Improved singles play boosts Gophers

by Aaron Kirscht

With the stretch run of the Big Ten men’s tennis season in full swing, Gophers coach David Geatz knew the team needed more production from the singles spots to meet its goal of sweeping the rest of the schedule.
This weekend, at home against Michigan State and Michigan, the Gophers got it.
Minnesota (7-9 overall, 3-3 Big Ten) won four of six singles matches on its way to a 5-2 win over the Spartans on Friday and five of six from the Wolverines on Sunday, winning 6-1.
Sophomores Tom Chicoine and Adam Selkirk and senior captain Ben Gabler all went 2-0 in singles play over the weekend. The Gophers also swept all six doubles matches to win the doubles point, something they’ve done in every meet this season.
On Friday, Chicoine won easily at No. 2 singles, 6-1, 6-3. Chicoine lost the first set of his No. 3 match on Sunday but rallied for a 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 win. Chicoine pushed his team-leading record to 25-8.
“I think he’s playing better tennis than anyone in the Big Ten right now,” coach David Geatz said, “All he does is win, as long as he keeps his mind in there.”
Gabler, who had played much of the season at No. 1 in place of Lars Hjarrand, won 6-4, 6-2 on Friday at No. 3 for only his second singles win in 13 tries. He got his third on Sunday with a 6-3, 2-6, 6-4 win at No. 2.
Adam Selkirk held off a late rally by Michigan State’s Ben Hetzler on Friday to win at No. 4, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6. Things got a little easier against Michigan, as he won 6-3, 6-4. Both of Selkirk’s singles wins clinched the matches for the Gophers, which were wrapped up before doubles play began.
“I knew we were starting to play better and turn things around,” Geatz said, “and I think just having Lars around helps a lot.”
Hjarrand, who sat out the fall and winter seasons to delay graduation and maintain his eligibility, lost at No. 1 singles in his first match of the season on Friday. After eking out a 7-5 first set win, Hjarrand dropped the next two to Michigan State’s Trey Eubanks 3-6, 4-6.
Hjarrand cited his recent lack of indoor playing time as a possible explanation for the loss.
“(Eubanks) played very well,” Hjarrand said, “but I think normally I could beat him. Playing indoors is an equalizer because of the faster courts.”
Hjarrand’s losing streak didn’t last long, as he evened his record with a 7-6, 6-1 win Sunday.
Weather conditions will determine whether the team will play its two remaining home matches indoors or move to the outdoor courts on Fourth Street. But Geatz said he isn’t concerned about his No. 1 player’s performance either way.
“He didn’t play very well (on Friday), but Lars is going to be just fine,” he said. “I’m not even worried. He just wasn’t sharp. He needs time to adjust to the pace.”
Women drop close one to PSU
The Gophers women’s tennis team has been carried for much of the season by its singles players, who have compiled a 28-8 record in Big Ten play.
But the doubles record, currently at 7-11, isn’t nearly as rosy. Minnesota’s struggles continued against Penn State on Friday, when it lost all three matches and gave up the all-important doubles point on the way to a disappointing 4-3 loss.
The Gophers, ranked No. 36 in the nation, fell to 9-3 overall, 4-2 in the Big Ten.
The top of the singles lineup maintained its dominance over Big Ten opponents, winning at Nos. 1, 2 and 3.
Freshman Nora Sauska improved her record to 21-1, including a spotless 11-0 mark at No. 1 singles, with a 6-3, 6-4 win over Penn State’s Olga Novkova. No. 2 Alice Rangsithienchai followed suit with a 7-5, 6-3 win. Kim Simonsen’s 5-7, 6-4, 6-1 win at No. 3, however, would be the Gophers’ last of the meet.
The meet opened with the doubles matches, all of which the Lions won easily. Penn State followed with wins at Nos. 4 and 5, but the Gophers’ top three won to tie the meet at 3-3. The final decision came down to the No. 6 match between Minnesota’s Jana Hrdinova and Penn State’s Kim Bolduc.
Hrdinova, who came into the match undefeated (5-0) in Big Ten play, dropped the first set 6-4 but fought back with a 6-1 win in the second. She stumbled again in the third set, trailing 5-3, but charged back to send the match to a tiebreaker. Bolduc proved too tough, however, and held Hrdinova off for the meet-clinching win.