Cutura's Accomplishment Has Never Been Done Before
Oct. 17, 2012
CHICAGO - In just the second tournament of her collegiate career, Matea Cutura achieved something that had never been done in school history.
The DePaul freshman defeated the No. 12 singles player in the country on Friday, Oct. 12th at the Wildcat Invitational in Evanston.
Northwestern's Kate Turvy represented the highest-ranked opponent a Blue Demon women's tennis player has ever beaten.
How's that for an introduction to the world of NCAA women's tennis.
"I didn't know it was such a big deal and acted like it was a normal win," said Cutura, who came to DePaul from Zagreb, Croatia. "I didn't know she was ranked so high, but all my teammates knew it.
"After the match, they were jumping around and going crazy. It was so nice they were so happy for me."
Before the match, DePaul coach Mark Ardizzone warned Cutura about Turvy without mentioning the stellar ITA ranking.
"Matea didn't have a very good opening match against Natallia Pintusava of Minnesota," Ardizzone said. "It was 3-6, 6-2, 6-1, and that was the first set she has lost this season.
"She was a little nervous when she faced Turvy. Kate is an extremely unique player and one of the most competitive in college tennis. You have to maintain your focus the entire match against her.
"I didn't know if Matea was up to that challenge. But in the opening moments of the match, she hit two substantial balls. Eventually, her shots were just too good for Turvy."
After surprising Turvy 6-1 in the opening set, Cutura ran into a few problems.
"Matea had a couple of bad games in the second set," Ardizzone said Cutura's eventual 6-3 win. "There were a couple of scary moments in that set, but she came up with some clutch shots. It was impressive how she stayed so focused the whole time.
"In Europe, tennis players aren't accustomed to going all-out the entire match. When one player gets a big lead, the opponent tends to ease off. Matea is realizing she has to play hard all the time and that her opponents are never going to give in."
What happened at the Vandy Christie and Combe Tennis Centers began to settle in later that night.
"It's great, and hopefully I can have even better wins in my career," Cutura said. "It's good that this happened so early. I'll have more confidence from the start.
"Mark told us at dinner that night about beating the highest-ranked opponent in school history. I have to admit---it felt good.
"I won the U-16 and U-18 Croatian Championship and was second in the Croatian Women's Championship in 2010 when I was 17 years old.
"I was hoping to be good, but it's better to do it and then talk about it."
Cutura created a little buzz heading into Thursday's USTA/ITA Midwest Regionals at Illinois in Champaign.
"I would've liked her to go into regionals as an absolute unknown," Ardizzone said, ever the strategist. "I mean, Matea will be the first to say that she doesn't look like an elite athlete. But after this, I'm afraid the word is out.
"Matea doesn't have a big head and is very humble. Physically, it's taking its toll. I really hope she can get through regionals.
"I'll be curious to see where she ends up in the rankings at the end of the fall. She has already beaten a couple of student-athletes who play No. 1 on their teams. She's going to get better with her net play, volleys and will get stronger physically."
Cutura sounded ready for the repercussions of taking down a highly ranked opponent.
"If other teams start to focus on me now, well, I like the attention," Cutura said. "It's also good for the team. They know it won't be easy for them to beat us. All the girls on our team are really good players.
"I really like the team concept in college tennis. It is so different from what I am used to in Europe. Over there, everything is individual.
"It's great to have nine girls cheering for me. Even though I am focusing so hard during the match, I know my teammates are there. Sometimes, I look up and see them."
She is more than happy to return the favor. Cutura was shouting through the fence during teammate Ana Vladutu's match at Northwestern.
"I saw she was struggling a little," Cutura said. "I know she's good, and I wanted to help her. I kept telling her to play her game and I know she can do it. She won the match."
A team of Blue Demon ambassadors headed by ex-tennis player Selma Salkovic won over Cutura.
"I liked DePaul from the beginning, and all those people made me more certain of my decision. I trusted them---and they were right."
And now, just seven weeks into the school year, the newcomer feels right at home.
"I like all the girls on the team," Cutura said. "We have a good connection and we always cheer for each other. I really like the college thing.
"When we're shouting out stuff to each other on the court, I'll say `come on,' in Croatian and then something in English. Jasmin Kling and Carolin Neuman will say an expression in German. Patricia Fargas will shout something in Spanish. Ana and Rebeca Mitrea will use a combination of English and Romanian.
"It's such an international team."
Going to college so far from home has come up all aces for Cutura.
"I like the school, the professors, coaches, Athletics Academic Advising, the training staff, sports medicine and Jeanne (Director of Athletics Jean Lenti Ponsetto)," Cutura said.
"When I enter a room, everyone says hi. I feel like I belong here.
"It's good to be a part of DePaul."