Men’s tennis went down to play in the heat and humidity of South Carolina over spring break, but the team came home with only a lukewarm result.
Playing some of the toughest teams they have seen all year, the 18th-ranked Maroons (10–6) managed a 2–2 mark over the course of their southern swing. After getting swept 7–0 by The Citadel (14–9) March 23 in Charleston, Chicago headed to the more comfortable clime of Hilton Head Island, where it lost 7–2 to DePauw Tuesday before walloping Colby (4–4) and Carleton (13–2) Wednesday and Thursday.
The rough start against The Citadel did not come as a total surprise. The Bulldogs play in the D-I Southern Conference, and as a couple of Chicago players noted, their military affiliation gives them a psychological edge and makes them that much more intimidating.
“The Citadel has a very talented and match-tough team,” head coach Marty Perry said. “They play a competitive D-I schedule, and it showed as they played very well against us.”
Even against such top-notch competition, a few Maroons managed to make their matches interesting. Playing in the fourth spot, second-year Garret Brinker lost his first set against second-year Alberto Diaz 6–0, but rebounded and only lost the second set 7–6. On the doubles side, first-years Will Zhang and Mark Bonner narrowly lost to third-year Martin King and second-year Frederic Petrilli, 8–7.
Despite the Bulldogs’ impressive victory, the Maroons were not entirely disappointed with their performance.
“It was our first match outside and we were coming off of reading period and exam weeks where we did not practice,” Perry said. “I thought that we started the match slowly but finished fairly strong considering the conditions.”
Taking on 14th-ranked DePauw two days later, the going didn’t get much easier for the Maroons, but they did manage to give the Tigers more of a test. The Maroons won two matches on the day, including a 6–1, 6–3 victory from first-year Tim Walsh over third-year Bryan Heck.
“Tim Walsh’s win over Bryan Heck was impressive,” Perry said. “Heck has been playing great tennis all year, and Tim shut him down.”
The other win came in doubles, where Brinker paired with second-year Steve Saltarelli to knock off fourth-year Kortney Keith and third-year Scott Swanson, 8–4.
Several other Maroons kept their matches close as well. In singles, Zhang, Saltarelli, and fourth-year Lado Bakhutashvili all lost in straight sets, but each pushed his first set into a tie-breaker. Sixth-man Bonner dropped a hard-fought match to second-year Evan Hunter, 5–7, 6–4, 6–4. For all the wins and close calls, though, the Tigers ended up walking away with a commanding 7–2 win.
“We had our chances but did not capitalize on them,” Perry said. “To move forward and improve we have to use the DePauw match as a growing experience. Obviously we want to be able to come through in tough matches, but failing collectively is part of the process of becoming a great team.”
The letdown against the Tigers gave Chicago plenty of motivation heading into the next day’s contest with Colby. The Mules, in the midst of a two-day win streak and ranked 23rd in the northeast, were riding high as they prepared to face the Maroons but soon found themselves outmanned and overmatched. In doubles, Brinker paired with Saltarelli and Bonner with fourth-year Bharath Sithian to win two of the three doubles sets, giving the Maroons a 2–1 lead.
Chicago’s success kept up in individual play, with the South Siders winning five of six, with four of those five in straight sets. Only Zhang, playing in the top spot against third-year Bryan Brown, the Mules’ best player, needed the super tiebreaker to close out his opponent. Saltarelli and Walsh were especially dominant, winning 6–1, 6–1 and 6–0, 6–4, respectively.
Closing out their spring vacation on a high note, the Maroons continued their winning ways the next day with an 8–1 victory over Carleton. The Knights, who are ranked eighth in the central region, three spots behind Chicago, have an impressive record and figured to be a tough team to beat. They were down 2–1 after doubles and looked primed to give the Maroons a run for their money.
In singles, though, all the balls started bouncing Chicago’s way. Zhang and Saltarelli both lost their opening sets and had to win the second to force super tiebreakers, and Bonner won his first but dropped his second, allowing fourth-year Brendan Cooper a shot at picking up a W in extra points. In the end, all three Maroons held tough in their tiebreakers, each winning by a solid 10–5 margin.
Walsh, Bakhutashvili, and Brinker, Chicago’s other three singles players, all won with relative ease, and the Maroons wound up with six more points and a final margin that was more lopsided than the match had actually been.
Now that they are back on the South Side, the Maroons have two home matches against Lake Forest and Olivet Nazarene left before they travel to Atlanta for the UAA Championship. With three conference rivals—Wash U, Emory, and Carnegie—ranked ahead of them nationally, the team will have to be in peak condition for the trip to Atlanta at month’s end.
“The UAA tournament will be challenging to say the least,” Perry said. “We’re going to do our best to head into the tournament confident, in shape, and playing great tennis. If we do that, I like our chances at knocking off anyone in the conference.”