With UAAs near, men’s tennis nails weak Luther

By Ben Jervis

The postseason is just around the corner, and a lights-out victory was just what men’s tennis needed to get things going.

Looking to rebound from a couple of tough losses, the 19th-ranked Maroons (10–8) swept regionally 15th-ranked Luther (13–11) 7–0 at the Stagg Courts Friday afternoon. Fourth-year ace Ward Bortz and third-year captain Vivek Venkataraman (6–3) teamed up to defeat second-years Jono Martin and Isaac White (4–5) 9–7. Bortz (14–7), ranked 21st nationally, took care of regionally 15th-ranked Norse third-year Christian Klein (11–9) 6–2, 1–6, 6–0 at first singles.

After having dropped two of its last three matches, Chicago entered the day prepared for a brawl against a Luther squad that had posted an 85–53 singles record on the season. All-around solid participation allowed the Maroons to overcome the talented Norse.

“We were pretty hungry after our loss to Calvin, so this was one of the days when all six of us showed up,” Venkataraman said. “It was a good team effort all around.”

Venkataraman (10–13) beat Martin (8–13) in straight sets 6–2, 6–2 at the second spot to earn his first victory in almost a month. Second-year Sasha Deriy (14–8) extended his personal win streak to seven after dealing a similar 6–2, 6–2 blow to second-year Jared Wiklund (14–13) at third, while classmate Joseph Tchan (13–10) beat Luther second-year Brad Nelson (10–13) 6–3, 6–1 at fourth singles. Second-year Bharath Sithian (11–10) notched a 6–4, 6–2 victory over second-year Reid Mason (12–11) at fifth.

“Our one and two spots have been the most consistent this season, with the three spot also playing well,” head coach Marty Perry said. “This was a pretty tough Luther team.”

With his squad already up 6–0, first-year Connor Farrell (9–6) looked focused and determined against Norse third-year Bjorn Hanson. The young star came back from a 3–6 loss in the first set to take the second and the tiebreaker 6–4, 1–0 at sixth.“Connor is very positive and a real fighter,” Venkataraman said. “His personal effort was indicative of the team’s effort on the day.”

While the final tally may have indicated just as solid play in doubles competition, the Maroons just barely overpowered several strong Norse combinations to pull out a victory. After the Bortz/Venkataraman tandem grabbed its win, Sithian and Tchan (6–5) paired up to defeat Mason and Klein (12–6) 8–4, while Deriy and first-year Alex Winney (3–6) fell to Nelson and Wiklund (9–1) 8–4.

“Winning the doubles point is very valuable in every match because you have an important advantage going into singles,” Venkataraman said. “Our doubles have strengthened throughout the season, and now as a team we’re pretty confident going into our matches that we can get two out of the three slots.”

Hoping to ride momentum into the end-of-season big meets, Chicago will take on NAIA 18th-ranked Olivet Nazarene (8–4) Wednesday in its last regularly scheduled match at Stagg. The home team will have the opportunity to sharpen their skills before heading to Atlanta Friday for the UAAs, which will run through Sunday. Only matches against Central Region rivals Case Western (8–2) and Wash U (14–1) stand to seriously affect the Maroons’ playoff chances, as NCAA bids will go to the top eight squads in each region. Chicago currently looks to be right on the edge, holding the eighth ranking in the most recent Central Region poll.

“Our strategy is to take each match as it comes, and not look ahead,” Venkataraman said. “We are a team of pretty emotional and aggressive players, so it’s important to stay patient and level-headed. This is the culmination of our entire season, and everyone is ready to go and finish it strong.”