Photo by Taylor Soule, sports editor
The Drake men’s tennis team is in the process of making a huge statement at this year’s ITA All-American Championships in Tulsa, Okla., as three of the four Bulldogs entered have reached the second round, or further, in the qualifying draw.
Since Monday’s issue of The Times-Delphic, senior James McKie and sophomore Alen Salibasic both advanced from the pre-qualifying draw to the qualifying draw after two matches last Sunday. McKie’s performance on Sunday was especially impressive, as he made quick work of Ohio State’s Kevin Metka 6-4, 6-2 to set up a match against Virginia freshman Harrison Richmond.
The Virginia Cavaliers are one of the top programs in collegiate tennis, as they are consistently ranked in the Top 5 in the nation. The Cavaliers constantly recruit the top players in the nation, and McKie’s opponent, Richmond, is a perfect example of this. Ranked as the No. 6 American prospect in his class last year by tennisrecruiting.net, Richmond came into the match as the 13th seed in the prequalifying draw, meaning he was favored to win over the 32nd -seeded McKie.
“I don’t really care what it says on my opponent’s shirt, I just go out there and give it everything,” McKie said. “We can beat anyone this year, and we believe it.”
McKie’s belief was in full force against Virginia’s Richmond, as the Drake captain went on to win in two convincing sets, 6-3, 6-4. McKie was one of 16 players to advance from the pre-qualifying to qualifying draw with his win on Sunday.
Drake sophomore Alen Salibasic won only one of his two matches on Sunday, with the victory coming over Sacramento State’s Aliaksandr Malko. After falling 7-6, 4-6, 6-3 to Virginia’s Ryan Shane in the final round of qualifying, Salibasic believed his singles play at the All-Americans was over. Fortunately for the Bulldog, he was moved through to the qualifying draw as a “Lucky Loser” to face No. 94 in the nation, Danny Kreyman of Wake Forest. Despite keeping the match close throughout, Salibasic lost 7-5, 6-4.
McKie picked up right where he left off in his first round match in the qualifying draw though. Despite being faced with the difficult task of going up against San Diego’s Thibaut Visy, who is ranked No. 91 in the nation, McKie performed well from the very first ball.
“I came out of the block fast, got an early break and managed to stay on top of him,” McKie said. “He loosened up in the second set and was playing very well but I managed to hold out my serve.”
McKie went on to win the match 6-2, 6-4, often relying on the advice he received from a former Drake tennis legend during his freshman year.
“I always remember what Maor Zirkin said to me, that “when you are dominating, don’t stop dominating, keep the foot on the pedal,” McKie said.
McKie kept that foot on the pedal in his match on Tuesday morning as well. McKie’s opponent, Jason Tahir of Duke, provided the stiffest test the Bulldog had faced so far this tournament. After winning the first match in the tiebreaker, Tahir responded by winning the second set 7-5. With the senior’s final ITA All-American tournament on the line, McKie refocused and won the match 7-6, 5-7, 6-3. McKie’s opponent in the next round will be Alexis Geugas of VCU, ranked No. 52 in the nation.
Joining McKie in the winner’s bracket of the qualifying draw was senior Anis Ghorbel and junior Robin Goodman, who both received automatic entry into the draw without having to play pre-qualifying.
Goodman’s first round match was against Michigan’s Alex Petrone, who received a two seed in the qualifying draw due to his national ranking of No. 51. Petrone, who was an All-Big Ten performer last season for the Wolverines, entered the match as the clear favorite, but the unranked Goodman saw it differently.
Goodman played superb tennis throughout the entire match, giving Petrone no time to recover and work his way into the match. The Drake junior went on to win the match in dominating fashion with a 6-2, 6-2 scoreline.
“I thought I played well today, stayed patient with the backhand slice and waiting to use my forehand to dictate points,” Goodman said. “As soon as I realized his backhand was better, I tried to go crosscourt on my forehand as much as possible.”
Goodman credited his win not only to his strokes, but his mental strength as well.
“I stayed mentally strong throughout, making sure I didn’t give away my lead with any cheap points,” he said.
Goodman was also on-point in his second round match Tuesday morning, where he faced John Warden of the Oklahoma Sooners. Winning once again in straight sets, Goodman advanced to the third round with a 6-2, 6-3 win. In Wednesday’s third round, Goodman will face off against Wake Forest’s Kreyman, who beat Salibasic to advance in the draw.
Ghorbel’s route to the second round wasn’t as easy as Goodman’s, as the Drake senior went up against Ryan Shane of Virginia, the same player who knocked Salibasic out in the final round of pre-qualifying. The match proved to be the tightest one for any of the Bulldog players yet, as two of the sets were decided in close tiebreakers.
Ghorbel started off the match strongly, as he took the first set tiebreaker 9-7. The momentum completely shifted in the second set, as Shane dominated to even the match with a 6-1 set. The third and final set played out much like the first, as the match was decided by a tiebreaker. Ghorbel managed to get only one mini-break on Shane’s serve, but that was all it took for him to reach 7-5 and win the match.
“We both fought very hard because we both wanted it really bad,” Ghorbel said. “I think my experience was the key in this match because there was very little difference during the important points.”
Ghorbel’s opponent in the second round is freshman Chris Diaz of Ohio State.
The Times-Delphic will have further coverage of the ITA All-American Championships in the next issue, where three Bulldogs will be vying for a spot in the main draw.