ coach since 1994. “They were at every match and couldn’t have been more supportive.”
Contreras plans to return next fall to defend her title and doesn’t want to change a thing.
“I want to live with the same family, stay in the same room and sleep in the same bed,” she joked. “They’re sweet and they’re a tennis family so they knew when I needed space and when I needed people to hang around. Mrs. Amato makes killer chicken marsala!”
The doubles draw was nearly as unpredictable as the singles. In the end, Duke juniors Ellyse Hamlin and Kaitlyn McCarthy ousted seventh-seeded Sabrina Federici and Sarah Dvorak of Texas Tech 10-5 in a super tiebreaker after the teams had split the first two sets.
The winners stayed in the upper Bienveneda home of longtime Riviera member Robin Hursh, who has hosted the Blue Devils since 2004 and whose daughter Hollon is a 2010 Duke graduate.
“They’re always our very best guests and mom treats them like her kids,” Hollon said while snapping photos of the champion duo. “I look forward to it every year.”
Hamlin and McCarthy took a 5-1 lead in the tiebreaker and won it on Hamlin’s volley winner.
“We love staying with Robin and Hollon,” McCarthy revealed. “Oh, we love their dogs, too!”