Men’s tennis dropped a close match to No. 1 Wake Forest 4-1 in Winston-Salem, N.C. on Friday to bring its superb team season to a close.
The Lions (19-5, 6-1 Ivy) faced the extremely difficult task of defeating the Demon Deacons—who were ranked at No. 1 in the ITA rankings for most of the season—on Wake Forest’s home courts, and ultimately could not muster enough to advance to the Elite 8 for the first time in program history.
Seeded sixteenth and coming off an eventful 4-2 victory over Virginia, the Light Blue and head coach Bid Goswami kept its lineup the same for the showdown against Wake Forest. As the team finished its final exams and flew down to Winston-Salem earlier in the week to prepare for Friday’s match, Goswami knew that Wake Forest was going to be a difficult opponent for the Lions, and hoped that his team could catch a few breaks.
“We were hoping that if we made it a little tight, anything could have happened,” Goswami said. “On their home courts, with a pretty big crowd, and hosting NCAAs for the first time they were all pretty excited. We gave it our best effort, but we just came up a little bit short.”
Despite the large Wake Forest contingent supporting its top-ranked team, the match was closer than the score seemed to indicate. With play moved indoors due to rain, the Demon Deacons possessed perhaps an even larger advantage, as Wake Forest’s familiarity with its indoor courts and its possession of multiple huge servers gave it a clear advantage going into the match.
In doubles play, Wake Forest’s potent lineup—with its first, second and third doubles teams ranked No. 21, No. 35 and No. 46, respectively—made quick work of the Light Blue. At third doubles, senior Michal Rolski and sophomore Adam Ambrozy fell to Wake Forest’s Christian Seraphim and Ian Dempster 6-3, and at second doubles, the No. 43 pair of junior Will Matheson and first-year Jack Lin fell 6-2 to the Demon Deacons’ Petros Chrysochos and Bar Botzer as Wake Forest took the doubles point and a 1-0 lead.
In singles play, the Lions needed four victories to take the match, and won three first sets at fifth, third and sixth singles, respectively, to make things interesting down the stretch.
The Lions sole win of the match was at fifth singles, as Huang continued his strong play and dispatched Seraphim 6-1, 6-4 in straight-set fashion. According to Goswami, Huang, who finished with 10 consecutive wins to close the season, had a remarkable season and emerged as an extremely reliable force at the back-end of the Lions’ lineup.
“I think Austen was playing in the end with a lot of confidence,” Goswami said. “He worked hard and we were after him and kept working on him, and I think it showed in the end. He played how we thought he could play.”
But despite Huang’s victory, Wake Forest was too strong up and down its lineup for the Lions to overcome losing the doubles point.
The first match to finish was that of No. 64 Tang, who after playing a competitive first set was blitzed by No. 4 Chrysochos at second singles in a 6-3, 6-0 defeat. At fourth singles, shortly after Huang finished his match, Ambrozy fell to Botzer 6-1, 6-4. Ambrozy, who had an opportunity to take the second set ultimately came up just short, and finished his season having won 10 of 12 matches.
Facing a 3-1 deficit, the Lions needed to secure each of the remaining three matches to clinch the upset. And in a season where the Lions have proven to be capable of achieving such a feat, the team was unable to triumph, as Pham fell to the Demon Deacon’s No. 7 Borna Gojo at first singles 7-5, 6-3. In the first set, Pham had an opportunity to take the set to a tiebreaker serving at 5-6, but after he was broken by Gojo, Pham was unable to muster a comeback and force a third set.
In each of the unfinished matches, Lin and junior Timothy Wang, playing at third and sixth singles, respectively, won their first sets. Lin, playing against No. 38 Skander Mansouri won his first set 6-3 and had match point serving at 5-4, but was broken on the no-ad point. The match would not finish, as play stopped when Wake Forest clinched the victory.
At sixth singles, Wang took his first set 6-4, but the Demon Deacons’ Julian Zlobinsky captured the second 6-4, and the duo would have played a third set, but just as the duo was beginning, the match finished.
While it was a disappointing end for the Lions, in many ways this season left plenty for which to be excited going forward. The Light Blue will lose just one senior contributor—Rolski—and will return its entire singles lineup next season.
“The body can only take so much, and these team matches are always tense, and each match takes a lot out of them,” Goswami said. “Hopefully they will come back in really good shape, and we’ll start all over in September. It’ll be an exciting next year too, and we have to keep the same culture.”
While the team season finished with the defeat to Wake Forest, Pham, Tang and the pair of Matheson and Lin will compete in the 2018 NCAA Division I Men’s Tennis Singles and Doubles Championships, respectively. Pham and the duo of Matheson and Lin had their bids sealed when the draws were initially released based on ranking, and Tang qualified for the draw as an alternate.
The trio will all be playing opponents on Texas A&M, and play in both singles and doubles action is set to begin on Wednesday in Winston-Salem at various times. Tang’s match is set to begin at 9 a.m., while Pham’s match is currently scheduled for 2:30 p.m. The start times may be delayed due to matches running long, however.