A first set to forget doomed Bianca Mok in the first round of the NCAA women’s singles tournament, as her storied career now comes to a close after a 6-1, 7-6 loss to Kansas star Anastasia “Nas” Rychagova.
“I think overall she was just more steady than I was this time,” Mok said after play ended, referring to their unfinished match in Lawrence two weeks ago. In that contest she was convincingly beating the #13 ranked player in D1 college tennis (it was abandoned after KU clinched the team victory).
“Ugly…nerves,” said DU associate head coach David Loewenthal said after the match wrapped.
Former DU All-American Maureen Slattery said the Russian Rychagova, a veteran of Big 12 and NCAA play, agreed: “I think a lot of it came down to getting more experience at the highest of levels.”
Mok was forced to sit through a two-hour delay, as matches at the USTA National Campus in Orlando ran long. She said after the match it didn’t bother her, saying she’s a veteran of many long waits from her juniors days.
Once the action started, the senior from Boise looked like a Pio possessed, forcing Rychagova onto her back feet.
But by the fourth game of the first set, the errant shots and mental mistakes started to take their toll for #97 Mok, who looked little like the player who dominated the Summit League with a 15-2 record this season.
She said DU head coach Christian Bass helped calm her during the break between sets: “just like going back to the basics and working on what I’ve learned these four years about fundamentals and staying on my top court.”
Something kicked in because her second set saw more of the brilliance she treated fans to over the last four seasons. After going down four games to two, a much more composed Mok dusted off the rally cap to tie it up at four games a piece.
“I told myself I really didn’t want to lose,” she said. “If I was going to go out, I was going to go out making her work for every point.”
And then another missed opportunity that the Idahoan with the big smile will likely not forget for a minute or two.
Up 5-4 in the second set, she let Nas go up 40-0 in the next game. She rallied to tie it 40-40 but the hard-hitting Russian snuck away with the final point to tie the second set 5-5. Rychagova then won the next game to put Bianca on the ropes at 6-5 and fighting for her career.
“I would do anything to get that [5-4] game back,” she said.
But Mok had just a little more magic left on the strings of her “vintage” 1994 Wilson racquet. A big swat put her up 30-0 before going on to tie things at six games a piece. She said her failure to put Rychagova away just minutes earlier was front and center on her mind. Her goal was “definitely not to repeat (laughing) what I did at 5-4,” she said.
“I knew I had to be locked in, I knew I had to play the point as well as I could.”
But that would be where the gas needle hit empty. In a tiebreaker where Mok could have forced a third and deciding set, she was again on the defensive and inconsistent, dropping seven straight points to lose the break 7-1.
And now she’s officially a DU tennis alumnus.
The loss doomed Mok’s hopes of herself becoming an All-American. But that said, she had a phenomenal career, winning Summit League Player of the Year two-times and being recognized as a conference honoree four times. She was also league player of the week nine times, tying her for fourth on the all-time list.
And you’re in the finance sector, that’s where the soon to graduate Mok hopes to get a job, a “new path in life” as she calls it. She says she hopes to stay in Denver and find a way to keep her finger on the tennis pulse.
There was some good news for Pio women’s tennis today. The ITA, which oversees college tennis alongside the NCAA, announced its postseason accolades. Redshirt senior Arisha Ladhani took home most improved player for the Rocky Mountain region.
The Vancouver-area native was 12-5 in her final season wearing the Crimson and Gold.