Irish men’s tennis looks for rivalry win against Illinois
Nate Moller | Thursday, February 9, 2023
The Notre Dame men’s tennis team will be back in action this Saturday as they travel to Urbana-Champaign to take on the Illinois Fighting Illini.
Head coach Ryan Sachire understands the importance of the match this weekend, considering the history of the rivalry between both programs.
“It’s certainly going to be a big match. Illinois is historically a great program and is one of our biggest rivals in the midwest here,” Sachire said. “We have played Illinois every year for at least the last thirty years, and we have gone back and forth with them. We won last year against them here at Notre Dame, but they’re a really strong program. It’s going to be a really hotly contested battle on Saturday.”
Sachire expects freshman Sebastian Dominko to lead his team on Saturday.
“For us, you have to start with the freshman that’s playing number-one singles for us in Sebastian Dominko. He has had a tremendous year this year to this point,” Sachire said.
Sachire also expects his senior leaders in Matt Che and Connor Fu to step up for the team.
“[They] have done great things for us throughout their four years here, and I think they are playing pretty darn good tennis,” Sachire said.
Sachire knows that if his team is going to win on Saturday, they will have to play well in every match.
“We talk to our team all the time about being nine spots tough with three doubles positions and all six singles positions,” Sachire said. “That’s what it’s going to take to win on Saturday. We have to play a complete match and play hard for three hours and battle in all nine positions. If we do that, we will have a chance to win four points and win the dual match.”
The last time the Irish were in action, they beat Washington but fell 4-1 to a talented Kentucky team. Despite the final scoreline, the Irish competed well with the Wildcats for the beginning of the match.
“My message to our guys was that we were right there with Kentucky and we competed hard with them for two and a half hours. But, it needed to be three and a half hours,” Sachire said. “We didn’t finish the way that we played the entire match until that point.”
Sachire knows that Illinois will try to falter their opponent at some point on Saturday, and the Irish will have to be ready to respond.
“They’re going to make a run at us at some stage in the match, and we need to have the confidence and guts to keep fighting until the very end,” Sachire said. “We need to not stop until the last ball has been hit.”
Beyond playing Illinois this week, the Irish will have a grueling schedule ahead.
“We play such a tough schedule,” Sachire said. “We play Illinois, who is a really good team, on the road this week. And then we come back home and Wisconsin is a very good team, as well. Then we play two of the top-three teams in the country the following week in Michigan and Ohio State.”
Despite the tough schedule, Sachire recognized the importance of a week-to-week mindset and feels that his team has continually improved.
“It’s a one week at a time sport,” Sachire said. “That’s the mindset we are treating this with is it’s a one week entity. We’ve improved every single week.”
Sachire said his team’s goal on Saturday is to compete hard for three hours and then build off that performance and improve the following week.
“That’s what our goal on Saturday night is — to play a complete three hour match where we are battling in all nine spots and giving ourselves the best chance to be successful,” Sachire said. “We’ll go back and try to one up that next week.”
Sachire wants to continue to see his team improve throughout the course of the season.
“Our big picture goal is to continue to improve. I don’t think it’s realistic to always get better from match to match, but that’s the trend we want to be on throughout the course of the season,” Sachire said. “We want to be playing our absolute best tennis when it matters the most late in April and early May.”