UNLV’s Batta claims regional tennis title

Since moving from her native Budapest, Hungary, four years ago and enrolling at UNLV, Lucia Batta has experienced plenty of culture shock.

“The food was the biggest thing,” she said. “I hate American food. My grandma cooks every day (in Hungary).”

In lieu of her grandmother’s homemade Hungarian goulash, Batta has feasted on her foes on the tennis court for the Lady Rebels, earning Mountain West Freshman of the Year and Player of the Year honors, and setting a school record with 28 straight victories last season.

Ranked No. 41 in the nation, Batta has opened her senior year in equally dominant fashion, winning her second Mountain Region singles championship Sunday at UNLV’s Fertitta Tennis Complex.

The second-seeded Batta beat fifth-seeded Michelle Okhremch of UNR in straight sets, 7-5, 6-3, in the final to improve to 10-1 this fall.

It marked the fourth consecutive year a Lady Rebel has won the regional singles title, which is contested by 19 western teams.

Batta won it as a freshman in 2010, and teammate Aleksandra Josifoska claimed the past two crowns.

“To win the regional singles championship four straight years is unheard of and a testimony to our girls and the type of program we have here,” 15-year UNLV coach Kevin Cory said. “Lucia is as big a competitor as I have coached, and I know she was eager to get back to the indoor nationals.”

With the win, Batta advances to the 2013 USTA/ITA National Intercollegiate Indoor Championships, which are scheduled for Nov. 7-10 at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing, N.Y.

Batta hopes to improve on her 2010 showing, when she lost in the first round.

“New York is the hardest tournament of the year,” she said. “I really hope I can win one or two matches, and then we’ll see.”

Batta almost qualified in doubles as well, but she and 32nd-ranked Josifoska fell in the regional final to Utah’s top-seeded and 18th-ranked duo of Paige Miles and Michaela Berkova.

UNLV’s senior duo led 6-4 before surrendering the final four points in an 8-6 loss.

“We played the doubles first, so I was a little upset that we lost. We had chances to win,” Batta said. “I wanted to win both and win doubles together with my teammate. It would’ve been much better, but I’m really happy I won singles. It means a lot since I’m a senior.”

The top-seeded Josifoska, also a 22-year-old former conference Player of the Year, lost in the singles semifinals on Saturday.

The native of Macedonia met Batta when they were girls playing tournaments in Europe and followed her to UNLV.

“We’re best friends since our freshman year,” said Batta, who lost in the regional final to Josifoska her sophomore year. “I can’t be competitive with her. It’s just so hard to play against your best friend.”

The Lady Rebels have had better individual players. Elena Gantcheva was ranked in the nation’s top 10 in singles and top five in doubles. But Cory said he’s never had a more talented pair of players from the same recruiting class.

“To have one girl at that level is pretty special. Having two, we’re certainly trying to enjoy it while we can,” he said. “They’ve done so much for our program. It’s been a great run. They’ve definitely kept us on the map.”

Batta, who switched to a two-handed forehand after tearing a ligament in her right wrist in 2007, finished 38-6 last season — the second-most wins in school history — and is 21 wins away from breaking UNLV’s record for career victories.

“She’s shown over four years she can compete with anyone in the country,” Cory said, pointing to Batta’s wins last season over the Pac-12 singles champion and the No. 2 player from a third-ranked Florida Gators team in the NCAA Tournament. “Her strength, for sure, is she overpowers her opponents. She can take a ball from anywhere on the court and dictate the point.”

Batta still dislikes American food — she gets her Hungarian food fix each Christmas, when she heads home for a few weeks — but she loves the country.

“I want to stay in the U.S.,” she said.

Contact reporter Todd Dewey at tdewey@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0354. Follow him on Twitter: @tdewey33.

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