Injury to Zhang leaves second D-I upset just out of men’s tennis’s reach

Chicago had D-I foe Dayton on the ropes late, but an injury at the first singles spot erased the Maroons’ shot at an upset, handing the Flyers a 4–2 win Saturday.

By Jake Grubman

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After toppling Northern Illinois last week, men’s tennis could have won a second straight match against D-I competition on Saturday, were it not for one very large cramp.

With D-I Dayton nursing a close 3–2 lead and Chicago leading in first and sixth singles, leg and back cramps forced third-year Will Zhang to retire early from the first singles match, gifting the Flyers a 4–2 win.

Scholarship competition or not, the Maroons left their home court (at Bally’s Fitness on 47th Street) with a bitter taste, having given away a potentially momentum-building match.

“We believe that we have a chance to win coming into every match,” fourth-year Garrett Brinker said. “We believe that we have the skill to beat every one of these teams; it just depends on if we decide to show up that day.”

Coming into Saturday with two wins against D-I opponents under their belts this season, Brinker and fellow fourth-year Steve Saltarelli came within two games of winning the doubles point for Chicago. But errors at the start pushed the senior captains down two games, and Dayton was able to gain an 8–6 win and the early advantage.

“The doubles match was somewhat of a disappointment for Steve and me,” Brinker said. “We’ve had a great opportunity to play together for the past two years, so this year we believe that we have a great chance to really make an impact at number one doubles. The match on Saturday was definitely our worst performance so far. We came out flat and went down early, making it difficult to come back.”

Coming off the tough luck in doubles, a handful of missed opportunities in singles matches ultimately cursed the Maroons. Second-years Jan Stefanski and Troy Brinker were able to capture two-set wins at the two and five spots, respectively, and Dayton took the fourth spot cleanly. At three singles, first-year Dillon Klincke, who was playing up from six, won the first set before letting the second two—and his match—slip away.

After that, it came down to Zhang, who was playing in the top spot, and first-year Harrison Abrams at six. Abrams won his first set 6–3 and appeared in control in the second, meaning that a win for Zhang would give Chicago the overall victory.

Zhang gave up a lead and lost the first set, then bounced back to knot the affair at one set apiece. In the first game of the third set, Zhang started experiencing cramps, but he won anyway. The 2009 All-American tried to play a couple more points, then went down on the court with cramps in his legs and back, ending the Maroons’ shot at the upset.

The young Maroons (the team had just one upperclassman in its singles lineup Saturday) will continue to season up for D-III play when UIC, yet another D-I opponent, comes to Hyde Park at 7 p.m. this Friday.

“We’ll start to see how we truly match up against other D-III schools when we play Wash U [on February 14], and then when we travel to Kalamazoo the following weekend,” Garrett Brinker said. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to carry over the tone that we’ve set in our D-I matches to those crucial early season D-III matches.”