Men’s tennis wins convincingly over Mercer

Freshman Gianni Ross shines against one of nation’s top players


Junior Aswin Lizen contributed to the team's victory this weekend.

Callie Collins | Cavalier Daily

The Virginia men’s tennis team won a hard-fought victory over the Mercer Friday. In one of the Cavaliers’ (6-3) best overall performances so far this year, the team took the doubles point after two quick victories on courts No. 1 and No. 3 and proceeded to win all of the top four courts in singles. Problems with the bottom of the roster continued to plague Virginia, however, and the Bears (7-2) were able to take courts No. 5 and No. 6 in singles, putting the final score at 5-2.

One of the best performances of the day came from freshman Gianni Ross, who played at the No.1 court against senior Sam Philip, — Mercer’s first player to be ranked in the ITA national collegiate individual rankings. In the first set, Ross was down 2-5 against Philip, and was on the verge of losing. But Ross battled back, and won that set 7-6 (8-6) in an incredible comeback. With his opponent beginning to break down, Ross pressed his advantage, taking the second set 6-1 and putting another nail in Mercer’s coffin. 

“The guy was playing very good tennis the first couple of games”, Ross said, referring to Philip. “I thought in my head, at one point, that he was gonna win the first set, but I just kept on fighting. He broke down a little and I had a couple of chances that I took and [the momentum] just kind of switched. When I felt that switch, I was just like, I need this … [Philip] is good. He is very good.”

By the time Ross had finished his match, the Cavaliers were up 3-0, thanks to the doubles point and the efforts of freshman Matthew Lord — who defeated his opponent on court No. 3 handily, winning his sets 6-0, 6-3. Lord, after a challenging start to the year, has begun to fall into rhythm and is now putting consistent wins on the board for the Cavaliers from the middle of the lineup. 

Redshirt freshman Ammar Alhaqbani and junior Aswin Lizen also managed to pull through for Virginia, winning close matches against talented opponents to seal the Cavalier victory. On court No. 2, Lizen won his sets 7-5, and 6-4, coming back from a deficit in the second set to win his team’s fourth point in a row. Alhaqbani’s match was even closer, outlasting Mercer’s Fernando Guardia in back to back 7-6 sets. Every player on the Virginia team has talent, but many still lack the experience necessary to win some of the most high-pressure matches. Alhaqbani and Lizen have no such problems, and today, it won Virginia the match. 

“What I’m really proud of is that our practices have gotten better as time goes on”, Virginia Coach Andres Pedroso said. “They were good before, but I really feel like everyone is super engaged in practice, and we’ve made some adjustments in how we structure practice. So we’ve gotten more individual attention to each guy and been able to work on more specifics, and I see it on the court. Guys are starting to find their identity out there and understanding how they need to play.”

It was not all good news for the Cavaliers, however. The struggles with the depth of the team continued to hound the team Friday, when the Virginia lost on both courts No. 5 and No. 6. Freshmen Kyrylo Tsygura and Jefferson Dockter both played admirably — taking their opponents to the third set — but neither could find a way to end the match. It is an improvement upon previous struggles on the bottom two courts, but the Cavaliers are running out of time before conference play begins. Since team matches have only seven total points, Virginia simply cannot afford to be consistently losing one or two on the lower courts and expect the top of its roster to carry the day.

But Friday was a test for this young team, and the Cavaliers passed with flying colors. Mercer is probably the best of the smaller private schools that Virginia has amassed wins against so far this season. This could be the sign that Virginia is now again ready to contend with some of the biggest names in collegiate tennis. After a two-week bye, they will have their chance in a midwest tour that features road matches at Louisville and Illinois. 

Coach Pedroso’s message to his team is simple. 

“Just focus on just getting better in practice,” he said. “If we can do that, and just keep preparing better and better each week, we’re gonna play better.”

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