No. 29 Chicago (12–4) will fight it out for the UAA title this weekend, hoping to turn what has been an up–and–down season into a Cinderella story with victory against a strong conference field. The Maroons are seeded fifth out of eight.
The South Siders caught fire early in the season—after a 1–1 start, they won their next 10 matches. However, since the streak, they’re 1–3.
“As a team, we’re doing all right. We have to step it up this weekend for UAAs because every team we could possibly play is going to be a battle,” second-year Ankur Bhargava said. “We’re going to have to up our games to give ourselves a chance to be successful at the UAAs.”
The Maroons will have some momentum going into the weekend, following Monday’s 7–2 domination of Wheaton. Their three recent losses all came against teams ranked ahead of Chicago—No. 28 UW–Whitewater (17–11), No. 18 Gustavus Adolphus (19–9), and conference rivals No. 14 Wash U (14–5) who beat the Maroons 6–3.
Unfortunately for Chicago, the Bears are only the third-seeded team in the conference tournament. No. 13 Case (19–5) is the second seed, and No. 3 Emory (12–5) is the first.
The Maroons will obviously be up against some tough competition, and for them to succeed, they’ll need their No.1 singles player, second-year Deepak Sabada, to perform at a high level and win some clutch points.
“I feel like I have played well recently but have come up a bit short in the important moments in matches, which has caused me to lose a couple of close matches,” Sabada said. “I think if I learn from my mistakes in my previous matches, I have a good chance of being successful this weekend.”
Sabada is referring to Monday’s match against Wheaton, where he unexpectedly lost his singles match and the No. 1 doubles match that he played with third-year Alex Golovin.
However, the second-year standout certainly knows how to play, since he won eight straight individual matches in the middle of the season.
In addition to Sabada, Bhargava has been a consistent contributor for the South Siders and will also be key to any success Chicago will have. Bhargava plays on the No. 2 singles and doubles courts.
“Personally, I feel like I’ve been playing fairly well,” Bhargava said. “I need to play solidly from the start of each match and stay consistent. It is important for me to stay focused on my game plan and execute. I need to stay aggressive from the back and attack the net when I get the right ball.”
Energy will undoubtedly be on the Maroons’ side, as the young team boasts two first-years and two second-years in its singles lineup. However, experience could end up costing Chicago as it did during its three-loss streak.
Regardless, Sabada and the South Siders are aware of the talent of powerhouse teams like Emory and Case, and realize they need to play their best tennis of the year to win matches this weekend.
“The team feels like we are getting better every day ahead of the UAAs, but we know that the competition is going to be tough and that we can’t be satisfied with our current level of play as we are going up against some of the best teams in the country,” Sabada said.
Chicago opens up the tournament against fourth-seeded No. 16 Carnegie (12–5). The Tartans’ and Maroons’ only common opponent this season was No. 2 Kenyon (20–3). Kenyon defeated Chicago 9–0 early in the season and recently beat Carnegie by a score of 6–3.
The Maroons are prepared for a challenging two days of tennis as they set their sights on a ride in Cinderella’s pumpkin carriage.
It’ll be an early start for the squad in Orlando, FL today as they first hit the courts against Carnegie at 8 a.m.