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Men’s Tennis: Irish take on Davis Cup team in Ireland

Peter Steiner | Monday, September 3, 2012

The Irish were going to win, no matter what.

Even though it was the other Irish – the members of Ireland’s Davis Cup team – who came out on top, 9-3, Friday at the Fitzwilliam Lawn Tennis Club in Dublin, Ireland, the Notre Dame tennis team also won in a figurative sense as they enjoyed an unforgettable experience to kick off their fall season.

“I think fabulous doesn’t do it justice,” Irish coach Bobby Bayliss said. “It was culturally, athletically and socially everything we could have hoped for and expected. The Fitzwilliam Lawn Tennis Club and the members of the Davis Cup team there treated us tremendously.”

Despite the success of the event, the Notre Dame players faced challenges early on, namely jetlag and adapting to the new court surface.

“We arrived, and as you can imagine, we felt like we’d been beaten up by a gang,” Bayliss said. “We’d been up for how many hours straight, and we went straight to the club to practice.

“The surface was very different. It’s synthetic grass, and the bounce is low. The courts were very fast, and it was a significant adjustment for our guys. But I thought in most cases we did a pretty good job of handling it.”

Following a day of practice, the team faced off against the members of the Irish Davis Cup team in singles and then doubles. Senior Michael Moore and sophomore Michael Fredericka pulled out two tight singles matches, while No. 1 doubles team of junior Greg Andrews and senior Spencer Talmadge took home Notre Dame’s lone doubles victory (6-7, 6-3, 10-8) against James Cluskey and Conor Niland.

“The highlight for us was winning No. 1 doubles and playing very well,” Bayliss said. During that match, Talmadge served big and took over the net and made his presence felt.

“Out of the 12 matches, we lost four matches in third-set tiebreakers,” Bayliss said. “So with a little bit of luck we could have made it certainly a lot closer, if not had a chance to win.

“But that wasn’t the important thing. The important thing was getting to play in that environment, on that stage, against that caliber of player. And the experience from that end was a resounding success.”

Notre Dame’s top two singles players, Andrews and senior Blas Moros, also played exciting matches. Andrews lost in straight sets to Niland, who played against Novak Djokavic in the U.S. Open one year ago. Meanwhile, Moros put up a valiant effort against Cluskey, but lost in a third set tiebreaker (4-6, 6-4, 10-4).

“I know Greg had some trouble getting used to the court,” Bayliss said. “It really cost him, and he had to search for some different answers, which was great. I think you grow tremendously in that situation when you are forced outside your comfort zone.

“We were position to win at No. 2 singles. Blas Moros was up a set and at 4-3 serving, but couldn’t quite hold on and lost in a tiebreaker.”

After the match was completed, the team also had an opportunity to eat dinner with the players on the Davis Cup team and officials of the Fitzwilliam Lawn Tennis Club. The players then cheered the football team onto victory Sunday at Aviva Stadium, where the Notre Dame played Navy on Saturday.

Bayliss said the experience was not only remarkable, but the team also made many practical gains as a result.

“I think it immediately takes all the freshmen and integrates them into a team environment where you are traveling, and it really accelerates that process,” Bayliss said. “The second thing is the opportunity to culturally do what we did. I think they really appreciated the opportunity to go and to see what the kind of doors Notre Dame can open for you.

“Finally, we got to see them in a position of adversity. I think they had the benefit from being thrown in the fire right away.”

The Irish now prepare for the Illini Invitational and Western Michigan Invitational, both taking place on the weekend of Sept. 14.

Contact Peter Steiner at psteiner @nd.edu