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Rutgers edges out Binghamton for first win of season

<p>Transfer junior Ksenija Tihomirova returns a shot in her 6-0, 7-5 straight set victory over Agatha Ambrozy of Binghamton.</p>

Transfer junior Ksenija Tihomirova returns a shot in her 6-0, 7-5 straight set victory over Agatha Ambrozy of Binghamton.

The Rutgers tennis team narrowly won its home opener Friday afternoon, defeating Binghamton, 4-3, at the East Brunswick Racquet Club.

The Scarlet Knights (1-1) captured the doubles point and saw singles victories from senior Gina Li, junior Ksenija Tihomirova and sophomore Lee Levy to hold on for the win against the Bearcats.

"It's always great to get your first win and to get it done at home," said head coach Benjamin S. Bucca. "The ladies are feeling good that they got the team victory, but they know they have to continue to work hard and really build ourselves to play strong, competitive tennis when it counts the most."

In last year’s non-conference meeting, Rutgers won decisively. But a much-improved Binghamton team gave the Knights all they could handle.

“It was truly a well fought match from both sides,” Bucca said. “I’m proud that we were able to absorb such a battle and still come out with a victory.”

Achieving this win was important for both the team’s record and morale after a tough season opening loss at Penn last week.

The Knights showed strong performances in doubles, winning two out of the three matches to secure the crucial tie-breaking doubles point.

In the No. 1 spot, the team of veterans in ace Li and fellow senior Mariam Zein delivered a convincing 6-3 victory over Binghamton's Shea Brodsky and Alexis Tashiro.

Rutgers also produced a win in the No. 3 spot, as senior Lindsey Kayati and junior Farris Cunningham landed a victory over the Bearcats' Annie DiMuro and Sara Kohtz, 6-3.

“To combat the way they play, I adjusted from my usual hard and flat shots and had to be more patient to get the win,” Li said. “With the new doubles format, it’s very important to have a good start and come out with your 'A' game.”

Doubles has gone from first-to-eight to first-to-six games and there are no more add scorings meaning the seventh point in each game is sudden death. This makes the games more intense and competitive, Bucca said.

The change in doubles structure hasn’t affected the Knights significantly yet, but could as they pick up points in both matches this season.

In singles, Li delivered another resounding win in her matchup with Kohtz in the heavily anticipated battle of the aces, downing her opponent, 6-2, 6-3.

“Gina is really playing well and working extremely hard in practice,” Bucca said. “She’s looking to play her best tennis in what I think will be her most memorable year.”

Recent transfer Tihomirova won her match with a close call in the second set in the No. 3 position, 6-0, 7-5, against Binghamton's Agatha Ambrozy, while Levy decisively defeated her counterpart Paulina Tafler, 6-3, 6-3.

Despite Tihomirova’s small 5-foot-1 frame, she demonstrated signs of why Bucca was so keen on adding her to his squad.

“Kesenja has a great work ethic and is very talented while being an exceptional student and teammate,” Bucca said. “She has all the qualities that have made her transition onto the team seamless.”

Rutgers will look to build off this momentum in the coming weeks against some threatening opponents.

The Knights returns to action on Feb. 13, when they will travel to Princeton for a noon start.

Princeton is nationally ranked and has played Rutgers extremely well during Bucca’s tenure, but he will make sure his team plays their best and let the chips fall where they may.

That match will be the first of three straight road contests for Rutgers, including trips to in-state rival Seton Hall on Valentine's Day and Army at West Point on Feb. 20.

“We structure the schedule so we will reach our peak performance when Big Ten play starts after spring break,” Bucca said. “We have some exciting non-conference rivalries coming up, but we know the conference matches are what count the most.”

For updates on the Rutgers tennis team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.

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