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Men’s Tennis: Irish travel to separate tournaments

Sam Gans | Friday, September 23, 2011

After opening their season at the Illini Invitational, the Irish squad will split up this weekend, with four players heading out to St. Helena, Calif., for the Napa Valley USTA/ITA Invitational and the rest of the squad competing in the Tom Fallon Invitational on campus.

Seniors Casey Watt, Niall Fitzgerald and Samuel Keeton and sophomore Greg Andrews will be making the trip to Napa Valley with coach Bobby Bayliss.

One week after facing several of the country’s top teams in Chicago, the Irish will again face a daunting challenge this weekend at an invitational that includes Tennessee, Tulsa, UCLA, Cal-Berkeley and Vanderbilt. All five made the NCAA Tournament last season, with the Golden Bears, Golden Hurricane and Bruins advancing to the round of 16 and the Bruins earning a spot in the quarterfinals.

Bayliss hopes the experience gained last week will carry over this weekend.

“There were four top-20 teams [at the Illini Invitational], Alabama, who will probably be a top-20 team this year and ourselves,” Bayliss said. “We were obviously in all the matches and the disappointing thing was the number of times we served for a match or had set points or match points and didn’t get them. And hopefully we’ll build on that this week. The field is equally strong.”

The Napa Valley Invitational also consists of the top eight 18-and-under players in the country, some of whom have already turned professional. This fact, along with the strength of the college teams present, the tournament’s unique format and the reward for winning makes the invitational prestigious.

“It’s kind of a round robin format,” Bayliss said. “And the winner of the entire event gets a wildcard into a high-level pro event next summer, which is very difficult to do. So it’s exciting. It’s something we’ve been looking forward to and we’re hopefully going to do well.”

Bayliss has a number of different expectations for the weekend.

“We’re never going out there [just] to try to look good,” he said. “We’re going to try to win each flight that we’re in and do as well as we can possibly do.

“More importantly to me, though, is to see if there’s any progress from week to week. Each guy has areas of concern that he needs to work on during the year and so what I’m excited about seeing is if any of them have been able to grow a little bit and add to their game.”

The rest of the Irish squad will compete stay on campus and compete in the Tom Fallon Invitational at the Eck Tennis Pavilion.

“The younger guys are staying back and playing in the Tom Fallon Invitational which is going to be a format where if you win and you advance, you continue to play players who are doing exactly what you’re doing,” Bayliss said. “So everyone will sort of get a read on where they are and we know the teams and the players so it will be a good gauge for us to be able to evaluate the guys we have.”

Both the Napa Valley USTA/ITA Invitational and the Tom Fallon Invitational begin Friday and conclude Sunday.