February 27, 2004

Tennis earns mixed results on weekend road trips; Venkataraman hurt

The men's and women's tennis teams this past weekend continued their efforts to transition under-the-radar program to notoriety. With the addition of a new coaching staff and two new first singles players, they have made some steps forward, but their collective inexperience still shows.

The women began their 2004 season with a split over the weekend, defeating Olivet College on Sunday, 6-3, after losing Saturday's season opener to Ohio Northern University, 3-6. In the loss to the Polar Bears (4-0), the Maroons (1-1) had early troubles playing a more experienced team that had already begun its season.

"We have had a lot of time to practice, and I could not be more pleased with the women's progress in practice up to this point," said head coach Marty Perry. "But when you play matches, you have to be mentally tough and have the experience in order to transfer what you work on in practice into success on the court."

"Having only played six matches last year and [with] many new faces [this year], I expected some nervousness, which is basically how we played in the first match," he added. "But in the second match, we bounced back with a lot more confidence and brought more of what we worked on in practice into the matches."

First-year Ade Omodele-Luncien had one of the biggest wins on Saturday, as she defeated ONU second-year Melanie Oleski in the first singles match, 6-4, 4-6, 6-3. Omodele-Luncien added a doubles victory with second-year partner Liz Saydah, 8-6, but the rest of the team was able to pull out only one victory in the other seven matches.

Nervousness aside, the Maroons were able to come back with big wins in the top three singles positions. Omodele-Luncien, Saydah, and second-year Annie Miller all won in straight sets against the Comets (0-1). Solid performances from these young players will be necessary if the team is to continue growing.

The men were also hoping for strong performances from their top three singles players this year, but a sudden knee injury in practice last week to first-year first singles player Vivek Venkataraman has changed plans for the time being. Venkataraman, awaiting diagnosis of the severity of the injury, has been able to walk, but the team is unsure when he will be able to return to competition.

Because of the injury, the team had to bump all of its singles players to a higher slot in weekend action against Grinnell and Macalester College this past weekend. The shifted lineup created some extremely tight individual matches that left the Maroons with two 3-4 losses over the weekend.

"Even with everyone playing a higher position, we were competitive. For us to almost win these matches in that situation I think will really help this team gain confidence as it moves forward," said fourth-year Basil Alsikafi, who moved up to the second singles position.

Of Chicago's 6 points over the weekend, 4 of them came from three set matches, which involve a tiebreak to 10 points in the third set. Fourth-year Jeff An had a particularly big game in first singles against fourth-year Jim Finnessy of Grinnell (2-2). Winning in a displaced spot helped fuel the team's confidence, despite the loss of Venkataraman.

"This is a team that is incredibly tough mentally, and in the coming matches will reap the benefits of fighting to the end," Alsikafi said. "That being said, I'd like to see us start matches better. It makes winning matches more difficult when you spot the guy a set, so I'd like to see us focus on winning a little bit more quickly."