Men’s tennis concludes winter term with a pair of home wins

by Mark Cui | 3/1/16 6:30pm

On Feb. 27, the No. 38 men’s tennis team defeated two more teams to bring its ongoing win streak to five games. Hosting both teams at the Boss Tennis Center, the Big Green first defeated St. John’s University in a close rematch 4-3 and followed up the win by demolishing Sacred Heart University 7-0.

Dartmouth first saw St. John’s two weeks ago in the ECAC Championships, beating the Red Storm 4-1. On Feb. 26, St. John’s had beaten then No. 32 Harvard University, making the team a much bigger threat coming into the game on Saturday. Although doubles has been the Big Green’s strength this season, the team failed to capture the doubles point against St. John’s.

“I think [we came out] a bit flat in the doubles, and that meant that we had a lot of work to do going into singles play,” Paul Midgley ’18 said. “[St. John’s] is a good team that fought hard, so we did well to come back into the match the way we did and end up with the win.”

The Dartmouth duos of George Wall ’17 and Brendan Tannenbaum ’16, and Max Fliegner ’18 and Max Schmidt ’17 both fell in close matches to their St. John’s opponents 4-6. The third match, in which Dovydas Sakinis ’16 and Roko Glasnovic ’19 led 6-5, was canceled after St. John’s had already secured the doubles point.

Without the security of the doubles point, the team relied on strong singles play to secure the match. The singles went 4-2 to win enough points to claim the match. At the No. 3 and No. 6 singles spots, both Fliegner and Eddie Grabill ’19 defeated their opponents with matching straight set scores of 6-4, 6-4. Wall and No. 70 Sakinis also came out on top, defeating their opponents with respective scores of 6-1, 7-6 (5) and 6-4, 3-6, 6-4. The two single losses against St. John’s were both extremely hard fought three set matches. Ciro Riccardi ’18 and Glasnovic both won the first set, but ended up falling with respective scores of 6-2, 4-6, 0-6, and 6-2, 4-6, 5-7.

“The guys did a really good job of responding to losing the doubles point and came out firing, winning six out of six first sets,” Midgley said. “It came down to a few points in the end, with [Sakinis] coming out with some big shots at the right time to clinch the match. Coach Drake has worked a lot with us on the mental side of the game, and I think that showed against St John’s at the crucial moments. Roko did well to stay with his opponent right to the end, which took the pressure off [Sakinis] until the very last game.”

Rather than focusing too closely on the Feb 14. match, during which the Big Green blew away the Red Storm, the team relied on playing the same game and trusting its instincts.

“We didn’t really do anything differently this time,” Aman Agarwal ’18 said. “We just trusted our game. We kind of knew that if we just played the right way, we could win the match. I think we were taken aback by the doubles loss, since we had won them recently. We actually won the doubles point earlier against them, which turned out to be pretty important. It was just more about keeping our [mental composure], not getting too nervous.”

Later on the same day, the team proceeded to dominate Sacred Heart 7-0, sweeping both singles and doubles. Against Sacred Heart, the team’s priority was to keep its focus, especially since it was on the same day as the match against St. John’s.

“Against Sacred Heart, I think that we were just a better team,” Agarwal said.

In the matchup with Sacred Heart, Dartmouth tinkered with the lineup, switching up doubles pairs and bringing in different singles players. Despite the changes, all three double pairs won, with Wall and Tannenbaum winning 6-4, Schmidt and Fliegner clinching a close 7-6 (3) and Joseph Haig ’19 and Glasnovic defeating their opponents 6-2.

Singles also cruised to victory, with all six coming in straight sets, during which no Sacred Heart player even approached a set victory. Sakinis, Riccardi, Tannenbaum, Schmidt, Agarwal and Midgley all won their matches, with respective scores of 6-0, 6-1; 6-1, 6-1; 6-2, 6-3; 6-2, 6-0; 6-1, 6-3 and 6-1, 6-0.

Although Agarwal and Midgley have not had much playing time, they both defeated their oppenents with ease. Midgley was focused on getting off to a fast start and solidifying that lead.

“I was nervous at the beginning of my match but managed to win some tight games early on which gave me the confidence to go on and play some good tennis,” Midgley said. “It helped seeing six first sets on the scoreboard for Dartmouth, so I was able to relax a bit more and focus on closing out the match in straight sets.”

Agarwal also has not had much playing time but recognized the importance of his role on the team.

“You learn to play a role on the team, especially when you play matches against teams like Sacred Heart earlier in the year,” Agarwal said. “You just try to show that you’re ready to go when you can. Off the court, you just try to support the team and make sure the team is ready to go.”

The two wins have now brought Dartmouth’s overall record to 10-4, and have increased its win streak to five games. This win streak is particularly impressive given that Diego Pedraza ’17, a starter earlier in the season, has been injured. Although the win streak is encouraging, Pedraza noted that the focus is still on each individual game.

“Streaks come and go,” Pedraza said. “The important thing is to have more good ones than bad ones. With our schedule, we understand that every time we go out there we can be beaten because we are playing really good teams. That said, we believe that we can beat anyone on our schedule. So, it is just a matter of taking it one match at a time. We are coming up on our spring break trip in which we’ll play four top 50 teams, out of which two are top 25 and one is top 10. We are really excited and we are working towards that and the Ivy League season after that. Exciting things are ahead for this team.”

Overall, Pedraza also noted that the season so far, despite some bumps, has been largely successful.

“We have had some tough losses and some that we should not have happened, mainly Old Dominion [University] and [the University of Pennsylvania],” he said. “Still, I think the team is headed in the right direction. We have done a good job in moving forward without me in the lineup in both singles and doubles due to injury. It is always hard when a starter goes down, but this speaks to the depth and character of this team.”

Pedraza described the team’s “ambitious goals,” which include winning the Ivy League and making the NCAA tournament.

“We still have a lot to work on and improve but we are happy with what I have done so far,” he added.

The team will next take a two-week break from games before going on a road trip that will encompass seven matches. Although the team looks forward to the break, Agarwal stressed that they must remain focused. The team has to balance schoolwork and training over the upcoming finals period.

“I think we will try to play as much tennis as we can, and stay focused on the physical aspect because spring break is coming and we don’t usually play much outdoors, so it’s going to be a different kind challenge,” Agarwal said. “It’s important that we do the best we can to stay in shape.”

Pedraza also reinforced the need to stay in shape, adding that the team has a great opportunity ahead of them.

“We are going to have a lot of physical practices to make sure we are as prepared as possible for outdoor tennis and the different temperatures,” Pedraza said. “Our goals remain the same and our intent and purpose do not waiver. We know what a great opportunity we have ahead and we want to make sure we do everything in our power to control the things we can control as best as we can. That is what is going to give us the best chance at winning against these teams. Then, it is just a matter of going out there and executing.”