Three Big Takeaways: Cyclone tennis posts strong performance in Lubbock


Jacob Rice

Ange Oby Kajuru gets ready to serve the ball against the Oklahoma Sooners on April 8.

Adarsh Tamma, Sports Reporter

Iowa State tennis wrapped up their week down in Texas on Friday, with Cyclones singles and doubles players reaching the later rounds of both competitions.

The West Texas Pro Tennis Open, which was hosted by Texas Tech, featured a mix of both professional and amateur players. The diversity in the number of players from so many different countries was evident, as the women’s singles main draw saw 32 players from 19 different countries being represented.

Senior Thasaporn Naklo highlighted the Cyclones’ week in Lubbock, as she produced a series of strong performances through the qualifying and main draws to reach the quarter finals. The doubles pair of Ange Oby Kajuru and Anna Supapitch Kuearum represented the Cyclones in the semifinals of the doubles competition in their first tournament together.

Naklo advances to quarters

In singles, Naklo reached a new career high this week in Lubbock when she advanced all the way to the quarterfinals of the draw from the first round of qualifying. Previously, Naklo’s best performance at the Lubbock 15K event was playing in the first round of the 2019 edition, when she lost to Katja Wiersholm 2-6, 5-7.

In the opening round of qualifying on Tuesday, Naklo defeated Camryn Elise Stepp in straight sets, 6-3, 6-1. The second round saw familiar competition, as Naklo faced off against teammate Kajuru for the right to enter into the main draw.

The pair had met once on the professional circuit in 2018, when they played against each other in the third round of qualifying at the Thailand ITF $15,000 Women’s Pro Circuit tournament in Hua Hin, Thailand. Kajuru got the better of Naklo on the day, defeating her future teammate in a three-setter (6-2, 5-7, 6-3).

Naklo tied up the series record between the two in Lubbock, as she recorded another straight sets victory, 6-1, 6-2, to qualify for the main competition rounds.

The round of 32 saw Naklo waste no time, as she registered a 6-0 scoreline in the first set of her match against China’s Chen Yu. 

Her run-away performance was demonstrated by a 100% success rate (10/10) on second set serves being in; Yu was also consistent in this category, having converted six out of her eight second serves in during the opening set.

The second set looked like it was continuing to be the same theme, as Naklo built a 4-1 lead while breaking Yu’s serve twice along the way. Yu climbed back into the match from that point however, as she produced two successful service games of her own, as well as breaking Naklo’s serve to tie things up at 4-4.

Naklo took the next game to make it 5-4 on her next service game and then had the opportunity to take the match at 40-15. Yu fought back once more however, leveling things up at 40-40 to send the game into a deuce situation. Naklo didn’t hesitate this time, as she took advantage and the set to win the match 6-0, 6-4.

After a 6-3, 6-3 decision against UNC commit Theadora Rabman, Naklo entered new territory by being the only qualifier to be left in the competition come the quarterfinals. There, she faced another tough opponent, squaring off against former Florida All-American McCartney Kessler on Friday.

Kessler, who graduated from Florida earlier this year, was named the SEC Player of the Year in 2022 and qualified for the NCAA Championships in May.

Naklo struck first, as she took the opening set 6-2 on a break point situation. She was able to break Kessler’s serve three times throughout the frame in order to gradually build her lead. Naklo also won the opening game on an ace, as both players converted at least half of their first serves into points.

The second set saw Naklo open things up in the fourth game, as she was able to break Kessler’s serve for the first time after trading blows in the previous three. She double faulted on the opening point of the next game, eventually allowing Kessler to rally and tie things up at three games apiece. The momentum only seemed to be going in Kessler’s direction at that point, as she won the next three games in a row to take the set 6-3. In that period, Naklo double faulted once, while also having her serve broken twice.

Naklo and Kessler were neck-and-neck with each other to start the deciding set, as both players were able to hold their serve through the first four games. Naklo was able to convert break point in game five, but Kessler responded with a break of her own in the very next frame, building a 40-15 lead before eventually leveling things up at 3-3. From there, it was a near mirror image of the second set, as Kessler swung the set, and ultimately the match in her direction by running off with another 6-3 win.

