Despite returning from Williams this past weekend with a loss, the now 0-1 men’s tennis team members say they learned many valuable lessons and gained much experience.
“I think seeing the defending national champs this early in the year is extremely helpful,” said Head Coach Michael Fried. “Not only is it an early test of where we are, but also a great measuring stick for where we need to be to play with the top teams in the country, particularly on the doubles court.”
Williams defeated the Cardinals by a final score of 7-2, but many of the matches were tightly contested. Wesleyan’s depth is one of its strengths, as star performers change from match to match. Against the Ephs, the two winners were Jake Roberts ’17 and Michael King ’16.
Roberts, who played number-one singles, was able to take down senior Matt Micheli in straight sets 6-3, 6-4. Even with his serve not at 100 percent, Roberts was able to utilize his groundstrokes to his advantage.
“I was dictating points with my forehand,” Roberts said. “I played very consistent and kept the ball to his backhand. Also, I stayed mentally focused and covered the court very well.”
The victory was impressive, as Micheli was an ITA Division III All-American in 2013 and played an integral role in the Ephs’ 2013 Division III National Championship. The first-year stud played effective tennis without letting Michelis’ prior success rattle him.
“I wasn’t really bothered by the situation because I didn’t think about it,” Roberts said. “I stayed focused on the fact that if I played my game and took it point by point, it would be a competitive match. Who he was or whom he played for was irrelevant in the moment.”
Third singles was also a bright spot for the Redbirds as King defeated first-year player Rohan Shastri in a super tiebreak to finish off a 6-1, 5-7, 10-6 win. King was able to take down one of the top recruits in the country, both mentally and physically, by playing long points and keeping the ball in the court.
“The biggest thing that helped me win was that I gave him very few free points the whole match,” King said. “I made a ton of balls every rally, and eventually he wore down, started to go for too much, and made errors as a result.”
Usually, King is the one was loses his focus in the latter stages of the match, but after this past summer, he is a much more refined player.
“In the past, I’ve had poor success with third sets and 10-point tiebreakers, but I’ve played a ton of matches over the summer and worked on my mental game a lot,” King said. “Winning a 10-point tiebreaker last weekend and then another one yesterday gave me some nice satisfaction that I’ve improved a lot since last year, especially my mentality on the court.”
The decisive super tiebreak was exciting, and many of the players and fans were on their feet. King was determined to gain back momentum after giving up a lead late in the second set.
“After handing him the last two games, I knew that I had to calm down, refocus immediately, and forget about losing the second set, which is something I used to have a lot of trouble with, otherwise the match could slip through my fingers quickly,” King said. “I told myself to relax and revert to the game plan that got you so far up in the first place, and thankfully it worked.”
Despite winning this week, Roberts and King admitted that they both still have parts of their game that they are eager to fine-tune.
Roberts wants to work on finishing points at the net more efficiently, as well as revitalizing his ferocious serve back to its proper form. King added that having a higher first-serve percentage is a necessity and that he can help this by being a little less aggressive. Moreover, the sophomore looks to develop stamina and strength in his legs, saying that they get weaker as the length of the match increases.
Next up on the slate for the Cardinals is the ITA regional tournament at Middlebury this upcoming weekend, Friday, Sept. 27 through Sunday, Sept. 29. Many of the top teams in the country will be in attendance, including Little Three rivals Amherst and Williams.
“After this match, I am hopeful and encouraged by where we are and optimistic about reaching our goal of joining the ranks of nationally competitive teams in the future,” Fried said.