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Men’s Tennis: Team looks to fill No. 1 slot

Kate Grabarek | Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Notre Dame may not have a clear-cut No. 1 player to replace the graduated Brett Helgeson, but the Irish have enjoyed early season success with a balanced lineup full of improved players.

Junior captain Tyler Davis was the latest to impress with three singles victories at the Illinois Invitational over the weekend, and the lineup as a whole performed well in both singles and doubles.

Sophomore Casey Watt has shown steady improvement after posting a 25-8 singles record last season, and he debuted at No. 90 in the ITA’s preseason rankings.

“Casey Watt had an outstanding record for us, but at a lower lineup slot,” Irish coach Bobby Bayliss said. “He will need to add better net skills, the ability to counter well with his slice backhand, playing more up in the court and the ability to use the width of the court into his comfort zone in order to handle the load at No. 1.”

Junior Dan Stahl also proved vital for the Irish last season moving up to play No. 3 singles and also spent some time in the ITA rankings during last season.

Bayliss also noted his success last year while at the No. 3 position, and notes that Stahl is good at taking the ball early but needs to work on taking advantage of his opportunities to come in and finish off the point.

The most likely candidate it seems to take the No. 1 position this season is junior Stephen Havens, who played in the second slot for the Irish last season. Havens also joins Watt in the ITA rankings this season debuting at No. 98.

“Last year Stephen Havens at times played like that player, but he needs to demonstrate the match-to-match consistency that was missing a year ago,” Bayliss said. “Certainly he has the ball-striking ability to win at the top. Adding a stronger presence at the net will give him a chance to see just how good he can become.”

When comparing last season’s No. 1 Helgeson to Havens, Bayliss said that what proved key for Helgeson was his ability to bounce back after some tough losses.

Helgeson lost at least 10 dual matches last season and with the tough schedule the Irish face, the No. 1 for the Irish this year will also face a tough challenge.

“The results you will be able to achieve will be based on your ability to respond to adversity,” Bayliss said. “Stephen has added some new weapons to his arsenal – a better slice backhand, more punch on the volley, better variety on his serve. Now the challenge is to see how he integrates them into his overall scheme, how quickly he reads opportunities to come forward and how well he assesses situations.”

While the Irish don’t have a clear cut No. 1, they will work towards finding that person when they next take the court on Oct. 9 in Cambridge, Mass., at the Harvard Invitational.