In a match far closer than the final score implied, the men’s tennis team fell to D-I UIC 5–2 on Saturday. It was the 17th-ranked Maroons season opener.
“Last night's match was more closely contested than the scoreline suggested. We had a very good chance of winning,” said fourth-year Kanul Pawa.
While UIC shut out the Maroons in doubles, scoring 8–5 against third-years Troy Brinker and Jan Stefanski, 8–6 against first-years Krishna Ravella and Zsolt Szabo, and 9–8 against first-year Neil Karandikar and Kunal Pawa, the single sets were a closer contest. Fourth-year Will Zhang (4–6, 6–4, 6–3) and Pawa (7–6, 4–6, 6–2) quashed opponents. Zhang is now 6–1 in play this year.
The Maroons lost four of their singles matches by only a few points, with three sets going into a tiebreaker. “Had any two of those matches gone our way, we would have ended up beating a Division I team,” Pawa said.
“We had early leads and opportunities, but UIC was able to work their way back and ended up taking the point,” Zhang added.
Third-year Troy Brinker agreed, stating, “UIC is a tough D-I opponent, but we certainly could've won. However, sometimes it is best to have your weaknesses exposed so that you work hard to learn from them and hopefully become a better player as the season goes on.”
“Most of the matches came down to a few points here or there,” fourth-year Will Zhang explained. “We played them tough from the start but ultimately just couldn't close out a couple of matches.”
Several fresh recruits joined the Maroons this year, and their performance thus far has been promising. “It was nice to see our new guys compete well in the collegiate dual match environment, which is very different from junior tennis,” said Zhang.
“We have a young team with three first-years in the singles lineup, so there is still room to grow,” added Pawa. “We need to work harder this week and try to correct the mistakes we made, especially in doubles.”
“Several UIC players wore intimidating neon costumes to blend in with the tennis ball, making it significantly harder to concentrate on the task at hand,” Brinker explained. “Some of our freshmen were quite taken aback by such an aggressive stance. Unfortunately, this happens all too often in college tennis. Next match we must do our best to either counter with our own neon costumes or change the color of the ball.”
The Maroons will play again this Thursday at Chicago State.
“We beat them last year, but don't really know what to expect from them this year. We'll need to stay focused and practice well; hopefully, our level of play as a team will improve with every match,” said Zhang.