Men’s tennis kicked off the 2015 spring season with a trip to California to take on a handful of top-20 nationally ranked teams. The Cardinals played Redlands, followed by three matches in the Stag-Hen Invitational. After winning one of the four hard fought matches, Wes reasserted itself with a dominant home court win over Brandeis.
In the Cardinals’ first match, 19th-ranked nationally Redlands handled the opening three doubles matches, leaving Wesleyan in a tough place to mount a comeback. The Cards needed to win five of the six remaining singles matches to get the win, but fell one match short. Number 2 Michael Liu ’17, number 3 Steven Chen ’18, and number 5 Win Smith ’18 all won in three sets, with number 4 Dhruv Yadav ’18 winning in straight sets. However, number 1 Jake Roberts ’17 dropped his match in a second set tiebreak, and number 6 Cameron Daniels ’18 lost in three sets. With only four singles wins, the Cards lost 5-4 to Redlands.
First-year Yadav had some wise words about the match.
“The Redlands match was tough for us especially because it was our first match of the season,” said Yadav. “After going down 3-0 after dubs [doubles] and all of the freshmen immediately going down a break, it could have been easy to fold, but we fought back to tie the score at 4-4. Even though we ended up losing, this match showed me that we have the character and fight to do special things this year.”
Wesleyan followed up the loss with three extremely challenging matches in the Stag-Hen Invitational. In the Cardinals’ first match against host and number-two nationally, Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, the odds were stacked against the young team. The Cards didn’t back down from the highly ranked CMS squad, with the number 2 doubles tandem of Roberts and Greg Lyon ’17 winning 8-4. After dropping the other two doubles matches, the Cards couldn’t hang with the high-powered Claremont team, dropping all of the singles matches. Liu played number 1 singles in the match, pushing the NCAA Division III 2014 runner up to three sets. Roberts expressed a positive outlook following the match.
“We played arguably the best team in the country and we were in great positions in all three doubles courts, and in most every singles match,” said Roberts. “They stepped their game up, but that match gave us the confidence and realization that we can at least compete with every team in the country.”
Now knocked into the consolation round, the Cards matched up with another tough team, number-eight Kenyon. Despite Wes sitting at 34th nationally, the Cards didn’t back down, and put together a season defining win, 7-2 over the Lords. The Cards swept the dubs, and followed it up with four strong singles wins. Liu, Chen, and Smith all had decisive straight set wins.
With a chance to take fifth in the tournament, the Cardinals got another top-20 team, number 12 Case Western. Doubles was the Achilles heel again for the Cards, as they dropped all three, digging a tough hole for the squad. Chen and Stephen Monk ’15 each earned a singles win for Wes, but were the only Cardinals to do so. Liu, Yadav, and Smith each pushed their match to three sets. Wesleyan took sixth in the Invitational. If anything, the 7-2 loss to Case Western, and the tournament as a whole, told Wes that they had the ability to match up with the top teams in the country.
It appeared the squad’s hard work in California paid off last Sunday when the Cardinals faced Brandeis University, a team sitting at #33 in the ITA National Division III rankings. The Cardinals dominated on their home turf, blanking the Judges in both singles and doubles without so much as dropping a set.
Liu led the charge at first singles, pummeling his opponent from the baseline en route to a 6-4, 6-3 victory. At second singles, Roberts was equally impressive, relying on his big serve and strong forehand to coast to an easy 6-0, 6-3 win. Chen ground out a 7-5, 6-1 triumph at number 3 singles, while Yadav, Monk, and Sam Rudovsky ’16 also compiled victories at the bottom of the singles ladder.
The team proved to be equally dominant in doubles, with Liu and Zacko Brint ’16 posting an 8-5 win at first doubles, while Roberts and Lyon defeated their opponents convincingly 8-2 at number 2 doubles. Chen and Smith completed the sweep with an 8-1 win at third doubles.
“I was very pleased with the Brandeis match,” affirmed Head Coach Mike Fried. “It’s always gratifying to beat a nationally ranked team, and to do so in such a convincing manner, with such a solid, balanced effort from everyone, makes it particularly nice. We’re looking forward to hopefully keeping the train rolling up in Maine this weekend.”
The Cardinals will indeed have their work cut out for them this coming weekend when they visit NESCAC rivals Bowdoin and Bates, two squads currently ranked among the nation’s top 20 teams. The team hopes to use these initial conference matchups to set the tone for the rest of the season.