As the lone senior on the Tennessee women’s tennis team, Kata Szekely was showered with gifts in connection with her last home match against No. 59 LSU on Sunday.
Her family traveled from Hungary bearing presents, teammates wrote her supportive letters, and even a couple of young girl fans gave her a bouquet of flowers.
Szekely, in turn, provided an important gift to all her supporters — the clinching point in a 4-0 win against the Tigers.
In a script that could not have been written any better for her on Senior Day, she not only sealed the team victory for Tennessee (10-8, 7-4 SEC), but she also did it in dramatic, come-from-behind fashion.
After winning the first set, 6-4, over freshman Ella Taylor at No. 2 singles at Barksdale Outdoor Stadium, she trailed 2-5 in the second set and appeared headed to a third set.
Although the Lady Vols won the doubles point and Jesse Grace (6-1, 6-1) and Brynn Boren (6-1, 6-3) soon gave Tennessee a 3-0 lead at Nos. 6 and 1 singles, respectively, the remaining matches were very much in doubt.
However, Szekely was able to battle back and win the second set, 7-6, after winning a 7-2 tiebreaker.
“I knew I could come back,” Szekely excitedly said. “Sonia (Hahn-Patrick, the co-head coach) just told me to stay positive and just keep working.”
Hahn-Patrick called her match the perfect ending to her home career.
“It was huge for her,” she said. “It was just like the icing on the cake.”
Her whole stint on and off the court has also been an inspiration, her coach added.
“She just exemplifies everything that you want in a student athlete as far as the character of a person,” she said. “She has the work ethic and is a leader. She just has everything.”
Szekely admittedly had a very emotional and full weekend. Her family members — who were seeing her play for Tennessee for the first time — received a tour of the new UT Anderson Training Center football complex Saturday after watching her Friday night against Arkansas.
And on Sunday in the stands, her mother, Marianna, was sporting a “Tennessee Mom” T-shirt, while father Andras and brother Balazs were also wearing orange.
“They’re just enjoying their time because we’re all together as a family,” she said.
At the time Szekely clinched, No. 4 Tennessee player Mimi Fotopoulos had gone to a third set, as had Tiffany Tavares at No. 5. Caitlyn Williams, the No. 3 player, managed to avoid being swept in two sets by pulling back to 5-4 deficit against Mary Jeremiah in the second after losing the first, 7-5.
In doubles, Szekely and Boren — the No. 3 ranked pairing in the country — won their ninth straight match with an 8-1 total.