Men’s tennis stays hot, takes down Wheaton

By Joe Katz

Once men’s tennis gets rolling, they’re usually tremendously difficult to stop. Wheaton just became the latest opponent to get flattened.

In their final road showdown of the regular season, the 19th-ranked Maroons (9–6) put down the Thunder (10–7) in a 5–2 victory Tuesday. Fourth-year Ward Bortz (12–6) won his fourth straight at first singles 6–2, 6–2 while second-year Sasha Deriy (11–8) matched that feat at third 6–1, 6–7, 6–1.

It was the fourth triumph in a row for the team as well, who had previously lost six of their last seven. The streak matched a similar stretch from January 28 to February 11 for the most consecutive dual meet victories this season.

“I think our streakiness is somewhat deceptive. We played very good teams consecutively, which didn’t help our record or confidence, but we’ve performed about as well as our original regional and national ranking would predict,” said third-year Vivek Venkataraman. “We have been streaky in the sense that different people show up on different days. Hopefully, the team will be in stride by UAAs so we can pull off an upset like last year’s.”

“We had a tough stretch where we played some good teams. I think we lost confidence, and we got that back during spring break,” said head coach Marty Perry. “We felt a sense of urgency to get things going, and we’re playing with a lot of energy now. We’re playing harder, and we don’t take any match for granted.”

The Maroons demonstrated their rediscovered drive from the outset against the regionally 11th-ranked Thunder. For the second meet in a row, they swept all three doubles matches to earn the pairs point. Bortz and Venkataraman teamed up for an 8–0 whipping of first-year David Warren and second-year Josh Williams, while Deriy and first-year Alex Winney put an 8–1 hurting on first-year Ian Kirchner and third-year Geoff Pearman. Second-years Joseph Tchan and Bharath Sithian had a comparatively tough time against Wheaton’s top singles players, fourth-years Matt Siami and Christian Dawes, but still led the whole way in an 8–6 victory.

“That was probably our best doubles performance of the year from all three pairs,” Perry said. “Winning doubles makes it a lot easier. We don’t approach it any differently. Everyone has to go out in singles and win their point for the team whether or not you win the doubles point, but it does make it easier.”

After experimenting through February and early March with different tandems, the team seems to have found the winning formula with these three new pairings. Early on the Maroons grouped Bortz with Winney, Venkataraman with Sithian, and Deriy with Tchan.

The singles matches would not be as one-sided. While Bortz cruised 6–2, 6–2 over Siami (3–7) to make a bid to improve on his 21st-place national standing, and Sithian (9–9) undid Warren (7–4) at fifth 6–0, 6–2, their teammates were subsequently forced to go the distance against some tough opponents.

Tchan’s meet-clinching 6–1, 3–6, 7–6 victory at fourth against Williams (7–2) was a hard-fought one as Williams overcame illness and found his serve in his second match. The Chicago second-year, now 12–8, refused to lose and emerged on top in the tiebreaker.

“This was a great win because we all played really well, and our hard work over spring break is paying off,” Tchan said. “But what is more important is our conference tournament in two weeks. Right now, our team has great chemistry and everyone is looking forward to UAAs.”

It would be more of the same with Deriy, who was forced to a third set after Pearman (8–4) similarly struck his groove after struggling at the outset. Chicago’s third man reestablished control in the rubber set, going up 4–0 early.

“He played a little more aggressively in the first and third set, but he didn’t play poorly in the second set. It was just a matter of their player playing well and keeping in the game emotionally through all three sets,” Perry said.

With the meet in hand, Venkataraman (9–11) and Winney (5–7) couldn’t finish off the shutout. The rookie fought gamely but was eventually put away 5–7, 6–3, 6–2 against a quality sixth singles opponent in Kirchner (6–2). Winney got the start in place of classmate Connor Farrell, who was unavailable to travel for academic reasons. At second, Dawes (7–5) took advantage of illness on the part of Venkataraman to pull out a 6–0 win in the third set after splitting the first two 6–4, 3–6.

“Vivek got into a hole in the first set. He started playing better toward the end, and stayed with that game style in the second, but he gave all his energy to that second set,” Perry said. “In the third, he just ran out of gas.”

“I was pretty disappointed with my singles performance,” Venkataraman said. “I haven’t had a healthy match since DePauw, so physically I’ve been struggling a bit. I felt in control of the match but wasn’t able to maintain my energy for the third set.”

Now back at .500 with a 5–5 record against regionally-ranked opponents, the Maroons will turn their attention to the trio of top-flight foes who will invade the Stagg Courts this weekend. The action gets going Saturday morning against regionally 12th-ranked Calvin (9–2) and continues into the afternoon against the College of DuPage (1–1), last year’s National Junior College Athletic Association Division III national champions, before wrapping up Sunday with a battle against eighth-ranked Wash U (9–1).

While the bout with the Bears could have major implications for regional and UAA tournament seedings, the team is focusing first on getting past the Knights and Chaparrals. Calvin in particular brings strength to bear at second, third, and fifth singles with fourth-year Rafael Siebenschein (8–2), first-year Marcus Zeilstra (10–1), and third-year Dan Volkema (8–1). and features regionally 27th-ranked second-year Ricky Tilton (7–4) at first.

“We’re not really thinking about Wash U yet. Calvin’s strong at first and second and has an impressive record,” Perry said. “We’re taking them as seriously as any match this year. DuPage is out of our division, so it’s not as important, but we hope to play well against them,”

Sunday’s match will be a nail-biter. Wash U’s only defeat this season was a 4–3 loss to ninth-ranked University of Redlands (9–6) March 18. They clinched a 4–3 decision over seventh-ranked Mary Washington (13–3) February 26 and whipped 23rd-ranked Coe (20–4) 7–0 Saturday. The Bears feature remarkable depth, with their fifth and sixth singles players combining for a 17–3 mark in dual meet competition.

“To have a shot at beating them, we need to have stellar performances in all nine matches. There doesn’t seem to be an overwhelming favorite for any given matchup, so it will definitely be a hard-fought match,” Venkataraman said.

First singles will be a must-see match, with Bortz squaring off for bragging rights against fourth-year Ari Rosenthal (16–3). The Bear is currently 23rd in the national rankings, two spots behind Bortz, but is one rung ahead in the regional standings at fifth.

The action starts bright and early at 9 a.m. tomorrow.