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MEN’S TENNIS: Cavaliers just too tough for Irish

Rama Gottumukkala | Monday, February 28, 2005

If Sunday’s tennis showdown proved anything, it’s that national rankings mean nothing in a hotly-contested match.

Playing with determination, the No. 24 Notre Dame men’s tennis team took No. 2 Virginia (10-1) to the limit before falling in a 4-3 decision.

Playing on the road for just the third time this season, the Irish (10-3) stayed in the match from the start. Notre Dame split two early singles matches and won the doubles point to take an early 2-1 lead. It took a grueling three-set singles match at the No. 2 slot to decide Virginia’s narrow margin of victory.

With the match score tied 3-3, sophomore Stephen Bass and Virginia’s Ryan Rizza, ranked No. 38 in the nation, played a lengthy match that ended with Rizza’s 6-3, 6-7 (4-7), 6-3 win. Bass dropped the opening set but battled back in the second, setting up the crucial third set.

Rizza jumped out to an 3-0 lead before Bass closed the gap to 4-2 and a break point in the seventh game. Bass forced Rizza to serve out the match before finally falling to the Virginia junior 6-3 in the last set.

“Stephen Bass was the last one out on the court,” Irish coach Bobby Bayliss said. “He was down a set and down 4-2. To his credit, he fought back very hard and won the second set in a really exciting tie-breaker. We had chances … Stephen won some big points at the net, which is a good move for him and shows a lot of progress in his game. He lost but he played very hard and very well. He’s a guy we definitely wanted out there at that point in the match.”

Although the Irish have dropped the doubles point in four of their last six matches, they came out strong against Virginia. Senior captain Brent D’Amico and sophomore Ryan Keckley posted a 9-7 victory over Virginia’s duo of Rizza and Nick Meythaler. The Irish also won the pivotal doubles match at the No. 2 slot, as junior Eric Langenkamp and freshman Sheeva Parbhu upset the No. 23-ranked team of Somdev Devvarman and Treat Huey in an 8-5 decision.

“We played really well at the No. 1 and No. 2 doubles, about as well as we’ve played all year,” Bayliss said. “We won those two doubles and it was great to take the 2-1 lead with four matches remaining. We knew what we were up against but we still had to make the best of it.”

Notre Dame’s two singles victories came from the heart of their lineup, in the No. 4 and No. 5 slots. In the No. 5 slot, Sophomore Irackli Akhvlediani put the Irish on the board first while also posting the team’s top individual victory. He upset Virginia’s Darrin Cohen, ranked No. 36 in the nation, 7-5, 7-6 in his first collegiate victory over a nationally-ranked opponent.

“They were both really good matches and we had chances in both of them,” Bayliss said “Irackli played very well.”

much better than earlier this week against Michigan State. So I was really proud of him.”

In a battle of collegiate freshmen, Parbhu also played well, winning a 7-5, 7-5 decision against Virginia’s Huey in the No. 4 slot. Huey had been previously ranked this spring. Parbu’s record now stands at 22-5 this season, with a 10-1 record in dual-match play at the No. 4 position.

The contest, which was held at the Country Club of Virginia, also marked a return home for Bayliss. Bayliss is a graduate of the University of Richmond and a one-time assistant tennis pro at the club.

“It was a lot of fun for me to be back here,” Bayliss said. “The doubles play was great, and just the fact that we went toe to toe with the No. 2 ranked team in the country and really were in position to win. When you’re starting the last set of the last match on, dead even, it’s exciting. Hopefully that’s a sign of things to come.”