Sophomore wins national tennis title
Sophomore John Watts triumphed at the Division III Wilson/ITA Nationals Small College Championships on Saturday.
With his win, Watts made history, becoming the Bears’ first individual winner of a national tennis championship.
“It was a really close match and I was relieved to win,” said Watts. “It feels great to win a match like this.”
Juniors Charlie Cutler and Chris Hoeland placed third in the doubles tournament, wrapping up an incredible weekend for Washington University’s men’s tennis team.
“John, Chris and Charlie push their other teammates,” said Head Coach Roger Follmar. “They have taken losses in practice, which says just how deep this team is.”
Upon arriving at the ITA Championship, the most important tournament of the fall season, it was clear that the tournament featured a unique atmosphere, featuring a small field with only one representative from each region, very different from the much larger spring national championships.
“[The tournament felt] more like a junior tournament, which is when you go only with the coach and a few other players,” said Hoeland.
However, the biggest effect on the atmosphere was the amplified intensity of the matches.
Watts, Cutler and Hoeland all played opponents from Gustavus Adolphus College in their final matches, which is a team from Wash. U.’s region. This further increased the pressure of their final matches.
“Regional matches are always really important and hyped up,” said Cutler.
Watts responded to the tournament’s pressure by shutting down Mikey Lim of Claremont-Mudd-Scripps with a 6-0, 6-2 win in the semi-finals. After this resounding win, Watts’ game plan was to stay calm for the championship match.
“I just tried to treat it the same as any other match. Don’t let it get to your head that it’s the big match,” said Watts.
Watts’ beginning of the first set of his championship match was rocky.
“I was losing really badly in the first set, 5-1, but I won the next three games. So I felt pretty confident [after that],” he said.
Those three wins helped swing the momentum Watts’ way, and his following sets were decisive 6-2 and 6-3 wins. “I changed a couple things, and I tried to be more patient in the second and third set,” he said.
He won with a 4-6, 6-2, 6-3 record over Andy Bryan. His altered game strategy allowed him to make Wash. U. history in his victory.
Despite Cutler and Hoeland’s loss in the semi-finals, the duo responded very well in the third place match to finish this season on a strong note.
“We needed to bounce back and stay focused on the third place match. Just take it one match at a time,” said Hoeland.
The duo finished their season strongly with a nail-biting 6-2, 3-6, 10-7 win over Charlie Paukert and Bryan of Gustavus Adolphus College to place third in the nation. “[It was a] little bittersweet,” said Hoeland. “We ended our fall season with a win, but we didn’t get first, which is always our goal.”
“Gustavus Adolphus College is known across the country as a really good doubles team, so beating them felt really good. Especially beating them by so close,” added Cutler. “It was nice to end [the fall season] on a good note. I felt relieved to end it in a positive way.”
Though the team faces a competitive lull until next semester, the most important tournament of the year is still to come.
“We now have higher expectations,” said Follmar. “We won’t surprise anyone”
May’s NCAA Championships, with a strong emphasis on the team as a whole, loom on the horizon and, judging by the performances this weekend, Wash. U.’s men’s tennis team will definitely stand out.
“[We want to] look to the spring season,” said Cutler, “and hopefully win more national titles-singles, doubles and team.”
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