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MEN’S TENNIS: Improved doubles play helps team

Rama GottumukkalaRAMA GOTTUMUKKALARAMA GOTTUMUKKALARama Gottumukkala | Tuesday, February 8, 2005

The well-known maxim of “if you fall short, get up and try again” can be applied to any aspect of individual or team sports. But it can certainly explain the resurgence of the doubles play for the Notre Dame men’s tennis team, transforming a liability last year into an ever-growing strength this spring.The Irish, who claimed the doubles point just 10 times in 23 attempts last season, have won the doubles point in five of their eight spring matches. Not surprisingly, the Irish have a 5-0 record in those matches.After only sporadic success in doubles matches over the past few years, the Irish coaching staff targeted the team’s doubles play as a key area for improvement.”We’ve really worked hard on our doubles,” head coach Bobby Bayliss said. “It was certainly not a strength in the fall. I just think that the guys deserve a lot of credit. They’ve put a lot of time in and we’ve spent an inordinate amount of time in practice on our doubles.”The Irish have relied on three principal duos to drive their doubles success this spring. Senior captain Brent D’Amico and sophomore Ryan Keckley have faced some tough competition at the No. 1 slot. In the last four matches, the two players competed against two top-15 doubles opponents. Junior Eric Langenkamp and freshman Sheeva Parbhu have occupied the No. 2 slot, with sophomores Barry King and Stephen Bass rounding out the doubles teams at the No. 3 slot.”We have two very natural doubles players on our team, Brent D’Amico and Ryan Keckley,” Bayliss said. “Eric Langenkamp has become a great doubles player. It was not natural for him and he did not play doubles as a freshman.”D’Amico and Keckley are no strangers to the doubles spotlight. The pair posted strong victories last year, including an 8-6 upset of No. 26 Joey Atas and Jeremy Wurtzman of Ohio State that helped launch them into the national doubles rankings.The play of Langenkamp and Parbhu, on the other hand, has been a welcome surprise for the Irish. The duo has surpassed all expectations from both coaches and teammates. The pair’s doubles record now stands at 9-2 this season at the No. 2 slot, including 6-1 in dual-match action.”In Eric’s case, he deserves a lot of credit because it was not natural for him and he’s really made great strides,” Bayliss said. “He has terrific hands, he’s very quick and he’s developed a great feel for the doubles game. He’s playing with Sheeva Parbhu, who is a less natural doubles player but really is a terrific athlete and a great competitor.”The highlight for Langenkamp and Parbhu’s consistent performance this spring came against Florida State’s Jeff Groslimond and Chris Westerhof, ranked at No. 32 nationally. The duo’s 8-4 victory marked the first time either player topped a nationally-ranked doubles team. The doubles win was also the first for any Irish pair against a nationally-ranked team since D’Amico and Keckley’s strong showing against Ohio State.”I think the win over Florida State has been the highlight so far,” D’Amico said. “I think that’s the one match that everyone came together. It was a tough match and everyone fought hard and we ended up pulling that one out. Our No. 2 doubles team has been huge for us.”At the No. 3 slot, Bass and King have shown flashes of brilliance for the Irish. Both players are highly-talented singles competitors who have played at the No. 2 and No. 3 singles slots, respectively, for much of the season. As they continue to shape their doubles teamwork, Bayliss sees a lot of potential in the duo’s teamwork.”The work in progress is at No. 3 and that’s probably the most significant improvement of all,” Bayliss said. “Barry and Stephen were 0-for-autumn in the fall. They didn’t play particularly well, but through some real hard work focusing on their volleying skills and improvements in the serving area, they are becoming a pretty darn competent No. 3 team.”Although the Irish have enjoyed a great deal of early success in doubles play, the team still feels that there’s plenty of room for improvement. The team has dropped the doubles point in the last two matches, against No. 9 Duke and No. 34 Texas. If anything else, those losses just solidify how important the doubles play has become to the Irish team dynamic.”Anytime you’re playing a top team in the country or a team that’s comparable to our level, most of those matches will come down to a 4-3 or 5-2 finish,” D’Amico said. “So that one point is huge and everyone can feel it. The break in between playing the singles and doubles matches is a lot different when you win the point as opposed to when you lose it.”After playing four consecutive matches against nationally-ranked foes in the past few weeks, the Irish will have a little time to rest and reengineer their attack before next Sunday’s match against Marquette. Bet on doubles play to continue to be a focus for the team’s improvement as the season progresses.