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Men’s Tennis: Seniors lead team to 5-2 win

Peter Steiner | Monday, April 16, 2012

The Irish could not have planned a better way to end the regular season.

In their final home match of the year, the Irish took down Louisville, 5-2, to extend their winning streak to six matches.

Notre Dame (18-7, 3-1 Big East) also honored the accomplishments of seniors Casey Watt, Sam Keeton, Niall Fitzgerald and Daven Brodess.

Entering the match, the Irish had dropped the doubles point in two consecutive matches. But the three Irish pairs reversed their luck Saturday, sweeping all three matches to take a 1-0 lead on the Cardinals (15-9, 0-1).

“Once we got five to six games into the doubles, we had pretty clearly broken them, established a lead and it looked like we were going to win the doubles point,” Irish coach Bobby Bayliss said. “Doubles takes a while to learn, and I think we had an advantage of experience today.”

Experience proved to be an important factor in the singles for the Irish as well. Led by three seniors, the Irish took four of the six singles matches to secure the overall victory against an evenly-matched Cardinals squad.

While Watt dropped a three-set match at No. 1 singles, Keeton and Fitzgerald both took home victories in the last home match of their careers. At No. 3 singles, Keeton recovered from a shaky second set to defeat freshman Albert Wagner 6-3, 3-6, 6-0 and extend his singles winning streak to five games.

“At No. 3 singles, Sam started off playing reasonably well and the game plan was to play up in the court on Wagner, take away his time and make him move,” Bayliss said. “After a poor second set, Sam really picked up his game and played well in the third, and never let Wagner into the match. He just dominated the set.”

At No. 5 singles, Fitzgerald improved to 7-3 in singles this year by finishing off senior Robert Hall 6-1, 7-5.

“Niall Fitzgerald was all over Hall, who is a very good player,” Bayliss said. “Hall has beaten us in the Big East championship twice, so that match concerned me.

“The key is [Niall’s] ability to, under pressure, still play big with his forehand and firm with his backhand, and yet under control. A lot of guys have trouble hitting big and keeping the ball in play, and Niall has the ability to do that.”

Watt, Keeton and Fitzgerald have been mainstays in the Irish lineup all year and according to Bayliss, the intangibles the three seniors provide for the team are invaluable.

“In doubles they were four-year starters, four-year letter winners, and it was good to have that kind of experience out on the court,” Bayliss said. “Certainly we will miss their talent and leadership. Casey was an instant-impact freshman. He’s added a little bit to his game since then, and has had to play high in the lineup, mostly at No. 1 all of the last three years.

“It’s good to see the progress each one of them has made. Niall and Sam have gone from not always playing as freshmen, to being guys we absolutely need in our lineup as our seniors.”

In addition to continuing their winning ways, Saturday’s victory was especially important for the upcoming Big East championship. The victory over Louisville should move the Irish ahead of the Cardinals in the national rankings, thus giving Notre Dame the No. 1 seed in the tournament.

With the conclusion of the regular season, the Irish will prepare for their first match of the Big East championship on April 20 in Tampa, Fla.

Contact Peter Steiner at [email protected]