Clemson, S.C. — The 2021 season marks the beginning of a new era for Clemson women’s tennis as Head Coach Christy Lynch begins her inaugural season with the program. Last year the Tigers earned a season high ranking of No. 37 and posted 12-7 marks in their pandemic-shortened campaign. Clemson opened the season 11-5, their best record since 2014. Additionally, Clemson’s eight 7-0 wins were the most by the program since the sport switched the seven-point format in 2001 and marked the most shutouts by the team since 2015. The Tigers return to the court for the first time since March 8, 2020.
“We have a very young and talented team of players,” said Lynch. “They are a very motivated and hungry group who I feel are eager to prove themselves. I’m excited to begin this journey with them and am looking forward to the spring season ahead!”
Six Tigers return for the 2021 season while four freshmen are set to make their collegiate debuts. This year’s team features a plethora of young talent as eight of its 10 student-athletes hold underclassmen status. In addition to its four incoming freshman, the 2021 Clemson squad has two seniors and four sophomores.
Last season, Eleni Louka finished off the season by earning ACC Freshman of the Week honors after defeating opponents from No. 4 Florida State and No. 5 NC State. In singles, the Dernyia, Cyprus native moved around the line-up but played the majority of matches at No. 3 where she went 4-5. Overall, Louka finished 16-15 in singles while going 9-6 in dual match action. The sophomore is the only returner to have defeated a ranked opponent in the previous season and paced the team in overall doubles wins with 16. Louka enters the season on a five-match winning streak in singles.
Sophomore Ali DeSpain led the team last season in overall wins with 22 and posted a winning percentage of .734. DeSpain is one of two returners this season to have amassed double-digit wins in dual-match play in 2020, tallying 12-5 marks while splitting time between lines three and four. In the No. 3 position, the South-Carolina resident went 7-0 while also record 13 doubles wins.
Mackenzy Middlebrooks went 15-18 overall in singles a year ago. The former transfer from Mizzou saw a majority of time at No. 2 singles where she amassed five wins and went 2-1 at line one. In doubles, Middlebroooks went 8-4 in dual match play and was undefeated in the No. 1 position with a 4-0 record.
Lana Sipek joined the program last season as a spring enrollee, jumping straight into the dual match season where she played lines three through six. Native to Ploce, Croatia, Sipek amassed 12 wins and went 6-0 between positions three and four. Overall Sipek went 12-7 in singles and 4-2 in doubles in 2020.
Laura Marti, went 14-8 in singles last season and was undefeated in dual matches with a 7-0 record. Marti spent the majority of her time at line six were she won four matches. In doubles, the senior amassed 13 wins. Marti will begin the 2021 season on a seven-match winning streak in singles. Zaina Nait Omar went 5-4 during the 2020 spring season. The sophomore from Seneca, S.C. played predominantly at line six.
Newcomers to the team include Jenna Thompson, Cristina Mayorova, Sophia Hatton and Makayla Mills. The top-ranked recruit from North Carolina, Thompson, of Charlotte, was ranked No. 32 in the country for 2020 recruits and is the only girls’ player to have ever won four-straight 4A high school singles championships in her home state. From Barcelona, Spain, Mayorova has notched wins over several highly ranked ITF players including the current No. 15 and No. 31. Hatton, who hails from DeWitt, N.Y., was ranked as the third-best recruit in the Empire State and No. 35 in the country. Meanwhile, Mills, who joined the team over the summer, was the No. 5 recruit in North Carolina and No. 79 in the country.
In one of the most competitive conferences in the country, Clemson faces yet another tough schedule this season. Last season, seven of the Tigers’ 2021 opponents finished top-10 in the final ITA rankings, six of which also play in the ACC. Additionally, 10 Tiger competitors finished in the top-25. In total, Clemson will face 14 teams that were ranked within the top-50 in 2020, accounting for over half of its schedule.
The Tigers are set to open the season on Jan. 15 when they host Coastal Carolina. Clemson will take on South Carolina on Jan. 28 in Palmetto Series action at home. On Feb. 20 the Tigers will begin ACC play against Florida State and will hit the road for the first time on March 6 against N.C. State in Raleigh, N.C. The Tigers will conclude their home schedule on April 4 against Syracuse and will finish the regular season on the road against Louisville. The ACC Championship is slated to be played from April 21-25 in Rome, Ga.