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Men’s Tennis

Irish drop top-15 matches to Michigan, OSU, beat UIC

| Tuesday, March 1, 2022

This past weekend, Notre Dame men’s tennis played two of their toughest three matches to date in a four-day period. Facing No. 14 Michigan and No. 3 Ohio State, the Irish dropped both matches. Notre Dame was able to rebound, knocking off UIC in their second match on Sunday.

Irish fall to Wolverines

This one got off to an ugly start for the Irish, as they had little success in the doubles portion of the match. Michigan struck quickly, winning Court 3 and Court 2 by margins of 6-2 and 6-3, respectively. That gave them a 1-0 advantage in points moving into singles. Things were over relatively quickly on the lower courts, as Michigan’s impressive depth overwhelmed the blue and gold. Graduate student Peter Conklin fell 3-6, 3-6 at Court 4, junior Connor Fu dropped a 2-6, 1-6 decision at Court 5, and sophomore Jean-Marc Malkowski faltered, 4-6, 1-6.

That was enough to clinch the victory for Michigan, but the remainder of the matches ran their course. Notre Dame’s lone victory came at Court 2. Graduate student Aditya Vashistha blasted his Michigan counterpart, losing just four games in a straight-set victory.

No. 3 Ohio State overwhelms Notre Dame

Although the final score read 4-0 in this one, the Irish felt more competitive throughout. The match started with a doubles point that had more momentum swings than the final score indicated. On each court, the Irish held a break lead over the Buckeyes. OSU entered with the top two doubles teams in the country, although they split the four members across Courts 1 and 3. Ohio State boasted three doubles teams ranked in the top 11. No Irish pairing entered the matchup ranked.

However, senior Axel Nefve and junior Matthew Che pushed the Buckeyes at Court 1, getting a break to go up 4-2 at one point. But Ohio State responded with consecutive service breaks and four straight game victories to win 6-4. At Court 2, junior Matthew Halpin and Conklin battled and notched a break, but their match remained unfinished at 5-5, as the Buckeyes claimed a 7-5 victory on Court 3. That gave Ohio State the doubles point. It was a key advantage, given the Buckeyes’ singles lineup included three top-11 players in the ITA rankings.

One of those players, 11th-ranked JJ Tracy, cruised through Court 5 with a 6-2, 6-3 victory. The Buckeyes also won quickly at Court 3, as Che failed to notch a break in that contest. However, despite a 3-0 deficit, the Irish remained alive. Nefve won his first set at Court 1, toppling 10th-ranked Cannon Kingsley 6-1. Vashistha went to tiebreakers against fifth-ranked Matej Vocel and was up a break in the second set. Malkowski was in a third set at Court 6 and Fu, facing a host of match points, broke his opponent twice with the match on the line.

“Connor had a really good day today. Thursday night at Michigan was not one of his better performances,” Irish head coach Ryan Sachire said. “He owned that and wanted to come back today and respond. That’s the mark of a champion.”

Ultimately, however, it was Court 1 that decided this one. After a dominant first set, Nefve couldn’t maintain the momentum. He fell 2-6 in the second set. That forced a competitive third set, which remained on serve for seven games. Then, trailing 3-4, Nefve allowed Kingsley to break and gain a service game for the match. Kingsley didn’t waver, dispatching Nefve to claim the match. The other three competitive matches remained unfinished.

“When you play No. 1 at Notre Dame, you play an elite guy virtually every match. Regardless of win or lose, you have to come back ready to play,” Sachire said. “And he will. He’s a stud; he’s a pro.”

Notre Dame rebounds vs. UIC

The Irish had a quick turnaround to face UIC on Sunday evening, but they utilized the chance for a quick bounceback victory. The Irish thrashed the Flames 5-0. Halpin and Conklin needed 20 minutes to sweep their doubles set 6-0 at Court 1.

“We continue to play them together, and they’ve done a really good job,” Sachire said of the Halpin-Conklin duo.

Malkowski and Fu secured the doubles point 6-3 at Court 2.

In singles, it was the lower courts getting it done for the Irish. Malkowski dropped just one game in a straight-set victory at Court 4. Freshmen Brian Bilsey and Jameson Corsillo cruised at the bottom two courts. At Court 2, Che bounced back with a smooth 6-3, 6-0 victory. The other two matches were left unfinished as Notre Dame swept the Flames.

“When we’re playing upwards of 25-30 matches in the spring. It’s a marathon, not a sprint,“ Sachire noted. “Mentally, you don’t get too high, too low. You realize you get another chance right around the corner. Georgia Tech next Friday is a huge match for us, and we want to be ready to rock and roll.”

The Irish open up their ACC slate with home matches against Georgia Tech and Clemson on Friday and Sunday, respectively. Friday’s match against the Yellow Jackets starts at 4 p.m. at Eck Tennis Pavilion.

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About Aidan Thomas

A junior marketing and ACMS major at Notre Dame, I've countered the success I've enjoyed as a New England sports fan with the painful existence of a Notre Dame football fan.

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