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Men’s Tennis: Exhibition fosters true Irish competition

Megan Finneran | Friday, August 31, 2012

For one sport this weekend, the term Irish will not apply strictly to the Notre Dame side. Joining the football team and fans from across the country, the men’s tennis team also will travel to Ireland in preparation for their own season opener.

In today’s exhibition matches, Notre Dame will face the men of the Ireland Davis Cup Team, a unique matchup for a college lineup.

“This is essentially a collection of their country’s best players,” senior Blas Moros said. “Even though it is only considered an exhibition match, we will have a chance to go up against world-class tennis players that we otherwise might never have had a chance to play against.”

Among these elite athletes are Dublin native Barry King, who graduated from Notre Dame in 2007 after winning 90 singles matches throughout his career, and Wicklow native Niall Fitzgerald, Notre Dame’s team captain last year. Their teammates include Conor Niland, who played world No. 2 Novak Djokovic at the U.S. Open last year, and ATP players James McGee and Sam Barry. This squad will certainly challenge the college-aged men of Notre Dame, who graduated their No. 1 singles player Casey Watt. However, the players said facing a more experienced team is not putting a damper on the mindset of the athletes.

“We have all been looking forward to this trip since we heard it might be a possibility last year,” Moros said. “We could not be more excited about this unique opportunity.”

In addition to the time change adjustment, Notre Dame will also find a change of scenery across the Atlantic. The Fitzwilliam Lawn Tennis Club, often called the Wimbledon of Ireland, uses an artificial lawn surface not present in college tennis. While this alternative ground will definitely impact the ball movement and the pace of the game, the Irish are ready to take this change with a positive attitude too.

“With the match being played on a different surface, people might assume that it doesn’t matter much how we do, yet I know this is a great way to kickoff our fall season,” junior Billy Pecor said. “We can learn a lot from this trip.”

Last year, the Irish went 21-9, finishing third in the Big East and advancing to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. This weekend marks the first match for the new team competing together, which includes five freshmen. Junior Greg Andrews will pave the way in the No. 1 singles spot, moving up from No. 2 last year.

“This can potentially be a tremendous confidence booster for all of the guys and a great opportunity for the returning players to further strengthen ties with the freshmen,” Pecor said.

Notre Dame will compete today at 2 p.m. in Dublin. Competition will begin with singles and continue with doubles.

Contact Megan Finneran at mfinnera@nd.edu