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For Kristie Ahn, it's never been a matter of talent on the tennis court.
As a freshman on The Farm, she captured the singles crown at the ITA Northwest Regional Championships. There was a 24-match winning streak from Jan. 6 to May 1 of 2010. But then Ahn sprained her ankle and missed the rest of the season. She played in three matches as a sophomore, suffering a stress fracture on her left foot.
Ahn didn't feel 100 percent until May, when she helped the Cardinal win the NCAA women's tennis title by providing the clinching point in the final.
"It was pretty fitting for that to happen," Ahn said.
The 5-foot-5 senior was in top form Tuesday afternoon at Taube Family Tennis Stadium on the Stanford campus, where Ahn reclaimed her title at the ITA Northwest Regional Championships with a 6-4, 6-2 victory over Jenny Jullien of St. Mary's.
"I think as a freshman you don't really appreciate it as much as you do as a senior," said Ahn, who wasn't going to play the tournament until she realized it didn't conflict with her classes. "It's my last time playing an individual tournament at home and there's a lot of emotions going on through me."
In the morning, Ahn teamed up with freshman Carol Zhao as the No. 2 seeds in the doubles bracket. But after dropping six games in their four previous matches, Ahn and Zhao fell in the doubles final 8-6 to another Stanford duo -- Ellen Tsay, a junior who won the doubles portion of the ITA Northwest Regional for a third straight year, and freshman Taylor Davidson.
"It's always harder to play your teammates," Ahn said. "One, because you guys want the best for each other. And, two, because you kind of know each other's games inside and out. And it was frustrating for me because I didn't think I played very well. And I thought they played great. ... I thought they were more aggressive at the net, and that's what made the difference at the end."
Ahn admitted to feeling tight at the beginning of her singles match in the afternoon, but tied 4-all in the first set, a crosscourt winner changed all of that. Mystified by the tight window Ahn was able to fit with her forehand, Jullien screamed out, "Where does she find that angle?"
"I couldn't help but laugh," Ahn said. "I smiled, I turned around to the crowd behind and I was just, 'I don't know.' And I think that helped relax me a little bit."
Ahn managed to win four straight points to break serve, then clinched the first set with a crosscourt backhand just out of reach of Jullien, who could only deflect the shot wide with her frame.
"My backhand used to be my demise in my matches," Ahn said. "But it was nice to feel like I was in control of all the points, regardless of whether it was on the forehand or backhand."
Unable to convert on three break points up love-40 in Game 1 of the second set, Ahn took control by winning the next five games to move ahead 5-1.
"I think mostly she overpowered her," Stanford coach Lele Forood said. "Jenny has so many shots and does so many things well and moves beautifully, but Kristie when she was hitting through the court with her forehand was just too much pace at one point. That's kind of what the pro game is, so she's getting herself ready."
It's the third career singles crown for Ahn, who made a strong case to become Stanford's No. 1 singles player this season.
"It's nice to be healthy," Ahn said. "This is the first season since freshman year starting off with a clean slate, which is nice. And getting to be able to play so many matches in the fall, I think, is encouraging stuff."
Gone from last season's championship team is Nicole Gibbs, who turned pro prior to Wimbledon after winning back-to-back NCAA singles titles.
"Gibbsy, there's very few like her," Ahn said. "Great fighter, great tennis player, obviously a fantastic No. 1 player. But as one player leaves, it also gives other teammates an opportunity to really stand up."
Ahn, Tsay and sophomore Krista Hardebeck have the most experience on the roster, with a trio of freshmen getting their first taste of college tennis in the fall: Davidson, Zhao and Caroline Doyle.
"It will be great to see them grow," Ahn said. "It will be a great combination of somewhat veterans and newcomers. And I think that will mix very well on the courts -- lots of fire, passion."
The doubles pairings of Davidson-Tsay, Ahn-Zhao and Doyle-Hardebeck are unlikely to change when the regular season begins in January.
"This is certainly the way we drew it up with our potential teams, and nothing dissuaded us from what we saw this tournament," Forood said. "We need veterans on every court."
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