February 19, 2008

Men’s tennis suffers first D-III loss at feet of Lords

Men’s tennis may have been back to playing DIII this weekend, but that doesn’t mean the squad was on easy street.

With back-to-back matches against tough regional foes, the Maroons (4–2) started the weekend with a 6–3 win Friday to give 11th-ranked Denison (0–1) its first loss of the season. Saturday saw a match post the same score, but the Maroons come out on the losing end to undefeated Kenyon (6–0), ranked sixth in the Central Region and 23rd in the nation.

“They’re ranked 23rd, but they definitely played better than that,” said first-year Will Zhang about Kenyon.

This weekend marked a repeat of last year’s trip to Ohio when the Maroons squared off against the same foes. Dropping both of those matches sent the South Siders back to the Buckeye state this time around looking for payback.

Getting things going against Denison, Chicago jumped to an early lead with victories at first and second doubles. Second-years Garrett Brinker and Steve Saltarelli teamed up at the top slot and hung on for an 8–6 clipping of third-year Jordan Buehler and fourth-year Randy Lofgren. Having an easier time dispatching their opponents, second-year Lado Bakhutashvili and Zhang notched an 8–2 triumph at the second slot of pairs competition.

Moving on to solos play, the Maroons claimed four of the six matches to secure the 6–3 besting of the Big Red. Chicago quickly nailed down three of its four wins in straight sets with Zhang cruising at first singles 7–5, 6–1; Bakhutashvili easing at the second spot 6–2, 6–1; and first-year Tim Walsh breezing by at fourth 6–4, 6–1.

Bakhutashvili and Walsh kept the upper hand over their opponents going into the clash with Kenyon. The only Maroons to win their singles matches Friday and Saturday, Bakhutashvili defeated fourth-year Greg Sussman 6–3, 6–7, 6–2, while Walsh took care of third-year Daniel Becker 6–0, 7–6.

“They really pulled through for us,” said Zhang of his teammates. “They did their job this weekend. They’re very good players at their spots.”

The strong outings of Bakhutashvili and Walsh on the court wouldn’t be enough to help the South Siders hand the Lords their first loss of 2007–2008, though. In a reversal of Friday’s match, Chicago lost ground early on as Brinker and Saltarelli at first doubles and Bakhutashvili with Zhang at second, toppled to their opponents with scores of 8–1 and 8–2.

Rookie Mark Bonner and fourth-year Bharath Sithian gave the Maroons some hope for a comeback with an 8–4 win over third-year Robert Alef and second-year William VandenBerg to avoid the sweep.

Down 2–1 is not a good place to be heading into singles play in a region known for fierce solos competition. The battles between the South Siders and Kenyon lived up to the region’s reputation with four of the six matches going the full three sets. The Maroons couldn’t strike the needed match points against the Lords, though, and got pinned with the 6–3 defeat for their first loss to a DIII opponent this year. Chicago is now 3–1 playing in its own division.

“We could’ve done better against Kenyon. We definitely didn’t play as well as we could have,” said Zhang, citing doubles in particular as a place where the team could have been stronger.

The loss hit the South Siders particularly hard because they had bowed down to the Lords 6–3 last year as well. Although both Chicago and Kenyon have undergone some roster changes from 2006–2007, some key starters returned to the court for both teams to keep the rivalry alive.

From here the Maroons will hit the road again with two showdowns Saturday in Crawfordsville, IN. They’ll take on Ohio Wesleyan (1–0) before going up against the day’s host, Wabash (3–2).