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Men’s Tennis: Irish go down to Tobacco Road

Kate Gales | Friday, February 3, 2006

There was some rest for the weary this week – but not much.

After playing two matches last weekend to improve to 2-1, the No. 26 Irish are back on the road to face North Carolina tomorrow and Duke Sunday.

“We’re excited to be here,” coach Bobby Bayliss said in a telephone interview from North Carolina Thursday night. “In any sport, when you play UNC and Duke back-to-back, you’ve got your hands full, but we think we’re up to the task.”

Last weekend, Notre Dame came within one match of defeating then-No. 1 Virginia before falling 4-3 in Richmond. The team rebounded with a dominant shutout of William and Mary in its home opener on Sunday.

Tomorrow, the Irish take on the Tar Heels at noon EST. North Carolina stands at No. 30 in the national rankings and boasts a 5-0 record going into the match with Notre Dame. Four of UNC’s wins this season are 7-0 shutouts – against Campbell, Elon, Gardner-Webb and North Carolina A&T.

Their other match came against a mutual opponent of the Irish. The Tar Heels upended Northwestern 5-2, losing in the top two singles positions. Notre Dame began the season with a win over the Wildcats, winning 6-1 with a loss at No. 6 singles.

“Carolina’s a team that’s been ranked, traditionally, in the 15-30 range most years,” Bayliss said. “I think at the end of the year, they’re going to be there and be a good NCAA Tournament team.”

On Sunday, the Irish will make the eight-mile trek to Durham. After a win over Old Dominion to start the season, Duke will face its most difficult challenge yet.

“They’re good,” Bayliss said of the Blue Devils. “They’re a team with potential to do some really serious damage nationally.”

However, the Irish are looking to make some noise themselves. The team has focused on their doubles matches after revamping the lineup between the Northwestern and UVA matches.

“We’ve put a lot of time into our doubles,” Bayliss said. “We still need to continue to do that because it’s a big key. … [but] I’m pretty confident that we can become very good.”

In three matches, the Irish have played nine individual doubles matches, winning six. One more win may have given the team a victory over Virginia, but Bayliss is focusing on the future – and the challenge in Chapel Hill tomorrow.

“North Carolina’s No. 1 doubles team is ranked No. 1 in the country,” he said. “If you’re ranked 1 in the country you’re doing something right.”

The team is monitoring the status of Irackli Akhvlediani, who sustained an injury over Christmas break but has been practicing at full strength. Bayliss is unsure if he will play in the weekend’s matches.

The Irish have had a difficult stretch, which Bayliss said could have the opportunity to pay off in the long run.

“In 11 days, we will have played three top 10 teams as well as two teams that made the NCAA tournament this year,” he said. “If we can do well in this stretch, we’re setting ourselves up for a successful run.”