For their final tuneup before their season’s grand finale, men’s tennis showed up firing on all cylinders.
Playing at home Monday on the Stagg Field Courts, the 21st-ranked Maroons (12–6) breezed by Olivet Nazarene, the 19th-ranked team in NAIA tennis. The victory makes four in a row for Chicago, which has only played twice since returning from its trip to Hilton Head, SC over spring break. The Tigers picked up their second loss of the year, dropping to 5–2 after opening the season on a five-match win streak.
On the singles side of the competition, the Maroons got top performances and convincing wins from several players. Fourth-year Bharath Sithian, who played in the six spot, beat Aaron Gregory, going 6–3, 6–1 to send the third-year packing in straight sets.
“It’s nice to see Bharath finish strong,” head coach Marty Perry said. “He was playing in his final match on his home court.”
Working out of the fifth position, second-year Maroon staffer Steve Saltarelli scored a win over first-year Michael Chamberlain, pulling out the first set 6–4 and then cruising 6–0 in the second.
Even though he wound up winning, the trend was just the opposite for first-year Mark Bonner during his match in the fourth notch. After taking his first set against second-year Mark Bell by a tally of 6–1, the Tigers player picked up the pace and only lost the second set by two games, 6–4.
Chicago got yet another straight-set win from second-year Lado Bakhutashvili, who was up against fourth-year Hector Sanchez. Sanchez managed to keep the first set close, only losing 6–4, but the wheels fell off after that, and Bakhutashvili did not drop a single game in the second set.
“Lado played really well at the three,” Perry said.
In the Maroons’ lone loss in singles play, first-year Tim Walsh narrowly fell to fellow first-year Hugo Moriya 3–6, 6–4, 1–0. Having faltered in the first set, Walsh came back to win the second and push the super tiebreaker to the very brink, losing by just two points, 10–8.
But Chicago’s top player, first-year Will Zhang, continued the squad’s winning ways, even though his W didn’t come easy. Zhang came through in the first set, garnering a 6–4 victory over third-year Uyapo Nleya, but let the Tigers top player take the next set into a 6–6 tie. Facing the prospect of a super tiebreaker, Zhang held tough and picked up the regular tiebreaker 7–4, wrapping up the match and securing his win.
In doubles play, the Maroons were equally dominant, taking two out of three matches off of the Tigers. Bonner and Sithian teamed up on Gregory and Sanchez, downing the hapless pair by a final count of 8–0.
Just as impressive was the win Saltarelli and first-year Paul Namkoong recorded against Chamberlain and Nleya. Namkoong, who isn’t a regular fixture on the court for Chicago, came in as a sub and held his own, working with Saltarelli to beat the stout Olivet duo 8–6.
“Paul did a good job for us coming off the bench,” Perry said.
The Tigers did top the Maroons in one doubles match. Bell and Moriya brought their A-games, and Bakhutashvili and Walsh couldn’t keep up, eventually losing the match 8–2.
Overall, though, it was a good day for Chicago. Before Monday’s match, the team had dropped three in a row to Olivet, losing to the Tigers in the 2004, 2005, and 2006 seasons. The 2005 and 2006 matches were especially tight, with the Maroons falling 4–3 each time, and this year’s showdown gave them a shot to get payback.
“They’re usually pretty good. We’ve always had close matches, and they’re always ranked,” Perry said. “So it was good that we ended up doing pretty well.”
None of the Chicago players who appeared in Monday’s match played in the 2006 edition, and Perry credited the Maroons’ improved performance to an infusion of young blood.
“The addition of the new players has really raised our level of play,” Perry said.
The lone drawback to the relatively easy win is that the team may not go into this weekend’s UAA Championships as prepared as possible.
“We’ve not been tested in a while, and we haven’t lost in while,” Perry said. “I hope we’ll be able to pick up the momentum as the week goes along.”