During last weekend’s Flower City Tournament, the UR men’s tennis team put on a tour de force, featuring everything from a trio of formidable freshman to a clutch come-from-behind victory by a senior captain.
By the slimmest of margins, the Yellowjackets captured the championship at their home tournament over Roberts Wesleyan University. It was UR’s first victory in the invitational since 2006.
“The team was focused and determined to play their best tennis in the tournament,” Coach Matt Nielsen said of the effort. “It was great to see how the team came through under pressure in each round.”
The Yellowjackets’ first foe of the weekend was Ithaca College. Sophomore Julian Danko, junior Boris Borovcanin and freshman Matthew Levine took first, second and third singles respectively — all in straight sets — to get UR rolling, and the team didn’t look back. UR’s doubles team of Borovcanin and Danko as well as Levine and freshman Ben Shapiro both won big, dropping only one game between them, to give UR the overall victory by a tally of 5-1.
In the semifinals, the men came up against the SUNY Oneonta Red Dragons, who put up a fight but just couldn’t match up with the Yellowjackets’ team depth.
UR again had convincing wins at second and third singles and first and third doubles, but Danko lost a tough three-setter at first singles, and UR’s second doubles team of senior Joel Allen and freshman Joshua Jachuck lost for the second time in the tournament, bringing the overall match count to 4-2 in UR’s favor.
The clinching match, however, came soon after, courtesy of Jachuck at fourth singles. After losing the first set, 5-7, Jachuck came back to trounce Oneonta’s Mackenzie Park in the last two sets, 6-2, 6-0.
Fittingly, UR’s toughest challenge came in the final, against Wesleyan. In facing the Redhawks, the Yellowjackets once again highlighted what will likely be two of their greatest strengths throughout the season: a talented crop of freshmen and a strong team resolve under pressure.
Wesleyan got out to a quick start, winning first and third doubles out of the gate. Borovcanin was forced to retire at second singles after just four games, giving Wesleyan a third team win by walkover.
With UR in dire need of match wins, three freshmen stepped up at third, fourth and sixth singles to earn crucial victories. Levine, Jachuck and Shapiro all took their matches in straight sets, swinging the momentum in UR’s favor and giving the men a 4-3 match lead.
Levine in particular had a stellar tournament overall, winning three singles matches in straight sets as well as three convincing doubles matches on the weekend, giving him a total tournament score of six matches won and none lost.
Meanwhile, however, Danko lost a tough match at first singles, 3-6, 5-7. With the match score at 4-4 and the tournament hanging in the balance, all of the pressure fell squarely on Allen’s shoulders — and he delivered.
Up until this match, the Flower City Tournament had not been kind to Allen. He had gone 0-3 in his doubles matches, and hadn’t gotten to finish a singles match. The start of this one didn’t seem much better — Allen was crushed in the first set 1-6, then got down a break early in the second set.
With their last line of defense down 1-4 in the set, the window seemed to be closing for UR to pull out a tournament victory.
But when it mattered most, Allen turned his performance around and stormed back to force a second set tiebreak, which he won (7-3).
Riding that momentum, he was able to pull out the decisive third set and win 1-6, 7-6 (7-3), 6-3, clinching the match and the championship for UR.
Allen said that the keys to the victory were placing trust in his teammates and focusing on winning individual points rather than the match or the championship.
“I think experience played a huge role in being able to bounce back from such a bad start,” Allen said of his mindset during the match. “Having been in similar situations before, I knew that a comeback was not out of the question if I focused on one point at a time and sort of forgot the score.”
“Obviously it was great to have the support of the team helping me to stay positive,” he added.
The magnitude of Allen’s win was not lost on his coach though.
“Joel showed incredible determination to come back from being down a set and 1-4,” Nielsen said. “It was a tremendous effort by the team’s senior captain.”
The men will look to build on their winning weekend on Saturday, Sept. 15 and Sunday, Sept. 16 at the St. Lawrence University Invitational.
Fleming is a member of the class of 2013.