2023 NCAA Championships: Freshman Tian, senior Sleeth to play for D1 women's title

Victoria Chiesa | May 26, 2023

ORLANDO - Two players at opposite ends of their intercollegiate careers will compete in the last singles match of the 2022-23 Division I women's college tennis season, as UCLA freshman Tian Fangran and University of Oklahoma senior Layne Sleeth will square off Saturday at the USTA National Campus in Orlando, Fla. for the national title. 


The two booked their spots in the championship match with a pair of contrasting semifinal wins Friday, as matches began outdoors in Orlando but then were completed indoors due to rain. Tian, who hasn't lost a set thus far, continued her march through the women's field with a 6-3, 6-2 win over fellow a first-year, USC's Maddy Sieg, while Sleeth rallied from deficits in both the first and third sets of her 7-5, 4-6, 6-3 win over NC State junior Amelia Rajecki. 


Beijing native Tian, the Pac-12 Newcomer of the Year for legendary coach Stella Sampras-Webster's Bruins, is the first UCLA player to compete in the national individual final since Keri Phebus, who won the title, in 1995.

"This match took a little bit longer than I thought [to sink in]," Tian said afterwards. "I didn't realize I won until, like, now. It's kind of crazy, this tournament. I didn't think I would reach so far, but I just kind of played one match at a time, and I really enjoy competing here."


Sleeth, from Markham, Ontario, meanwhile, is the first Sooner to ever reach the championship match. To make school history, the Canadian saved three set points en route to turning around the first set against Rajecki, and later, came from 3-1 down in the decider to book a spot in the championship.


Unseeded in this draw, Sleeth has come from behind in two of her five wins so far; she also rallied from a set behind in her win over the No. 6 seed, Duke University's Chloe Beck, in the last 16.

"It means so much to me," Sleeth, who played her first two seasons at the University of Florida before transferring to play for head coach Audra Cohen in Norman, said about reaching the final. "I love Oklahoma so much, so it just means the world that I could do this. Today was such a battle. It was such a great match. I think we both played some of our best tennis, so I'm just glad I could get through it."


Tian, a No. 9-16 seed here, improved to 3-0 against her fellow Pac-12 standout Sieg this year in victory. She led 5-1 in the first set before closing out a one-set lead, and led 4-1 in the second set when the match was moved indoors. 


"Maddy's a really good player," Tian said. "I’ve played three times now and I feel like we play a little similar. I think the only important thing is the deuce points and who can handle that better. I think I was definitely luckier today."


Not only has Tian not yet lost a set in these championships, she's lost more than four games in a set only once. While she's competing for herself this week, the name on the front of her shirt hasn't been far from the rookie's mind. It will remain so on Saturday, as she looks to do something no one in the storied history of her program has done in nearly 30 years. 


"I couldn't do it [without the team]," she said. "There's so many people behind me supporting me, watching my match, no matter if I'm here or back at UCLA. I couldn't do it without them. Winning this match, trying to get the title, is not just for me. It's also for the Bruins."


First serve for the women's final is scheduled for 10 a.m. at the USTA's Collegiate Center.


For more information on the NCAA Championships, including tickets, draws and schedule, visit the USTA's tournament homepage. For all the latest news from the Division I, II and III tournaments, visit's news landing page for the event.

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