Irish men’s tennis looks to bounce back vs. Broncos, Blue Raiders
Greg McKenna | Friday, February 12, 2021
After a difficult first road trip, Notre Dame will look to rebound at home when the Irish (4-3, 0-0 ACC) take on Western Michigan and Middle Tennessee at Eck Tennis Pavilion on Saturday and Sunday, respectively.
After winning four of their first five matches of the season at home, Notre Dame was blanked 7-0 by both then-No. 10 Tennessee (8-0, 0-0 SEC) and then-No. 21 Kentucky (9-1, 0-0 SEC) at the end of January.
Though head coach Ryan Sachire said his team did not play “great tennis” in Knoxville and Lexington, he admitted the absence of a customary fall season means his team is still shaking off some rust.
“I think our lack of high-level match experience showed that weekend,” Sachire said. “I think the positive we took from [those matches] was [they] showed us where we need to get to. We know we’re certainly capable of playing at a really high national level with this group of guys.”
Though adjustments in tennis are typically implemented on a player-by-player basis, Sachire wants his squad to prioritize their team identity during individual matches this weekend.
“The best teams have that bond and have that cohesion when they are out there on the court competing with one another,” he said. “And so we’ve got to get back to that. It’s been a hallmark of our program.”
The Irish are led by senior Richard Ciamarra. The Southington, Conn. native was the sixth-ranked player in the country in the preseason, but he will enter the weekend looking to break a two-match losing streak. Ciamarra dropped a close third-set tiebreaker to Tennessee freshman Johannus Monday 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (7-5) before falling to Kentucky sophomore Liam Draxl — preseason 45th-ranked player nationally — by a score of 6-4, 6-0 in Lexington.
Sachire emphasized he was not looking to make excuses for the dip in form while still underlining that Ciamarra did not play a fall season like his last two opponents.
“The SEC did play in the fall,” he said. “And a guy like Richie is a really good example of [someone] who didn’t play a competitive match in nine months.”
Sachire appeared quite confident that Ciamarra and the Irish will play closer to their potential as the season continues.
“It’s [about] getting, again, those competitive matches underneath our belt, getting some confidence,” he said. “And once we break through with a win or two at a high level, I think things will open up a little bit from there.”
Sachire can also point to strong upperclassmen leadership behind Ciamarra to help the Irish navigate this unusual season. He specifically mentioned senior Tristan McCormick and junior Axel Nefve, who typically fill out the top three spots on the Irish ladder with Ciamarra.
“Those guys have all been through the battles,” Sachire said. “And they’ve been a part of a team that [was] top-15 in the country for a better part of a whole entire season two years ago. And so they know what it takes.”
A pair of non-Power Five opponents to finish up Notre Dame’s non-conference slate might sound like a simple tune-up before the beginning of ACC play next week, but Sachire was adamant his team is well aware of the talent on the ladders for both the Broncos (5-0, 0-0 MAC) and Blue Raiders (4-3, 1-0 C-USA).
“Both are high quality programs,” he said. “Western has dominated the MAC in recent years, certainly. And honestly, Middle Tennessee is a top-40 team for sure this year. They’ve already had a few good Power-5 wins, and they’re gonna be to be a very, very tough out on Sunday. We will have to play really well to win that one.”
Play is scheduled to begin at 3 p.m. Saturday and noon Sunday. Though no in-person attendance will be permitted, live streaming will be available online.