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Men’s Tennis

Fu-Dominko bond, doubles partnership fueling Irish tennis

| Wednesday, February 22, 2023

On Feb. 21, the latest ITA rankings came out, and a pair of Irish players populated the lists. Senior Connor Fu has been a mainstay in the Notre Dame lineup for a while, but Tuesday represented his first time appearing in the rankings. He appeared alongside Irish freshman Sebastian Dominko. 

“It started with their friendship,” Notre Dame head coach Ryan Sachire said. “Even before they started playing doubles together, they were buddies. In a conversation with me, Sebastian referred to Connor as his big brother on the team.” 

The duo formed a bond early in the season, and that friendship developed into a lethal doubles pairing that earned some recognition from the ITA, coming in at No. 47 amidst all doubles teams. Fu and Dominko have become crucial lynchpins for the No. 37 Irish. They play together on the top doubles court, compiling a 9-1 record so far.

The close relationship between the freshman and senior didn’t initially seem to have potential as a pairing. For his whole collegiate career, Fu played the deuce court (the right side) in doubles, the same as Dominko. Late in the fall, Sachire elected to switch Fu to the ad court (left side), and Fu responded with a strong tournament.

“When thinking about our ultimate doubles combinations, now with the door open that Connor could play the ad court and Sebastian locks down the deuce court, they became a possibility to play together,” Sachire commented. “Combine that with their skills, their strengths together, and more importantly, the relationship, the bond they have, it seemed like a really good opportunity for us to try it out, and we did in practice and it clicked. They like playing together, and they’ve been good.” 

Good might be underselling the duo’s talent and overall potential. This past weekend, Fu and Dominko outclassed their top-25 opponent from Wisconsin in a dominant showing at the top court. They’ve won seven straight, and will put that streak to the test this weekend. Facing a pair of top-five teams in Ohio State and Michigan, Fu and Dominko will need to step up their game. Ohio State boasts the second-ranked doubles pairing in the country, and Michigan’s top pairing ranks seventh. 

“We’ve been putting in a lot of work in practice,” Fu said after a early-season win over Western Michigan. “Still a pretty new team, but it’s a pretty high potential team. We’re both pretty good athletes and know how to play doubles pretty well.”

However, when not playing together, Fu and Dominko remain key pieces for the Irish in singles play. Fu continues to be a staple for the Irish in the middle of their lineup as he is 5-3 this season.

After that win over Western Michigan, Fu reflected on his role as a senior leader. “I think us as older guys who have seen all these matches before… it’s our job to show the younger kids how it’s done during pressure moments.” 

Meanwhile Dominko, who has competed internationally for Slovenia, has jumped into a high-profile role as a freshman. He slotted in as the 38th-ranked singles player in the latest rankings. Dominko boasts a 6-2 record as the Irish’s No. 1 singles player this season. While the Irish have had players climb into the top 20, or even 10 before, Sachire can’t remember anyone doing it in their first season. 

“I don’t think the stage is too big for him in any way shape or form, as we’re seeing in his results. We’ve passed all the freshman nerves, and it’s just about helping him become the best player he can be and him growing his game and developing. I think he’s got a shot to be one of the best players in college tennis,” Sachire said.

Among his ‘high-end experience,’ Dominko has competed in Junior Wimbledon, the Junior U.S. Open and the Davis Cup. The latter is the premier international team competition in men’s tennis, in which Dominko competed for Slovenia. The lanky lefty brings thundering power to his game, but it’s not just his booming serves that have allowed the freshman to dominate early in his career. 

What sets Dominko apart?

“It’s the movement that he has on the court to go along with that size and power that is different. It’s unique. He can move quite well, especially for his size,” Sachire said. “When you combine the weapons that he has with the ability to run well and to play defense and play complete tennis, he has loads of potential to be an unreal, world-class player.”

Dominko and Fu have sparked the Irish to a 7-3 start this season, but the road is about to get a lot tougher. No. 3 Michigan visits the Irish on Thursday, and Notre Dame travels to No. 4 Ohio State over the weekend. To start ACC play, the Irish face up against No. 10 North Carolina and No. 22 Duke. Notre Dame is currently 0-3 against Top-25 teams, but they are 7-0 against everyone else. Their best wins are over No. 48 Washington and No. 49 Wisconsin. 

So what’s the ceiling of this team? Can they seriously challenge top level teams? The answer might be in a veteran playing the best tennis of his career in Connor Fu and the mammoth lefty swing of freshman Sebastian Dominko.

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About Aidan Thomas

A senior 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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