Rookie earns draw win at USTA Invite
Freshman Mariam Zein made history this weekend for the Rutgers tennis team when it competed in the USTA Invitational in Flushing, N.Y.
Zein became the first Scarlet Knight ever to win her singles draw at the USTA Invitational, where she defeated Brown’s Sarah Kandath, 6-2, 7-5, in the finals of the “E” draw. She went a perfect 4-0 for the tournament.
“I felt really good about my performance,” Zein said. “In all my matches I came out really focused and confident and ready to win. Support from all my teammates and coaches really helped too and I definitely couldn’t have done it without them.”
Head coach Ben Bucca was quick to praise the freshman’s effort during the weekend.
“Mariam has progressively gotten better as the fall has progressed,” Bucca said. “She really played very strong tennis. To play at the USTA you have to be a strong tennis player, and Mariam played very strong tennis. It was great for her as a freshman to be having wins over high-quality players like her opponents in the last two rounds.”
Sophomore teammate Noor Judeh echoed her head coach’s sentiments.
“I think our team did great this weekend, especially Mariam and her singles championship,” Judeh said. “She has been working very hard, and as a freshman under all that pressure at Flushing Meadows, winning first place is such an accomplishment.”
The doubles duo of Judeh and freshman Lindsey Kayati also played well for the Knights, as it advanced to the finals of its doubles draw before losing in a tiebreaker, 9-8, to Brown’s Kandath and Laura Wiley. Together, Judeh and Kayati compiled a 3-1 record in the tournament.
“They would be a classic example of how two players together — one plus one can equal four, because they brought out the best in one another,” Bucca said. “They showed a very strong spirit and complimented each other in their playing styles.”
Judeh also felt playing with her freshman partner was an enjoyable experience. She feels they feed off each other’s game and exhibit chemistry.
“It was an honor getting second place and representing my team in that way, and I know that in the upcoming year Lindsay and I have much more wins to come,” Judeh said.
But the tournament did not start off as well for the Knights as it ended. Rutgers struggled on the first day of the tournament, something that both frustrated and puzzled Bucca.
“No one was really sure why that occurred,” he said, “because we had a great week of practice in preparation for the tournament. We came in with the right spirit, but we didn’t play with the intensity that we were capable of.”
Bucca held a team meeting where everyone was in agreement with the disappointing first day. The team focused on improving its intensity and level of play, something that paid dividends for the Knights.
“We came out on Sunday a completely different team,” Bucca said. “It was ironic playing higher competition — we not only performed at a higher level, but we also won more matches. These were really strong wins that I’m sure gave the team a lot of confidence.”
The team’s resiliency impressed Bucca, who believes it leaves the team better off than it was entering the tournament.
“I have to say that [performance] really speaks well to this team’s competitive spirit,” he said, “which traditionally has been very strong with Rutgers women’s tennis.”