Photo: Carter Oswood
Drake hadn’t beaten the Iowa Hawkeyes since the 2007-08 season, when the No. 52 Bulldogs won 5-2 over the No. 66 Hawkeyes. This year, the No. 43 Bulldogs made quick work of the Hawkeyes with a 7-0 win.
For the first time in four years, Iowa is back to being a Bulldog state.
But it wasn’t all smooth sailing for Drake, as it was in trouble right away during the doubles matches. At the top singles spot was the 31st-ranked duo of freshman Alen Salibasic and senior Cesar Bracho, and the newly ranked Bulldogs had the tall task of going up against Iowa’s Garret Dunn and Michael Swank, both players with booming serves. Dunn, Swank and Salibasic were able to use their height to keep points short, but problems arose for the Bulldogs on Bracho’s serve. Bracho, arguably one of the team’s finest doubles players, was at a disadvantage due to his lack of a thunderous serve, as he was the only player on the first court that wasn’t 6-foot-4 or taller. Bracho’s serve would eventually be broken, and Iowa took the first doubles match 8-6.
By the time the first doubles match was finished, sophomore Robin Goodman and junior Jean Erasmus had fallen behind at the third doubles spot. The only Drake duo that was ahead was juniors James McKie and Anis Ghorbel at the second doubles spot.
“I knew doubles was going to be tough against Iowa because they have a few guys with big serves,” McKie said. “I said to Anis (Ghorbel) that if we break at 7-6 to win our match, we are going to win the doubles point because the momentum will shift.”
McKie was spot on, because Erasmus and Goodman started to claw their way back into the match right as the second duo evened out the doubles matches. The two Bulldogs reached an 8-7 advantage before their Iowa opponents, Chase Tomlins and Will Vasos, evened the match at 8-8 to send it in to a tiebreaker.
With the momentum of the entire match up for grabs, it was Drake who prevailed in the tiebreaker. Off the strength of Erasmus’ backhand and Goodman’s forehand, the two dominated the tiebreaker 7-4 to give the Bulldogs the momentum.
“I felt like their doubles was probably one of their strongest points, so it was pretty deflating to them to lose that one,” said head coach Evan Austin. “Definitely a big momentum swing in our favor.”
The Bulldogs immediately showed their superiority in singles, as Goodman led the way with an obscenely quick 6-1 first set at the fifth singles spot. The second set was more competitive, but the Drake sophomore was still victorious 6-3 to push Drake’s lead to 2-0.
Close behind Goodman was McKie, which came as no surprise to the Bulldog faithful as these two have been dominating their opponents all season. McKie, playing at the second singles position, garnered a 6-1, 6-2 win over Jonas Dierckx of Iowa.
“I have been playing well recently because I have not been giving my opponent any chances to get into the match,” McKie said. “(Former assistant coach) Maor Zirkin used to always tell me to learn to dominate people, and I’ve been doing that.”
With a 3-0 lead, it was freshman Ben Mullis who once again clinched the match for the Bulldogs. After being forced into a tiebreaker to decide the first set, Mullis was on absolute cruise control in the second. His 7-6(1), 6-0 win gave the Bulldogs the win, but the remaining three matches looked shaky for Drake.
At the top spot was No. 82 Anis Ghorbel. After winning the first set 6-2, he was struggling in the second. Despite being down, the junior would rally to take the second set, and the match, in a tiebreaker 11-9.
Erasmus was at the third singles spot, and Salibasic was at the fourth. Both needed to go to third sets to decide their matches. Erasmus found himself in a hole early, as the junior looked lost as he dropped the first set 3-6.
“I was really impatient in the beginning,” Erasmus said, “but luckily I gathered my thoughts and started playing my aggressive game style and managed to build some momentum.”
Once Erasmus found his range, it was one-way traffic. He went on to win the match 3-6, 6-1, 6-3.
“The good thing is that Jean is consistently finding ways to win matches and drawing on his experience to help him get through these tough situations,” said Austin.
After splitting sets 6-3, 3-6 at the fourth position, Salibasic and Dunn found themselves locked in a tight third set. With both players’ games centered around a big forehand and an even bigger serve, neither player could break the other. As the match entered into a third-set tiebreaker, there was no momentum or rhythm on either side, so it was truly a battle of wills to be the first player to reach seven points. Salibasic went on to win the tiebreaker 7-5.
“Alen has improved so much over the course of the past six months,” Austin said, “and now has the confidence in those tight situations to pull out third sets and tiebreakers.”
Although the Hawkeyes aren’t in the national rankings this year, Austin said that this win over the only in-state rival in tennis was a huge mental victory.
“It was definitely a good confidence booster beating Iowa, and to do so 7-0 really shows how far we’ve come as a team in the past year,” he said.
The Bulldogs followed up their 7-0 win over Iowa with a 6-1 victory over the St. Louis University Billikens last Friday afternoon.
Drake swept the doubles and took five of the six singles matches. With Erasmus sitting, Salibasic, Goodman and Mullis each moved up a spot on the lineup, but none missed a beat.
The Bulldogs played the Marquette Golden Eagles of the Big East conference yesterday afternoon, and The Times-Delphic will have complete coverage of that match in the next issue.
“There’s still a long road ahead of us, and we look forward to each and every opportunity to make a statement and let the other teams know we are here for the long run,” Erasmus said.