Unbeaten and rarely even tested.
That’s the way Sarah-Maude Fortin has started her collegiate career for the Washington women’s tennis team.
Fortin, from Montreal, is 8-0 in singles competition for the Huskies (7-1), who open Pac-12 play at 1:30 p.m. Friday at home against USC (6-3). The Huskies host UCLA (6-2) at noon Sunday.
“We knew coming in that she was a top recruit out of Canada, and we knew what she was capable of, but she’s had a great start,” said UW women’s tennis coach Robin Stephenson, a native of Kitchener, Ontario, about an hour plane ride from Montreal. “I think that’s a tribute to her work ethic. She has a really good attitude and she works so hard every day, and has pretty high goals for herself, so I am not surprised to see it paying off.”
Fortin made a name for herself by winning the U-16 national title in Canada and reaching the national finals three other times in her age classification.
Stephenson heard about Fortin from one of the Canadian coaches she keeps in contact with.
“Before Robin contacted me, I didn’t know much about the school or even about Seattle,” Fortin said.
Stephenson went to Montreal to visit Fortin, who started researching the University of Washington.
“We really connected, and she reminds me of myself when I was her age — just her ambitions and her commitment to her tennis and what she wants to achieve,” Stephenson said. “She wants to do as well as she can here in college and then play professionally. She is a very optimistic person and she is not afraid to dream big.”
Fortin had intended to turn professional after high school, but she said the improvement of women’s college tennis in the United States and the desire to have a “background aside from sports” led her put that dream on hold.
“I was really looking for a place that offered a really good tennis team and also really good academics, and UW was obviously a really good combination of them both,” said Fortin, who plans to major in finance. “For me, it was an amazing choice that had everything I wanted.”
Fortin started this season playing at No. 3 singles. After going 5-0 and losing only one set, the freshman was moved to No. 2. Fortin responded with three straight two-set sweeps, including wins over players from Washington State and Baylor, ranked No. 15 in the nation at the time.
“We felt like she was ready to be challenged, and it was a good move,” Stephenson said of moving Fortin up in the order. “She proved against Baylor and Wazzu that she is capable of beating No. 2s on good teams.”
Fortin, whose first language is French, said she felt “out of her comfort zone” upon arriving in Seattle.
“But the people here are so great — my teammates and my coaches and the whole staff — and everyone is so nice and welcoming that I adapted pretty quickly,” said Fortin, who speaks fluent English. “It makes it easier to be away from my family and everyone I love back home.”
Adapting to college tennis hasn’t been an issue, whether it’s in singles or doubles, where she suffered her first defeat in eight matches against Baylor.
“I am very happy and my teammates give me so much energy on the court,” Fortin said. “It motivates me so much in every single one of my matches. I feel like I’ve improved a lot since I got here and I feel very confident every time I step on the court, and I think that shows in my results.”
Fortin said the coaches have helped her with “some mental aspects” of the game including controlling emotions, and she said having a coach on the bench has “allowed her to be more aware of what is going with my opponent.”
The challenges will get tougher the next month against top Pac-12 teams, but Stephenson is confident Fortin will handle them just fine.
“She rises to the occasion and is excited for the challenge,” Stephenson said. “She is not someone who shies away from tough matches. She’s got the game to beat anyone.”