Last Friday marked the first day of the Intercollegiate Tennis Association Central Regional tournament in Norman, Okla. With 64 players, many of them ranked within the top 60 in the nation, not many coaches or teams thought the five Drake Bulldogs in the main draw posed any sort of threat.
Two days and three rounds later, sophomores James McKie and Jean Erasmus both reached the quarterfinals after each player defeated an opponent ranked in the top 50. This is the first time since 2005 that Drake has advanced two or more players into the quarterfinals of the regional championships. Sergi Vila, Dalibor Pavic and Drake’s all-time win leader Maor Zirkin were the last Bulldogs to pull off such a feat.
Unfortunately, Erasmus and McKie were eliminated by their Tulsa opponents in straight sets in the round of eight. Still, it was quite a feat to reach the quarterfinals in such a prestigious tournament.
Erasmus was defeated by No. 39 Ashley Watling while McKie lost to Tristan Jackson.
In the round of 32, McKie played No. 41 Chris Nott, Arkansas’ No. 1 player, in the first match for the Bulldogs on Saturday. After losing the first set 4-6, McKie fought back to even the match at one apiece after taking the second set, 6-3. In the final set, McKie rode the momentum to a 6-3 victory, taking the match in three sets.
“James played with a lot of energy because it was a dead even match,” Head Coach Evan Austin said. “It came down to who wanted it more.”
McKie went back on the court to face off against Wichita State’s Matheus Pereira in the next round. This match proved to be another battle for the Drake sophomore, yet the Scotsman fought to win the match in straight sets 7-5, 7-6.
“To come out two hours later and play another dog fight, he showed a lot of heart,” said Austin. “That’s what we are looking for in our guys.”
McKie was playing for more than just himself and his teammates.
“I received news on Thursday morning that sadly my grandma passed away,” he said. “Everything that happens in this tournament and many tournaments to come is dedicated to her.”
Austin believes that McKie’s passionate and dedicated play led to a trickle-down effect with the rest of the players, and Erasmus felt that effect as he battled it out against Minnesota’s Sebastian Gallego, ranked No. 48.
“When I saw James win, I started believing,” Erasmus said. “I told myself to run down every ball, to make the inches count, or else I’d die trying.”
Erasmus stormed out of the gates against Gallego, taking the first set, 6-2, but dropping the second by the same score. In the third and final set, Erasmus showed no fear on the court, unleashing powerful groundstrokes on every shot as he painted the lines to a 6-1 victory.
“He played his best match ever,” said junior Jonathan Hadash, previously a player for Minnesota before transferring to Drake. “He just bombed every ball and it went in. It was just priceless.”
ITA Central Regional
Round of 32:
No. 34 Marcelo Arevalo (Tulsa) defeats Mauricio Ballivian (Drake) 7-6, 6-0
Jean Erasmus (Drake) defeats No. 48 Sebastian Gallego (Minnesota) 6-2, 2-6, 6-1
James McKie (Drake) defeats No. 41 Chris Nott (Arkansas) 4-6, 6-3, 6-3
No. 39 Ashley Watling (Tulsa) defeats Robin Goodman (Drake) 7-5, 6-3
Round of 16:
Jean Erasmus (Drake) defeats Gregoire Lehmann (Arkansas) 6-4, 6-2
James McKie (Drake) defeats Matheus Pereira (Wichita State) 7-5, 7-6
Photo: Dominic Johnson