Vladutu Poised to Face NCAA Women's Tennis Elite
May 20, 2014
CHICAGO - After carving out a niche in DePaul women's tennis history, Ana Vladutu is ready to make her mark among the elite in the NCAA.
The DePaul sophomore became the first Blue Demon to qualify for the NCAA Championships singles tournament that runs for six days beginning Wednesday at Georgia's state-of-the-art Dan Magill Tennis Complex in Athens.
She will open against Kyle McPhillips of UCLA at 4:30 p.m. (ET).
Vladutu's introduction to the NCAA elite came on Sept. 20 in her first match of the season at the Michigan Invitational. The talented student-athlete from Romania upset the Wolverines' Emina Bektas 6-4, 2-6, 6-3 when Bektas was ranked No. 25 in the nation by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA).
That same Bektas comes into the NCAA tournament ranked among the top 16 seeds in the elite field of 64. Vladutu was among 15 automatic conference qualifiers with the highest ITA ranking in the BIG EAST.
"I was walking back to my dorm room three weeks ago from my philosophy class in the Arts and Letters Building when I got a text from Mark saying I had made it to the NCAA singles tournament," Vladutu said. "I saw the text and I screamed.
"My roommate Zaina Sufi was walking with me and she laughed. Everyone on the team had known about it except me. I had classes all day and didn't have a chance to check on it.
"When I realized I had made it, I got goose bumps. It was an amazing feeling. I was so happy and excited. It's such an incredible thing to make the NCAA tournament. Once I got into the rankings, I knew if I remained the highest player in the BIG EAST that I would make it.
"It is such a great accomplishment. I'm so excited to go there and play my best. I don't know what will happen as this is my first time there."
DePaul's Salma Salkovic and Ana Redecsi made NCAA doubles tournament in 2010.
"This is a testament to Ana's ability to play against the big-time players and also for all the hard work she put in last summer," said DePaul tennis coach Mark Ardizzone who will accompany Vladutu to Georgia. "No one in our program has ever played as much and challenged herself as much as Ana did last summer. She put in the work and now she gets to enjoy the results.
"The turning point for Ana came last summer. I've never had a player compete in as many tournaments. Give credit to her parents---especially her dad---for driving her everywhere to compete.
"She was the most prepared of any of the girls by far when the fall season rolled around. In her first match, she beat Michigan's Emina Bektas who was ranked No. 25 in the country. That's what lifted Ana into the national rankings and kept her there."
Vladutu remembers that watershed moment.
"It was a tough match and the best match I played all year," Vladutu said. "I was so determined. I knew I didn't have anything to lose and that if I played my best, nothing bad could happen."
Ardizzone continues to push Vladutu towards a bright future.
"I think she can be one of the best ever," Ardizzone said. "She has to believe that. Winning that match against the best player in the Midwest showed her she deserves to be out there with those kinds of players.
"She's had this potential for a lot of years and just needs to be more consistent. She didn't get to play No. 1 singles this spring because she didn't show the consistency. She plays to the level of her opposition, and that has kept her from being a great tennis player.
"I'm hoping for single-minded focus and tunnel vision at the NCAAs. She's going to face top competition and I think she is going to raise her game. She had struggled the last three weeks of the season but started playing well again against Notre Dame in the NCAA (team) tournament."
Ardizzone realizes this will have a positive impact on his program.
"The NCAA singles tournament runs six days and it's a random draw," Ardizzone said. "You've got to win two matches to become an All-American. This is the elite of college tennis. We've never had an All-American in women's tennis at DePaul.
"It's held at the best venue, the Mecca of college tennis. I'm hoping Ana qualifying for the NCAA has an effect on the rest of our team. They see what she has done and hear about the terrific experience when she comes back and now someone else will want to go next year."
That could be motivation to duplicate Vladutu's demanding offseason regimen.
"I played in eight tournaments and qualified for the main draw in a couple of them," Vladutu said. "I played on the ITF satellite tour. We call it the futures tour. I played against tennis pros and had some really good matches. After I got back home to Romania, I played in more tournaments. Playing for points is so difficult compared to just practicing."
Vladutu is a by-product of the immensely dedicated Ardizzone's recruiting trips to Europe that have netted DePaul a number of top women's tennis players. He discovered Vladutu while recruiting current DePaul junior Rebeca Mitrea who is also from Romania.
"Mark found me," Vladutu said. "He came to Romania my junior and senior years of high school and was recruiting Rebeca. I am really shy around people I don't know and didn't talk to him very much.
Ardizzone shot a glance at Vladutu and said: "She still doesn't talk to me much."
Mitrea is a big reason why Vladutu landed in Lincoln Park.
"Rebeca and I had known each other for seven years," Vladutu said. "I was interested in coming to DePaul and wanted to learn about the university and the sport of college tennis. I waited for Mark to talk to me some more.
"There's a lot to learn when you come to a different country. It was much easier for me because Rebeca had been here, and it's good to go someplace where you have a friend.
"Rebeca told me the city of Chicago is amazing and so different from back home. She said DePaul's practices were very intense, and that the energy of college tennis is something I should experience.
"I was used to the intensity of a hard practice because of my dad (Daniel Vladutu). My dad is tough on me back home, and that made it easier getting used to Mark's coaching style. They are both tough on me in a good way that makes me a better tennis player."
Both are hoping Vladutu is at her best in Georgia.
"Ana is one of the most enjoyable kids I've ever had," Ardizzone said. "You never hear her complain about anything. She is such a team player with a heart of gold.
"Going into Wednesday's competition, she feels the pressure a little bit. But she also knows this is her chance to make her mark in college tennis and set the bar high for 2015.
"I want her to enjoy the whole experience and then fight like crazy to get back here next year."