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2017 APTA Women's Nationals Preview
Nationals is the crown jewel of paddle; the title everyone wants above all others. Last year, Gabriela Niculescu and Martina Ondrejkova came through the draw to win the title, and have ridden that winning streak straight through the 2016-2017 season. After sweeping the four Grand Prix tournaments they entered, to call them the heavy favorites would be an understatement. But, several teams have pushed Niculescu/Ondrejkova to the limit this season, and the other contenders would love to score a huge upset and take them out on the sport’s biggest stage.
The two teams that have come the closest to defeating Niculescu/Ondrejkova this season are second ranked Cynthia Dardis and Amy Shay, and third ranked Liz Cruz and Roxy Enica. Since Dardis/Shay defeated Niculescu/Ondrejkova at the Philadelphia Women’s Open in 2016, the rivalry has been one-sided, with Niculescu/Ondrejkova beating Dardis/Shay in the finals of the 2016 Nationals and in the finals of both the Patterson Open and Boston Open this season. Dardis/Shay looked like they might turn things around in Boston, up a set and 2-0, but Niculescu/Ondrejkova took their level up a notch and came back and won that match in three sets. Still looking for their first National Open title, Dardis and Shay will do everything in their power to reverse the result of the 2016 Nationals finals should these two teams meet in the championship match.
Niculescu/Ondrejkova have been the nemesis of the third ranked team in the country, Cruz/Enica. At The Midwesterns, the only Grand Prix Niculescu/Ondrejkova didn’t play, Cruz/Enica, seeded third, ousted the second seeds, Ania Kazakevich and Heather Prop in the semis before dismissing Dardis/Shay in the finals. In each of the other four Grand Prix tournaments, Cruz/Enica’s losses came at the hands of Niculescu/Ondrejkova; if Cruz/Enica can somehow find a winning formula against their foes at Nationals, they are a favorite against every other team in the field.
If one of the top three teams doesn’t come through, there are quite a few other teams who have posted good results this year and are ready to peak at Nationals. Rounding out the top eight seeds are Ania Kazakevich/Heather Prop, Hallie Bodman/Liz Hayward, Kerri Delmonico/Jessica Guyaux, Suzanne Lemery/Kelly Rohrbach, and local favorites Karin Kochis and Jaclyn Williamson. Unfortunately, the fifth ranked team, Keri Flynn and Myrthe Molenveld are not playing because Flynn injured her knee.
Several other teams have a shot at a big upset; the veteran player Jane McNitt is teaming up with the massively hard-hitting Laura Berendt to make a very interesting, dangerous team. 2-time National finalists Liz Jaffe and Lisa Rudloff are pairing up again after time apart; they, along with Mary Doten and Chelsea Nusslock, who also reached the Nationals’ finals twice, will be looking for another deep run. Cindy Prendergast and Lauren Zink, who took three National titles together, are reuniting to try to make it four on the weekend when Zink will officially join her partner in the Hall of Fame.
Regardless of which team comes through the draw in Philadelphia unscathed, the depth of the draw indicates that there will be a large number of excellent matches contested, providing a fitting end to a season that showcased a very high level of women’s paddle.