Men’s tennis sweeps weekend, defeating Princeton and Penn

by Alexander Agadjanian | 4/12/15 5:13pm

Needing to rebound after two disappointing home losses to open the Ivy League season, the No. 54 men’s tennis team entered this weekend on a four-game losing streak. It left with two consecutive 5-2 wins, taking down No. 30 Princeton University on Saturday and the University of Pennsylvania on Sunday.

Due to its strong weekend, the Big Green (11-10, 2-2 Ivy) is now primed to be a force in conference play down the stretch.

Seeking to disperse his team’s top talent rather than cluster it in one doubles team, head coach Chris Drake made a change to his doubles lineup to start the day against Princeton. Rather than sending out the No. 20 team of Chris Kipouras ’15 and Dovydas Sakinis ’16 as he did the prior weekend, Drake paired Sakinis with Brendan Tannenbaum ’16 for the No. 1 match and Kipouras with Max Schmidt ’17 for the No. 2 match.

“We thought [Sakinis] and [Kipouras] had been playing really well and had some confidence,” Drake said. “We wanted to see if we could spread that out through the lineup a little bit.”

The No. 2 doubles team got the Big Green on the scoreboard first, as the Kipouras and Schmidt duo — playing for the first time together this season — took the match 6-4. Yet Princeton would quickly bounce back, as its No. 3 team won 7-5 after the Big Green pairing of Sam Todd ’15 and Diego Pedraza ’17, which lead 3-0 and 5-2 at different points in the match, could not thwart the Tiger comeback.

While the Big Green’s doubles pair maintained a lead for much of the duration of the No. 1 match and once stood at the brink of clinching the doubles point with a 5-4 edge, Sakinis and Tannenbaum faltered against the top Tigers duo, losing 7-6, and Princeton grabbed the doubles point.

Ultimately, Drake’s decision to alter the lineup paid off to some degree, as the Big Green was more competitive in the opening doubles matches than it was in its first weekend of the Ivy League season. For the fifth consecutive match, however, the Big Green entered singles play with a 1-0 deficit.

“It’s happened to us a few times where we had chances to win in doubles and lost, and then ended up losing a close singles match,” Drake said. “We talked in between singles and doubles about putting it behind us and getting ready to play on all six courts in singles. The guys showed a lot of resiliency to bounce back and did that in singles against a very good team — one of the higher ranked teams in the league.”

Seeing his first singles action in two weeks, Pedraza was slotted into the singles lineup at the No. 4 spot on Saturday, and his return proved crucial on the comeback trail.

Coming off a loss in the No. 3 doubles contest, Pedraza posted a dominant effort in his singles match, rarely trailing as he was the first player on the court to win, taking the match 6-2, 6-2. In doing so, he swiftly knotted the overall score of the match at one.

“I think [the win] was important because we went down in the doubles point and I was playing a player that I had already played in the fall, and I had lost to him,” Pedraza said. “And I knew what I had to do, but being able to start strong with a lot of energy and provide the team with a quick win was key to put that point on the board and level the match.”

Shortly after Pedraza’s victory, George Wall ’17 overpowered Princeton freshman Diego Vives — who was previously undefeated in conference singles play — 6-4, 6-4 in the No. 5 singles match.Ciro Riccardi ’18 extended the Big Green’s lead to 3-1, winning 7-6 in a first-set tiebreaker before clinching the No. 3 match with a 6-2 second-set win. In the No. 2 match, Kipouras found himself in a competitive struggle against his foe, but after winning a tight first set 7-5 and needing a tiebreaker to take the second 7-6, Kipouras was able to provide the definitive fourth point for the team and secure the match win.

“He’s a senior, he’s an experienced player, he’s a guy that has come through for us a lot over [four years],” Drake said about Kipouras. “We have a lot of confidence in him, and he’s done a good job working hard to have himself prepared physically. He’s in great shape, and so I think that gives him confidence out there too.”

A 6-1, 7-6 loss by Schmidt at No. 6 singles and a 6-1, 5-7, 6-2 win by No. 53 Sakinis at the No. 1 position rounded out the day’s singles matches. The overall victory had already been secured, but Sakinis put a nice finishing touch on the Big Green’s first Ivy League win in notching his fourth-straight singles victory — prolonging his undefeated streak of three in conference play.

