The newly constructed George R. Brown Tennis Center hosted its first official matches this weekend as the Rice men’s tennis team begins its 2015 season.
On Friday, the Owls (1-1) lost 4-3 to the University of Texas, San Antonio (1-1). On Sunday, the Owls defeated Cornell University (1-1) 4-1.
At the beginning of Friday’s game, the UTSA Roadrunners won the doubles round and the Owls were unable to come back. Sophomore Zach Yablon, freshman Jamie Malik and sophomore David Warren won their singles matches, but senior Srikar Alla could not hang on to a 4-1 lead in the third set against UTSA senior Thomas Stillman. Stillman went on to win the match 6-3, 2-6, 7-6 (8), and the Roadrunners clinched the 4-3 victory.
On Sunday, the Owls faced off against nationally-ranked No. 60 Cornell University. The Owls took control and won the match when Alla delivered the clinching point against Cornell senior Sam Fleck.
Head coach Efe Ustundag said the Owls were disappointed after losing their home opener in Rice’s new venue.
“The nerves just got too much out of us,” Ustundag said. “The energy that was built up since last semester just came out differently than we had hoped for.”
According to Ustundag, the team was able to rebound on Sunday by focusing less on previous mistakes and more on what could be improved.
“We got better at not letting those opportunities that got away from us affect us,” Ustundag said. “Today, having that first match out of the way, we could come out and focus on the small details like the energy and intensity.”
According to Ustundag, the Owls have a long a way to go before they can consistently compete with teams like Cornell’s.
“We still [need] a lot of improvements,” Ustundag said. “I think this was a nice preview of how good we can be when we are clicking on all cylinders.”
The $8 million George R. Brown Center differs in its design from the Owls’ previous home at the Jake Hess Tennis Stadium. Instead of having a concentrated seating area around the center court, the new center allows fans to move from one court to another as dictated by the play.
Ustundag said the fan-friendly design contributed to the Owls’ success.
“I think it’s phenomenal,” Ustundag said. “Just being able to turn around and have four guys and three roommates of each [player] just standing right behind them and supporting and pushing, I feel like it makes a huge difference.”
The Owls now go on to face another two games next weekend against Incarnate Word University on Friday and Old Dominion University on Sunday.