There weren’t very many expectations for Ana Roman Dominguez this season. In fact, the USF women’s tennis senior was coming off her worst college season yet after posting a 5-12 singles record as a junior.
But this season is different. It’s quite the opposite.
Roman Dominguez won her first match of the season against the Intercollegiate Tennis Association’s (ITA) No. 88-ranked player, Natalia Boltinskaya. She didn’t stop there, though.
One week later, Roman Dominguez took on another ranked opponent against LSU — No. 13 Eden Richardson. That win earned Roman Dominguez her first AAC Player of the Week award. Next on USF’s schedule was Georgia, home to ITA’s No. 1-ranked player Katarina Jokic.
“Whenever you walk up to the court, you never know what’s going to happen,” Roman Dominguez said before she took on Jokic.
Roman Dominguez beat Jokic in straight sets en-route to a perfect 5-0 start to her season, while earning a second consecutive AAC Player of the Week award.
“The past three years I was looking up to these people (in the rankings) and now it is just a number on paper,” Roman Dominguez said Tuesday. “It doesn’t matter what number…on the court, that’s not going to make her win unless she actually beats me on the court.”
Roman Dominguez was unranked in ITA’s preseason rankings and will remain unranked until Feb. 6, when the ITA releases its next list of rankings.
“I think it would be really weird if she wasn’t (ranked),” coach Cristina Moros said. “I definitely think she’s going to be in the rankings, but the overall goal is to get her in the NCAA Tournament and she’s definitely established herself enough to be in that tournament.”
Moros was hired just before Roman Dominguez’s freshman season and didn’t get a chance to recruit the player, but has been able to coach the veteran player through her entire collegiate career.
“It’s really special to see your senior that you’ve put so much hard work and effort into and really see the sacrifices and hard work that she’s made kind of come to a head there,” Moros said. “It’s special to watch.”
Part of the hard work came from off the tennis court. Roman Dominguez is native to Burgos, Spain and she spoke almost no English when she came to USF. She said it was almost impossible for her to have a conversation in English when she first came to America.
For reference, she said the most English she knew was the equivalent of what most high school students in America know about Spanish.
“We studied English back home, but I wasn’t able to have a full conversation,” Roman Dominguez said. “Then you get here (to USF) and your teammates and your coaches help you out.”
As for Roman Dominguez’s on-the-court effort, Moros can point to one change that has been made over the course of a college career — Roman Dominguez’s serve.
“Her serve is completely different than it was when she first got here,” Moros said. “I think she’s confident enough now where she’s actually getting some free points off her serve, which I think is helping.”
But one tool that Roman Dominguez had in her arsenal when she first came to USF has stuck with her all four years. She is a competitor and this season she has fought for almost every point she’s won.
“In our sport, when you’re able to establish yourself that you’re always going to be there and let your opponent know: ‘In order to beat me, you’re going to have to play a great point, every point,’” Moros said. “She’s done an amazing job of being to stay in every point.”
For Roman Dominguez, the competition and fighting for every point is half the fun of tennis.
“I love the feeling of being in competition and not knowing what is going to happen,” she said. “I love that feeling of being super tired and trying to get that win.”
Winning, she says, is the other half of a fun tennis match.
As a freshman, Roman Dominguez had a lot of fun. She won 12 matches and was named the AAC Freshman of the Year. She slipped slightly her sophomore season with an 11-10 record.
But as a junior she didn’t win as often. She only won five matches last season.
“She was definitely struggling a bit, she wasn’t relying on her strength of staying in every point, she was going through some things that were difficult,” Moros said. “Looking at it now, she kind of had to go through that year to learn a bit, overcome those challenges and get to where she needs to be.”
Now, Roman Dominguez has an undefeated record, two back-to-back weekly AAC honors, a strong case for a national ITA ranking and a goal of an NCAA Tournament berth. A list with some expectations that weren’t even on her radar before the season started.
“Pretty much everybody is going to be a tough match, it doesn’t matter if they are ranked or not, I expect all of them to compete well,” Roman Dominguez said. “I feel like I’m on the right track and competing and practicing well. I think the rankings will come at some point, but if they don’t, I’ll be happy as long as I’m doing the right thing.”