Men’s tennis rides doubles into Luther clash

By Tim Murphy

Doubles play is often overlooked in the shadow of the more-alluring singles contests. But when the day is done, it’s nearly impossible to win without it. For men’s tennis, the success of the pairs tandems just might be the key to this season.

Looking to get back to their winning ways, the Maroons will take on regionally 15th-ranked Luther at Stagg this afternoon. Chicago goes for the win today in the first of two potential speed bumps at the end of their regular season road, with the UAA championships getting under way in Atlanta Friday. If the men are successful against the league and in the NCAAs, their improved doubles play will be a big reason why.

“I feel confident we can be competitive at all three positions whoever we play in the UAAs,” head coach Marty Perry said. “The guys are confident, I’m confident, and each position is confident in the other two.”

While the team’s singles play has remained solid throughout the spring, through the first half of the season doubles had been unimpressive. In a six-meet stretch from February 12 to March 20, the squad’s pairs accumulated a 2–16 record and lost the doubles point in five of six contests. The slump resulted from a combination of tough opponents and the absence of a set order in the tandems. together during that stretch.

“You keep searching until you find the right combos. You search for what’s going to work well physically and what personalities are going to work well,” Perry said. “I think we’ve found it. We weren’t getting production out of all three spots. We had to keep figuring out what the right pairs were.”

The grouping of third-year captain Vivek Venkataraman and 21st-ranked fourth-year Ward Bortz provides the Maroons with their most well-rounded and talented duo at first. Both players bring the ability to play with authority from all parts of the court, whether it be charging the net or hitting baseline winners. The level-headed Bortz and the more emotional Venkataraman have held their own against more doubles tandems that have more experience playing together, earning a record of 5–4 on the year.

“We’ve got a lot of talent and experience at first,” said Perry, who is looking to guide the Maroons back to the NCAAs for the second straight season. “They’re more of an attacking team. They can look to attack even when they’re returning.”

At second, the duo of second-years Bharath Sithian and Joseph Tchan has provided a steady presence, going 5–5 since they began playing together. In contrast to the full-court style of their peers at first, Sithian and Tchan both have the ability to play in the back simultaneously.

“Second has really good team chemistry,” Perry said. “Bharath and Joe are both great fighters. They have the ability to play the two back because of their style.”

While first and second are comprised of players who stand at roughly the same level of singles competition, second-year Sasha Deriy and first-year Alex Winney form a more diverse duo. Deriy, who has competed at second and third singles over the past two years, was paired for the early part of the season with Tchan at first doubles, but after a 2–4 record this spring, the tandem went their separate ways. Since the switch, Deriy and Winney (1–5 at sixth, 5–8 overall singles) have struggled to a 2–6 record, but have shown improvements and begun to mesh as a unit.

“Third we have an experienced and talented player in Sasha with a player who has a lot of weapons, a good serve, one of our best volleyers, and a good mover in Alex.”

The tandems’ progress will be tested against the Norse (13–10) Friday. While Luther features only one regionally-ranked player in 21st-ranked third-year Christian Klein (9–8), they are a deep squad that is toughest at the back of the singles rotation. Spots four through six have accumulated a record of 50–19 this season, although the first three singles have a 35–34 on record on the year. The Norse are respectable at doubles as well. Led by regionally 11th-ranked second-years Jono Martin and Brad Nelson at first, the team has earned a doubles point in 13 of its 23 matches this season.

Last week’s stumble not withstanding, the Maroons have shown in recent weeks that they have the capability to play with top teams in the Central. The squad has always been competitive in the individual matches, but now with the pairs emerging as viable threats as well, Chicago has turned itself from an also-ran into a contender. If they can continue to produce in singles and get solid contributions in doubles, the squad could cause serious damage in Georgia.