After the Virginia men's tennis team's resounding 6-1 victory against Duke last week, coach Brian Boland praised his team's play, but pointed to one area which concerned him.
"I think we need to put more time into doubles," he said.
Boland has tinkered with his team's doubles pairings since the season's start, and now has matched freshman Alex Domijan with junior Steven Eelkman Rooda at the No. 3 spot, and senior Sanam Singh with sophomore Jarmere Jenkins at No. 2. But those two teams have struggled to find their bearings. Last Friday, Domijan and Rooda lost against Duke, and two days later, Singh and Jenkins lost their match against North Carolina.
With little time to improve at doubles before postseason play begins, the top-ranked team heads to North Carolina this weekend to face Wake Forest and N.C. State, two teams which may be less likely to challenge the Cavaliers' lineup.
Wake Forest (10-8, 3-4 ACC) boasts just two players ranked in the top 125 in the country and has struggled against top foes this season. At the ITA Kick-off Weekend in January, the Demon Deacon were swept by then-No. 12 Kentucky, 4-0. Facing then-No.2 Tennessee on the road in February, Wake Forest's No. 1 singles player, sophomore Tripper Carleton, played a competitive, topsy-turvy match against senior John-Patrick Smith, but lost, 2-6, 6-0, 1-0 (10-4). Tennessee came away with the 6-1 victory.
North Carolina State (8-11, 0-7 ACC) remains a bottom dweller in the conference, as none of its players are nationally ranked. It played a close match against then-No. 22 North Carolina March 18, but otherwise has lost by wide margins against conference opponents.
But the matches present a chance for the new doubles teams to continue to improve, and Boland said he remains confident his teams will perform at a high level by the time Virginia reaches the NCAA Tournament.
"We've always felt like as long as we can get to where we want to in May, we'll be fine, and I know that's going to happen over time," Boland said.
Virginia's talented singles lineup, meanwhile, has shown few signs of faltering this season. Its only hiccup came against then-No. 4 Texas two weeks ago, when the Cavaliers (22-0, 7-0 ACC) were swept in the doubles point, and lost the first set in three singles matches. Virginia rallied back in all of those matches, however, and took the overall victory, 5-2.
Domijan, though, missed that match after receiving a wild card to the qualifying tournament for the Sony Ericsson Open, a top professional event. Domijan, the No. 2-ranked singles player in the country, is likely to impose his game on players from Wake Forest and N.C. State this weekend, using his serve to decide points quickly and precisely.
During his service games, Domijan's opponents rarely are able to muster a strong return, meaning he frequently sees feeble replies, which bounce short in the court. The freshman, who considers his forehand his stronger shot, said he is working on his footwork so he can step around such returns which are hit to his backhand side.
"I'm going to continue working on my serve, and I think that's paying off," he said. "One of the biggest things is just hitting more forehands, and trying to not settle for as many backhands."
With Domijan providing a strong boost at the No. 2 spot for the Cavaliers, it remains to be seen whether they will be able to surge through their final matches and find success in the postseason, where in recent years they have been unable to secure a national championship despite impressive regular season records.
But Boland said he and his coaching staff are continuing to work with all of the Virginia players to ensure the Cavaliers are playing their best tennis come May.
"We just continue to stress working on each individual's game in terms of how we want them to play and the identity we want them to have on the court," Boland said. "We continue to gain confidence with each match"