Photo: Taylor Soule
No. 63 Drake opened its spring season with a bang this weekend, hosting the State Farm Missouri Valley Conference Individuals Tournament. Drake entered the tournament as the favorite at many positions due to its status as the defending conference champions, and after two days of competition, the men did not disappoint. Drake had the opportunity to earn as many as nine individual titles in yesterday’s championship rounds, with the Bulldogs’ top six singles players all making their respective finals while each Drake doubles team qualified for the semifinals.
Junior Anis Ghorbel, who is ranked No. 51 in the country by Intercollegiate Tennis Association for singles play, represents the Bulldogs at the top singles spot, where former Drake standout Mauricio Ballivian won the title a year ago. Ghorbel advanced to the finals with a trio of dominant wins over opponents from Bradley, Creighton and Southern Illinois. After dropping only four games in two matches to reach the semifinals, Ghorbel was able to continue his momentum from Friday into his match against Southern Illinois’ Badr Cherradi. Saturday’s semifinal was classic Ghorbel tennis, as the junior was able to dictate points from the baseline with his powerful groundstrokes en route to a 6-3, 6-3 victory.
“When Anis is playing confidently, dictating points and moving well, it will be tough for anyone to beat him,” head coach Evan Austin said. “I think (Sunday’s) match (against Alex Pelaez of Illinois State) will be a really good test for him.”
Junior James McKie advanced to the finals of the second singles position tournament after dropping a first round match to Illinois State’s Skip Span. After the loss, McKie became a much more aggressive player, winning his next two matches in straight sets. A 6-2, 6-3 semifinal win over Wichita State’s Erick Reyes set up a rematch against Span in the championship round.
“I know what I have to do to win against Span now, and I’ve been playing better tennis since that first round,” McKie said.
Junior Jean Erasmus has spent the most time on the court for the Bulldogs, as two of his three victories went the distance to a third set. After a come-from-behind victory over Creighton’s JT Christian in the quarterfinals, Erasmus sealed his spot in the championship round with 7-6, 4-6, 6-2 win over Stan Rodier of Southern Illinois.
“The one thing Jean is able to do this year is, even when he isn’t playing his best tennis, he can use his experience as a junior to turn himself around,” Austin said. “He is the type of player that can get on a roll when he toughs out some matches.”
The fourth Bulldog advancing to the finals was freshman Alen Salibasic, whose booming serve and solid groundstrokes earned him a spot at the fourth singles position. Like Ghorbel, Salibasic cruised through his first three matches, and a 6-2, 6-2 win over Jordan Badenko of Illinois State moved him into the finals. Austin said that Salibasic’s hard work throughout the fall is the reason for his early success.
“Alen is one of the hardest workers on this team,” he said. “His level has come up so much in the last three months. It is exciting to see how well he moves going forward.”
The piercing forehand and crafty one-handed backhand of Robin Goodman served him well at the fifth singles position, as the Drake sophomore dropped only one set, in a tiebreaker no less, as he advanced to the final thanks to a 6-2, 6-3 win over Wichita State’s Juan Estenssoro.
Senior Jonathan Hadash was the sixth and final Bulldog to move onto the championship round, as the senior made quick work of all three of his opponents to reach the championship. Hadash is known for his explosive, looping groundstrokes, but Austin said that it was his improved movement that helped him in his first matches of the season, especially his 6-1, 6-2 dismantling of Nestor Perez of Wichita State.
“When Jonathan (Hadash) is moving well, he is such a different player,” Austin said. “His movement definitely helped him cruise through these matches.”
The Bulldogs also advanced all three of their doubles teams to the Sunday semifinals despite two of the three duos dropping opening round matches. Erasmus and McKie knocked off Creighton 8-4 in their second match to advance to the final at the top spot, while Salibasic and Goodman beat Illinois State’s squad 8-3 to advance at the second position. Ghorbel and senior Cesar Bracho teamed up for the first time at the third doubles position, and the pairing seemed to work well, as it was the only Drake team to go undefeated in doubles play.
The Times-Delphic will have the final results from yesterday’s championship matches in the next issue, as well as a preview of Drake’s trip to Boston, Mass., as the Bulldogs start their season of dual matches against Harvard, DePaul and Denver.
A look ahead
FRIDAY, Jan. 27
@ Harvard Invitational
SATURDAY, FEB. 4
vs. Western Illinois | 10 a.m.
vs. Chicago State | 3 p.m.
THURSDAY, FEB. 9
vs. East Tennessee State | 8 a.m.
SATURDAY, FEB. 11
vs. Nebraska Kearney | 3 p.m.
SUNDAY, FEB. 12
vs. Northern Illinois | 12 p.m.