Men’s tennis optimistic about Big Ten chances

by Jabari Ritchie

For five seasons in the early 1990s, Minnesota’s men’s tennis team dominated the Big Ten.

From 1991 to 1995, the Gophers lost just four conference matches and finished atop the Big Ten standings four times, but coach David Geatz’s squad hasn’t won the league since.

No. 25 Minnesota (14-6, 7-3 Big Ten), which has finished in the top three for five of the past six seasons, will have a chance to retake the conference at this week’s Big Ten championships.

The Gophers, seeded third, will play the winner of Thursday’s first-round match between Indiana (7-15, 1-9) and Michigan (14-7, 5-5) in Columbus, Ohio on Friday.

“I think for sure we can get to the final,” said 87th-ranked sophomore Aleksey Zharinov. “In the final if we play well, we’ll win. We definitely have a chance to win it, no question about that.”

Seeded ahead of Minnesota are No. 3 Illinois and No. 19 Ohio State, two teams that defeated the Gophers 4-3 this season. The Illini finished the conference season undefeated and the hosting Buckeyes’ only Big Ten loss was a 7-0 defeat at Illinois.

Minnesota defeated both the Hoosiers and Wolverines this year, but has not beaten the Illini in 10 matches.

“We’re feeling pretty confident,” said Gophers freshman Avery Ticer. “We beat both of those teams in the regular season, but that doesn’t really matter because now every single match is important and you have to win every single match. If you don’t, you go home, so I think we’ll be ready to play.”

Minnesota is looking at the doubles matches as a key to its success in the tournament.

The Gophers have lost the doubles point in two of their past four matches.

“I think playing against Ohio State and Illinois, the teams who are highly ranked, we have to try to win the doubles point,” Zharinov said. “It’s crucial. When we lost at home (to Illinois) it was without the doubles point. We’ve got to try to win it this time.”

Minnesota heads to the tournament on a two-match winning streak after sweeping its final weekend of the regular season with wins over Iowa and Wisconsin.

Both wins came without injured No. 2 and No. 4 singles players Thomas Haug and Manuel Lievano. Haug and Lievano practiced Tuesday and should be ready to play in the tournament.

“I think it was good for us to get two road wins without our full lineup,” Ticer said. “We have struggled on the road, so I think it gives us some confidence to go out on the road and win some tough matches.”

The Gophers’ only loss at the 98th Street Racquet Club came to the Illini in Minnesota’s final home match of the season.

After playing all of their home matches indoors and only being able to practice outside for the past week and a half, the Gophers’ biggest disadvantage could be playing the tournament outdoors.

“We play a lot of indoor tennis, but at the same time, for the last month and a half we played just about every match outside,” Ticer said. “I think we’re acclimated to it and it shouldn’t affect us too much.”

Women to face Michigan

Minnesota’s women’s tennis team (6-15, 1-9 Big Ten) drew sixth-seeded Michigan (12-9, 5-5) in the first round of the conference championships.

The Gophers, who have lost three straight matches and fell 6-1 at Michigan in March, play the Wolverines at Indiana on Thursday.

Jabari Ritchie covers tennis and welcomes comments at [email protected]