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UC Irvine Men’s Tennis Fall in Singles to USF

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The UC Irvine Men’s tennis team (1-3) was defeated by the University of San Francisco Dons (3-2), 3-4, at the Tennis Stadium in Irvine on Feb. 6.  Despite taking the early lead in doubles matches, UCI failed to convert in the singles and lost by an agonizingly slim margin.

Sunday’s matches were hard-fought battles. Regardless of the sleepy mid-morning, there was an overwhelming cacophony emitting from the courts: squeaking shoes, deep grunts and chants slurred beyond comprehension. Despite the participants healthily outnumbering the spectators, it was one of the most raucous university sporting events.

Both teams brought the intensity all day. Yet, there were two standout matches: the Doubles match of graduate student Riccardo Roberto and freshman Lawee Sherif against USF’s juniors Phuc Huynh and Nitzan Ricklis, along with the match of UCI junior Matthew Sah and sophomore Thomas Smart against USF sophomore Nil Giraldez and junior Mitch Johnson.

Roberto and Sherif struggled right out of the gate, losing the first game on their own serve. Huynh and Ricklis seemed to have an easy time with returning the ball with power, forcing the Anteaters to scramble out of position.

The second game was an intense showcase for the ‘Eaters as Roberto and Sherif were able to step into their returns with confidence and vigor. Huynh was able to steal a few points with diving saves and trick shots. Even then, the second and third games went to Irvine.

Then the training wheels broke off for USF. The Dons started to play their game, getting both sides scrambling and improvising. This forced play left the larger Sherif consistently a half step behind unable to use his length and power to punish USF.

A 6-3 victory for the Dons showed the teeth of the anarchic stratagem.

Giraldez and Johnson attempted to follow this same blueprint on Court 2, but they soon ran into an obstacle: Sah. Sah was able to play these points out, darting his smaller frame around the court and leaving Smart to clean up the longer shots.

USF’s onslaught of pressure gave under the wily play of Sah, as he was able to scrap enough points to tire out the Dons. It was a fight to the end. Yet when Smart and Sah hit their stride in the final matches, they seemed to share a telekinetic connection.

A 7-6 Anteater victory showed that they could adapt and thrive under heavy pressure.

While they took a 2-1 lead in the doubles, singles matches would sink the Anteaters in the end. Although the Dons were able to use the entire court and moved with unmatched speed, the Anteaters’ power prevailed. Still, it simply wasn’t enough. The day ended in a 4-3 loss.

The ‘Eaters will play again on Sunday, Feb. 13 at 12 p.m. when they face off against the UCLA Bruins in Los Angeles.

Benjamin Hendricks is a Sports Staff Writer. He can be reached at bahendr1@uci.edu.