Focus on doubles propels men’s tennis to season-opening victory over Carleton

| Senior Sports Editor

With strong doubles play and overpowering singles, the No. 9 Washington University men’s tennis team defeated No. 38 Carleton College, 7-2, in its Division III season opener on Sunday. The victory, the team’s first of the new decade, brought them to 1-1 on the season.

Wash. U. won doubles, 2-1, before dominating in singles, 5-1.

The performance impressed one of the team’s captains, senior J.J. Kroot. “We played a really solid match all around,” he said. “We just came out ready in the morning, even before doubles, and were really zoned in.”

The team’s second captain, Bernardo Neves, and junior Benjamin van der Sman battled back from an early 6-3 deficit to force a tiebreak at 7-7 but fell in the end, falling just two points short. Juniors Ethan Hillis and Mark Wu also encountered a tough doubles match. They jumped out to a quick 5-2 lead before dropping two games, narrowing the margin to a single game.

“The guy that was good at vollies was up at the net and we knew that it was a very hard game to win, so as soon as [my serve] got broken I knew that the next game was really tough,” Wu said. “But it gave me an opportunity to reset and really say, ‘Okay, let’s lock down and break the next point.’ I wasn’t really worried because I knew that something like [the reset] would happen.”

Wu and Hillis did not lose another game, winning the set 8-4 with a couple of tall spikes sealing the deal. On the far court, junior Daniel Li and sophomore Sam Komis clinched the doubles victory for Wash. U. with an 8-5 victory in the third match.

Curran Neenan | Student Life

Junior Mark Wu lunges at a return from a Carleton College opponent in his doubles match Sunday in Belleville, Ill. The Bears secured their first Division III victory of the season, winning 7-2.

“The doubles [play] was tight, but I think it’s good for the guys to face some adversity,” head coach Roger Follmer said, explaining that the contested sets created helpful pressure for the team. He observed that the win felt different from the Bears’ first match of the season, when the team swept Division I Butler University in doubles and no set came closer than three games (6-2, 6-2, 6-3). In more closely contested matches like the ones the Bears played in doubles on Sunday, “you have to handle your nerves a little more,” Follmer said.

Kroot said that the Bears did a good job of staying in the moment during their competitive doubles matches. “We just played solid doubles, serving and volleying while not being afraid to close the net on big points,” he said.

Wash. U.’s success extended to the singles as well. The five victories were all in straight sets. Follmer highlighted the play of sophomore Sam Komis, who stepped in to play the sixth singles slot after Wu experienced back pain following doubles. Komis defeated Carleton’s Lucas Balon in straight sets (6-3, 6-1), securing a victory in his first singles match of the season. “For Sam not knowing he’s going to play and then to come in and play well, that was great,” Follmer said.

The Bears’ only loss in singles came against the No. 15 player in all of Division III. Hillis fell behind early and could never recover, losing in straight sets (6-3, 6-1). He made close to 40 unforced errors and lost his composure at times. “Some of that was that the guy had a nice slice and we worked on that because Ethan likes to hit the ball hard with topspin. The other guy could hit the ball hard too and sliced it, forcing [Hillis] to miss some shots,” Follmer said. “It’s a process. You learn more from losing than you do from winning, so hopefully he learns something that he can apply next weekend and then hopefully apply again the following weekend when we play national indoors.”

Optimism filled the players after the game. “I thought we fought really well,” Wu said. “There was a lot of good communication between courts and everyone being really positive and giving their 100 percent. At the end of the day, I think as long as we put everything out there on the court, that’s all we can ask for.

The Bears face harder competition in the coming weeks. They will face Division II No. 12 University of Indianapolis on Saturday in O’Fallon, Ill., before heading to the national indoor tournament in Minnesota the following weekend, where they will meet No. 8 Brandeis University and either No. 4 University of Chicago or No. 11 Kenyon College.

“I think we’ve just got to keep building,” Follmer said. “Then, the next weekend will be the next challenge.”

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