Kicking off the season much earlier than usual, the UC Irvine men’s tennis team (1-0) opened their season on a high note with a 7-2 victory over Division II powerhouse UC Santa Cruz (0-1) at the Anteater Tennis Stadium last Thursday morning.
Freshman Vatsal Bajpai, freshman Anil Patel and Pepperdine transfer sophomore Luca Marquard all made their debut as Anteaters against the Banana Slugs. Of the three newcomers to the program, Bajpai was the only player to finish the day undefeated.
During the round of doubles, the duo of Bajpai and senior Jonathan Poon scored the lone Anteater victory, defeating the Banana Slugs’s Chad Leduff and Sean Hollister 6-2. In the number three doubles match, Marquard and Patel fell 6-4 to Santa Cruz’s Derek Levchenko and Chadwick Stone. The closest match took place in the number one doubles match, where the Anteater duo of Sebastian Heim and Nico Mertens were narrowly edged out 7-6 to give the Banana Slugs the doubles point.
UCI would sweep UCSC in the round of singles, with six of the seven matches played ending in straight set victories. Mertens was the lone Anteater to be pushed to a third set tiebreak, where he eventually triumphed 10-6 over Leduff at the number two position.
In 2015, the Anteaters concluded the season with a 20-13 record, narrowly falling 4-3 to UC Santa Barbara in the finals of the Big West Conference Championships. With five All-Big West Conference Selections returning this season, including Heim, who became the first play in conference history to be simultaneously named the Big West Freshman and Player of the year, the ‘Eaters look primed to resume where they left off.
“As I told them two days ago, if we could have these types of practices and be this motivated the entire season, we’re going to go places,” said head coach Trevor Kronneman. “ I think we have the capability of being better than we were last season, and if they stay focused and are willing to put in the work, they will achieve what they want to achieve.”
While the Santa Cruz match-up marks the first team match played in fall for the team, Kronneman hopes the scrimmage can help the Anteaters when they travel out west to Oklahoma to play in the ITA All-American over the weekend.
“I feel like any time you play a match, it’s better than practicing. This is a very good thing for us; we can see where our weaknesses lie, we can work on things in the match and then pull away, and go ‘Okay, four days at ITA, [we] can go in with one match under [our] belt instead of 0’,” said Kronneman. “I think that helps us, you know; that first match, that first game, there’s so much emotion and so many things that go along with having that feeling that it’s good to clear the decks and come up for air and go ‘Okay, okay’.”