Photo: Taylor Soule
Two members of the Drake men’s tennis team started their campaigns at the ITA All-American Championships this past Saturday in Tulsa, Okla. Senior James McKie and sophomore Alen Salibasic both won their first round matches in pre-qualifying play in convincing fashion, as neither Bulldog dropped a set on the first day of competition.
“Both James (McKie) and Alen (Salibasic) looked very comfortable in their first match wins today,” said head coach Davidson Kozlowski.
After receiving a bye in the first-round of pre-qualifying, McKie faced off against Willie Sublette of UNLV. Sublette, a Las Vegas native, was coming off an easy win over Nathaniel Avery of Oral Roberts, but he was no match for McKie.
“Definitely was a little nervous at first, but I found my range and started playing to my strengths,” McKie said.
After playing a couple shaky games to start the match, McKie dominated the rest of the way. After closing out the first set 6-3, his serve and forehand carried him on to win the second set 6-1.
“James’ opponent came out excited and energized and it wasn’t until midway through the first set that James was able to use his experience to get the break,” Kozlowski said. “Then he just got stronger and stronger as the match went on, winning seven of the last eight games.”
McKie will face off against Kevin Metka, a freshman for the Ohio State Buckeyes. Metka, a four-star recruit according to tennisrecruiting.net, is coming off of wins against opponents from UNLV and Oral Roberts. If McKie defeats Metka, he will have one more match to win before reaching the qualifying round of play.
Like McKie, Salibasic received a first-round bye in the pre-qualifying draw. Salibasic’s first opponent was freshman Nate Lammons of the SMU Mustangs. Lammons, another four-star recruit according to tennisrecruiting.net, also received a bye, making this the first match for both players. Salibasic was simply too good for his SMU opponent and tallied an easy 6-2, 6-2 victory.
“I played a solid (match) from the baseline today and made an early break in the first set,” Salibasic said. “I held my serve through the whole match, even though he had a couple break points.”
Salibasic said that he may want to be even more patient with his baseline rallies in the next match, but Kozlowski was impressed with his ability to wait for the right shot to attack during his return games.
“Alen relied on his strong serve to fight off four break points,” Kozlowski said, “but it was his patience and consistency on his return games that really made the difference.”
Salibasic’s next opponent will be Aliaksandr Malko of Sacramento State University. Malko, a native of Belarus, played primarily at the third, fourth and fifth singles positions last year for the Hornets. If Salibasic is to win the match against Malko, he will take on an opponent from either Xavier or Virginia.
The Times-Delphic will have the remainder of McKie and Salibasic’s results in the next issue, as well as the qualifying draw results of senior Anis Ghorbel and junior Robin Goodman.