Tennis: Trio from Xavier take home ITA regional titles

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NEW ORLEANS — Xavier University of Louisiana’s Kyra Akinnibi, Valaine Clarke and Kareemah Muhammad won titles Sunday at the NAIA Gulf Intercollegiate Tennis Association Regional Championships.

At XULA Tennis Center, Clarke and Muhammad, an unseeded freshman team, won 7-5, 7-5 against No. 4 seed Lucy Carpenter and Fatimah Vasquez of city rival Loyola in the women’s doubles final. Then a second straight day of afternoon rain moved the remaining matches to the indoor courts at the Hilton New Orleans Riverside. There Akinnibi — a senior, an NAIA All-American from last season and the No. 1 women’s singles seed — cruised past another XULA freshman, second-seeded Aisha Niyonkuru, 6-0, 6-1.

The titles automatically qualified Akinnibi, Clarke and Muhammad for the ITA Cup Oct. 14-17 in Rome, Ga. Additional XULA players could qualify for at-large berths.

XULA senior Juan Ramirez and Jacobi Bain, seeded third in men’s doubles, trailed 4-1 against William Carey’s top-seeded Daniil Klimov and Leo Bresson when the rain started. They moved indoors, but the change of scenery did not benefit Ramirez and Bain — Klimov and Bresson won 6-2, 6-3.

Akinnibi won twice in singles Sunday. She beat fourth-seeded Muhammad 6-2, 6-3 in the semifinals. Niyonkuru advanced to the final with a 6-4, 1-6, 1-0 (15-13) victory against Blue Mountain’s third-seeded Tsveti Trifonova. The super-tiebreaker was a thriller; Trifonova was injured with Niyonkuru leading 6-2, fell behind 9-4 after receiving medical treatment, then rallied to tie and then serve three match points. But Niyonkuru saved all three and prevailed on her sixth match point.

Eliminated in the men’s singles semifinals was XULA’s fourth-seeded Shaikh Abdullah. Bresson the No. 2 seed, won 6-3, 7-6 (7-4).

Akinnibi was the regional singles runner-up a year ago to teammate Lailaa Bashir, who is not playing this semester because of injury. Akinnibi took advantage of Bashir’s absence and dominated, dropping 11 games in four rounds.
“I would have liked to have played Lailaa again,” Akinnibi said.

Asked about the key to her dominance this week, Akinnibi said, “I kept the speed of the matches fast, which is my pace. I wanted to get off the court fast.”

Muhammad was the lone Akinnibi singles opponent to win more than three games.

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