Photo: Dominic Johnson
The Drake men’s tennis team showed that it has the talent and the passion to go toe-to-toe against the nation’s top teams last Friday night. The Bulldogs took the Minnesota Golden Gophers, ranked No. 27 in the nation, to the wire at the Baseline Tennis Center in Minneapolis. The Gophers lived up to their ranking, as Drake fell 5-2. Minnesota has had only two other 5-2 victories this season, both coming against nationally ranked opponents in No. 35 Boise State and No. 39 Wisconsin.
The Bulldogs looked to set the tone early in the doubles matches, showing that despite their lack of a national ranking they were still a very capable squad. Senior Mauricio Ballivian and freshman Robin Goodman paired up at the first doubles spot, where they faced Minnesota’s top team of Sebastian Gallego and Phillip Arndt.
The Bulldogs were able to keep the match close until the very end when the Minnesota duo closed the door on Drake. The 8-6 loss at the first position combined with the early 8-2 loss at the second doubles position granted Minnesota the lone doubles point, putting Drake at a 0-1 disadvantage. Drake showed the most promise at the third position where sophomores Anis Ghorbel and James McKie held a lead against the Gophers before losing the momentum and dropping the set 8-6.
“We have to be stable in doubles,” Ghorbel said. “The opponents won’t give us a chance to get the win.”
Head coach Evan Austin, who often faced the Gophers during his time as an assistant coach at Wisconsin, thought his players did not come out with the passion and shot-making they are accustomed to.
“We’ve got to start coming out with more of a sense of urgency,” he said. “It has nothing to do with our level of play in doubles; it’s just more execution and emotions.”
The passion that the Bulldogs may have lacked in doubles was made up for in the six singles matches, as right from the first point every Drake player was fist-pumping and cheering continuously. One of the most emotional players on the court Saturday was Ghorbel, who dominated Minnesota’s Arndt 6-4, 6-4 to tie the match at 1-1. Ghorbel credits his fighting spirit to last Wednesday’s loss to Iowa.
“I learned from that and from then on I promised myself that I was going to show my true level of tennis to everyone,” Ghorbel said.
Austin said he was impressed with Ghorbel’s ability to make adjustments so quickly after last Wednesday night’s loss, and he expects him to play that well and in that mindset throughout the season.
“Anis played incredibly good tennis against a guy who hasn’t lost a match all year in Arndt,” he said. “Anyone who has watched [Anis] play knows his talent level.”
Minnesota landed the next punch as Drake’s Goodman fell 4-6, 3-6 to Julian Dehn of Minnesota at the sixth slot. The Gophers followed up with a win at No. 1 singles, as Ballivian lost 2-6, 5-7 to Rok Bonin.
Facing a 3-1 deficit, the outlook was grim for the Bulldogs, but junior Jonathan Hadash wasn’t ready to let his team pack up for Des Moines just yet. Hadash, who transferred from Minnesota his sophomore year, was only one of two Drake players last year who registered a victory over the Gophers, and he came into this match to show his former coach exactly what he was missing. In what was arguably his most efficient and convincing match of the season so far, Hadash defeated Juan Pablo Ramirez of Minnesota in straight sets 6-4, 7-5.
“Every time we go to Minnesota, Jonathan plays his best tennis,” Ballivian said.
Austin believes that Hadash will play a huge role in Drake’s success this year, and both he and Hadash agreed that he must have the same mindset in every match that he brings to Minnesota.
With the score at 3-2, Drake had a shot at the victory. Sophomores McKie and Jean Erasmus were still on the court, both players entering into a decisive third set against Minnesota’s two seniors, Gallego and Tobias Wernet.
“If you could’ve told me James and Jean would each be playing a set for the match, I’d take that any day,” Austin said. “I felt like we were right where we wanted to be.”
McKie, however, appeared to suffer from cramps and called the trainer when he was down 4-1. After the short timeout, McKie battled for each point. McKie was able to pull the match back to 4-4, and at this time Erasmus called for a trainer as well.
Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, Gallego showed no mercy against the wounded Erasmus. In the final shot of the match, Erasmus called Gallego’s shot out and subsequently hit a winning return shot. The line judge overruled the call, saying Gallego’s shot was inside the line. Because Erasmus had continued play, the point was awarded to Gallego. Erasmus lost 5-7, 6-3, 3-6.
Wernet’s lead proved too much for McKie, as the sophomore lost 7-5, 6-7, 5-7.
The loss put Drake’s record at 0-2 against Big Ten opponents this season, as Drake failed to find a solution in a 5-2 loss to the Iowa Hawkeyes last Wednesday.
“These two losses hurt emotionally and they should,” Austin said. “The bottom line is it’s a long season and we’ll be right back to work on Monday.”
The Bulldogs return home for their next match this Saturday against a very strong Marquette team. The match begins at 11 a.m. in the Roger Knapp Tennis Center.