Irish pick up two crucial road victories over Georgia Tech and Clemson
Observer Sports Staff | Wednesday, April 14, 2021
Notre Dame men’s tennis went on a southern swing this past weekend and emerged with a pair of conference victories, moving them up and over .500 in conference play after toppling Georgia Tech and Clemson on the road by 4-2 scores.
Notre Dame opened up their weekend in Atlanta, as the 42nd-ranked Fighting Irish took on No. 32 Georgia Tech, and a couple of upsets in singles plus a clean sweep in the doubles action was enough to tip the Irish over the edge for the minor upset victory.
Notre Dame took the early advantage with some spectacular play in doubles, grabbing the match point there with ease, taking victories at No. 1 (6-3) and No. 3 (6-1), giving the Irish an early 1-0 lead in the match.
In singles, the Yellow Jackets took the early advantage via Chen Dong’s victory at No. 6, but the Irish rallied back with some big wins courtesy of their top rackets, with 69th-ranked Axel Nefve winning at No. 1 singles, and senior Richard Ciamarra rallying for a major upset at No. 2 singles that switched the momentum in Notre Dame’s favor. Ciamarra claimed the weekend’s first win after falling behind — he lost the first set 4-6 against 24th-ranked Andres Martin. However, Ciamarra battled back, took the second set 6-3 and then completed the upset and comeback with a 6-2 domination in the third set, bringing the Irish even in singles. However, a loss at No. 4 singles kept the match in doubt, as the score was leveled at 2-2.
Meanwhile, Nefve’s victory was a sweep, but his battle against No. 20 Marcus McDaniel was far from easy. The first set went to tiebreakers, and the battle raged on in a 22-point tiebreaker before Nefve ultimately survived 7-6 (12-10) in set No. 1. Nefve rode that wave of momentum to a 6-2 second set victory, and with a pair of upsets in hand, Notre Dame was on their way to victory, up 3-2 on the Yellow Jackets. It was senior Tristan McCormick dealing the fatal blow at No. 3 singles, as he edged out his opponent in a second-set tiebreaker to secure the 4-2 victory for the Irish.
After the upset victory on Friday, Notre Dame looked to avoid an upset of their own on Sunday. In the face-off against Clemson (1-10 in ACC play), the Tigers kept the higher-ranked Irish battling to the end. Once again, Notre Dame was buoyed by fantastic doubles play, claiming the early first point. Nefve pushed the Irish advantage to 2-0 with a victory at No. 1 singles, but once again, some struggles down near the bottom of the singles lineup brought upon some struggles for the Irish. Losses at lines four and six leveled the match, leaving Notre Dame facing the prospect of a devastating upset. However, Ciamarra and McCormick clutched up once more for the Irish, securing victories at No. 2 and No. 3 singles for the Irish, which clinched the 4-2 victory, and sent the Irish back to South Bend on a winning note.
The victories were particularly significant given that Notre Dame entered the weekend with a 1-5 record on the road. Having these two big match wins lifted the Irish to 13-8 (5-4 in ACC play), and now they return home for their final two regular-season clashes. The Irish will face off against Virginia and Virginia Tech in the Eck Tennis Pavillion on April 16 and 18, respectively. The Irish are 10-3 on their own court. They’ll need to defend it well against the Cavaliers, though, who are 10-0 in conference play and 16-2 on the season.
At No. 4 in the nation, Virginia offers Notre Dame a chance to pick up a premier victory heading into the postseason. Sweeping the upcoming weekend also gives the Irish a faint chance at slipping into the No. 4 seed for the conference tournament. Being at No. 4 would grant them a double-bye to the quarterfinals. However, Notre Dame could also fall as far as 10th if they have a poor performance in their final weekend of the regular season. This puts a lot riding on that final weekend in regard to seeding and potential jockeying for an NCAA Tournament bid. At No. 42, Notre Dame would likely need a decent conference tournament run to crack the at-large field for the 32-team tournament.