Irish men’s tennis defeats No. 25 Miami, wins two of three over weekend
Matthew Crow | Tuesday, March 22, 2022
Heading into a weekend with three home matches, including two against ACC foes Florida State and No. 25 Miami, Notre Dame men’s tennis knew not to expect anything to come easy.
“It’s something we talk about all the time. At this point [in the season], every match is a dogfight. Everything’s really hard,” Irish volunteer assistant coach Sam Kercheval said. “The guys know what needs to be done and it’s a matter of just being willing to put in the effort and the fight every single day.”
While the No. 23 Irish were unable to take down Florida State on Friday, they responded with two big wins on Sunday against Miami and Eastern Illinois to improve their record to 14-6 and 4-2 in conference play.
Friday’s match began with Florida State taking the doubles point. Notre Dame’s Connor Fu and Jean-Marc Malkowski won 6-3 on court No. 3, but the Seminoles defeated the Irish pairs of Axel Nefve and Matthew Che (6-4) on court No. 1 and Peter Conklin and Matthew Halpin (6-1) on court No. 2 to take a 1-0 advantage.
The forecast had shown a chance of rain during the time of the match, and while the weather held out long enough for doubles to be played outside, the match was forced indoors before singles play began. After taking a few minutes to warm up and adjust to the new court, play resumed and Notre Dame quickly evened the score behind a strong 6-2, 6-4 win from graduate student Aditya Vashistha.
With the score knotted at 1-1, Florida State began to take control of the match, as Conklin was defeated 6-3, 6-3 on court No. 5. Nefve, ranked No. 44 in the country, dropped a tight match against No. 82 Loris Pourroy, 7-6, 6-4. With Florida State just one point away from winning the match, Notre Dame continued to battle. Che earned a 6-4, 6-7, 6-1 win on court No. 3, but the Seminoles clinched a 4-2 victory after Malkowski fell 4-6, 7-6, 6-4 on court No. 6.
Despite the loss, Kercheval said there were several positives that Notre Dame could take forward, noting that he was impressed with how the Irish kept the match close despite not being able to earn points from doubles or from Nefve, their top-ranked player.
“We fought really hard,” Kercheval said. “We had a chance to win without our top guy and our doubles clicking, and that’s pretty impressive.”
After Friday’s loss, the Irish quickly pivoted to focus their attention on Miami, knowing that another tough match was in store. Just as against Florida State, the match went back and forth, with neither side willing to give an inch in what turned out to be a thriller.
“It was essentially the same match [against Miami],” Kercheval said. “The toughness, the expectation that you have to fight for everything. So we were already in that mindset.”
Once again, Notre Dame was unable to earn the doubles point, losing 6-3 on courts No. 1 and 2. After the Hurricanes breezed past Irish freshman Brian Bilsey 6-2, 6-0 on court No. 6, it appeared that Notre Dame could be in store for a second consecutive loss. However, Nefve earned a crucial 7-6, 6-2 win over No. 99 Dan Martin on court No. 1 and Conklin won 7-5, 6-2 on court No. 5 to even the score at 2-2.
The score remained level after Che (6-2, 7-6) won on court No. 3 and Vashistha (7-5, 6-4) fell on court No. 2, meaning that the match would come down to the battle between Notre Dame’s Fu and Miami’s Juan Martin Jalif on court No. 4. After splitting the first two sets, Fu clinched a 7-5 win in the final set with an emphatic ace, handing the Irish a 4-3 win, their first against a top-25 opponent.
Kercheval said he was impressed with how Fu stayed collected in a high-pressure moment, discussing how getting experience in close matches will help the team as they move forward in the season.
“When you can win in a tight situation it absolutely carries a lot of weight with you. It was great for Connor to get that done. All eyes were on him because he was the only one in the third set, so he knew for the last 40 minutes that it was up to him,” Kercheval said. “He handled it great, was composed, and did a really good job taking out a tough guy. I think there’s a lot of confidence from him and his teammates in him moving forward.”
Despite seemingly giving everything they had to defeat Miami in a match that lasted over three and a half hours, there was no letdown for Notre Dame as they took on Eastern Illinois in the Irish’s second match of the day on Sunday. This one had no drama, as the Irish used a dominant performance to dispatch the Panthers 6-0 without dropping a single set, capping off an excellent performance on the day.
Looking ahead, Notre Dame men’s tennis will look to build off their back-to-back victories in a challenging pair of ACC matches on the road next weekend. The Irish will head south to face No. 18 Duke at 4 p.m. on Friday and No. 17 North Carolina at noon on Sunday.