Men's tennis whiffs against Demon Deacons
So far this season, when the men's tennis team has played at home, one could put them down for a win. Six home matches all resulted in six convincing wins, as the Owls had flown off to a tremendous start on home turf. Last Friday, that streak came to a screeching halt as Rice lost to Wake Forest University, 5-2, in their first loss of the season at the friendly confines of Jake Hess Tennis Stadium.
The match started off well for the Owls as they secured the doubles' point thanks to wins from the pairings of senior Oscar Podlewski and sophomore Harry Fowler and of juniors Christian Saravia and Isamu Tachibana.
With the 1-0 lead, Rice seemed good heading to singles, as they looked to cruise to an easy win. However, the Demon Deacons (6-4) came to play, and they took five of the six first sets. Podlewski, Tachibana and junior Sam Garforth-Bles each battled back to take the second sets, giving Rice a chance heading into those deciding third sets. However, none of them could pull off the comebacks, as they each lost the third set, which led to a 5-2 Rice loss. The only win in singles came from Fowler, who took care of Tripper Carleton in two sets. Fowler improved his singles ranking to 82nd best in the nation against the 84th-ranked Carleton.
The Owls are now 10-4 on the season, as they have dropped two of their last three matches. Assistant Head Coach Efe Ustundag feels that the Owls need to learn how to execute more and win the big points if they are going to win these matches against both Wake Forest and against quality opponents in the future.
"We fought hard and didn't play well against a team like Memphis, but if you want to beat a nationally ranked team and a solid tennis program, you can't only play hard but you have to execute at the same time," Ustundag said.
Podlewski agreed, as he felt that the level of the team's play fluctuates at many points throughout a match and that if they are going to be a contender in the NCAA Tournament, they are going to have to play their best tennis when the match is on the line.
"We need to improve on winning the big points in our matches," Podlewski said. "I think that is very important because in every match, there can be a turning point that leads to momentum that can change the entire match."
"I think that is a big thing because technically we are fine, as everyone is in great shape. I think there needs to be extra focus on those big points, including for myself."
Another thing that Ustundag is worried about is players questioning their abilities on the court. He said that they are playing on the Division I level for a reason, and he thinks they need that confidence if Rice is going to succeed this season.
"The players are good enough to be here. It's time to grab that reality and just basically roll with it," Ustundag said. "You've got to stop questioning yourself and just continue to do and just continue to believe in it."
The Owls are hosting the 53rd Annual Rice Invite this weekend as they host conference foe the University of Central Florida (6-8) and Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi (9-6) tomorrow and Sunday, respectively. Podlewski feels like these matches are against inferior teams but that the Owls need to win these matches to gain confidence for the rest of the season, as they have big matches against 69th-ranked Texas Christian University (3-7) and 17th-ranked Texas A&M University (14-3).
"Honestly, we have to use these matches because every match is important if we want to have a good run in the NCAAs," Podlewski said. "Everyone needs to be fighting hard. After those matches, we have Texas A&M. I think how we perform this weekend at the Rice Invite is a stepping stone to our matches against the bigger and better teams."
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The last time the Rice men’s tennis team took the court for a match was almost three months ago, on Nov. 3, when sophomore Campbell Salmon and junior Mohamed Abdel-Aziz picked up a pair of doubles wins to close out the Ralston/Neufeld Coaches Challenge and the Owls’ 2019 tournament season.
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