Besides reaching the quarterfinals of a U.S. ITF event for the first time in her career, Naklo also finished the week having played a full three-setter twice in her five matches.

Kajuru/Kuearum test No. 1 seeds

The highlight of the Cyclones’ doubles program for the week was the unseeded pair of Kajuru and Kuearum played against top seeds Chieh-Yu Hsu and Maria Kononova in the semifinals.

Both pairs’ journeys to the final four of the tournament couldn’t have been more different, as Kajuru and Kuearum earned their trip on a pair of walkovers in the first and second rounds of the tournament. 

Hsu and Kononova and meanwhile had to play through a three-setter in the first round before earning a walkover of their own in the quarterfinals. The No. 1 overall seeds’ only match saw them defeat the American pair of Kessler and Mia Horvit 6-3, 1-6, and 10-6 in the tiebreaker.

In the first set, nearly everything seemed to go the top seeds’ way, as Hsu and Kononova quickly established a lead after holding their serve multiple times while also breaking Kajuru and Kuearum’s serve on three occasions. They took the first game 6-1, and looked to have the match in hand while leading 3-1.

That’s when the momentum seemed to shift in favor of Kajuru and Keuarum, as they scored an ace on their serve in the fifth game to make it 30-15. The Iowa State pairing eventually took that game, then got some good fortune on a double fault by Hsu and Kononova in game number six to earn a breakpoint. They completed their 5-0 run on games after that point, winning the next three (including producing another break point) to level the match by a set scoreline of 6-3.

Heading into the super tiebreak, the pair that had won more points on their second service usually went on to win that set. With both pairs serving well above 50% on their second serves, it looked to be a test of who could continue the trend.

In the close encounter of the third set, Kajuru and Kuearum went up 3-1 before Hsu and Kononova tied things up at 3-3 on a double fault serve by the Cyclone pairing. The No. 1 seeds then rattled off 6-2 run to earn themselves a match point opportunity at 9-5. Kajuru and Kueraum tried to produce one more comeback to make it 9-7, but their momentum was snapped in the very next point, as Hsu and Kononova took the match 10-7 in the tiebreak.

In the end it was a tale of the second serves, as Hsu and Kononova had all eight of their second serves land in, compared to a one out of three by the Iowa State duo. They also converted half of these serves into points, which seemed to turn the tide and produce the run that they had in the tiebreaker.

A battle of attrition

Naklo’s week in singles was not only marked by her close matches in the main draw, but also the amount of time that she spent on court.

In her three matches in the main draw, Naklo played a total of 293 minutes, averaging over an hour-and-a-half per match. Those nearly five hours of playing time reached a crescendo in the quarterfinal against Kessler, as the pair battled for 115 minutes on the Grandstand 6 Court. 

One interesting note is that in two out of Naklo’s three main draw matches, the player that produced fewer break points went on to win the match. Naklo herself did this in the round of 32 against Chen Yu, with Yu going 2/2 on break point opportunities, while the Thai converted only six out her 16 break point chances. 

Kessler was the other, having gone 6/12 on her break points compared to a 71% success rate from Naklo (5/7). That match seemed to be an outlier however, as both players were producing a high level of service games as well, with the percentage of both their first and second serves being well over 60%.

Otherwise, the matches seemed to swing on the slightest of margins, with double faults being particularly important. The highest number of those happened in the first set of the match against Rabman, as both players recorded five in all. Interestingly, the second set of that match, which had fewer double fault occurrences but produced the same scoreline (6-3). The individual intrications seemed to be at play that ultimately decided the fate of all of Naklo’s matches.

The Cyclones will travel to Berkeley, California and Cary, North Carolina next week to compete in the Cal Berkeley Invitational and ITA All-American Championships respectively. 

Naklo and Kajuru will continue their schedules on the pro circuit, as the pair will compete at the Hilton Head 15K tournament next week.