The Drake men’s tennis team had its run at the ITA All-American Championships come to an end last Tuesday and Wednesday, as the Bulldogs came within one match of the main draw on three occasions.
Senior Anis Ghorbel saw his run at the All-Americans end on Tuesday afternoon in a hotly contested match against Ohio State’s redshirt freshman Chris Diaz. Unlike Ghorbel’s last match, it was Diaz who would start off the match quickly and take the first set 6-4, but Drake’s top player wasn’t ready to go down without a fight. Ghorbel would even the score at one set apiece after notching a 6-2 set victory. Unfortunately for Ghorbel, his singles tournament came to a close as he lost the third set 6-3.
“To be honest, I felt like there is no one player better than us out there, that the level is very similar,” Ghorbel said. “Now I’m even more confident with this team having the ability to beat anyone in the country if each of the guys play their best tennis.”
Despite his loss in singles, Ghorbel’s ITA tournament wasn’t over, as doubles play in the qualifying draw began Tuesday evening. Ghorbel teamed up with senior James McKie, and the 59th ranked duo in the nation took on Florida’s Florent Diep and Mike Alford in its first match. The pair would prove the worth of its ranking, as it bested Florida’s duo 8-6.
Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, their other doubles pairing didn’t see as much success. Junior Robin Goodman and sophomore Alen Salibasic paired up to challenge Virginia Commonwealth University’s Alexis Heugas and Max Wennakoski, the No. 40 doubles team in the nation. Goodman and Salibasic put up a valiant fight, but ended up dropping out of the doubles draw after an 8-4 setback.
Wednesday was the final day of qualifying play with both Goodman and McKie one match away from reaching the main draw. McKie was the first up on court of the two, as he faced off against No. 52 Heugas, the same VCU player who had defeated Goodman and Salibasic in doubles the day prior. Heugas’ prowess wasn’t limited to doubles though, as his singles play was arguably stronger. After playing five singles matches and a doubles match in just five days, McKie was unable to make one final push against VCU’s best player. McKie would end his tournament with a 6-3, 6-2 loss, but he was still able to find positives in his performance over the course of the week.
“All-Americans this year was the most successful fall tournament of my Drake career, both individually and as a team,” McKie said.
Goodman was also having the best All-American Championships of his Drake career, including a win over No. 51 Alex Petrone of Michigan, but he too was unable to win that last match to reach the main draw. Goodman’s final opponent was No. 94 Daniel Kreyman of Wake Forest. Kreyman had dispatched Drake’s Salibasic in the first round of the qualifying draw and had played superb tennis since. It was Goodman who struck first, as he took the first set 6-1. As the second set began, Kreyman began to claw his way back into the match. The two players would force a second set tiebreaker, but it was Kreyman who would prevail in the tiebreaker, 13-11. With the momentum on his side now, Wake Forest’s top player got an early break of serve and would go on to win the set and the match 6-4.
“I feel like I worked and fought really hard,” Goodman said. “I couldn’t quite win my last qualifying match, but I need to take a lot of positives from the week.”
Later on in the day, the semifinals of the qualifying doubles draw saw McKie and Ghorbel battle against Grant Taylor and Lance Wilhelm of Air Force. The Drake duo posted an 8-6 victory to advance to the finals of the qualifying draw, but its tournament ended as it lost 8-0 to Harrison Adams and Shane Vinsant of Texas A&M in the finals.
Overall, this was one of the most successful fall tournaments for the Bulldogs in the last few years, as multiple players went deep in the qualifying draw and took out ranked players along the way.
Goodman believes that the four Drake players who competed in the tournament returned home to Des Moines with more confidence in their games than they had the previous fall.
“I thought the All-American tournament was a real success for the team,” Goodman said. “Everyone played really well and gained a lot of confidence over the week.”
Despite falling just short of the main draw, the Bulldogs left the ITA All-Americans with the mindset needed to succeed further this fall and into the spring season, where they are hoping to improve upon their national ranking and eventually make waves in the NCAA tournament.
“We believed in each other and knew we could keep winning,” McKie said, “and I think it shows after this tournament that we don’t fear anyone.”