The Drake men’s tennis team is off to a hot start in the frigid weather of Minnesota this weekend, as the Bulldogs have advanced three singles players and a doubles squad to the ITA Central Regional tournament quarterfinals at the campus of the University of Minnesota this weekend.
The ITA Central Regional tournament is comprised of the region’s best players. Schools like Minnesota, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Tulsa send their best players to the tournament in an effort to earn a bid to the Intercollegiate Tennis Association’s National Intercollegiate Indoor tournament in Flushing Meadows, N.Y. The champions in the singles and doubles draws earn a place in the elite tournament that takes place at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, the site of the U.S. Open.
Last season, senior Anis Ghorbel posted the best fall result of his career, as the Bulldog captain reached the final of the singles draw only to come up one match short of New York. This season he looks to take that final step and become a champion, but he isn’t alone. Seniors James McKie and Jean Erasmus, junior Robin Goodman and sophomore Alen Salibasic reached the Round of 32.
However, as of Saturday afternoon, Ghorbel, Goodman, Salibasic and the doubles duo of Ghorbel and Erasmus, had all reached the Round of 16.
Although a quartet of Drake players have made it to the Round of 16, it was Erasmus who impressed early on for the Bulldogs. In his first tournament after coming back from hernia surgery this summer, Erasmus began competition in the qualifying draw on Thursday against Kevin Keiner of Missouri Valley Conference rival Bradley. Keiner proved to be no trouble at all to the seasoned Erasmus, who dispatched him 6-1, 6-1. Mitch Granger of Western Illinois was Erasmus’ second round opponent, but the Bulldog advanced to the main draw with a 6-1, 6-3 win.
Senior Ryan Drake, sophomore Grant Tesmer and freshman Ben Lott also played in the qualifying draw and won their first round matches, but each fell short in the final round of qualifying.
After making the main draw on Friday, Erasmus moved on to the Round of 32 after a 6-2, 7-5 victory over Bradley’s Juan Diego Cuadrado. Saturday morning saw Erasmus go up against the sixth ranked player in the nation and the reigning Big 12 Player of the Year, Costin Paval of Oklahoma. Erasmus took Paval to a first set tiebreaker, but his Sooner opponent would take the breaker by a score of 7-3. Unwearied by the first set, Erasmus continued to battle, but Pavel proved to be too much in the end, as he went on to win 7-6, 7-5. After seeing his level of play falter at some points last season due to injury, Erasmus seems to have his confidence back.
“It was a good match, he played the big points a little more consistent than me, but I feel like this was a big confidence booster,” Erasmus said.
Fueled by Erasmus’ performance, Ghorbel, McKie, Goodman and Salibasic all upped their level of play to reach the Round of 16.
Ghorbel was one of the first players into the final 16, as he advanced after a 6-3, 6-0 win over Lawrence Formentera of Oklahoma on Saturday morning. His 6-1, 6-4 win over Missouri’s Abdul Alawadhi in the first round set up the clash. Ghorbel defeated No. 97 Peerakit Siributwong of Oklahoma 6-4, 6-4 to earn a spot in the quarterfinals.
The next Bulldog into the Round of 16 was Goodman, who was coming off a strong performance in the ITA All-Americans tournament two weeks ago and a first round win over Matt Hagen of in-state rival Iowa. After battling in a tight first set against Mike Nott of Arkansas in the Round of 32, Goodman punched his ticket to the next round with a 7-6, 6-0 win. Goodman then defeated Minnesota’s Mathieu Froment 6-2, 6-1. Goodman will take on No. 44 Clifford Marsland of Tulsa in the quarterfinals.
Like Goodman, McKie was coming off his best ever performance at the ITA All-Americans, and his performance at Regionals started off in similar fashion. After dispatching James Thorp of South Dakota State and only dropping one game, McKie moved on to the Round of 16 with an equally impressive 6-1, 6-1 win over Minnesota’s Ruben Weber. McKie fell to No. 28 Guillermo Alcorta of Oklahoma 6-3, 6-4, bowing out of the tournament.
Salibasic was the fourth and final Bulldog to advance to the Round of 16, but his path was the most difficult. In the first round, Salibasic went up against Tulsa’s Alejandro Espejo Sanchez, and the two battled through three close sets with Salibasic triumphing 6-2, 4-6, 6-2. His second round match wasn’t any easier, as Salibasic’s match against Wichita State rival Ruillermo Nicol also went into the deciding third set. After dropping the first set, the Bulldog sophomore would even the match at one set apiece before taking the deciding set 6-2. Salibasic reached the quarterfinals after defeating Minnesota’s Rok Bonin 6-4, 7-6.
The No. 59 ranked doubles duo of McKie and Ghorbel has also performed well in the doubles draw of the tournament, as the pairing has reached the Round of 16 after posting an 8-2 victory over South Dakota State and an 8-5 win over Minnesota. The seniors then defeated Grant Ive and Tristan Jackson of Tulsa, the 50th ranked doubles team in the nation, with a 9-7 victory. McKie and Ghorbel will take on Wichita State’s Alvaro Gutierrez and Matheus Pereira in the next round.
The Times-Delphic will continue coverage on the ITA Central Regional in Thursday’s issue.