Photo: File photo
The Drake men’s tennis team kicked off its fall campaign last Friday in West Lafayette, Ind., at the Purdue Fall Invitational. The tournament consisted of 10 teams, including strong national competition like DePaul, Arkansas, Iowa and the host Boilermakers.
Junior captain James McKie led the Bulldogs throughout their two-day stay at the invitational, as he went undefeated in Flight A, the top group, in singles and doubles during the first day. McKie started the tournament with a convincing win over Matija Palinic of DePaul.
McKie’s strong play carried over into Saturday morning as he made quick work of Western Michigan opponent Simon Blomberg 6-4, 6-1. Unfortunately for McKie, his run ended in the quarterfinals against Michael Tenzer of Wisconsin-Green Bay. The Drake captain took the first set 7-5, but it was Tenzer who turned the momentum and took the match, winning the next two sets 6-1 and 6-0.
“I started off well and then I started struggling,” McKie said. “He was really good at attacking on my second serves and I just lost confidence in my forehand.”
Senior Cesar Bracho was also successful in singles play for the Bulldogs, as he won his first two matches in Flight B. Unlike the rather one-sided affair that was McKie’s match, Bracho found himself in a tricky match against Richard Brunsting of Case Western Reserve University in the first round. The Drake senior began the match firing on all cylinders, as he took the first set 6-1. The second set was much more competitive, and it was Brunsting who took the 6-4 advantage. Returning to the form that led to such a hasty first set, Bracho made quick work of his opponent in the deciding set with a 6-2 score.
Bracho’s quarterfinal match was even more impressive, as he easily ousted Ross VanderPloeg of Western Michigan 6-3, 6-1.
“I was incredibly happy with that win because I actually lost to that guy last spring in our match against Western Michigan, and this time I played very well,” Bracho said.
Like McKie, the third singles match of the tournament was where Bracho struggled to find the answers against his opponent. In the semifinals, he faced Terrence Weigand of Toledo. Bracho lost the match 4-6, 2-6.
Junior Ryan Drake also posted multiple impressive wins in Flight B. Drake’s most impressive win of the tournament came in the first round against Jan-Frans Engelbrecht, who primarily plays at the fifth and sixth singles positions for Purdue. The junior Bulldog took out the Boilermaker foe in two quick sets, 6-4, 6-1.
After a straight-set loss to Arkansas’ Mike Nott, Drake returned to his winning ways with a commanding 6-1, 6-2 victory over Garrett Cona of Toledo. Unfortunately, Drake’s campaign ended at the hands of Aaron Wong of Western Michigan in a tight match that was decided by a 10-point super-tiebreaker in lieu of a full third set.
“The matches I lost I played hard, and the matches I won I was able to stay focused the entire time,” Drake said. “I got a lot of confidence from this weekend by taking out a couple good guys.”
Junior Jean Erasmus also played in Flight A. After a rough start with a Friday loss to Iowa’s Jonas Dierckx, Erasmus steadied the ship with a 6-1, 6-2 rout of Butler’s Zach Ervin on Saturday morning.
Unfortunately for Erasmus, his excellent singles form didn’t carry over into the next match against Nadin Indre of Western Michigan, as the Drake junior fell 4-6, 1-6.
“We came with high expectations and we didn’t step up the way we would have liked to,” Erasmus said.
But it wasn’t Drake’s singles play that highlighted the weekend, but the Flight A doubles title that Erasmus and McKie won on Saturday. The Bulldog duo registered four victories to capture the title, with commanding wins over Case Western, DePaul and two Western Michigan squads in the semifinals and finals. Erasmus credited the duo’s continued doubles success to their preparation in the offseason as they worked on their volleys and general net play.
“Doubles I felt a lot more confident,” Erasmus said. “We didn’t miss a lot of volleys, didn’t make many unforced errors and we understood each other really well on the court.”
Bracho and Drake also played well in the Flight B doubles draw, as the two reached the consolation finals before falling to a Wisconsin-Green Bay duo, 4-8.
“I think overall it was a good starting weekend for the guys,” head coach Evan Austin said. “We have been able to pick some specific things out to work on over the next few weeks at practice.”
These four Bulldogs, who will not be playing at this weekend’s Drake Fall Invitational, are already looking forward to the remaining tournaments in the fall to improve their games.
“I think we didn’t exactly leave as strong of a statement as we wanted to this tournament,” assistant coach Mauricio Ballivian said. “But the ITA Regional and All-American Qualifying (tournaments) will give these guys an opportunity to beat some very good players in the nation that will be at these tournaments.”
Drake said more competitive matches in the coming weeks should yield more success for the Bulldogs.
“We need to get in more matches, get more wins and then finally we will get more confidence,” Drake said. “We want to set a new bar and give ourselves a strong reputation so other teams will always know what we can bring to the table.”
Catch them Friday
Friday, Sept. 23
Drake Fall Invitational
Roger Knapp Tennis Center