Story by Dominic Johnson
The No. 27 Drake men’s tennis traveled to Minneapolis, Minn., this past weekend and turned in arguably the greatest performance of any squad in Drake tennis history. The Bulldogs started off the weekend with a come-from-behind victory over the No. 66 Minnesota Gophers, Drake’s first win over the Gophers since 2008. Just a day later, Drake knocked off the No. 14 Washington Huskies, the highest-ranked opponent Drake has ever defeated.
Drake’s first match in Minnesota’s Baseline Tennis Center was against the host Gophers, a team that has been ranked as high as No. 34 this season. The Bulldogs had not won in Minneapolis since 2008, but that was soon to change once the teams stepped on court to decide the doubles point.
Head coach Davidson Kozlowski decided to mix up the doubles pairings for the match, putting senior Anis Ghorbel and junior Robin Goodman together at the third doubles slot. The partnership paid dividends in less than an hour, as the duo posted an 8-2 win over Minnesota’s Leandro Toledo and Eric Frueh. The Gophers struck back though, as Mathieu Froment and Jack Hamburg defeated senior Jean Erasmus and sophomore Alen Salibasic at the top doubles slot. All eyes turned to senior James McKie and freshman Ben Lott, as their match would decide the lone doubles point. The tandem came through in the clutch for the Bulldogs, winning 8-4 over Rok Bonin and Juan Pablo Ramirez.
“We played some of the best doubles of the year,” McKie said. “Minnesota is known for strong doubles, and for us to go up to Minneapolis and take the doubles point was huge and probably the deciding factor in the match.”
With a 1-0 lead, play switched to singles, where the Bulldogs soon extended their lead. Goodman easily dispatched Jack Hamburg, 6-3, 6-2, at the third singles position to push the lead to 2-0.
But at this point the Gophers began to claw their way back into the match. Toledo defeated McKie in three sets at the second spot, while Ruben Weber defeated Drake sophomore Ben Mullis at the sixth position. With the score tied at two apiece, Minnesota took the advantage for the first time in the match when Bonin outlasted Ghorbel in a tight third set.
“A couple guys won their matches quickly, but it came down to two matches that were still on court four hours later,” Erasmus said.
The Bulldogs’ comfortable lead disappeared, and the Gophers looked to clinch the match at the fourth position. Minnesota’s Mathieu Froment led Salibasic 6-1, 5-2 and 40-15, but Salibasic refused to lose the match. The Drake sophomore saved a total of eight match points as his 1-6, 7-6, 6-3 come-from-behind victory leveled the score at 3-3.
Focus shifted to court five, where Erasmus was battling Minnesota’s Ramirez. By the time Salibasic won at the fourth spot, the two players reached the decisive third set. Erasmus’ guile and determination awarded him match points at 5-4, and he soon clinched the match for the Bulldogs with a finishing overhead.
“I played a solid match and managed to eventually clinch the match after the 3-3 tie, which is the first time we’ve done that (against Minnesota) since I’ve been a part of this team,” Erasmus said Friday night. “It was a great feeling, and hopefully, we can keep it up in the next match.”
Erasmus’ words rang true less than 24 hours later as the Bulldogs once again took the court, this time against No. 14 Washington. Drake came out playing at a high level in doubles, but the Huskies proved to be too much in doubles play. Ghorbel and Goodman won their doubles match at the third position, 8-5, but the Huskies prevailed at the top two slots to take the doubles point.
Down 0-1, the Bulldogs struck back in singles play. Salibasic, one of the heroes against Minnesota, easily knocked off Washington’s Emmett Egger 6-1, 6-2, but the momentum shifted right back to the Huskies. Washington’s Kyle McMorrow, ranked No. 19 in the nation in singles, dispatched Ghorbel in straight sets, while McKie suffered a similar fate at the second singles position against Marton Bots.
But just like they did against the Gophers, the Bulldogs battled their way back into the match. Erasmus defeated Viktor Farkas 6-1, 6-4, and Goodman won 6-0, 5-7, 6-4 to tie the match at 3-3.
The weight of the match fell upon the shoulders of Drake’s only freshman, Ben Lott, playing at the sixth position. Lott had dropped the first set 6-3, but had rallied back in the second 6-2. And with his entire team cheering him on from the sidelines, Lott not only clinched the biggest match of his career, but arguably the biggest match in all of Drake tennis history. Lott’s 3-6, 6-2, 7-5 win over Washington’s Jeff Hawke gave the Bulldogs their first win over a Top-15 opponent.
With a winning streak that has now reached 14 straight, Drake eagerly anticipates the newest national rankings that will be released Tuesday by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association. The Bulldogs are almost guaranteed to break into the Top-25 for the first time in school history.
Although their next match isn’t until March 18 against Stetson University, the Bulldogs will be hard at work in the Roger Knapp Tennis Center during the next two weeks.