The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.



Men’s Tennis: Irish face former champs in opener

Katelyn Grabarek | Thursday, January 15, 2009

No. 30 Notre Dame opens its season today by hosting 2006 NCAA Champion No. 14 Pepperdine indoors at the Eck Center – a fact that shouldn’t be overlooked.

“Pepperdine is certainly a difficult challenge for us, particularly as an opener,” Irish coach Bobby Bayliss said. “Our biggest advantage is playing here and inside. Malibu has lots going for it, but indoor tennis is not one of its perks.”

Like the Irish, Pepperdine is led by a star at No. 1 singles in junior Bassam Beidas.

“Bassam Beidas can beat anyone in the country,” Bayliss said. “[Irish senior Brett Helgeson] will have his hands full. Last year they had both finalist teams in the Pacific Coast Doubles. We will have to be at our best to be competitive.”

The Irish are young this year, with many brand new players in the lineup or playing different positions from last year, Bayliss noted.

With a relatively young and inexperienced squad, Bayliss said his team’s two-a-day practices from Jan. 5-11 were crucial to determining the opening day lineup.

“The biggest surprise [from preseason workouts] has been Sam Keeton,” Bayliss said of the freshman. “He missed the entire fall semester with a broken right wrist but has quickly made up for lost time.”

As a whole, Bayliss said the freshman class is talented but untested. Casey Watt and Niall Fitzgerald showed their talent throughout the fall season, he said.

Helgeson will maintain his No. 1 singles spot that he held much of last season and is currently ranked No. 20 by the ITA. After that, though, the lineup is subject to constant change.

“At this point it looks like No. 2 by committee,” Bayliss said. “In particular, Stephen Havens, Dan Stahl and Casey Watt all seem like they are playing at a level where each will have a chance to post wins there. Each has unique talents that make him special.”

Havens played No. 4 singles for the Irish for much of last season, but with the graduation of Sheeva Parbhu and Andrew Roth, there are some holes to fill in the lineup.

Bayliss also said that his No. 2 through No. 10 slots in the lineup will likely be made up of freshmen and sophomores.