Last Sunday, the Virginia men’s tennis team achieved their first victory over a ranked team this season. The Cavaliers (9-5, 2-1 ACC) defeated the then-No.18 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (10-8, 2-1 ACC) in a 6-1 blowout that included impressive wins on courts that the Cavaliers normally lose. Virginia began the match by beating the highly esteemed Notre Dame doubles lineup, with junior Aswin Lizen and freshman Gianni Ross teaming up to take down the #55 ranked Fighting Irish team of freshman Tristan McCormick and senior Brendon Kempin on the No.1 Court. Both Lizen and Ross would go on to win their matches on the No. 3 and No. 2 courts respectively, with Ross dispatching Notre Dame’s freshman Richard Clamarra at a breakneck speed.
“Gianni has been around some of the best coaches since and best trainers since he was 14 or 15 years old, and on top of that he’s a really hard worker,” Virginia Coach Andres Pedroso said. “The guy has worked really hard and been through some brutal workouts since he was very young, so I don’t see that kid getting tired anytime soon.
The progress from Ross and other freshmen on the team, has been instrumental for the incredibly young Cavalier team. Virginia lost almost all of its starters after last season, and the previous coach Brian Boland for the United States Tennis Association after last year’s championship season. The lack of experience from this Virginia team means that the few experienced upperclassmen, such as Lizen and sophomore Carl Söderlund, add a lot to the team.
The recent return of Carl Söderlund to the No. 1 court for the Cavaliers has been an advantage for Virginia. Söderlund has gone 5-1 on the No. 1 court so far this season, and has beaten several Intercollegiate Tennis Association ranked players just this year. From being unranked in February, he has climbed back into the top 100 and is currently No. 38 in the nation.
“He’s a really good tennis player. Defensively, I mean, he’s got to have some of the best defense in the world for players his age. At the end of that second set there, he showed that he could be offensively minded as well,” Pedroso said, referring to Söderlund’s four-game run during the second set of a 7-6 (7-4), 7-5 victory over Notre Dame’s No. 33 Alex Lebedev. “That’s scary when he’s doing both.”
One of the biggest problems for Virginia this season has been the inability to win matches on the No. 6 court. Before the victories this weekend, the Cavaliers had only won one match out of 10 on the lowest ranked court — two of whose losses have only been by a single game. Söderlund’s return to the court has allowed Virginia to shift it’s usual No. 5 singles player, freshman Kyrylo Tsygura, down to the No. 6 position — giving Virginia a better chance to pick up more matches in that position. Pedroso, however, still thinks that the lineup is not set in stone yet.
“No, we’re not settling,” he said. “It’s always a day to day kind of thing, and this group out here did a great job today, they did a good job yesterday, so we’ll see.”
Virginia’s recent hot streak could not have come soon enough. Moving forward, the men’s tennis team faces fierce competition in one of the best conferences in the sport. On Thursday, the Cavaliers will begin a tough stretch of four road matches, including stops at No. 5 North Carolina (12-3, 3-0 ACC) and No. 18 18 Duke (11-7, 2-1 ACC). The Cavaliers also have a home matchup against No. 1 Wake Forest (11-0, 1-0 ACC) looming in the near future. However, the Cavaliers are excited to begin outdoor play in the ACC — especially since they feel that their style of play fits better on outdoor courts.
“I think it suits us, “ Pedroso said. “We are not a team that’s going to blow teams off the court with power, we’re going to have a lot of finesse, and a lot of fitness, and a lot of variety and grit, so I think it suits us.”