ORLANDO, May 23, 2019 (Press Release)
Fighting Illini women’s tennis sophomore Asuka Kawai upsets No. 7 seed Alexa Graham of North Carolina in straight sets to advance to the Quarterfinals of the NCAA Singles Championships on Wednesday evening at the USTA National Campus in Orlando, Fla.
“First of all, I’m certainly through the roof for Asuka (Kawai), her achievements, and what she did today and continues to do in this tournament,” said head coach Evan Clark.
Ranked No. 43 in the latest Oracle/ITA Division I Women’s rankings, Kawai earned her 10th ranked victory in singles play and sixth in the top 10 this season. The unanimous All-Big Ten selection defeated Graham, 7-5, 6-3. With a slow start, Kawai was down 5-1 in the first set, but was able to battle back to win the first set, 7-5. The Palatine, Ill. native carried the momentum into the second set (6-3) to win in straight sets. Kawai improves to 18-9 in singles play since the beginning of the spring season.
“I continue to be impressed with how Asuka (Kawai) handles the moment and the stage she is on,” noted Clark. “She has handled her mental stability beautifully throughout the tournament. To be down 5-1 in the first set and come back to win shows you how she is currently operating.”
The unanimous All-Big Ten selection is the first Illini in program history advancing to the Quarterfinals of the NCAA Singles Championships. Before Kawai, the highest Illini finish during the NCAA Singles Championships was Illinois Athletics Hall of Famer, Lindsey Nimmo Bristow, who played in the Round of 32 in 1991 and 1993.
Kawai will face either No. 1 seed Estela Perez-Somarriba of Miami or 77th-ranked Paola Delgado of VCU. The sophomore has yet to face either Perez-Somarriba and Delgado this season.
Perez-Somarriba is a three-time ITA All-American in singles play, two-time ACC Player of the Year, and three-time First Team All-ACC honoree. Last season, Perez-Somarriba was named ITA National Player to Watch due to a 39-8 singles record. Delgado is a two-time All-Atlantic 10 First Team honoree and 2019 Atlantic 10 Most Outstanding Performer. Match times and court assignments for the Quarterfinals will be announced later tonight.
“We started to see some of Asuka’s best tennis at times today so that is exciting,” said Clark. “Once again, she is pleased with where she is at, but she certainly knows her best tennis is ahead of her.”
Singles Main Draw
Round of 64 (May 20) – def. No. 11 Maria Mateas (Duke), 3-6, 6-2, 6-3
Round of 32 (May 21) – def. No. 50 Brienne Minor (Michigan), 6-3, 7-6(11)
Round of 16 (May 22) – def. No. 7 Alexa Graham (North Carolina), 7-5, 6-3