Men’s tennis opens conference play at home

Cavaliers prepare to take on Eagles and Fighting Irish

sp-CarlSoderlund-CourtesyVirginiaAthletics

Since his return, sophomore Carl Soderlund has provided impressive victories for the Cavaliers.

Courtesy Virginia Athletics | Cavalier Daily

This weekend, the men’s tennis team (7-5, 0-1 ACC) is preparing to open ACC play with a set matches against Boston College (7-3, 0-1 ACC) and Notre Dame (10-6, 2-0 ACC).

Virginia has just returned from a three match road tour, dropping the first two in competitions against Louisville (9-4, 1-1 ACC) and Illinois (10-4, 1-0 Big Ten), but picking up an impressive victory at the University of Central Florida. While Louisville kept the Cavaliers to only winning one match, excellent performances by sophomore Carl Soderlund and freshmen Gianni Ross and Matthew Lord helped the Cavaliers stay competitive in a close 3-4 loss to the sixth ranked Fighting Illini.

“I actually thought we played really well against Illinois,” said coach Andres Pedroso. “We came a couple of points away from beating a top ten team indoors, on their best surface. We took that energy and that engagement and that comradery over to UCF and have been able to maintain that and that’s what we saw at UCF.”

A huge development for the Cavaliers for the start of conference play has been the return of Soderlund to the roster. Last year, Soderlund provided a steady stream of won matches for the Cavaliers, helping Virginia win its fourth national title in the past five seasons. Across the Cavalier’s tough stretch of three road matches, Soderlund has won at number one singles each time, including over Illinois’ No. 23 Aleks Vukic.

“Anytime we can have Carl in the lineup it is a huge edge for us because he’s one of the best players in the country,” Pedroso said. “He has got his work cut out for him at [court No. 1], everyone is really good at [court No. 1], but he has got a chance against everybody.”

The Irish have had mixed results so far this year, with prestigious victories over Michigan State (6-8, 0-0 Big Ten) and Texas (11-3, 0-0 Big 12) but have struggled to pull off road wins in challenging environments. Notre Dame’s success has been thanks in part to their No. 1 singles player, No. 33 Alex Lebedev, a junior who has already been named the ACC’s player of the week twice so far this year. For the Cavaliers to win the match against the Irish, the clearest path is for Soderlund to pull out the victory over Lebedev.

One of the biggest problems for the Virginia so far this season has been a noticeable lack of depth. While the return of Soderlund helps, the Cavaliers still dropped all three matches on the No. 6 court over the past three contests. Several Cavaliers have rotated through that spot throughout the season, but none has found continued success. For Virginia to have a chance against teams in conference, they cannot constantly start a match down in a best-of-seven match competition.   

However, Ross and Lord have helped to pick up some of the slack provided by the No. 6 singles court. Both were instrumental in the Cavalier’s road victory over UCF, as well as a victory over Mercer (9-5, 1-0 Southern). Both had rocky starts to the season, but have begun to become consistent contributors to Cavalier victories.

“It just comes with practice,” Lord said. “It first comes with the work in practice, and then, it comes on the court. I feel like I have become more comfortable on the college court. It feel like it took me awhile to adjust from the juniors to college, but I feel a lot more comfortable now.”

Boston College has not had as impressive of a season as the Irish, but they have won six of their last eight matches. The Eagles, while not a traditional powerhouse for men’s tennis, have proven themselves to be more of a challenge in years past, winning three matches in a 4-3 loss against Notre Dame and beating the University of California at Irvine (8-7, 0-0 Big West) on the road.

The match against Boston College will begin in at 3:00 p.m. Friday, and the match against Notre Dame will begin 11:30 a.m. Sunday. Both matches will take place at the Sheridan-Snyder Tennis Center. 

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