The Drake men’s tennis team kicked off its fall season with a bang this past weekend as the Bulldogs won two doubles titles and put themselves in the position to win as many as four singles titles at the Drake Fall Invitational.
The tournament got underway on Friday afternoon with doubles play. Doubles play was split into three brackets, the ‘A,’ ‘B’ and ‘C’ flights. Two doubles teams represented the Bulldogs in the ‘A’ flight, as senior Anis Ghorbel paired up with junior Robin Goodman, while freshman Ben Lott paired up with sophomore Ben Mullis.
The duo of Goodman and Ghorbel wasted no time getting Drake’s name in the win column, as the two handily defeated Creighton’s Sean Mathison and Billy Paluch in the first round, 8-3. Goodman and Ghorbel would then advance into the finals of the ‘A’ flight with an 8-4 win over Gustavus Adolphus’ Tyler Johnson and Grant Leisner.
The final, played on Friday night as the sunlight began to fade over the Roger Knapp Tennis Center, pitted the Bulldog duo against Big Ten rival Iowa. The one-two punch of Ghorbel’s booming serves and Goodman’s sublime net play led the pairing to an 8-4 win over Chase Tomlins and Joey White of the Hawkeyes. This was the second straight Drake Invite doubles title for Ghorbel and the first for Goodman.
Lott and Mullis performed admirably in the ‘A’ flight as well, despite losing their first match to Iowa’s Tomlins and White, the same duo that Ghorbel and Goodman would dispatch later in the day. But Lott, who was competing in his first collegiate tournament, and Mullis were not deterred by the setback and would go on to win their next two matches. Their second round match was an 8-4 victory over Gustavus Adolphus’ Amrik Donkena and Mya Smith-Dennis, while the consolation final was an 8-5 triumph over Paluch and Mathison of Creighton.
“I started out a bit tight in my first tournament -— a few nerves,” Lott said, “But we came out in the second and third matches, won the doubles consolation, so overall a good day and settled into it well.”
The ‘B’ flight, which was represented by senior Ryan Drake and sophomore Grant Tesmer, didn’t fare as well as their ‘A’ flight teammates. Drake and Tesmer lost their opening round match 8-6 to Motasam Al-Houni and Juan Luis Chu of Gustavus Adolphus.
Fortunately, the Bulldog duo regained their composure to post a second round win over Iowa’s Alejandro Rios and Rob Trower, 8-2. But the duo’s victory was short lived, as they would end doubles play with an 8-3 loss to Joe MacGibbon and Brad Entwistle from Gustavus Adolphus.
The Bulldogs ended on a strong note though, as the ‘C’ flight pairing of senior James McKie and sophomore Alen Salibasic breezed through its three matches of the day. The duo started off the afternoon with a routine 8-2 victory over Creighton’s Elliott Baker and August Nysted.
In the next round, the duo’s strong play continued, as they defeated Northern Illinois’ Max Phillips and Jovan Zeljkovic by the same score. Salibasic and McKie took on Gustavus Adolphus’ Marcel Gyswyt and Logan Peterson, and the thunderous groundstrokes of Salibasic and dazzling netplay of McKie proved too much for the “Gustie” duo, as Drake would prevail 8-2 to claim the title.
“We lost some players so we are trying new pairings out,” McKie said, “I was impressed with most of the doubles play today from the team.”
The Invite then shifted to singles play on Saturday, with play beginning in the early morning. The Bulldogs started right where they left off, with every Drake player winning its opening match. There were six flights in singles play, ‘A’ through ‘F,’ with at least one Bulldog player in every flight but ‘D.’
Salibasic and Mullis both played in the A flight, with both players easily reaching the second round. Salibasic took out Iowa’s Chase Tomlins 6-2, 6-2, while Mullis defeated Northern Colorado’s Ben Gendron 6-0, 6-2.
Unfortunately, Salibasic’s tournament would end in the second round, as the Drake sophomore lost 6-7, 1-6 to Paluch of Creighton. After a tight first set that could have gone either way, Paluch capitalized and seized the momentum for the rest of the match.
Mullis advanced to the final of the ‘A’ flight with a tough second round match against Northern Illinois’ Dor Am’r. Mullis’ big serve and characteristic grinding style was on full display in the second match, as the sophomore took out Amir 6-4, 6-3 to advance to the final to take on Creighton’s Paluch.
“Towards the end I was pretty tight, it was my first really competitive match in a while,” Mullis said. “My serve is what saved me a couple of times, but overall I’m pleased with how I competed out there.”
Drake’s Goodman and Lott dominated the ‘B’ flight, as both players advanced to face each other in Sunday’s final. Goodman advanced to the final with a 6-1, 6-0 win over Northern Illinois’ Frederic Cadieux and a 6-1, 6-1 win over Iowa’s Joey White.
Lott’s road to the final was equally impressive. The lone Drake freshman lost only five games in two matches. His first match, a 6-0, 6-1 win over North Dakota’s Connor Oberle, was followed up by a 6-3, 6-1 win over Creighton’s Ryan Norman.
“It was good to ease myself into the tournament, I think that first match set me up well to play two good sets in the second match,” Lott said.
Tesmer was the lone Bulldog in the ‘C’ flight, but the sophomore represented the team well as he went 1-1 on Saturday. Tesmer started off his morning with a hard-fought 6-3, 7-6 win over Gustavus Adolphus’ Grant Leisner. In his second match, Tesmer took the first set 6-1, but the second set proved to be a challenge, as he let a lead slip into losing the second set 5-7. Northern Colorado’s Jordan Loughnan would take the third set and the match in a tiebreaker, 7-6 (5).
With no Drake players in the ‘D’ flight, senior Ryan Drake excelled in the ‘E’ flight. After defeating Creighton’s August Nysted 6-1, 6-1, Drake would post an equally dominant 6-2, 6-1 performance over Gustavus’ Marcel Gyswyt to advance to the final on Sunday.
The last player representing Drake was McKie in the ‘F’ flight, and the senior captain had no trouble reaching the finals with two straight-set wins over Creighton’s Anthony Rauschenbach and Northern Illinois’ Max Phillips.
The complete results from Sunday’s finals will be covered in the next issue of The Times-Delphic.