“I think we needed the win, especially because we did not have a very good start to the Ivy League season last weekend,” Pedraza said. “To go down in the doubles point today having had many chances and to have all the guys who played singles, to have that energy to come back and be on top of it on every court and fight back from that was something that we have done all season, but it hasn’t necessarily paid off with results and wins. But I think today it did, and we’re very proud of that.”

Looking to build on the victory that snapped its four-game slide, the Big Green next traveled an hour southwest from Princeton to Philadelphia to take on the Penn Quakers. Yet again, the opening sets of doubles matches posed problems for Dartmouth. The No. 3 pair of Todd and Pedraza got broken early and never recovered en route to a quick 6-2 loss.

Yet the remaining two pairs on the court ensured that the Big Green would not suffer the fate of yielding the doubles point again. The No. 1 duo of Sakinis and Tannebaum tore through its opponent 6-2 to even the doubles round, and in a close No. 2 doubles match, Kipouras and Schmidt overcame an early deficit to win 6-4. For the first time in five matches, the men began singles with the comfort of only needing three wins to secure the team victory.

“I thought overall we came out a little bit flat in doubles, but they did a good job at [No. 1 and 2] of hanging in there, and [No.] 2 doubles did a good job under pressure at the end to close it out,” Drake said. “[Schmidt] served a good game under pressure at 6-5, [which got us] the point.”

The early going of singles play featured the peculiar result of Sakinis getting dispatched in his first set 6-1 by Penn senior Jeremy Court, but Sakinis responded emphatically to his potential first singles loss in conference play. Grabbing the second set 6-3, Sakinis then broke Court’s serve twice in the third set to win 6-2 and complete his victory for Dartmouth’s third point on the afternoon — all the while bolstering his Ivy League singles record to 4-0.

Before Sakinis’s spirited comeback, Wall played a crucial role in the singles play development for the Big Green. After falling behind at No. 5 singles early on, Wall leapt ahead and broke his opponent’s serve to win his first set 7-5.

In doing so, he helped swing momentum back in Dartmouth’s favor after some poor early results on the other courts, as Big Green players had lost three of the four first sets played. Wall then easily prevailed in the second set 6-2 after jumping out to a 3-0 lead, giving the Big Green its first singles point and a 2-0 overall lead. The victory marked Wall’s second win in singles action over the weekend.

“At the start [in singles] they had a lot of momentum, they won three first sets [and] they were very close to winning another set at [No. 5] singles,” Drake said. “But [Wall] toughed it out, he’s a really tough kid, tough player, he hung in there. Him getting that first set really helped.”

After Sakinis placed the team on the threshold of victory, Kipouras wasted little time in issuing the decisive blow. Having been the first Big Green player to notch a singles first-set win by a score of 6-4, Kipouras sealed the overall team win by outlasting Penn junior Blaine Willenborg 7-5 in the second.

That Dartmouth reached the requisite four points with only half the singles matches completed only further revealed its dominance on Sunday.

“Obviously it feels good to clinch the [team] match,” Kipouras said, after doing so for the second straight day. “I’m glad I can bring the final win for my team to push us to the [win]. I think I’ve gotten a lot of experience over the years, [and] I’m happy to have that experience and be able to use it in those kinds of situations.”

Although the match had been already decided, the remaining singles contests were played out. After holding on his serve to win his first set 7-5 on a deuce point, Schmidt broke his opponent’s serve in the second set to key a 6-2 win and No. 6 match victory to extend the Big Green’s lead to 5-0.

The No. 4 and 3 matches did not fare as well for the Big Green, as Pedraza lost 6-3, 7-6 and Riccardi fell 6-4, 3-6, 7-5, respectively. The results brought the overall score to a 5-2 win for Dartmouth, as the team swept its second weekend of Ivy League action and evened its conference record at 2-2.

The men head into the weaker portion of its Ivy schedule ranked fifth in the conference standings. This weekend’s upcoming matches will pit the Big Green against Brown and Yale Universities, who are tied for sixth in the Ivy League.

“The results were really very nice to get [over the weekend],” Kipouras stated. “We really had all spots come together and execute and play well — play the way we want to play. That was big throughout against Princeton and Penn today. A lot of the guys know how to fight whether they’re up or whether they’re down, their ability to compete no matter what the situation is.”