The Sony Open is in the rearview mirror, but South Florida tennis fans can watch high-quality matches the next two weekends.
The 10th-ranked University of Miami women’s team plays top-ranked North Carolina on Friday at 5 p.m. and No. 9 Duke on Sunday at noon. Matches are at the Neil Schiff Tennis Center on campus.
A week later, on April 20-21, Serena and Venus Williams will lead the U.S. Fed Cup team against Sweden at the Delray Beach Tennis Center. The team, announced Wednesday, will also include No. 16 Sloane Stephens and No. 27 Varvara Lepchenko. Delray was chosen to host the event because it has a good history of Fed Cup and Davis Cup matches, and also because of its proximity to the Williams sisters, who live in Palm Beach Gardens, and Stephens, who lives in Coral Springs.
The winner will advance to the 2014 world group and have a chance to compete for the Fed Cup title next year. The losing team is relegated to world group II.
UM coach Paige Yaroshuk-Tews urges families of junior tennis players to go watch the Hurricanes, who are 15-3 and have won nine matches in a row. Although it doesn’t get as much attention as the UM football and basketball teams, the women’s tennis program has been among the nation’s best for quite some time.
The Hurricanes have reached the final eight in six of the past seven years and have been ranked in the top 20 for the past nine years. This year’s team includes players from Germany, Brazil, Latvia, Colombia, Venezuela, as well as freshman Kelsey Laurente of Miramar.
“Everyone goes to the Sony, and that’s great, but I think those same fans would be really surprised at the level of tennis being played if they come watch UNC-Miami or Duke-Miami,” Yaroshuk-Tews said. “A lot of junior parents get wrapped up in the craziness and don’t realize how wonderful college tennis can be. These girls are exceptional athletes, but their No. 1 focus is academics. They’re doing both, and they are really impressive young role models.”
Yaroshuk-Tews said she fell in love with tennis watching the Hurricanes on the campus courts, and hopes her team inspires local children who are interested in the game.
The UM team is led by freshmen Stephanie Wagner and Laurente. Wagner (18-3) is known for her power. She had a rough fall semester, as she battled mononucleosis, but has bounced back to have a successful spring. Laurente stands only 5-3, but uses her athleticism and court smarts to overtake opponents. “Don’t let her little body fool you,” Yaroshuk-Tews said.
The coach said this group is “the most enjoyable” team she has ever coached.
“They are outspoken, good communicators, opinionated and stubborn, and I love that,” she said. “They’re not afraid to tell me what they think, and not afraid to hear what I think.”
The top-ranked Tar Heels (19-2) are led by Gina Suarez-Malaguti, a Venezuelan native who lives in Pembroke Pines and played at Cypress Bay High. She said earlier this year that she was inspired to play tennis watching Martina Hingis at the Key Biscayne tournament, then known as the NASDAQ.
Fans who attend Friday’s match will be treated to a barbecue dinner and will be able to take photos with the Atlantic Coast Conference men’s basketball championship trophy won by the Hurricanes last month.
The Fed Cup in Delray Beach is a best-of-5 format with two singles matches Saturday, and two reverse singles and a doubles match on Sunday. Tickets range from $30 to $75 and can be purchased through Ticketmaster.