Elle Christensen wins the singles title and teams up with Tilly Rigby to take the doubles NCAA Division III title
In a long, remarkable day, Tufts women’s tennis players won both the NCAA Division III singles and doubles championships at the U.S. Tennis Association national campus in Orlando on May 29. It was the first NCAA doubles title for the university.
Christensen, unseeded in the 32-woman NCAA singles tournament field, defeated fourth-seed Angie Zhou from Pomona-Pitzer 6-4, 7-5 to win the championship. Zhou had only lost two games total in four previous NCAA matches entering the final.
“Compared to Boston, Florida was extremely hot throughout the tournament,” said Christensen. “Given the heat, I tried to move my opponent side to side. She was playing a great match and the games were very close. I fought hard for every shot and tried to focus on one point at a time, especially on the crucial points.”
In the 16-team doubles tournament, Christensen and Rigby—also unseeded—defeated number 2 seed Shianna Guo and Sylwia Mikos from Chicago 6-7 (3), 6-4, 7-5 in the semifinals and then Erica Ekstrand and Yuu Ishikawa from Williams College 6-1, 6-3 in the final.
“We knew that our matches would be tough and that we had to do what we have been doing all season—being consistent, making good decisions with every shot, and wanting the ball at net,” said Rigby. “We play best when we are fired up and energized from the very start, and we did a good job of doing that every match.”
In her first singles set in the finals, Christensen won a huge break point to go up 5-4 on Zhou and then swept through the final game to win 6-4. The two had gone back and forth earlier in the set, swapping break points early for a 2-2 score. Christensen’s break in the ninth game would make the difference.
Again in the second set, Christensen won a huge break point to take a 6-5 lead. She had faced set-point in the previous game, but rallied to even the score at 5-5. She then won the break point and took the final game for a 7-5 win and the national championship.
The two opponents had traded a pair of break points to open the second set with a 2-2 score. Each held serve for the next four games for a 4-4 deadlock. After Zhou took a 5-4 advantage, Christensen held serve despite facing set point, then won a break point before finishing off the set and the match.
“I’m so happy,” said Christensen of her victory. “It’s unbelievable.”
This was the second NCAA singles title for Tufts women’s tennis. Julia Browne won the Division III championship back in 2010.
In her quarterfinal contest, Christensen took down Mikos of Chicago—the top seed—by 6-3, 7-6 (3) scores. Then in the semifinal on May 28, she won over Ekstrand from Williams—the defending NCAA singles champion—6-2, 7-6 (4).
From Singles to Doubles
Christensen went from winning the singles title to joining Rigby in the doubles semifinals. The Tufts tandem faced Guo and Mikos from Chicago in the semifinals and lost the first set in a tie-breaker, but came back to win 6-7 (3), 6-4, 7-5.
“After a long day of playing tennis, late at night, Tilly and I played our finals,” said Christensen. “I’m so fortunate to have such a great partner. I would like to thank my team, my coaches and everyone supporting Tufts tennis.”
The Jumbo pair was down 4-2 and 5-3 in the first set before forcing the tie-breaker. Then after winning the second set to even the match, they endured a weather delay prior to the third set, fell behind 4-2 after play continued, but came back to win the match. They won four of the last five games to take the third set and the match.
That put them into the NCAA championship match against Ekstrand and Ishikawa, where they breezed through the first set 6-1. The second set was tied 3-3 before the Jumbos won the final three games to take the title.
Rigby, who dealt with a back injury all season, added that being a national champion “is an amazing way to end a season filled with ups and downs. I’m looking forward to coming back next year and winning it as an entire team.”
These were the fifth and sixth national championships won by Tufts student-athletes during the 2021-22 academic year. At the NCAA indoor track and field meet, junior Lia Rotti won the triple jump and junior Jaidyn Appel was the high jump champion. For swimming, junior Claire Brennan won the 200 freestyle and was then joined by junior Katelin Isakoff, graduate student Abby Claus, EG22, and senior Mary Hufziger to win the 800 freestyle relay.