In its first home tournament of the year, the Rice men’s tennis team hosted the Texas Tamale Invitational over the weekend. Freshman Adam Oscislawski highlighted the tournament for the Owls with a win in straight sets on Sunday to take third place in the B Draw singles.
The Owls went into the tournament missing several key players. Junior Eric Rutledge, the top-ranked Owl at No. 98 in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association’s Singles rankings, missed the tournament in preparation for this week’s ITA Men’s All-American Championships. Additionally, the Owls were without sophomores Mohamed Abdel-Aziz, Sumit Sarkar and Conrad Russell due to injuries. As a result, Rice found itself relying on some new faces.
The first day of the tournament saw three Rice players advance to the semifinals, two of whom were freshman. Oscislawski won two three-set matches against Dylan Loru of Nicholls State University and Francisco Bendana of the University of the Incarnate Word. Sophomore Jakob Eskeland defeated Nicholls State’s Toby Lentz, 6-3, 6-3 and Jamie Fraser of the University of Louisiana, 6-1, 6-3. Freshman Karol Paluch dropped Nikita Larichev of Army, 6-2, 7-5 and then secured the victory against the University of Denver’s Pedro Fernandez, 7-6 (5), 7-5 to advance to a semifinal matchup. According to head coach Efe Ustundag, Paluch’s second victory was a hard-fought triumph.
“It was impressive for Karol to battle through a pretty strong second-round match in a 7-6 and 7-5 fashion,” Ustundag said.
The rest of the Owls were not able to advance to the semifinals in their respective draws. Freshman AJ Valenty finished Friday with one win and one loss, and despite senior Ashton Duke securing a 6-2, 7-6 victory in his second match, his first-match loss in the C Draw eliminated him from contention.
On day two of the tournament, Eskeland dropped a super-set tiebreaker to eventual A Draw singles’ champion Chih Chi Huang of the University of Texas. In Rice’s second semifinal match, Paluch could not overcome a first-set tiebreak loss and fell to Tulane University’s Dane Esses, 7-6 (6), 6-2. Finally, Oscislawski fell to Army West Point’s Diego Huttepain, 6-4, 6-2 in the B Draw semifinals.
In the doubles tournament, Eskeland and Paluch fell to William Mottet and Thomas Rodrigues Lopes of Texas A&M, Corpus Christi in the A Draw semifinals and subsequently lost in the third-place match. Ustundag said he was happy with some of the Owls’ doubles play in the tournament, but also expressed the need for improvement.
The focal point for the Owls of the tournament’s third day was the third-place match, where Oscislawski picked up a straight set win in the B Draw singles.
According to Ustundag, the tournament’s high volume of matches within a short time period marked a major change for new collegiate players.
“The adjustment when you are coming from the juniors to college is the lack of time in terms of preparation and recovery,” Ustundag said. “They are playing non-stop in very humid and hard conditions for three days straight and you only have one day off before you come back to work.”
All eyes will now be on Eric Rutledge as he takes on some of the best collegiate tennis players in the ITA Men’s All-American Championships, which take place from Oct. 1 to 7 in Tulsa, Oklahoma.