Breakthrough wins highlight tennis teams’ weekend matches

Adam Fink

It was the first doubles match of the evening and Minnesota’s men’s tennis team knew its importance.

But Thomas Haug and Avery Ticer’s 8-6 defeat of Kentucky’s Evan Austin and Karim Benmansour did more than just electrify the packed crowd at the Baseline Tennis Center.

Minnesota’s No. 1 doubles team set the tone for the rest of the evening as the 18th ranked Gophers went on to convincingly beat the eighth-ranked Wildcats 6-1 on Saturday night.

“Avery and I played well,” Haug said. “We thought we could play with them and we came out and proved it. We knew we needed a good start.”

To highlight the singles match, Haug defeated Kentucky’s All-American Jesse Witten the nation’s fourth-ranked singles player in the pre-season polls by 6-4, 6-4 scores.

In addition, none of the six Gophers players – Haug, Ticer, Aleksey Zharinov, Chris Wettengel, Manuel Lievano and Clay Estes -competing in singles were defeated.

In the other two doubles events, Kentucky defeated the Gophers duos of Lievano/Estes and Zharinov/Wettengel. However, the losses were overshadowed by their singles performance and the overall team victory.

“This was as well as I have ever seen a Minnesota team play,” coach David Geatz said. “We sure didn’t beat a bunch of slugs. They are a heck of a team and I think that shows the level we can be at.”

A solid start to the spring season – which includes victories over No. 38 Tulane and No. 30 Southern Methodist University – has the Gophers believing they can contend for the Big Ten title.

“The way we are playing right now, we are a top-five team,” Haug said. “It is scary if we can continue to play this well.”

Women’s tennis

It wasn’t pretty or quick but Minnesota’s women’s tennis team got a huge confidence boost by winning the Minnesota Court Classic on Sunday afternoon, upsetting No. 39 Harvard 4-3.

Both Saturday and Sunday’s matches lasted over four and a half hours.

All week coach Tyler Thomson preached playing with confidence. In the end, that was the difference.

“It was an incredible effort,” Thomson said. “There were many times when we needed a point or needed some momentum and we got it.”

Despite losing the three double matches, Minnesota’s Valerie Vladea, Angela Buergis, Jeannette Cluskey and Nischela Reddy each won their singles matches for the team victory.

The victory gives the Gophers a morale boost in their first tournament at home. This is Minnesota’s first experience with success after posting a last place finish in the Big Tenconference a year ago.

“This gives us something to build upon,” Thomson said. “Everyone on the team is so happy for each other and themselves. We needed something like this.”

Earning a trip to Sunday’s showdown came in relative ease for the Gophers.

Minnesota dominated the singles play – winning five of the six matches. In addition to winning two of the three doubles, Minnesota defeated Marshall 6-1.

However, four of the singles matches at the Baseline Tennis Center went to a third set, leading Thomson to be concerned for Sunday’s final.

“We matched up very well,” Thomson said. “And we pulled out the wins but we made it a little harder on ourselves than it should have been. That can come back to haunt you.”