No. 7 men’s tennis loses to No. 1 Claremont-Mudd-Scripps and No. 9 Trinity, wins against Skidmore

| Managing News Editor

Senior Jared Phillips chased down a shot over the weekend. (Alan Zhou | Student Life)

In a weekend that spotlighted incredible doubles performances, the No. 7 Washington University men’s tennis team was unable to fully recover from some difficulties in its singles game, losing to No. 1 Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (CMS) and No. 9 Trinity University (Texas), with a win against Skidmore’s unranked program on March 29-30. Following the weekend, the Bears move to 9-7 on the season with four more matches to go before the University Athletic Association (UAA) and NCAA championships.

The two losses over the weekend continue a tough stretch that the team has experienced to start the outdoor season. When they closed out their indoor season at the national tournament in late February, the Bears were able to beat a long-time rival before securing a second-place national finish to earn the No. 2 ranking in the nation. But since the team has moved outdoors, they’ve struggled to find their footing, with a spring-break trip seeing two wins and three losses to drop them to No. 7 entering the weekend. After losing two out of three over the weekend, the Bears have now lost five out of their last eight matches.

Despite entering the match against top-ranked CMS in the midst of a difficult period, junior John Fakouri said the team was feeling ready to fight.

“They were the number-one team of the country, but this year is a little bit different than the previous years where there were really teams that were that much better than everybody else,” Fakouri said. “It’s been pretty even — I’d say almost anyone ranked one through 15 can beat anybody — so we were feeling pretty good.” 

Sophomore Eric Kuo said that the team had been upping its fitness training recently to adjust to the differences between indoor and outdoor tennis.

“It’s definitely a different game,” Kuo said. “Outdoors, you just want to grind a bit more, you can play a bit more janky tennis. We’ve been working with the wind, the sun, the heat, the humidity, everything.” 

Against CMS, Fakouri said the team was putting their emphasis on securing the available doubles point — an arena they had been struggling in recently. The Bears rose to the occasion, winning two of their three doubles matches, but their doubles focus may have been misplaced: The team lost five of their six singles matches.

“We weren’t exactly ready to stay on court long enough and just kind of fight and compete. In terms of tennis level, we were even in almost every spot,” he said. “It was just who wanted it more, who’s willing to stay on the court longer, and I think not everybody really brought it that day.” 

Fakouri was the only WashU player to pull off a singles win, against CMS’s Warren Pham, after three sets of 2-6, 7-5, and 10-3. Despite the fact that he lost his first set and found himself down 5-2 in the second, he attributes the win to his consistent positivity.  

“It was a little demoralizing at times to look up and see that other guys aren’t doing well, but you gotta try and focus on your match as much as you can to help the team,” Fakouri said. “I did a good job of not going away, not showing that I was down, and eventually it started to flip things.” 

The Bears doubles teams won key matchups during the three home games. (Alan Zhou | Student Life)

Despite the overall loss, the team pulled the energy they needed to take a decisive 5-2 win against Skidmore later that afternoon. Continuing to excel in doubles, they took all three doubles matches. Senior Guarav Singh and sophomore Colin Fox won 7-6, juniors Stefan Hester and Scott Yamamoto won 7-5, and junior Pato Garcia Muriel and senior Jared Phillips won 6-3. 

The team also improved its singles game, taking four matches and dropping two. Phillips won in straight sets, 6-3, 6-3; Scruggs won 6-1, 6-3; sophomore Case Fagan won 6-0, 6-1; and graduate student Sergiu Celebidachi won 6-3, 6-3. 

However, the momentum did not carry on to the final game against Trinity. The pattern established during the first game against CMS returned, with a clean sweep in doubles matches not being enough to compensate for the Bears dropping four of their six singles matches. 

Phillips and Kuo were able to secure their matches, each winning by decisive margins in straight sets. Phillips took the win 6-1, 7-5, and Kuo won 6-0, 6-1. 

“Going into the match, I was just thinking about things I could do, focusing on being consistent,” Kuo said. “The plan was to just try to move him around the court as much as possible, and I knew he had a big serve, so I was prepared for that, and the combined efforts of everything I did worked.”

Reflecting on the game, Fakouri says that the team knows what areas it needs to improve. 

“That was a very tough loss. I think that we thought we were going to beat Trinity,” Fakouri said. “The effort was better in singles, but we needed to close the door.”

The team went into the weekend with the attitude that the Bears could compete with any team in the country, and Fakouri says that mindset hasn’t been shaken.

“We’re in the same spot,” he said. “We know what we need to work on as a team, and I think that if we are able to take care of those things, the talent is certainly there, the ability is certainly there to beat any team in this country. It’s just going to be how well we execute.” 

Looking forward, the Bears have both the UAA and NCAA championships to look forward to in late April and May, respectively. Kuo said that the team has been working harder than ever, and following coach Roger Follmer’s advice: The results will come if you just enjoy it. 

“Obviously the results weren’t what we wanted, but the losses are where you figure out what parts of your game you need to work on,” Kuo said. “Morale is still extremely high — I know every single one of us is just really hungry for the next win, the next steps to get us where we really want to be.”

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