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Bulldogs gear up for Drake Fall Invitational

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The Drake men’s tennis team will host its annual three-day fall tournament, the Drake Fall Invitational, this weekend at the Roger Knapp Tennis Center. The invitational will begin at 3 p.m. on Friday with doubles play, and Saturday at 8:30 a.m. will mark the beginning of singles play. Both singles and doubles will have multiple flights, which are different draws depending on where a player would usually play in a team’s lineup. Flight A is the most competitive, and it consists of players who usually play at the first, second or third singles positions for their teams.

The tournament will include Iowa, Creighton, Northern Illinois, Northern Colorado and Division III powerhouse Gustavus Adolphus. Last season, Drake beat Creighton, Northern Illinois and Gustavus Adolphus all by scores of 7-0 in dual matches. The Hawkeyes look to be the Bulldogs’ stiffest competition at the invitational, as last year’s Iowa squad bested Drake 5-2 in non-conference play. This is the first time Drake players will be going up against the Northern Colorado squad of the Big Sky Conference.

Head coach Evan Austin will once again pencil in four of his 10 players for the Drake Fall Invitational, which he also did last weekend at the Purdue Fall Invitational. Although the roster will not be finalized until later in the week, Austin plans to have junior captain Anis Ghorbel, senior Jonathan Hadash and freshmen Alen Salibasic and Grant Tesmer participate.

It will be the first tournament of the fall season for all four of these Bulldogs, and Austin is looking forward to getting his players, especially the freshmen experiencing college tennis for the first time, more confidence heading into the larger tournaments in the coming weeks.

“I’m looking to get each of the guys competing to get a lot of good match experience in both singles and doubles as we move through our fall season,” Austin said.

One of Drake’s highly touted freshman recruits, Salibasic of Bosnia, is looking to make an impact right away for the Bulldogs. His powerful serve and forehand bodes well on the hard courts of Division I tennis, but the young Bosnian may still be adapting to the surface. Salibasic spent much of his junior career playing on clay courts, in which the ball bounces significantly slower. Clay courts require different tactics than the hard courts found at the Roger Knapp Tennis Center.

Despite the surface change, Salibasic is looking forward to his debut this weekend. He is optimistic that the weeks of practice so far have prepared him for the Drake Fall Invitational, yet he still faces the nerves that come with a player’s first collegiate match.

“I feel kind of nervous because it is my first tournament here at Drake, and I want to show my best and leave a good impression for the team, coach Austin and to myself,” he said. “I want to see how competitive I am and how many adjustments I need to make to do better in later tournaments.”

Salibasic will take the court in doubles with Ghorbel. Depending on the state of each player’s around-the-net play, assistant coach Mauricio Ballivian believes this could be a talented duo for the Bulldogs. Both players boast huge serves and powerful ground-strokes, while Salibasic will put his 6-foot, 6-inch frame to use with a large wingspan covering the net.

“They could definitely do some damage this year,” Ballivian said. “Alen (Salibasic) has one of the best serves I’ve seen, and with that big serve Anis (Ghorbel) can do everything at the net.”

Ghorbel, who was an all-conference performer in both singles and doubles last spring, is expected to make a huge impact for the Bulldogs this season. After spending his summer playing in Davis Cup competition for his home country of Tunisia, the Drake junior is looking forward to beginning what he hopes to be an exemplary fall season. Ghorbel could not compete for the Bulldogs during the 2010 fall season due to an NCAA rule stating he must sit out one year due to his play in professional tournaments before coming to Drake.

“Playing in the ‘A’ flight means that I’m going to be facing very good players,” Ghorbel said. “I’m going to put everything I have on the court, too.”

With five weeks of training under their belts and a strong will to succeed, look for the Bulldogs to impress this weekend at the Drake Fall Invitational.

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