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With a national title berth potentially on the line this weekend at the UAA Championships, the men’s tennis team expected to seal its season’s fate on one of the last two days of the tournament.
Instead, a first-round loss to Brandeis Friday morning spoiled the Maroons’ weekend—and all but ended their NCAA hopes—as Chicago was forced to settle for fifth place in the conference tournament.
The Maroons began the tournament with strong doubles play, topping the Judges 2–1. From there, the Maroons struggled. Playing without third-year Will Zhang, who usually fills the first singles position, the Maroons fell behind early, losing the first set in four of six matches.
Brandeis captured straight-set wins at first and third singles, while a time violation cost the Maroons the fifth singles match. First-year Harrison Abrams and fourth-year Garrett Brinker won fourth and sixth singles, meaning that the second singles match would decide who moved on.
“From my perspective, I was looking around and saw that we had lost the first sets in four of the singles matches, and obviously we’d be down five points,” second-year Troy Brinker said. “I got killed in the first set and realized that I had to step it up.”
After playing to the third set, Brinker had two match points at 5–4 in the final set, but Brandeis’ Simon Miller came from behind to force a tiebreaker. With his 7–3 win in the bonus period, the Judges moved to the semifinals, and the Maroons were sent to the consolation bracket.
“We were pretty high in confidence, but without Will Zhang it’s a different story,” Abrams said. “It was really close; a few things just didn’t go our way.”
Had Chicago won the match, they would have moved on to play eventual runner-up Wash U in the semifinals, where a victory likely would have put Chicago in position for a bid to the NCAA tournament in May. A loss to the Bears would have kept those hopes alive, as Chicago could have earned a bid by defeating third-place finisher Carnegie on Sunday.
But with the Judges earning the upset, Chicago had to change its weekend plans.
“After that match, it was pretty rough,” Abrams said. “We expected to take on Wash U…and we were two points away from beating them last time, so we were hoping to get another shot at them.
“But we just decided to smoke NYU and the rest of the teams that lost in the first round.”
Chicago sliced through eighth-seeded NYU 6–0 in the consolation semifinals, with none of the Violets’ doubles squads winning more than five games. In singles, the Maroons scored three straight-set victories, giving them a convincing win to move on to the fifth-place match.
Case, looking to avenge a 7–2 loss to Chicago earlier this season, took one doubles point from the South Siders, setting the tone for a close match.
“It was quite a surprise, actually, because the 7–2 win [on February 13] was actually more like a 9–0 win,” Brinker said. “Case got a lot better since the last time we played.”
Case led 3–2 at one point in the match, but Chicago was able to come back on the strength of a trio of three-set wins. Abrams and Garrett Brinker each earned their second singles victories of the tournament before Zhang, who had returned for Saturday’s matches, sealed the Maroons’ victory with a three-set win at first singles.
The fifth-place finish, Chicago’s worst since 2006, likely means the end of the Maroons’ season as a team, but the South Siders hope to send a contingent to the individual NCAA tournament. Zhang is in contention for a second-straight trip to Nationals, while the top doubles pair of Brinker and fellow fourth-year Steve Saltarelli are looking for their first tournament bid.