By Cody Soto
No. 6 Baylor men’s tennis qualified for the National Indoor Championships with two dominating 4-0 wins over No. 61 Tulane and No. 40 Drake at the Hurd Tennis Center on Saturday and Sunday.
The Bears (2-1) bounced back after a tough 4-3 loss to No. 11 Illinois to start the season last Wednesday to sweep their next two opponents. The wins over the weekend were a part of the ITA Kick-Off Weekend that qualified one of four teams for the National Indoor Championships.
With the new Intercollegiate Tennis Association rules on the duration of the match during non-conference play, head coach Matt Knoll is proud of the way his team is adjusting their playing styles.
“With the shorter format, our guys have really embraced the dynamic of coming out and playing a short set to six games,” Knoll said. “They’ve come in really pumped up and the energy is set. They’ve shown a lot of it.”
The Bears have shown promise in doubles play as they continued to take the doubles point on both Saturday and Sunday.
“Overall, I think we have a good doubles team,” senior Tony Lupieri said. “We’ve been able to show that because we won against Illinois, Tulane and Drake. That’s a strong area for us.”
Senior Mate Zsiga and sophomore Max Tchoutakian swept Tulane’s Sebastian Rey and Ian Van Cott 6-0 while senior Diego Galeano and junior Julian Lenz knocked off Dominik Koepfer and Chi-Shan Jao 6-2 for the doubles point on Saturday.
No. 26 Lupieri, Tchoutakian and freshman Juan Benitez took singles wins over Tulane to sweep the Green Wave and advance to the championship match of the ITA Kick-Off Weekend.
Lenz had some trouble against No. 9 Koepfer on Saturday, dropping his first set 6-2 on court four. The No. 5-ranked player stormed back and won set two 6-3 and forced a third set before the match was called to an end.
“Once we were able to get some clarity of the patterns that [Julian] needed to play, then we were in good shape,” Knoll said. “It was a great match for Julian because he was pushed outside his comfort zone, and he still maintained his concentration and poise.”
Baylor once again took the doubles point on Sunday against Drake as Galeano and Lenz took a 6-0 win over Ravi Patel and Matt Frost and junior Vince Schneider and junior Felipe Rios won 6-3 on court three.
It was a windy afternoon as the Bears and No. 40 Bulldogs faced off in singles play, and only Lenz captured a victory in two sets with a win over No. 46 Alen Salibasic 6-1, 6-1. The rest of the matches won by Baylor went into three sets, and Rios shook off a 6-2 loss in the opening set to come back and win 6-2, 6-2 in the last two sets.
All eyes looked to court three as Lupieri took down No. 30 Ben Lott in three sets 6-2, 4-6, 6-1 for the match-winning point. Even though the wind caused for imperfect playing conditions, Knoll said there was no loss of energy.
“No matter what happens, [the guys] don’t want to lose the match,” Knoll said. “When the chips are down, they’re going to dig in and find a way to win, and they did that.”
The Bears host Louisiana-Lafayette on Thursday before heading to the USTA $100,000 RBC Tennis Championships from Jan. 31 to Feb. 7. The match starts at 3 p.m. at the Hawkins Indoor Tennis Center.
No. 9 Baylor women’s tennis has kicked off the 2015 spring season with a bang. After a close 4-3 upset of then-No. 5 Georgia on Jan. 18, the Lady Bears held their own as they hosted and defeated No. 5 Virginia on Saturday by a score of 6-1.
Unlike the matchup versus Georgia, Baylor (2-0) had an early 2-0 advantage heading into doubles play against the Cavaliers. Two of Virginia’s players, including No. 1 Julia Elbaba, did not compete against the Lady Bears with the flu.
“We were up 2-0, and we’ve been up to 2-0 in a lot of matches. You’ve just got to play them out,” head coach Joey Scrivano said. “The girls did a great job though. They were very focused. The players that Virginia had out there were starters on a national championship caliber team.”
Senior Ema Burgic and sophomore Blair Shankle defeated No. 11-ranked duo Cassie Mercer and Skylar Morton 6-4 to clinch the doubles point. Junior Kiah Generette and freshman Theresa Van Zyl fell in a close 7-6 match against Stephanie Nauta and Maci Epstein.
“We started off slow in doubles because in the back of your mind you’re thinking, ‘We only need to win two more matches,’ so it was hard to focus,” Burgic said. “But all the girls came out and showed who we are. We’re good enough to beat anyone in the country.”
With automatic wins at No. 5 and No. 6 singles, the Lady Bears only needed one win to claim the win over their second straight top 5 opponent. UVA’s lone point came at the No. 4 spot after freshman Leolia JeanJean got a code violation and dropped the match 6-3, 3-0.
No. 72 Shankle gave the match-winning point to Baylor after taking down Skylar Morton 6-2, 6-2 on court one after serving up an ace for the final point. No. 72 Burgic defeated No. 16 Nauta 6-2, 6-2 at the No. 1 position, and Generette ended the matchup in an exciting fashion with a 6-0, 6-7 (8-10), 1-0 (10-6) win over Maci Epstein.
With the 2-0 start, the Lady Bears are heading in the right direction with two top 5 wins early in the season. Scrivano and his team will plan on building on that success as they look to host six straight home matches in two weeks.
“It’s a good thing because our players know they can compete with anyone in the country,” Scrivano said. “But it’s early, so we’ve got to keep working and try to get better.”
Baylor will host Pittsburgh and Texas-Pan American at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Friday at the Hawkins Indoor Tennis Center in Waco. The Lady Bears will look to win its third-straight match.