Irish men’s tennis defeats Wisconsin, goes 2-0 on the weekend
Matthew Crow | Monday, February 20, 2023
Notre Dame men’s tennis enjoyed a successful weekend that saw them earn a pair of wins at home Saturday afternoon. Looking to bounce back after a defeat from Illinois the previous weekend, the Irish battled to a comeback victory against Wisconsin before sweeping UIC. With the wins, they improved to 7-3 on the season.
Entering Saturday, Notre Dame knew to take nothing for granted in their first match of the day against Wisconsin. Like the Irish, the Badgers (5-4) came into the weekend after a disappointing road trip, having dropped matches against Alabama and Auburn. They featured a deep, experienced squad that would serve as a tough test for an Irish team looking to get back on track.
“Wisconsin has a really veteran team,” Notre Dame head coach Ryan Sachire said after the match. “They’re very experienced and they’ve played a lot of college tennis. We knew that they would compete hard, we knew they would play really good doubles. They’re strong at all six positions and we anticipated a challenge.”
The Irish got off to a strong start when freshman Sebastian Dominko and senior Connor Fu opened the match with a 6-2 win in No. 1 doubles against Wisconsin’s top duo of Gabriel Huber and Michael Minasyan, ranked No. 21 nationally. Dominko and Fu continued their dominant play as a doubles pair, winning their seventh match in a row and improving to 9-1 on the year. From there, though, the Badgers showcased their doubles prowess. Notre Dame’s No. 2 pair of senior Matt Halpin and junior Jean-Marc Malkowski were defeated 6-2. Soon after, senior Matt Che and sophomore Yu Zhang fell 6-3 on court No. 3, sealing the doubles point for Wisconsin.
While the Irish didn’t get the doubles result they wanted, Sachire expressed confidence that the pairs will figure things out as the season progresses.
“It still is a work in progress for us right now,” he said. “Certainly we’re open to always looking at tweaking partnerships or combinations, but I like those combinations. All of them have won in the past. It’s just [a matter of] getting everybody on the same page and playing well at the same time.”
Undeterred by the early 1-0 deficit, Notre Dame put together some of their best singles play of the season. Dominko, ranked No. 23 nationally, continued his sensational freshman year, rolling to a 6-4, 6-1 win on court No. 1 over Wisconsin’s Jared Pratt, an All-Big Ten honoree last year. The Badgers regained a 2-1 advantage when Irish sophomore Jamison Corsillo fell 6-2, 7-5 on court No. 6, but that would be their last win of the afternoon.
Malkowski battled hard in a back-and-forth No. 2 singles match before taking over in the deciding set to win 6-4, 3-6, 6-0. Saturday represented Malkowski’s first match of the year after injuries held him out of the entire fall season and the early part of the spring. He was expected to play No. 3 singles, but was elevated to the No. 2 spot after Che exited the match following doubles play due to injury. Sachire was impressed with the junior’s performance in his first game action in more than nine months.
“What an effort from that guy,” Sachire said about Malkowski. “First real match in a college setting since the NCAA Championships last May. That’s the most tennis he’s played in a while, volume-wise and certainly the most intense. Those were barriers he was kind of crossing for the first time since coming back from the injury.”
Sachire praised his resiliency in responding to a tough second set and bringing home the win, noting that it “speaks volumes of his competitiveness and his character.”
Those two qualities were put on display by several Irish players, as Notre Dame would go 4-0 in matches decided in three sets. On court No. 5, Zhang won 6-3, 2-6, 6-3, putting the Irish one win away from clinching the match. Fu got Notre Dame the win they needed on court No. 3, coming from behind to claim a hard-fought 2-6, 7-6, 6-1 victory.
“[Fu’s] been playing really well all year and has built up a base of confidence, so I think even though he got down a set and a break 4-3 [in the second set], he always believed he could win, and that’s a powerful, powerful tool,” Sachire said. “He kept playing, kept competing, kept battling and was able to get back in that second set and pull it out. He was certainly one of the guys that led us yesterday, and ultimately his match was probably the one that flipped the overall team match for us.”
With the team victory in hand, Notre Dame graduate student Addy Vashistha made the final score 5-2 in the Irish’s favor after winning 3-6, 6-0, 7-6 on court No. 4.
But Notre Dame’s work was not yet finished, as they quickly prepared to face off with UIC less than two hours later. Carrying a sense of confidence after defeating Wisconsin, the Irish had no trouble with the Flames, completing a 4-0 sweep. Dominko and Fu started things off with their second doubles win of the day, and the pair of Halpin and freshman Evan Lee added a victory to give the doubles point to the Irish. In singles, Dominko, sophomore Brian Bilsey and freshman Noah Becker won in straight sets. The remaining singles matches went unfinished with the match’s outcome decided.
Sachire took away many positives from the Irish’s performance, especially in regard to their mental toughness and ability to win tight individual matches — like they did against Wisconsin.
“I’m really, really proud of our guys. In the middle of the match [against Wisconsin], it just seemed like our team took a stand and said, ‘We’re gonna win this thing,’” he said. “In matches where it’s nip and tuck and the margins are thin, it’s going to come down to the teams that compete the best in those big moments. I think the confidence we can take from [Saturday], that experience and really feeling like we flexed our muscle toward the end of that match at several spots, is something we can always draw on.”
Notre Dame will have their first opportunity to draw on that confidence Thursday. The Irish host No. 4 Michigan and will look to hand the undefeated Wolverines their first loss of the season. The match will begin at 6 p.m. at the Eck Tennis Pavilion.