July 20, 2019 | 96° F

Junior sets record with comeback

Photo by Conor Alwell |

Junior Vanessa Petrini advanced farther than any Knight ever at the ITA Regional Championships last weekend.

Facing triple match point and down, 5-1, in the third set of the quarterfinals, Rutgers tennis team junior Vanessa Petrini was all but finished Sunday at the ITA Regional Championships.

Then something rare happened, as she battled back from down, 40-0, winning the seventh game of a deciding set to bring the match to 5-2 against fifth-seeded Jessica Wacnik of Boston College.  

Petrini then rallied to win the next five games, winning the set, 7-5, and advancing to the semifinals of the tournament for the second straight year.

“I just never gave up,” she said. “I never thought for one point that I couldn’t win the match, so I just kept fighting and working hard and trying my best on every point and just being mentally tough.”

Petrini defeated Wacnik (7-5, 3-6, 7-5) on Sunday in a marathon match that lasted more than three hours. Head coach Ben Bucca believes it takes a special kind of player to achieve a feat like Petrini’s.

“There are very few tennis players at any level of the game who have the competitive spirit to accomplish what Vanessa did,” Bucca said. “It really speaks very highly as to her will to win.”

Petrini could barely put the events that took place into words.

“I wish that more people could have been there to see it, because it was so epic that I can’t even describe it,” she said.

Petrini went on to lose in the semifinal round in which the No. 11 seed, Princeton’s Amanda Mulliawan defeated her, 6-3, 3-6, 3-6.  Petrini went 4-1 at the tournament, including a victory against Columbia’s Nicole Bartnik, the No. 1 seed, in the Round of 32.

It marks the second season in a row Petrini advanced to the semifinal round of the ITA Regional Championships. She is the only Scarlet Knight to advance this far in program history.

“I’m really happy that I got this far two years in a row,” Petrini said.  “Overall, I’m really happy and proud of myself.  It feels good.”

She believes it was no coincidence she was successful in the same tournament two years in a row.

“I guess there’s something about being in the field of a big tournament and trying to be the best in the region that really just brings out the best in my game,” Petrini said.

Bucca was impressed with her play throughout the tournament and said the ITA Regional Championships is one of the toughest tournaments the Knights will ever play in.

“Vanessa played fantastic tennis throughout the entire weekend,” he said. “It’s a grueling tournament. It places a lot of physical commands as well as tremendous emotional and mental stressors on the players. Vanessa handled it well and rose to the occasion and played her best tennis of the fall.”

Freshmen Gina Li and Mariam Zein, who also won matches for the Knights during the weekend, each advanced to the Round of 32 in the main singles draw. The doubles team of Petrini and classmate Stefania Balasa also advanced to the Round of 32.

Rutgers sent seven players to the ITA Regional Championships this year, the most ever under Bucca.

“This is a really tough competition,” Bucca said. “For the most part, everyone played well and with a lot of fighting spirit. It was a good weekend for us.”

For updates on the Rutgers tennis team, follow Mike Morton on Twitter @MortonTargum.

By Mike Morton

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